Magazine article American Libraries

Chapter Report: Library Advocacy - a Local Brew with National Ingredients

Magazine article American Libraries

Chapter Report: Library Advocacy - a Local Brew with National Ingredients

Article excerpt

Microbreweries are the rage these days, serving up world-class beers in small batches. The same might be said of the library advocacy network, blending techniques and themes from the national level with local messages and skilled local practitioners.

Library advocacy is not limited to a particular issue or a certain audience. It's not about speaking with a single voice or even needing the voices to all sing the same tune. It is about making sure the voices are clear, well-trained, and capable of reaching the people dozing in the back row.

According to Webster's, advocacy is the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending a cause or course of action. "Library advocacy is making the case for libraries and their importance," says Margo Crist, chair of ALA's Chapter Relations Committee. "It might focus on a particular policy issue, or on increasing funding, or opposing censorship. But the essence of advocacy is speaking outside of ourselves, speaking to the community, about the importance of libraries."

One of the most common misconceptions about advocacy is that it's a topdown activity. "Advocacy is not something ALA does for you," Crist says, "and at the same time, it is not something you do for ALA. The national organization provides tools, materials, and training, but ultimately it's something chapters and individual libraries do for themselves. The annual ALA campaigns give local libraries ammunition, but that ammunition is adaptable to their local needs and agendas."

It's hip

Advocacy is a little like the macarena. Everybody's doing it. Friends, trustees, patrons, authors, parents and children, public officials, celebrities, even President Clinton. And a lot of librarians.

ALA's Library Advocacy Now! (LAN) is a training program that has spawned more than 15,000 skilled library advocates. This national training program, coordinated by ALA's Public Information Office and the Public Awareness Committee, currently has a network of trainers representing nearly every state. A core program of skills training is presented at ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference, and materials are developed around one or more broad themes each year. Special train-the-trainers sessions prepare presenters to extend the training through programs at chapter and regional conferences throughout the year. Many states and chapters have their own initiatives that borrow from and loan to the national effort.

The origins of LAN hark back to Pat Schuman's ALA presidency. "When I was president, I had a day's worth of media training and couldn't believe what I learned. I thought, 'Everybody should have this!'" Schuman said. "Because most financial support for libraries is generated at the local and state levels, it didn't seem to make sense to have only national spokespeople. The people who really needed to know how to do this were at the local and chapter level."

A mix of national support and local presenters to customize the message is the advocacy ideal. Colorado's Chapter Councilor, Camila Alire, is a prime example. Alire had some prior experience with a Colorado Library Association workshop that was offered in conjunction with the state's annual Legislative Day. After training as a LAN presenter, she has given training sessions at the Montana Library Association and at Reforma's first national conference. …

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