Guide to Building Support for Your Tribal Library

Guide to Building Support for your Tribal Library

A toolkit for getting the support you need from people who are in a position to help you and the library.

Telling Your Library's Story

How to influence decision makers

Your goal should be to make it easy for decision makers to understand and support the library.

  • Attend meetings throughout the year, not just when you need help.
  • Get on the agenda to provide brief montly or quarterly reports.
  • Call or drop by to chat.
  • Be clear about what you are asking.
  • Link the library’s message to their concerns, e.g. language revitalization, technology, Indian education, diabetes prevention, high school drop outs, etc.
  • Talk about the library’s successes and possibilities, as well as its needs. Always have a fact sheet available.
  • Invite decision-makers to the library so they can see for themselves how well used it is, what you do, and what the needs are.
  • Keep them informed. Maintain a VIP list and send the library’s newsletter,annual report and other items of special interest.
  • Thank them. In person, in writing—and in public— whenever possible.
  • Stay on good terms. Even if they don’t support you this time, they may the next.

Speaking successfully

You may be nervous about speaking in front of a group, but remember that your voice increases the visibility of the library and informs people about the success of the library as well as its potential for growth. Remember that people don’t know what you want unless you ask.

Speaking Tips

Share compelling real stories and pictures that your audience can relate to.

  • Avoid reading your statement.
  • Open strong and end strong.
  • Look out at your audience
  • Remember to smile.
  • Be brief—10 minutes max plus questions.
  • Introduce yourself in the Native language, if appropriate, and acknowledge key decision makers in the audience
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Tips on Creating Your Message

Focus on the needs of your audience. Use examples that your audience understands, e.g., children need to hear stories from the elders; students need a place to get home work help; families need the Internet to connect to our sons and daughters in the Armed Services.

Paint a positive picture. Talk about the library’s successes, not only its needs. Focus on benefits more than problems.

Go where the people are

The only way to get more support from the community is to get out of the library to reach them—otherwise they may never know that your library could use their support or how great your library is. Posters and bookmarks are great publicity tools, but too often they end up sitting inside the library. Think outside of the circle to reach others, either through printed publicity materials or delivery of one-on-one messages.

Here is a list of places you might distribute printed materials:

  • Post office
  • Tribal offices
  • Committee meetings
  • Grocery store
  • Community events
  • Football/other sports programs
  • Fairs
  • Powwows
  • Schools
  • Have a Tribal Library float in a community parade
  • Post messages about the library on the tribal employees e-mail news board

Speak Up!

Learn to recognize opportunities to talk up the library and its services. You might find yourself talking to the cashier at the gas station about your upcoming summer reading program or telling your son’s friends about the graphic novels they can check out at the library. Be sure that everyone on the reservation knows about the library and what it can do for them--so that they can become supporters of the library, too.

Make the most of media

Newspapers, radio and TV may be few and far between where you live. If so, you will need to look for other opportunities such as newsletters published by schools or the tribe. You may even decide to start your own library newsletter. If you do have local media, don’t hesitate to approach them. Many newspapers with small staffs welcome news items and columns that you write. Remember that even very small publications/stations take their role seriously. Whatever you can do to make their job easier will make your job easier.


  • Start by asking them questions. What kind of stories are they looking for? When is their deadline? Do they prefer hard copy or email?
  • Expect to be asked hard questions—especially if money is involved. Be prepared to answer and don’t take it personally.
  • Be prepared to give “sound bites” or “quotable quotes” that make your point, along with examples and statistics.
  • Learn how to write a good basic news release starting with the most important information and ending with the least. Use simple sentences and keep it brief.
  • Take advantage of letters to the editor and guest columns to make your case.
  • Feel free to suggest feature stories about various services, perhaps on a quarterly basis. You may even be asked to write them.
  • Send public service announcements to your local radio station. These brief announcements (about 70 words) are aired free of charge for nonprofit organizations.
  • Send items to a local columnist to include (“Did you know you can rent movies—for free—at the library?”) or consider writing your own column.
  • Remember to thank them—especially for coverage that is above and beyond.

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