Budget in the Crosshairs? Navigating a Challenging Budget Year

ALA Advocacy Library

 

Every librarian knows that funding is under threat for libraries in communities of all sizes and all across the nation. Unfortunately, these budget reductions are occurring at a time when customer demand for library services is increasing. Every library is potentially in the crosshairs. As a library director or manager, what can you do about it?

Start here. While every library’s situation has its own complexities, this guide to Navigating a Challenging Budget Year will provide a good foundation to help you navigate your challenging budget year. It will prove especially helpful to library directors and managers of small-to-medium sized public libraries, if you’re not a public librarian don’t stop reading . Much of the information contained in this guide is applicable to other kinds of libraries too – academic, school and special libraries. 

Above all, remember that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to figure out how to respond to the challenge all by yourself. There are great advocacy ideas everywhere. ALA’s website is rich in resources.

Contents:

Understand the Big Picture
Gear Up for Advocacy: Turn Worry into Action
Build the Foundation for Your Library’s Message
Marshall Your Resources: Strength in Numbers
Tell Your Story: Persuading Decision Makers
Moving Forward: After the Dust Settles



Understand the Big Picture: The Question of Fairness

While you know intuitively that economic challenges are fueling library budget reductions everywhere, when the cuts hit your library, it feels personal. Important questions have to be answered.  The question which must be answered first will affect all the rest of your steps: Is the library’s budget being cut with fairness, or is the library being singled out as the easy place to cut?

If Your Cuts are Challenging, but Fair:

If you determine that the cuts your library is facing will be challenging but not disproportionate to those of other departments of your city/county/township, you have already made one major decision about how to proceed to the next step. Fair distributions of budget cuts mean that your next steps will be collaborative, not adversarial. You now have an opportunity to demonstrate to decision makers that the library’s leadership is important to the community - in smooth times and in challenging ones.

Chances are, your library’s use has increased since the economy has been under stress.  Now is the time to take your place at the table and work with colleagues in other departments to determine how losses in one area can be supported in another. For example:

  • Are you likely to lose some evening hours? Can the recreation center or another facility serve students who would normally frequent the library in the evening?
  • Where will job seekers go if your library is closed an extra day each week?
  • Do people have free access to computers elsewhere in your community?
  • Who will welcome the seniors who spend time in your reference area reading newspapers and magazines?

How can you and your colleagues in leadership positions work together to address these issues together and in a way that brings as little disruption of service as possible?

If Your Cuts are Challenging, and Don’t Feel Fair:

If you feel that working with other departments alone will not solve your problem, or if the cuts are disproportionate, requiring the library to shoulder an unfair portion of revenue reductions, you have a very different problem and very different steps to undertake.  Your response will be shaped by a number of criteria, but some new questions need to be answered before you take action.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • How have community services and materials been affected by cuts already?
  • What might happen if the current trend continues?
  • How is the library valued by its community members?
  • Has your library faced a number of consecutive budget reductions?  What have the cumulative affects been?
  • Have other city/county/township departments faced reductions?  What is the size of the library’s potential reductions relative to those?
  • What type of supporters do you have, and how prepared are they to communicate with decision makers?
  • Can you, the library director/manager, work visibly with your supporters, or do you have to stay out of the public spotlight to preserve your own employment situation?
  • Are your library and your community prepared to undertake a library advocacy campaign to prevent unfair budget cuts?

If you determine that your cuts should be challenged and that an advocacy campaign that generates public support for the library might reduce their impact, then it’s time for you to gear up, gather your staff and other supporters and become an agent for change.

The Power of Advocacy

Advocacy means supporting a cause or course of action. It includes a wide range of activities from simple, everyday interactions by library staff to carefully-organized lobbying activities.

All of us are free to speak up for the ideals and institutions we cherish. Librarians, library staff and people who understand that the library is essential to the well-being of its community have an obligation to exercise that freedom. Your task, and theirs, is to persuade decision makers that your library’s services are a contributor to and an indicator of community health. The library directly impacts a myriad of community issues such as adult and child literacy, truancy, crime, employment, equal access to information, cultural enrichment, lifelong learning and more.

If your budget cuts don’t feel fair for any of the reasons above or for any reasons of your own, don’t underestimate the impact that advocacy efforts can make. In today’s world, where people are often too busy to take time to become a visible supporter of institutions that are under threat, voices of advocates ring out louder and clearer than ever.

It’s easy to think about advocacy when there is a crisis situation, but advocacy is something that should be part of every library’s everyday agenda.

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Turn Worry Into Action and Gear Up for Advocacy

The first reaction many library administrators have when learning that significant budget decreases are likely to occur is panic: “We can’t do this!” The second one is worry: “I don’t know how to do this.”

Whether you feel your cuts are fair or unfair, it’s time to turn that worry into action. Take a few deep breaths. There are some constructive things you can do at this early stage.

Understand Your Timeline    

Timelines vary widely. What is yours? It’s the number of weeks or months you have between the day you learn that cuts are likely and the day when decisions will be made about the depth of those cuts. Six weeks? Three months? In many instances, the timeline may be fairly long, six to nine months or more. A long timeline has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, you have a significant period of time to plan, advocate and communicate. On the minus side, your staff will feel anxious for all of these months, and it will be up to you to be both honest and positive in your messages to them.

If you take action to reduce the impact that cuts will have on your library’s services, your timeline will serve as the framework to help you organize those efforts.  Every library has a unique set of circumstances and a timeline that might be longer or shorter than another’s. The first set of activities, listed below, should take anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on the length of time you have and the resources available to you.

Take Some Immediate Action    

If you learn that your household budget is going to be stressed due to a job change that will reduce your personal income, what’s the first thing you do? You look at your expenditures and determine which ones are fixed and which ones are discretionary. Where can you cut back? Do you eat out three times a week? Once a week may be all that’s in your new budget. Love those premium cable channels? You can learn to love the basic package too.

You get the idea. Your library’s budget can be approached the same way. Some costs are out of your control: Your library has to be staffed, lit, air conditioned and heated all the hours it’s open. Your computers, printers and copiers must function all the time. But some other costs are well under your control. For example:

  • Materials are a big part of every library’s budget, and you can start there.
  • What purchases can cease for the time being?
  • Which can be cut back? New DVDs? Journal subscriptions?
  • What about programming? That’s painful to cut, but if it adds to your costs in terms of staffing or supplies, it’s expendable.
  • How about printed materials? They can add up too.
  • The computers you’d planned to replace this year? That purchase may have to be deferred.

In other words, the place to start is with what you spend. Pare back now, and the cuts you dread will be a little less painful when they are a reality.

Seek Advice    

Because the problem of decreased budgets is so widespread among libraries of all sizes everywhere, chances are you have professional colleagues who have been – or may currently be – in your shoes. Talk to them! There is much to be learned from the experience of others.

Communicate Change    

Open, positive communication is important during the entire process of budget-cut planning and implementation. At every stage of the change process you will be an important source of information to a broad audience. Your staff, the general public and your decision makers will be looking to you for accurate information.

Communicate with Your Staff

You can be absolutely certain that your staff will be anxious and perhaps discontent from the moment they realize that cuts are coming. Who can blame them? For your staff, it’s about more than library services. Their jobs are on the line. Uncertainty always fuels the rumor mill. Gossip and rumors will fly, and it will be your job to keep them at a minimal level by communicating openly and regularly with your staff.

But how much communication and what kind? Believe it or not, it’s possible to communicate too much, and too much communication can cause people to worry more. You may be approached by staff members who want to know every detail and nuance of your budget challenges. Assure them that you will cut everything possible before turning to staff reductions, but resist the urge to share all of the “what if” and “it’s possible” scenarios. That will stress people despite your good intentions. One simple rule: Make it a point never to share information that isn’t firm.

Communicate in a variety of ways:

  • Send e-mail memos to your staff throughout the budget planning process. E-mailing gives you the power to craft your communications carefully, and it gives staff opportunities to respond to issues that energize or concern them. It invites dialogue.
  • Use your intranet to post minutes of administrative meetings in which the budget concerns were discussed. This sharing of information gives those meetings a transparency that your staff will appreciate and will help them feel “in the loop.”
  • Use your intranet, too, to invite staff members to submit ideas (perhaps anonymously) for budget reductions. Don’t underestimate the insight that your staff may have. You can’t think of everything.
  • Hold “coffee and conversation” meetings with staff members. It will be a great trust builder and will allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of your staff’s anxieties. If you’re a director of a multi-branch system and there are management staff between you and many of your frontline employees, consider making these coffee and conversations management-free so that your more cautious staff members feel they have direct access to you without worrying about what their supervisor might think of their ideas or concerns.
  • Always let your staff know that you are listening and that their opinions matter. Empowerment is important, because the situations people fear most are the ones in which they feel powerless. All of these ideas encourage open exchange, build trust and empower your staff.

Communicate with Your Board, Trustees and Friends
 
Let this group of insiders know about your budget challenges as soon as you’ve informed your staff. Tell them you will be looking at all parts of the budget for areas that can be reduced and that you may be calling upon them for their help and advice.

Communicate with the Community

  • Be sure you let people know that the library will be experiencing cutbacks, but that its staff understands the community’s challenges and is part of a team that is working to ensure that community needs are met.
  • Tell them that careful planning is underway.
  • Let your community know that library services will be maintained at the highest possible level, even when hours and staff are reduced.
  • Make sure that changes in services are communicated through every channel open to you. Use:
    • Your library’s website
    • Your city/county/township’s website
    • Signs, flyers and bookmarks inside and outside the library
    • Conversations between your frontline staff and people in the community
    • Your community newspaper and its website
    • Local radio and TV
  • Keep your messages positive and remind staff to do the same. Remember that it’s not your patrons’ fault that your budget is being reduced. Declare your library a NO WHINING zone.

Advocate for a Community Survey    

Libraries that have had the good fortune to be included in surveys in which individual community members are asked to value or rank their community’s services are in wonderful place indeed. Why? Whenever community service rankings occur, the library always comes out near the top because people consider their library to be an essential service. Public safety (police and fire) may rank higher, but you can be sure that your library will finish very strong. For this reason, one excellent advocacy strategy is to convince your governing body to survey its citizens about what services they value most in these tough economic times. Surveys can be done easily on the city/county/township’s website and inserted in city-wide mailings such as water bills.

When the results come in and your library finishes in the top rankings, you will have gained valuable justification for keeping your budget strong. You won’t have to “plead your case” because the people in your community will have spoken. They will make that case for you. Your job will be to be sure that decision makers hear and understand individuals’ strong feelings of library affection and support.

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Build the Foundation for Your Library’s Message

If you have succeeded in persuading your city/county/township to initiate a community survey of public services, you will have learned that your library is ranked among its most valuable. This information will help you build a compelling case for decision makers.  To further build your case you will want some additional data.  Statistical data you already keep is vital in any discussion about budgets, but it can’t convey the inevitable personal impact of reducing library services.  For that reason, new data must round out your case. This is the time to use every tool in your toolbox to build a strong foundation for your advocacy message. Once laid, that foundation - and your craftsmanship- will create the most effective and best-delivered advocacy message.

Your Library and its Community    

Your library, at its essence, is a community place. It is something special to everyone in your community who uses it, and even to those who don’t. In 2009, over 25 million Americans reported using their library more than 20 times in the last year. (source: [PDF] ALA Office for Research and Statistics: "A Perfect Storm Brewing")

Libraries and their communities enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship: The library provides resources to support the community, and the community devotes a portion of its resources to support the library. Building a foundation for your library’s advocacy message means connecting library services directly to the issues that your community feels are the highest priorities.

 Ten BIG Reasons Your Library Is an Essential Place

  • It’s your community’s best pre-school learning place.
  • It complements your schools and is the parent-preferred after-school place for children and teens.
  • It’s the place that many people in your community know has all the resources need for job searches.
  • It’s a place to access information in a variety of formats, from print to electronic and everything in between.
  • It’s a place where community member gather: for story times, book clubs, community meetings, classes, job counseling, and so much more.
  • It’s the place for adult literacy needs, from getting a GED, to college information, to resources for immigrants learning English.
  • It’s the place to access e-government services.
  • It’s the place for equal Internet and information access for anyone in your community.
  • It’s the place to get professional help if you want to assess the accuracy and relevance of information you find.
  • It’s a place for lifelong learning for everyone, on an equal basis and free of charge.

When you look at the list above, you’ll realize that a great deal of library usage is tied to the Internet. ALA has published a series of “Issues Briefs,” to help you think about the connection between big community issues and Internet accessibility through public libraries. Visit the link below to learn how to tie your library to some of your community’s most pressing needs:

Digital Inclusion Survey Issues Briefs

Your Data Matters    

What data matters most if you are trying to preserve as much of your library’s budget as possible?

Use the data you already collect, and examine it over the past few years. This data is one of the best tools in your toolbox. For example:

  • How has your collection grown? In size? In format?
  • How many visitors do you have annually?
  • How many items do you loan annually?
  • How many library card holders do you have?
  • What is the size of your staff?
  • How many requests for assistance do they fulfill each year?
  • How many hours are you open each week?
  • How many public access computers do you offer?
  • How many times a year are they used?
  • How many job seekers used your library last year?
  • What kind of special services and/or programs do you have for children and teens?
  • How are those used?
  • How many adult programs do you offer?
  • How are those used?

Think about collecting new data. It’s not difficult or time-consuming, and it can yield you some valuable insights because it will bring you some “softer” data.

Gather new data easily. Launch a community survey of your own, asking residents to help you plan library services by giving you personal feedback. The survey should be available for a two-to-three week period on your library’s website, and you should have paper copies available for people to complete in the library as well. Professional-looking online surveys can be easily compiled using online resources such as Survey Monkey, Zoomerang, and Freeonlinesurveys.com, for example.

What do you want to know? Here are 15 ideas to get you started:

  • How frequently do you or a family member use [your library’s name]?
  • Why do you use the library?
  • Which branch(es) do you use most (if applicable)?
  • What services are the most important to you?
  • What kinds of materials are most important to you?
  • Are you able to get help from staff when you need it?
  • What kind of staff help matters the most to you?
  • Is the library clean? Safe? Welcoming?
  • Do you have to wait for a computer?
  • How important are classes or programming to you?
  • Do the library’s current hours meet your needs?
  • Which hours are most important to you for the library to be open?
  • Where would you like to see the library focus its resources – collection, staff, computers & software, classes & programs?
  • How would you rank the benefits of [your library’s name] compared to other tax-supported services: top/middle/bottom?
  • General demographic information (age, gender, ethnicity, zip code, income)

Encourage testimonials from library users. Tell people’s stories! If your statistics are hard numbers, and your survey of residents is a little softer, then people’s personal stories are softer still. They put a face on all the other kinds of information. Most people enjoy talking about their experiences. Invite individuals of all ages to express what the library means to them. They can express themselves in any way they wish – prose, poetry, art, music, video. Talk to:

  • The parent or grandparent who brings a preschooler in for books and stories and who remembers his or her parent or grandparent doing the same.
  • The kids who consider your library the perfect after-school hangout place.
  • The teens who flock to your social networking sites or your bean bag chairs.
  • The teacher who uses your library’s collection to supplement her school library.
  • The middle-aged man who attended your class on resume writing and then found a job.
  • The family who saves money by renting their music, games and movies free at your library instead of paying rental fees elsewhere.

You get the idea. Now add your own ideas here.

Share these stories as you develop your library’s plan for the future, and create an effective advocacy message at the same time.

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Marshal Your Resources: Strength in Numbers

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.

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?

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Tell Your Story: Persuading Decision Makers

A great advocacy campaign requires an effective message, creative ways of communicating it, an audience that includes decision makers, and meaningful jobs for people who want to help you get your message out.

5.1 Craft Your Message
5.2 Who’s Listening?
5.3 Communicate in Many Ways
5.4 Put People to Work

Craft Your Message    

You’ve let your constituents know that cuts are coming, and now it’s time to create a polished message that will inspire them to get out and show their support. Your advocacy message should be tightly focused on one issue: “Help us keep our library strong!” Your library is not a frill; it’s essential to the health and welfare of your community. It’s a reflection of the quality of life all around you. Your library has served its citizens well for a long time and must continue to serve them after this budget cycle is over.

While this guide to Navigating a Challenging Budget Year isn’t intended to develop a perfect advocacy message for your library – you and your Budget Response Team must do that – it can provide some helpful tips. For example, your advocacy message should:

  • Be positive. This is not about whining!
  • Be directly tied to what people value about your library.
  • Be catchy. That means concise, to the point and attention grabbing. Maybe it’s a slogan.
  • Be memorable, something that will stay with people.
  • Lend itself to a variety of formats (flyers, bookmarks, posters, petitions, postcards, newsletters, websites, media ads, etc.)

There are some guidelines on other ALA websites that address creating advocacy messages. Read those before you start embarking on creating your own. Here are a few helpful links:

Who’s Listening?    

You want a broad audience of people to hear your message, but you particularly want decision makers to hear it.

Communicate in Many Ways    

Because this is not a one-size-fits-all world, people see and hear in their own way. That’s why you’ll want to think of as many ways as possible to communicate your strong advocacy message. First of all:

Do You Need Money for Advocacy?

The answer to that question is “yes and no.”

“Yes” because many of the best methods of getting your message out come with a price tag. (That price tag doesn’t have to be large, however.)  “No” because there are some activities you can carry out at essentially no cost.

You can do a lot with limited funds, but before you write any checks, prioritize. Don’t spend your precious dollars on efforts that aren’t the most cost-effective. See the checklist below for some proven ideas.

One important caveat: You may not be able to spend library funds on advocacy of this sort. Advocacy dollars may have to come from an outside source. If your Friends group has raised money through book sales or other events, can you use those resources? If you don’t have any extra funds on hand, can your Friends or trustees raise some support? That will generate both money and awareness. Will a printer donate his or her services? Will your newspaper donate advertising space? Get creative!  Your library is in the crosshairs.

Checklist of Ideas for Getting Your Advocacy Message Out

Some of these ideas are free, some require money (but not a lot). Look over the list and see which ones feel right for your library, and use your Budget Response Team as a resource as you decide what will work best.

  • Print your own flyers and bookmarks right in your library. Explain what’s happening, how your library will be impacted, and how people can help. Include decision makers’ contact information. Keep your message positive. Remember: Your library is a NO WHINING zone!
  • Post your advocacy message prominently on your library’s website, and each day post something new that supports your message. Use your library’s statistics, testimonials from users, famous quotations, trivia questions, anything that reinforces your message and brings visitors to your website every day. Have some fun with this!
  • Start a petition drive and gather as many signatures as you can. This is a great way to use volunteers.
  • Establish a “telephone calling tree” whereby six people call six people who call six other people…etc. Prepare a short script for callers.
  • Hold a “Library Snapshot Day” to document a day in the life of your library. Visit ALA’s website ALA Office for Library Advocacy - Primer for Library Snapshot Day to find out more.
  • Invite your youngest library fans to draw pictures or write poems about what makes the library fun and exciting. Hang these in the library and around the community.
  • Send e-mail blasts to library card holders for whom you have e-mail addresses. Invite them to e-mail decision makers, and provide appropriate e-mail addresses of public officials.
  • Pre-print and pre-address postcards that library users and others can easily pick up, add their messages to, and mail to the individuals who will be determining the level of your library’s cuts.
  • Similarly, have a pre-printed letter to decision makers available in .pdf format on your website that people can download, print, sign and mail. Postcards and letters from citizens to decision makers can be very effective, but do this only if you think you can “flood” decision makers with them. A weak trickling of postcards or letters might tell give the impression that no one cares very much.
  • Speak to book clubs, civic and community groups, parent gatherings, senior groups, teen organizations, business associations, and other gatherings made up of people who use and value your library. Your library’s Budget Response Team can help here. Communicate your advocacy message and then why and how you need their help.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper. Maybe that letter should come from you, or maybe it should come from someone on your Budget Response Team or from someone well-respected in your community who is not directly associated with the library.
  • Advertise in your local paper or on that paper’s website to expose lots of readers to your message. (Be sure to ask for reduced advertising rates!)
  • Find out whether your local newspaper considers your budget challenges and possible cutback in library services a news story. Contact the appropriate reporter directly.
  • Contact your local radio and/or television stations and see if they are interested in a feature story or interview.
  • Have some small buttons made with your library’s advocacy message and give them out by the handful.
  • Place flyers in businesses, schools, coffee shops and other locations where people might pause and read about your library’s situation and be motivated to help.
  • Host an event at your library. A rally, march or other gathering of supporters who will shout your message will attract attention and possibly the media.

Put People to Work    

Everyone who works for your library is a member of your “frontline” staff. They are the people that library users deal with everyday. Even staff in positions that don’t put them in direct contact with library users are the face of your library because their families, friends, neighbors and others know they work at the library. For this reason, they are your #1 best advocates. ALA has online toolkits to help frontline staff become more effective advocates, to think consciously about promoting the library and its needs during their daily interactions with users and others. You can find the toolkits here: ALA - Office for Library Advocacy - Frontline Advocacy Toolkits.

Don’t forget your Budget Response Team. They are your senior leadership and should be available for a wide range of advocacy and communication activities.

Your library has a big fan base. They’re your “library lovers.” Many have been faithful users for years and you and your staff know lots of them on a first name basis. They are children, teens, parents, singles, teachers, workers, job seekers, new Americans, seniors, and others. Engage them! It’s within the power of everyone who loves your library to speak up for it. Library loves can volunteer to distribute flyers around the community, knock on doors with petitions, write letters, make phone calls, send e-mails and generally be your library’s face and voice far beyond where you and your staff can reach.

Don’t be shy about asking people who are respected leaders in your community to come forward on your behalf. Their endorsement will carry weight with decision makers and will encourage others in your community, those who admire and respect them, to join in your effort.

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Moving Forward: After the Dust Settles

You’ve just waged an advocacy campaign. Maybe you feel it was successful, maybe it didn’t yield the results you had hoped for. Whatever the outcome, your job is not finished yet.

Communicate

Again? Yes, communication is important at every stage of this process. Library users and others in the community need to know the final outcome of your budget reductions and understand how those reductions will impact them. Use the same methods of communication you used to get your advocacy message out, but this time use those methods to convey the outcome. Be sure people know if the library’s hours or services are changing.

Say “Thank You”

Whether the decision makers have left you smiling or frowning, you have many people to thank.

  • Your staff. They should be your first priority. Your staff will have weathered a period of anxiety, possibly a long one, and might have had to accept a wage freeze, fewer paid hours or even been through the stress of layoffs. Let them know you appreciate them.
  • Your Budget Response Team and other leaders. These individuals took the journey with you, and they gave generously of their time, energy, ideas, networks, and maybe even their financial resources.
  • Your colleagues. Your library is part of a menu of community services, and the leadership in other departments is part of the same team you’re on. If your outcome is a good one, be sure they know how much you appreciate their cooperation and help.
  • If your outcome brings you disappointment or resentment, put it aside for the sake of your staff and the integrity of your library.
  • Your community. When any community faces cuts in essential services, it’s hard on everyone. They should be thanked for their support, patience and their continued patronage of your library and its services.

Develop an Ongoing Plan for Advocacy

Whether you’ve accepted your library’s budget cuts or challenged them, whether your outcome feels successful or disappointing, one fact remains: Your library needs an ongoing plan for advocacy. Don’t wait for a crisis to actively advocate for your library’s services! Advocacy should be a year-round effort that everyone on your staff participates in. Practice it every day and you’ll find that, when a crisis arises, advocacy comes easily and naturally.

  • Everyone on your staff is a potential “frontline” advocate because they represent the library to many individuals, library users and nonusers alike. Help your staff think about and become comfortable with daily advocacy interactions. Check out ALA’s Frontline Advocacy Toolkits for practical, easy-to- adopt ideas for making frontline advocacy part of your library’s way of doing business. More ALA Frontline Advocacy tools and resources!
  • Work with your Friends group, trustees/board, staff and the general public to ensure that the decision makers always know that the library is a vital part of any community.  The library is a valuable asset that must be maintained in good times and bad

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ALA Advocacy Library