While the term “front line” initially was coined by the military to describe those troops at the forward-most point in the battlefield, literally the soldiers facing the opposing army, “front line” or “frontline” has more recently become an expression to describe those individuals who interact in the visible forefront of any situation.
You interact with frontline people every day. A few examples include the helpful sales clerk at your favorite retail store, the restaurant server who knows you like mustard on your turkey sandwich and the cashier you see so often at your grocery store. These people all interact on a personal level with you. The kind of service they give you directly impacts your opinion of their business and of the value you get for your money there. Your interactions with them shape your opinion about the business’s quality and importance in your life.
“Advocacy” means supporting a cause or course of action, and in the world of special libraries, all library staff and everyone (librarians, researchers, administrative personnel, managers) who has direct contact with a larger organization’s library or information center can easily become advocates - “frontline advocates” - for the organization’s special library.
Frontline advocates, like you, talk to others - colleagues, friends, neighbors, relatives and acquaintances - about the library’s value, both its ability to improve users’ work quality and its return on investment (ROI) for the organization’s bottom line. Frontline advocates share their passion because they understand that the library plays a critical role in achieving the larger organization’s mission, whether that organization is part of a government department, private corporation, hospital, museum, historical (or other) society, or any place where people require access to very specialized knowledge. As a frontline advocate, it’s also important that you share the value of your impact as individual who helps people access the information they need.
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) notes that special libraries go by a variety of names: “libraries, information centers, knowledge resource centers, competitive intelligence units, intranet departments, content management organizations, and others.” Regardless of what your library is called, all special libraries exist to advance the mission of their organization, and they do this through the work of information professionals who access and deliver information that is critical to the organization’s operation and success. In this toolkit, we’ll call these kinds of libraries “special libraries” or “information centers.”
The purpose of this Frontline Advocacy for Corporate, Government and Other Libraries Toolkit is to provide simple tools and strategies for anyone who works for or is passionate about their organization’s library to make advocacy part of their everyday conversation and activities. For some great ideas about frontline advocacy activities for all kinds of libraries, including special libraries, check out 2009-2010 ALA president Dr. Camila Alire’s 23 (Advocacy) Things (Tips) for Frontline Employees [5.1.a] / 23 (Advocacy) Things (Tips) for Frontline Employees Worksheet (Word doc).
Why Do We Need Special Libraries These Days?
Our Internet-driven world is quick to discard the traditional ways of doing things for ways that are faster and glossier. The explosion of information that is available online makes it easy to believe that everything anyone needs to know is on the Internet and that what isn’t there is in the public or university library…so special libraries are no longer necessary, or they are costly luxuries.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, much of what is on the Internet is only marginally helpful for information seekers. Some of it is downright inaccurate. The special library, on the other hand, provides resources that are relevant to users’ needs, and they are organized in a manner that makes them easily accessible for everyone who uses the library for research or study. Probably most important, special libraries provide people – information professionals – who can guide users through the often-overwhelming mountains of print and electronic resources to the precise data they are seeking.
Why Are You Your Special Library’s Best Frontline Advocate?
Good question! The truth is, you are a valuable staff member, and you know your special library best. Whether this is your first year or your 30th year in your job, you are part of an important team that provides a critical service to your organization. You also understand the environment in which your “parent” organization exists and how your library contributes to that organization’s goals and successes.
You are someone your colleagues, friends, neighbors, family and others connect with your organization and its library because they know you work there. You have credibility and the power of persuasion when you talk about your library because you are the face of your library and organization to the wider community. You also understand the little things that count most when it comes to building support for the services your library or information center provides.
Why Are You Needed Now More Than Ever?
A study conducted by SLA found that eighty-five percent of the companies ranked in the top 100 on the Fortune 500 list employed information professionals, compared to less than fifty percent of the companies ranked in the bottom 100.*
Clearly, successful corporations understand that information professionals deliver a profitable ROI. Additionally, many other familiar organizations could scarcely function without their libraries - medical facilities, historical and other societies, museums, legal firms, and more. These organizations need librarians who can provide other professionals, and sometimes the public, with information that cannot be found elsewhere or that must be accessed quickly and easily.
The difficult economic times we have been living through mean that corporate earnings, tax revenue, philanthropic giving and other critical sources of special library funding have taken a heavy hit. Special libraries have certainly felt effects of these reductions: professional staff cut, resource budgets slashed, paraprofessional help given pink slips – in other words, doing more with less while the needs never go away. Of course, some cuts are unavoidable in an economic environment such as this one, but it is important that decision makers understand the value the special library or information center provides to the larger organization, as well as its return on investment.
The special library needs passionate advocates now to ensure that management and others understand the link between the library (and its information professionals) and the parent organization’s mission, goals and success. That is the reason that every special library employee is being called upon to share the message of their library’s value with everyone they know.
*source: Special Libraries Association.
What Does an Effective Frontline Advocate for Special Libraries Do?Frontline advocacy is all about informing and persuading. It’s about partnering with your library staff and others to place your library in the spotlight at every opportunity. It’s about saying and doing the little things on a daily basis that give others positive feelings and an appreciation of your organization’s library, and doing the big things when times are hard. Don’t wait for a crisis to advocate for your library or information center. Practice it every day, and, when there is a special issue or concern, you’ll be very good at it.
Resist the urge to say, “Yeah, but…” Instead, check out Six Good Excuses That Won’t Work [5.3.a] (PDF).
You understand the value of the services that your library or information center provides to your organization and its staff. Tell others! Think about two kinds of frontline advocacy for your special library, “informal” and “planned.”
“Informal” frontline advocacy is simply using everyday opportunities to tell or remind people about your library’s resources and value to employees, managers, researchers and possibly the public. How do you do it? You can share success stories with colleagues, family, friends, neighbors and the public relations manager you bump into at the neighborhood coffee shop. It’s not hard; in fact, you probably do this already, without consciously thinking of it as frontline advocacy. You have many opportunities to share this information every day. Seize those opportunities! Once you start practicing it, you’ll find that talking positively and persuasively about your special library and the value of your job there comes easily and spontaneously.
“Planned” frontline advocacy is more deliberate, and it requires the efforts of library leadership. It starts with defined goals and a carefully crafted message, and is more strategic than informal advocacy; but like informal advocacy, it’s not difficult. It requires someone who is willing to be a leader - such as the librarian/information specialist or other library staff member - and a simple, organized plan.
Below are some basic steps for planned frontline advocacy. A library leader who follows them will find the information and tools he or she needs to be deliver a well-crafted, effective frontline advocacy message.
Ten Basic Steps to Successful Frontline Advocacy for Special Library Leadership
- Be sure your library or information center administrator supports frontline advocacy, then recruit others with strong interest in your special library or information center to join your efforts. Who? The other members of your library staff, of course, but also library users, other professionals in your organization and administrative personnel. This is your “A Team.” (“A” stands for advocacy.)
- Gather your A Team together and think hard about your library. What are its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? Click on Your Special Library’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats [5.4.a] (PDF) or download the SWOT Analysis worksheet (Word doc) to guide you.
- Determine your goal. For example, would you like to make your library more accessible to employees by remaining open longer hours? To add new electronic resources that will access crucial information faster than you can currently provide it?
- Understand why that goal is important to the organization’s success. These are your objectives. Identify and list your goals and objectives using a tool in this toolkit, Frontline Advocacy for Special Libraries: Goals and Objectives [5.4.b]/ Goals-Objectives-Strategies worksheet (Word doc).
- Craft a strong, clear message that communicates your goal. Make it short and memorable. Be sure that listeners understand that your special library or information center is at the heart of what your organization does well. This toolkit contains guidelines for helping you craft the best message possible. Click Crafting Your Message [5.4.c] or download the Crafting Your Message worksheet (Word doc).
- Ask your A Team to list all the people they know who need to hear your important and timely message. Need help with this? Go to Target Audience Identification for All Frontline Advocacy Staff [5.4.d] or download the Target Audience Planning worksheet (Word doc).
- Think of all the ways you can communicate your message to a variety of people. These are your strategies. Brainstorm beyond the A Team and get lots of people’s creative suggestions. Look at the tool Effective Strategies for Frontline Advocates [5.4.e] for some great ideas, and remember to decide who will be responsible for particular tasks.
- Congratulations! You’re just developed your A Team’s frontline advocacy plan. Now it’s time to write it down. You can summarize it in two pages by using this handy tool, Your A Team’s Frontline Advocacy Plan [5.4.f] or downloading the Frontline Advocacy Plan worksheet (Word doc).
- Find jobs for everyone on your library’s staff and anyone else who wants to help. Ask them to use their networks of friends, family and others to help spread the message that your special library really matters when it comes to individual and organizational success. Let them work at their comfort level, and encourage them to have fun doing it.
- Get the A Team together regularly to evaluate how you’re doing and to celebrate a job well done. Can you use one more tool? Click on Evaluating Your Efforts [5.4.g] or download the Evaluating Your Efforts worksheet (Word doc) and make it easy to assess your performance.
Although "advocacy" is certainly not a new word in libraries, ALA President Camila Alire's initiative term "frontline advocacy" is a new term that focuses on the advocacy roles and responsibilities of all levels of employees in all types of libraries. And, although public, school and academic libraries have more easily identifiable related professional literature, special libraries - while rich in subject content – see very little professional information relating to frontline advocacy.
Every Voice Makes a Difference! Flashcard for Special Libraries (PDF)
Besides outstanding content (both for SLA members and non-members) on the SLA website, there are resources and recommended directions for special librarians who are interested in researching the professional literature with an interest in expanding their advocacy efforts. These directions include:
- Networking with national or regional Special Library Association members who are active in advocating both externally and internally to special library environments
- Exploring the professional literature of other related associations for advocacy content that is close to frontline advocacy
- Tracking special library literature for related advocacy areas specific to unique or special environments such as health sciences librarians, special collections librarians, etc.
- Exploring solo librarianship content for recommended advocacy directions
- Identifying related issues in advocacy in general such as the use of ROI data in justifying budget requests and/or the value of libraries in tough economic times
Many general advocacy tools are easily available over the Internet because a wide variety of organizations depend on advocacy for their livelihood. In addition, check out resources from the Medical Library Association, under Library Public Relations and Marketing.
ALA President Camila Alire wishes to thank the Neal-Schuman Foundation for its generous support of the Frontline Advocacy Initiative.
The Neal-Schuman Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation formed to aid, assist, and promote research and educational activities for the improvement of library and information services. For more information, contact www.neal-schuman.com .