Working with Community Leaders


Few institutions enjoy the credibility and goodwill that libraries have. Libraries today are less about what they have for people and more about what they do for and with people. Library professionals promote opportunities for individuals and progress for communities. As champions of lifelong learning, libraries are a place to quench curiosity, access technology, and explore new ideas, hobbies, and careers. Increasingly, libraries also offer patrons a neutral space to meet with their neighbors to discuss and resolve important issues. By working with community leaders, librarians will increase public and media awareness about the critical role of libraries in communities around the country.

  • Inspire ongoing conversations about the role of the library in the community
  • Cultivate a network of community allies and advocates for the library
  • Position the library as a trusted convener to help respond to community issues
  • Engage public support when intellectual freedom comes under attack


Things You Need to Know

Before meeting with the members of your community, it is helpful to have a starting point for information about Intellectual Freedom and Advocacy. Below are some links to get you started:

The Library Bill of Rights was adopted by the American Library Association in 1939 in response to the censorship happening during World War II. This set of six articles defines the core values of librarianship.
Intellectual Freedom Q&A
Intellectual Freedom Issues and Resources
Censorship Support
Privacy Resources
Filters and Filtering
Media Relations Handbook for Libraries

If more information or assistance is needed the Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation are great resources.


Identifying Community Leaders

It starts with you

  • Who do you already know?
  • Who does your staff, trustees, friends of the library, or foundation groups know?

Think about

  • Which organizations you have developed personal and professional relationships with?
  • Who are the busiest and most visible people in the community?
  • Who is already a library user and advocate for the library?
  • Which organizations and people share the same values and mission of the library?

Map your community

  • Figure out which organizations and key people fit into these categories.

Map Your Community

It’s wise to identify potential supporters of censorship and learn about their primary concerns so you can develop effective messages and engage in meaningful dialogue.


How to Talk to Your Community

Look around you. There are people everywhere who could use their library, and who don’t know about the valuable resources just waiting for them. At the grocery store, student union, the bank, PTA or staff meetings, the post office, in dorms, on a walk with your dog—talk to people and tell them why you love and value the library. Help them see what they could learn there, and how they can help bolster support for this cornerstone of their community, campus or school. You can be a hero for your library with just a friendly conversation.

Start small

  • Attend Chamber of Commerce networking events, forums or townhalls to start building relationships. Find your local Chamber of Commerce here.
  • Create an introduction (and practice saying it outloud). In fact, create more than one introduction - one you can use in front of several people and one you can use one-on-one are a great way to start. Get creative, think about who you are and what you do, then articulate it in a way that others will understand (no jargon and no acronyms!). Examples below.

Sample Conversation             Sample Conversation

  • Make a mini-goal to attend one networking event a month and exchange cards with at least three people at each event. A few days after the event, send a “Nice to meet you” email to each person you exchanged cards with. 

Take it a step further

  • Identify existing communication channels (city newsletters, economic development newsletters, library newsletters, library friends and foundation groups' newsletters, local community calendars, chamber of commerce newsletters, philanthropic organization newsletters, parent magazines, local papers, homeowners association newsletters) and find out if you can regularly submit events or brief articles about Banned Books Week, Choose Privacy Week, and other programs or topics. 

Have a conversation

  • Choose two community leaders and ask them for a quick meeting (15-30 minutes) to learn about their vision of the library’s role in the community. If you ask to meet in person, offer to go to their office. Use this as a time to listen and learn by encouraging them to do most of the talking. 
  • Use this information to inform library services and programs, how you will continue to build relationships in the community, and how you can further intellectual freedom in your community.

Be your library’s ambassador

  • Go out into your community and do public appearances to advocate for your library. Visit your local Lions, Elks, or Rotary Club, student and faculty meetings, parent meetings at neighborhood schools, union meetings, and neighborhood watch groups—wherever people gather. Offer to speak about the things your library offers, and how many people are served there. Paint a picture of your school and community without this wonderful resource—and then enlist the help of these powerful groups in supporting the people and buildings behind it!

Continue to engage

  • Send everyone in your network a Banned Books Week button.
  • Invite your connections to intellectual freedom programs.
  • Ask for participation in social media promotions.
  • Host the next chamber of commerce/networking meeting or event at the library and highlight the importance of intellectual freedom and the First Amendment.


Engaging Public Support During a Crisis

During a library materials challenge, we often hear from community members who are offended or concerned about the issue at hand. They are emotionally invested and willing to spend time and energy to sway public opinion and decision makers. It’s not uncommon to hear insults or threats. Librarians often feel attacked, stressed, and isolated.

Public support during a challenge in Texas.Community leaders may not even know that a challenge is going on at the library unless they are also invested and engaged. They may use the library and value the right to read and even love the book that is the center of the controversy but that passion and support can’t be harnessed unless they know they are needed. How can you know they are supportive and willing to stand up for the right to read if there isn’t already a connection with valued community leaders?

  • Encourage letters to the editor in your local newspaper. Provide necessary details such as the email address, the word limit, and any deadlines.
  • Provide buttons or ribbons to wear.
  • Send invitations to events or groups on social media and ask them to share to their networks.
  • Ask community leaders to speak at board meeting or public forums in favor of the library, reading freely, and the work of librarians in protecting the First Amendment.

All too often, we librarians stay in our silos, talking only to those who go to the same conferences, use the same acronyms, and share similar administrative structures. Collaboration with like-minded organizations can create renewed enthusiasm and new library supporters. Whether you’re designing programs and curriculum or looking for writers and speakers, you may want to consider friends who share your values but can offer different perspectives.

But there is not only strength and safety in numbers. There is also the opportunity to learn more about the complex ecosystem of community and public service, and have a far richer understanding of the world we live in. Working with community leaders not only creates a foundation of support for the library but also provides librarians with an essential pipeline to the needs of their neighbors.

Updated May 2017 by
Megan Biddle (Collection Services Manager, Four County Library System, NY)
Jennifer Ferriss (Southern Adirondack Library System, NY)
Theresa Jehlik (Strategy and Business Intelligence Manager, Omaha Public Library, NE)
Jana Kelly (Adult Services Coordinator, Jefferson County Public Library, CO)