March 2009 Articles
Mary Jane Santos
Delaware County Public Library
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines advocacy as “the act of pleading for or supporting.”While having an issue on the local ballot may cause a public library to ratchet up their advocacy efforts, advocating for your library is or should be an ongoing process, integral to day-to-day activities and short- and long-term planning. There are a number of ways to promote advocacy, and the Delaware County District Library (DCDL) follows many avenues to continually work towards positioning the library in the community. While we have an informal advocacy plan, we also try to take advantage of any serendipitous events or activities that might prove to be a good venue for us.
An important component of library advocacy is involvement in the community on many fronts, such as civic, governmental, and social. Being highly visible in your community oftentimes translates into strong library recognition and association. When the community sees a library employee at a Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Rotary, or Lions function, they have a positive associate between the community service being performed and the “library,” as embodied by the employee. Similarly, seeing the library’s entry in the Fourth of July, Christmas and Memorial Day Parades reminds those watching the parade go by that the library is an important thread of the community’s fabric. Serving on city or county board and commissions is not only rewarding and interesting for the staff member, it also sends the clear message that “the library” serves its community on several levels.
I believe that library advocacy is reinforced any time there is a positive associate about the library in the community. Partnerships forged with other social agencies are another important and mutually beneficial way to build and/or strengthen your library’s position in the community. Working with the county’s Jobs and Family Services to create a Job Resource Center, collaborating with Preservation Parks for a family letterboxing activity, or presenting a program featuring children reading to a local therapy dog all generate affirmative associations between the library and its community.
Certainly, every public library that is facing a ballot issue needs to rely on good, solid community support, but support cannot be built in the nine months of a levy campaign. Any public library would be well served to build relationships throughout in its community consistently and at every opportunity to lay the fundamental foundation for sustained and steadfast advocacy regardless of the issues it may face.