The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many proofs of how much libraries matter for their communities.
We have seen high demand for services and resources online and by phone, regrets shared by users about not being able to visit in person, libraries stepping up to help people access the internet or sign up for government support.
All paint a picture of a sector that has a strong focus on public service, and the resilience, resourcefulness and inventiveness to deliver in difficult times. As set out, for example, in Nick Poole’s blog about the future of public libraries, we have a powerful story to tell, and an opportunity to build a new narrative and model that reinforces and guarantees the place of libraries of all types in society.
Yet the difficult times are not necessarily over, with the loss of tax revenue, and stimulus packages launched in many countries likely to lead to cuts in spending in future in order to keep debt under control.
We will need to be as ready as ever to promote a narrative of libraries as cornerstones of literate, informed and participatory societies.
Fortunately, we do not need to wait for restrictions on movement to be lifted to start. There is so much we can do from home! Here are just ten ideas, connected to our advocacy capacities grid, and drawing on our 10-Minute Library Advocate series for improving your readiness.
- Build your team: it is perhaps a cliché, but the more you can share responsibilities, the further you can go. Having a group of people ready to get involved both means that even if you’re busy, someone else can take up tasks. Moreover, you can bring together people with different skills in order to do everything from tacking laws and gathering evidence to public speaking and lobbying.
- Find out who’s in charge, and do your research: you’ll need to know who is responsible for key decisions about support for libraries. There may be different players or agencies at work – not just in the culture, education or research field, but also those in charge of finance. Try to work out who matters, and do your background research in order to understand what they care about.
- Find out what the process is: in every system, there will be a procedure to be followed for taking decisions about whether to support libraries or not. This may be more or less long, and more or less formal of course. However, if you want to influence decisions, it’s worth trying to understand when and how you can provide input most effectively!
- Find out where you can access information: linked to the process question, you may also need to be able to react quickly to consultations or proposals. Even if these are public, they may not be easy to find or follow, or only certain groups will be asked proactively for views. Get to know portals where relevant information is posted.
- Identify other players who matter: you don’t need to limit your focus to ministers, senior officials or equivalents. Think about which other actors can influence decisions. This could be members of parliaments or local councils, journalists, think tanks or others. They can all be potentially useful contacts for you.
- Identify potential partners: it’s not only librarians who think that libraries are important! Indeed, calls for support for our institutions can even be more powerful coming from other groups, such as educators, advocates for access to information, or organisations representing groups which depend a lot on us (researchers, parents, people experiencing homelessness). Think about who is active and with whom you could work.
- Gather your stories: to back up your narrative, it is important to be able to provide evidence of why libraries need action from decision-makers. For a lot of people, bringing things to the human level is a powerful way of making them feel real and necessary. Reflect on your own experience, and look through past media coverage to see what you can use. You can also draw on the SDG Stories on IFLA’s Library Map of the World.
- Gather your data: in parallel with evidence that brings out the ‘human’ angle, it can also be effective to show at a more ‘macro’ level what libraries are doing. Clearly a lot of the work of libraries is felt in ways that are difficult to measure, especially at the level of entire countries or regions. However, making sure you have key data about numbers of libraries, staff, and users can back up your arguments. Use data from IFLA’s Library Map of the World and Library Stat of the Week to help.
- Define your messages: to be effective in your advocacy, you will need to be clear. Both politicians and others are busy, and likely will only be able to remember a few short points or arguments. So based on what you want to say – and what you think your audience wants to hear – work hard to condense your message to make it as short and powerful as possible!
- Present your materials: Once you have your messages, your materials and your audiences defined, take a moment to think about how you are going to communicate what you’re doing. Make things visually attractive if possible – pictures can be a great way of grabbing attention on social media for example, while ensure that documents you present are written presented in a way that makes them easy to read and understand.