Monthly Archives: May 2021

Dreamers and Schemers: a simple recipe for library advocacy

Studies of human behaviour are often characterised by a distinction between idealism and realism, between emotion and logic, or between the heart and the head.

Some decisions and actions we see as being driven by instinct, optimism or by a broader sense of values, while others seem to come down to cold, hard rationality.

A Nobel Prize for Economics went to Daniel Kahneman for his work on the difference between choices made rapidly, based on feelings, and those made after deep consideration.

International relations also traditionally differentiates between realists (who argue that countries follow their own interests and use their power freely) and idealism (who argue that states promote their domestic values in their international activities).

How does this relate to library advocacy?

Previous blogs, notably in partnership with OCLC’s WebJunction, have explored the idea of how a range of individual strengths (described as personality types) can come together in order to make for effective advocacy.

At a simpler level, however, we can see library advocacy as requiring a combination of idealism and realism in order to achieve its goals. In other words – as set out in the title of this blog – we need both dreamers and schemers in order to succeed.

Why we need dreamers?

Idealism remains a powerful motivator of action. Fortunately, libraries tend to have this in abundance!

Our institutions are strongly based on values – the importance of equitable access to information, of service to all, of safeguarding heritage for the future, all without the motivation of profit or private gain.

Where these values – and the budgets needed to deliver on them – have been challenged, libraries have become stronger and stronger in defending them.

We have produced communications materials, brought together stories and examples of how libraries contribute to development and other community goals, and build networks of friends and supporters.

Work based on idealism helps to create a positive feeling around libraries, raising interest among decision-makers and voters alike. Even in less democratic systems, those in power often rely on the support of the people for legitimacy, and so will care about what they feel.

Done effectively, it also helps make the step from sympathy to active support among – something that is crucial if libraries are to benefit from the funding and laws they need.

Why we need schemers?

However, idealism does not always solve everything. The fact of acting in the public interest, or delivering on well acknowledged values, is not necessarily enough to bring about adequate funding or favourable reforms to libraries. Understandably, this can be disheartening.

However, we can respond by complementing idealism with a dose of realpolitik. We need to be both dreamers and schemers.

Sometimes, it’s a question of knowing where, when, how, and to whom to make your points most effectively.

For example, a campaign in favour of libraries in the months before a key decision is taken is clearly more useful than one just after.

The answer is to build up your understanding of how decisions are taken, and ideally your relationships with key people involved in the process. If you look, you may well find someone who feels warmly about libraries, and so who can help you. In turn, their advice and insights can help you increase the impact of your work.

There is also the reality that decisions to support additional funding, or favourable laws for libraries, are not always simple. There can be opposition, for example from those resistant to spending in general, other potential beneficiaries of money, or those who feel that better laws for libraries will disadvantage them.

This opposition can be based on values, or simply on concern about profit margins. It is important to think about the arguments that can be made against stronger support for libraires, and how you can counter these.

Of course, in doing so, it is usually best to avoid looking like you do not care about the views of others. Decision-makers often want to avoid ‘picking sides’ in order not to lose support. However, you can usually make progress by showing that supporting libraries brings benefits for all.


As highlighted earlier in this blog, libraries are often already strong when it comes to being ‘dreamers’. We know that our work is based on values, service, and the wider public interest, and are becoming better and better at articulating this.

A key area of development is therefore around how also to become ‘schemers’ – how to understand the processes that lead to decisions being taken about libraries, and how to influence them most effectively.

This is far from the world of pure private lobbying, centred on how to maximise profits for a particular sector (or its shareholders). Throughout libraries’ engagement in decision-making, our values can and should shine through – this is what sets us apart.


In short, we need both to be dreamers and schemers in order to make the best and most effective case for libraries into the future.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #51: Develop a roadmap

Getting from where you are now to your long-term goals is not always simple.

Especially for more ambitious objectives, success can be dependent on many different factors.

In particular, there may be pre-conditions – things that need to be in place in order to move forwards. These pre-conditions, in turn, may have their own pre-conditions, and so on.

IFLA’s own Strategy is built around the idea that to achieve our Vision, we need to strengthen the global voice of libraries, inspire and enhance professional practice, connect and enable, and optimise our own organisation.

Under these Strategic Directions, it includes different key initiatives that take our work forwards, making it manageable.

A similar approach can be helpful in many different situations however.

So for our 51st 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, develop a roadmap.

Bearing in mind both the long-term vision you have set yourself, and your short-term goals, try to create a sequence of actions you can take.

Just as you did in defining a short-term goal (Exercise #38), try to think ‘backwards’ from your longer-term vision (Exercise #27) – what different things need to happen to achieve this?

In what order do they need to happen? Where are there dependencies – i.e. where does achieving something depend on other factors being in place first?

Creating a roadmap – with deadlines – also helps you keep track of your progress!

Tell us about your experiences of defining a roadmap in the comments box below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 3.3 Empower the field at the national and regional levels.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box below.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #50: Re-read the universal declaration of human rights

A key argument for the existence of libraries is not just that they are useful for their communities, but also deliver on key rights.

Central to this is the right of access to information, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agreed in 1948.

Spelt out in full, this gives everyone freedom of expression, including the rights to seek, receive and impart information.

This is Article 19 of the Declaration, but there are 29 others!

A number of these refer to key issues for libraries, such as education, privacy, cultural participation and beyond.

These can be helpful as you thinking about your own work in an international context, as well as provide references for your advocacy.

So for our 50th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, re-read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Think about which articles refer to issues which matter for libraries, or where libraries can contribute.

You could even write down a couple of ideas about how you, through your work, you deliver on each of the articles you identify.

Share your ideas about which articles matter for libraries, and how you contribute in the comments below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 1.4 Shape public opinion and debate around open access and library values, including intellectual freedom and human rights.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box below.