Remember that the solution to your library’s budget challenges does not rest on your shoulders alone. There are people who will be eager to help you: your Friends group, your library board or advisory committee, library lovers and influential individuals in your community. Your job is to ask for their help and use their time wisely. Look at ALA’s website for additional resources. A good place to start is The Advocacy Action Plan Workbook, which has a helpful section on team building. To download this document, click this link: [PDF] ALA Office for Library Advocacy - "The Advocacy Action Plan Workbook" (large document download).
Build a “Budget Response Team”
While your community survey is taking place, you should begin building a team of individuals who will help you advocate for your library’s budget. This will be your Budget Response Team, and it should be comprised of your library’s senior management, selected library trustees/board members, Friends members who would enjoy engaging in advocacy, and anyone else in your community who can help you plan and advocate effectively. Think of them as your “kitchen cabinet.” You should recruit this Team for two reasons:
1. Sometimes is really does take a village, and your Budget Response Team can help you think through the possibilities, communicate your library’s message and be the public face of advocacy. They can add helpful insight, strategies and networking to your efforts and those of your staff. Their personal involvement also brings deeper understanding and their buy in to your challenge.
2. If you are a city/county/township employee, there may be some awkwardness about taking a public stand against library cuts. It could backfire on you, proving politically unwise if you are perceived as adversarial by your colleagues in other departments. Your Budget Response Team members can be the public face of advocacy for your library, thus saving you from discomfort and the feeling that you are not a team player. After all, it’s not your library; it’s the citizens’ library, and they have every right to advocate for it.
Impact of Reductions
It’s critical that your Budget Response Team understand the impact that proposed budget reductions will have on library services and staffing if they’re going to be effective library advocates. Therefore, your first job, with the assistance of other library administrators if you have them, is to educate this Team about what things cost and what cutting back really means. Once they understand the impact of possible reductions, they can help you determine how to respond to them.
Scenario and Communications Planning
Scenario planning is essential, particularly in the all-too-frequent situation when a library director or manager knows that there will be budget cuts, but doesn’t yet know the level of those cuts.
Your Budget Response Team should assist you with scenario planning and ultimately with advocacy. Scenario planning will require multiple meetings, so be sure to schedule as many meetings as you will need to discuss, envision and plan. At your first meeting, familiarize your Team with the costs of operating your library and examine honestly the environment in which your library exists. How is the library most used? What is its visibility in the community? Does your library promote itself on an ongoing basis? (Note: This is what year-round advocacy is all about, and ALA has online resources to help you do it.)
Your Budget Response Team should assist with scenario planning at all possible budget reduction levels, considering questions such as:
- How will library hours be affected at each possible reduction level?
- What will the impact be on staffing?
- On materials?
- On technology?
- On programming?
- How will circulation be affected?
- What about children and teens after school?
- Where will job seekers go?
- What services and resources are so critical that they must be retained, even at the expense of others?
- What can your community live without?
- What’s your goal in order to maintain as many of your critical services as possible?
- Add your own questions to this list.
The purpose of scenario planning is to pre-plan the actions that will take place if/when one of these scenarios is realized. Thinking about these possible outcomes now will help you implement your action plans quickly, without confusion and scrambling, and you will know that the plan you implement has the support of your advisors.
A pre-approved action plan allows your Team to pre-plan for effective communication as well. Know when announcements of possible reduction levels will be made, and have pre-planned communications ready to launch at that time.
Pre-planned communications include information on your library’s website and e-mails to your staff, board, Friends groups, and others so they don’t hear about proposed library cuts on the evening news.
Roles for Leadership
Your Budget Response Team is an important group of advisors, and you must keep them engaged during these months by offering them well-defined jobs that respect both their talents and their time. Think carefully about:
- Who can organize your advocacy efforts and ensure that your action plan stays on track?
- Who is strong at crafting a message or a slogan?
- Who can speak to groups?
- Who will attend City Council or other meetings of decision makers?
- Who has influence in the media?
- Who is highly recognized and would be willing to write an op-ed piece or even speak on the radio or appear on television?
- Who has the ear of the Mayor or other elected officials?
- What other roles can you add to this list?