Guest Blogger: Erna Winters, director Public Library Kennemerwaard, member of the Executive Committee at EBLIDA
Once upon a time, a long time ago, when stories and imagination still ruled, deep into the 20th century, the world was still full of great expectations…. That was a time when local politicians were proud of their library. It was a time in which politicians believed in a better world for all, and that libraries and librarians were key partners to make these dreams come true.
Now, in the second decennium of the 21st century, we’re living in different times; times of hardship, budget cuts, nightmare years. Why has the view of politicians changed so much, why do they no longer feel that the library belongs to them and to the community? Do they really feel that the library is obsolete?
I was once told that the best time to start with advocacy was yesterday, the second best time is today. I would like to share some thoughts on advocacy with you.
- Make it a continuous process, not just at election time or at budget time.
- Take advocacy in a broad view: enhance and emphasize the added value of the library.
- Make yourself known, make it personal (get to know the local politicians, and make sure that they know you and your key staff members).
- Don’t just ask, give as well. Send them invitations to interesting activities, give them the floor if you have something to celebrate.
- Emphasize the value of the library instead of focussing on the costs (they can do that perfectly well by themselves).
- Invite newly elected local politicians for a welcome visit. Tell them about all the good work that you’re doing and show them around.
- Whenever there is a debate concerning the library or subsidies/budgets in the city council, be there and be seen (or heard if possible).
- If you plan to speak at/to the council, make sure that you inform your alderman (no surprises).
- Inform a new alderman, give him/her your strategic plan, key facts etc. Give him/her a tour of the library.
- Have some slogans on the value of the library ready to put into election programs, invite yourself to local party meetings before election time and share ideas on the future of the library.
When you have done all this, unfortunately there is no guarantee that you will not be faced with budget cuts, but there are a few more things that might help to influence how politicians think about the library; whether they think you are a trustworthy partner.
- Make sure that you deliver. Quality of services, opening hours, number of activities.
- Keep up your end of ‘the deal’, be reliable. If you say you will do something, do it!
- Work within budget.
- No surprises: if you foresee that you will not be able to manage within budget, tell your aldermen as soon as you know.
- Continuity: make sure that the municipality is dealing with the same set of library employees. A lot of changes in management don’t give a reliable picture.
Of course, all the above is written from a Dutch perspective. Most public libraries in the Netherlands are an independent foundation, although for 70-80% of their exploitation budget they rely on funding by the local council. The position of an independent foundation does give more freedom when it comes to advocacy. Still, even if your library is part of the local council (i.e. your employees are civil servants), I feel that there are ways to inform and influence the local politicians. You should have started yesterday… but let’s get going and start advocating today!