Thing 16: Advocacy and its many forms
September 6, 2011
According to the dictionary, advocacy is: the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending; active espousal. Sometimes people thinks that active advocacy is only the type described in the Thing 16 post:
“A lot of the advocacy for public libraries has involved activities that not all of us would be comfortable doing: banner-waving; shouting; marching on parliament; speaking to local and national politicians; giving interviews for tv, radio and newspapers; helping lawyers put together arguments for legal challenges…”
This is one important, and maybe the most visible, form of advocacy–the advocacy of the profession as a whole and the need for libraries. However, advocacy can also be on the very local, patron-centered level. For example, a librarian can advocate for additional funding or attention for adult programming. Or, they can advocate for more awareness of the copyright laws and helping their patrons to know what can and cannot be accomplished within the law. It can be advocacy for the library district as a whole–bringing awareness to local programming, needs, and cuts. So, pleading, supporting, and recommending can happen on all levels (local, state, national, and even within your own staff.)
Some of the additional resources in Thing 16 discuss librarians advocating the profession as a whole, and how they can “prove their worth”, which is something we are seeing more and more. ROI (return on investment) can be rather strict in general (how much are we spending per employee, what are they bringing in, or how are they saving the institution money, etc.) There is also the less tangible return on investment, which is harder to measure, but just as important. An example of this would include satisfaction surveys and interview quotes as to how the library or librarian made a difference to the patron and his/her quest for knowledge. An analysis of ROI should include both, and the end result should be to show (advocate) how we serve our patron base.
Advocacy is really a form of marketing. I agree with the blog post in that it SHOULD be a part of job descriptions. Librarians (or staff as a whole) should have a plan that shows the ROI, so that the plan (with regular updating) can be showcased when needed. A proactive approach is preferable and allows for quick response to negative press, rather than reacting without the ability to provide easy to understand facts and bullet points.
Everyone should be advocating in one form or another–even if it is simply retweeting important library stories or providing concise and thought-provoking information when confronted with questions by your friends, family, or the general public. I plan to follow on Twitter a couple of the advocacy groups mentioned in the post, and to continue to advocate positively for my profession when I see the opportunity. I may not be a “get in your face” banner waver, but every little bit helps–strength in numbers and knowledge is power.