Advocacy and ALCTS: What’s It All About?

By Eleanor I. Cook, ALCTS Liaison to the ALA Advocacy Coordinating Group

Since 2009, I’ve served as the division liaison to the ALA Advocacy Coordinating Group, which is a clearinghouse of divisional representatives charged “to foster communication and cooperation among all interested committees, units, and divisions in order to develop programs and activities in support of library advocacy and the association's advocacy plan. The Advocacy Coordinating Group will exchange information and share ideas for coordination of programming and training; develop and promote strategies for increased advocacy activity; promote cooperation and enhance the effectiveness of advocacy activities throughout the association; and strengthen ALA's national, state, local and international advocacy efforts.” This group is a subcommittee of the ALA Committee on Advocacy, an ALA Council Committee.

It’s now 2012 and ALCTS is just now climbing aboard the Advocacy bandwagon, so to speak. What’s taken us so long? During my first two-year term, I attended the meetings and learned what advocacy was all about. I spent a lot of time listening and learning. Some of the concepts, while they made complete sense to me in theory, weren’t seemingly relevant to our division’s aims. It took me some time to come to the point of “getting it,” even though I knew in my heart that technical services librarians need advocacy skills more than ever these days. After all, who among us aren’t champions for standards? Who does front line outreach to our vendors and suppliers? (We do!) But how well are we equipped to stand up to our administrations or communities to explain our everyday worth within the operation of our libraries? Sometimes woefully unprepared, aren’t we? The party line has almost become: In the age of outsourced, shelf-ready supplied materials and records, demand-driven acquisitions, and the like, why even have a technical services operation? We need to know the answer to that question, and we need to be ready to tell everyone who asks why our skill sets, though changing in many ways, are increasingly important.

Now that I have your attention, what have we been doing within ALCTS to prepare to be advocates? Just this past year, ALCTS appointed an Advocacy Task Force to examine how our division might approach advocacy issues and actions. After all, ALCTS isn’t representative of any particular type of library, unlike some other divisions. The Task Force held an e-forum in February 2012 to explore the concept of advocacy as it relates to ALCTS and technical services. The ideas we gathered from this exercise were helpful in gaining insights into why advocacy as a concept is so hard for us to grasp.

Next steps: The Task Force has issued a report to the ALCTS Board, has sent forward a proposal for a preference for 2013, and has asked the ALCTS Board to consider having an advocacy session with committee chairs and board members. The Task Force has also asked the ALCTS Board to consider a more permanent group to address advocacy for technical services.

Whether ALCTS remains on the sidelines of the advocacy movement or joins the action with its own particular spin remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’ll keep attending the meetings and bringing back the latest news, with the hopes that we can find a niche in this arena.