4.3.a. Six Ingredients for the Frontline Advocacy Success

Think of these as “best practices” for frontline advocacy success.

1. Start by understanding your library.

What are the resources that make your college or university library strong? They include things like your collection, technology, staff, research capacity, and the hours you are open. Do you allow students to check out laptop computers? Are your study carrels always full? Can you turn professors’ requests for reserves and special resources around really quickly? Take the time to understand why each of your library’s strong points is important. Be able to explain how they help serve people’s needs and what will happen if they are reduced or go away.

A.  Look at the environment in which your academic library exists

    • How large an educational institution does your library serve?
    • Is it public or private?
    • What are its general demographics?
    • How has your college or university community changed in the last ten years?
    • How have its demands on the library changed?

B.  Your academic library’s value: what it provides that is unique

    • What resources and services does it provide that can’t be found anywhere else on your campus?
    • What would happen if some of these go away?

C.  Your library as an institution of trust

The library as a whole has long been a trusted institution in our society, and that statement is certainly true of academic libraries as well. But do you ever think about why? Does it foster the idea if intellectual freedom? Does it provide access to knowledge for students, professors and others who use it? Do students, faculty and staff feel it is available when they need it? Has it always employed competent, helpful staff members (like you)?  These are just a few reasons why your library is trusted and valued.
D.  Your academic library’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats
Your library is great, but it’s not perfect. What are the most important resources it offers? What are its strong points? What frustrates students, faculty and other school staff? What frustrates library staff? What could you do that’s new or better? What factors pose constant challenges?

E.  Your value as a library employee

Don’t overlook this one! You are a frontline staff member of an important academic library, and that is true whether you interact with library users or not. You are an integral part of your library’s service team. Take a few moments to think about the important work you do, the contributions you make, the people you serve. The library would be diminished without you.

F.  How others view your library

    • We know that the university community values its library. It knows that higher learning and research that advances knowledge can’t take place without it. On some campuses, the library is the campus “living room,” a place where students and faculty can gather for conversation that fosters relationships as well as the principles of higher education.
    • But, as a frontline advocate, you can’t assume that “business as usual” will keep your academic library front and center in the minds of everyone in your college/university or larger community. You have to be proactive. Remember that people’s views are always being shaped, and that they are bombarded by others’ messages all day long. Keep your library’s message in their minds too.

G.  The issues that affect your academic library

    • There are lots of ways to learn about these issues. First of all, as a frontline staff member, you will glean information from your own personal observations. Are students grumbling over long waits for computers or shortages of certain resources? Are professors asking for more bibliographic services? Is there a vocal faction who wants the library open 24-hours a day? Keep your eyes and ears open.
    • Are there legislative issues that could affect your college or university library and its resources? Become informed about these too. Ask library administrators to help all staff stay up-to-date on local and state initiatives that impact your academic library.

2. Work within your comfort zone, but consider stepping outside it…just a little bit.

You’ll find the challenge to be a real opportunity for personal growth. It sounds obvious, but we gain the most from situations that stretch us. If starting a conversation about your academic library’s value and needs is difficult for you, practice until it comes
easily. Keep it short and simple. You’ll find that, once you really understand your library and its message, words will come. Tell it to someone you know well before telling it to those you don’t know. And once you start looking for opportunities to speak up, you will realize that there are more of them than you may have imagined. If you develop a regular habit of sharing your library’s ongoing, everyday news with others and listening to what they value, you’ll find it easier to share information in a crisis situation if one arises.

3. Do it at the right time. Seize the opportunity!

There is a well-used expression that says, “Timing is everything.” It’s true. There’s not much point in telling a professor who is running out the door about a new database she can access, or sharing the message about your college or university library’s value with a person who can influence others after that person has taken a public position on your library’s needs. So it’s not just what you say, it’s when you say it that affects whether or not your message is heard.

Look for opportunities to let others know they need your library. Did that shy freshman reveal that his computer just crashed? Tell him, “Come to the library. You can even check out a laptop.” Is a research assistant frustrated over a study her professor mentioned but she can’t seem to find? Let her know that the library has quite a few new databases and staff who can help her use them. What about the senior who is thinking about grad school? Be sure he knows that study guides for the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT and others are all in your library’s collection.

Stay current with issues that impact your services from day to day. Don’t wait until there is a crisis to talk up your library. And don’t think that your college or university library advocacy efforts all have to take place at the library! No matter where you are, when people ask you about your job, speak passionately and enthusiastically about 21st century library jobs in general and your job an academic library in particular.

4. Consider participating in training that will allow you to channel your knowledge about your library and its issues into advocacy activities.

Do a little old-fashioned reference work to find information, people and organizations that are all about building advocacy skills. There are many advocacy resources on the Internet. Click on More Resources  [4..6] in this toolkit and peruse some of the ideas there.

5. Get others on board with you by giving them something to do.

There’s strength in numbers! Who are your library’s most frequent users and/or its most likely supporters? Students! Their energy should be harnessed. What can you ask them to do? Think about using them to help spread your message and inject a little eye-catching fun into the effort. Get their ideas, then put them to work. It’s a win-win situation. The students gain valuable experience in public relations and maybe even public speaking, and your library gains an enthusiastic group of “cheerleaders” (in addition to the athletic kind).

Professors, research assistants, instructors, campus administrators, campus clerical workers, plant engineers, dining hall workers, athletic department staff…the list of potential library users and thus library advocates is a very long one. Each one brings a unique perspective to the library’s message. In addition, each one moves in his or her own network of colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances; thus, your frontline advocacy network can have an astonishingly far reach if you put them all to work.

6. Say “thank you!”

It’s sometimes overlooked in our multi-tasking, sound bite world but it’s appreciated more for its rarity: the simple act of sincerely saying “thank you.” It’s more than just, “thanks,” however. Take the time to thank the person for what he or she did and tell them why it matters. “Thanks for handing out our fliers about our crash course on using the library’s databases. We had such great attendance at that session that we’ve already scheduled another one.” “Thank you for your wonderful statement in the university paper about how much you depend on our library. That’s worth so much to us!” And here’s the really cool bonus: When you acknowledge an individual’s help with spreading your advocacy message, you don’t just make that person feel good, you inspire him or her to keep helping.