Library trustees are powerful advocates for libraries. Through the coordination, hard work, and determination of trustees, new libraries have been built, budgets have been restored and increased, and new respect has been generated for the powerful role libraries play in communities and on campuses. As part of a trustee board, trustees serve on a volunteer basis, can be elected or appointed to a library board for a period of time, and are tasked with the duty of helping to direct the funds and policies of an institution. In general, the library board of trustees has a role in determining the mission of the library, setting the policy that governs the library, hiring and evaluating a library director, and overseeing the general management of the library. This role varies with every library system. For specifics on the role your board of trustee has, contact your local library.
Ideas for Established Trustees
ALA's United for Libraries division offers an electronic discussion list for trustees to discuss issues pertinent their trusteeship, plus legislative and media information.
Determine what you want to accomplish. To pass a referendum? Increase the library budget? Pass a new law on the state or local level? Once you’ve identified goals, you’re ready to organize.
Be sure to get informed about the duties and responsibilities of your role. It’s not uncommon for the role of the Friends and public library Trustees to become confused. What is a Trustee’s role? What authority and responsibilities do Friends have? If these groups are unsure of their respective authorities, conflict can arise. See the United for Libraries Trustee Tip Sheets for more information.
Register for the Trustee Academy. The Trustee Academy is a series of online courses to help Trustees become exceptionally proficient in their roles on behalf of libraries. All courses are taught by a professional in the field and priced a la carte, so attendees can choose individual courses that are important to them, or a full curriculum (with discounted pricing).
Get informed about sample policies for Trustees. The United for Libraries website has many sample policies for your perusal, including policies on Ethics, Conflict of Interest, and Sponsorship Policy and Procedures.
Become familiar with the Model Friends' Cooperative Network (PDF), which will help you define the roles of the Friends, Trustees, and library staff to support the library. United for Libraries personal and group members also have access to an annotated version of this resource, available at www.ala.org/united with a username and password. If you are a United for Libraries personal or group member and need a login, please email email@example.com. Once logged in, look for "Expanded Model Friends' Cooperative Network."
Peruse the series of online articles “Tales from a New Trustee.” Dave Hargett's series aims to educate and entertain as he shares his experiences as a new library Trustee, including successes, failures and mistakes. You’ll find such topics as “Becoming a Library Trustee,” “What Does a Library Trustee Do,” “Attending the ALA Annual Conference,” and “Working in Committees.”
Plan Campaigns and Events
Plan a library event
Create an event that will get your Friends, trustees or other volunteers involved, and allow you to showcase your library. Host the event at the library a local mall, county fair, park, or campus and invite the media to attend. Both www.Ilovelibraries.org and www.ala.org offer information on initiatives celebrated nationwide, including Banned Books Weeks, Teen Read Week and National Library Week. Invite elected officials to your events!
Hold an annual recognition event for library advocates, including business, campus, and community leaders and legislators who have lent support. An ideal time would be during National Library Week. A list of current events is available on the ALA website.
Attend state library legislative days—and the ALA National Library Legislative Day. Bring Friends, trustees and other supporters. To learn about federal issues, visit www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/federallegislation. Use Engage to contact your legislator. To learn about state issues, visit the website of your state library association.
Network and Strategize
Get Organized (Download the PDF).
Define your goals and objectives, assess the situation, identify critical tasks, develop a communication and work plan, and evaluate results.
Deliver your message (Download the PDF).
Set a communication plan with clearly defined key messages.
Target your audience (Download the PDF).
Who can help you achieve what you want? Brainstorm potential audiences. For example, if your library enjoys strong support among senior citizens, they may be a primary audience for a ballot initiative on funding.
Identify communication strategies (Download the PDF).
There are three primary types of communication strategies: Outreach to groups, personal contact, and the media. Think carefully about how to reach your target audience and remember that the most effective is one-on-one communication; i.e., a visit to a legislator is more likely to be remembered than a letter, and a personal letter of support carries more weight than a direct mail brochure.
Select your communications mechanisms (Download the PDF).
Options are: news releases or media advisories, non-library publications, op-eds and letters-to-the-editor, partnerships and coalitions, publications, public service announcements, radio and TV talk shows, speaking engagements, special events and promotions, a telephone tree, and Web and internet outreach (including Facebook, blogs, wikis, and podcasts).
Speak out (Download the PDF)!
For any advocacy campaign to work, there must be spokespeople who are knowledgeable and skilled in delivering the library message. A few great statistics can be impressive, but stories bring the library message to life: Tell stories about how the library has made a difference in your life. Personalize your remarks, be prepared, practice a conversational delivery style, show your enthusiasm, and use visual aids when appropriate.
Deal effectively with the media (Download the PDF).
It’s important that libraries have a media policy. Spokespeople should know or have copies of the library’s key message on various topics and be ready to answer difficult questions with sound bites that reporters need for their stories.
Deal with bad news in a positive way (Download the PDF).
For instance: A ballot issue fails; a parent goes straight to the media after her son views “pornography” at the library; or neighborhood residents protest a branch closing. Focus on the solution, apologize if appropriate, and prepare one-page message sheets that include key messages, and talking points.
Get to know your representatives (Download the PDF).
You’ve elected them; but how can you get them to help your cause? Get to know them—and their staff—first. Visit your representatives’ websites to learn their issues and priorities. Invite them to your libraries and let them see how valuable your library is to the community. Ask them to support libraries, and library-friendly policies and give them specific ways to get involved.
Talk, talk, talk (Download the PDF)!
Look around you. There are people everywhere who could use their library and don’t—because they don’t understand the valuable resources waiting for them there. At the grocery store, student union, bank, post office, dorms, or on a walk with your dog, talk to people and tell them why you value the library.
Stay up to date on state and national activity. Contact the ALA Office for Library Advocacy and stay tuned to ALA's Advocacy University to view the latest resources, publications, and information on library advocacy, as well as sign up for advocacy discussion lists. Contact your state association for information on important issues affecting your state.
Create and distribute handouts (Download the PDF).
Create handouts that include information services and needs. These can include the library’s hours and services, a list of things the library needs, or any other pertinent library information. Post these documents on your library’s bulletin board. ALA provides a wealth of materials to help you get started through @ your library,® the Campaign for America’s Libraries.
Get press (Download the PDF).
Speak publicly about the specific value in your library. Are you good at public speaking? Call your local radio talk show or TV news. Like to write? Write an op-ed piece for your local paper, or ask students/faculty to write editorials for the campus paper. Be sure you’ve developed key messages and anticipated tough questions with solid responses ahead of time. T
Build your network (Download the PDF).
You’re powerful agent for change on your own, but involving more people makes your message even stronger. Developing a network of library advocates in your community is a great way to add voices to the chorus of support. Keep track of their contact information and availability. Start a phone tree or email list so when an issue arises, you can get the word out.
Other Ways to Get Involved
The following are additional ways you can advocate as a trustee of your library:
After you’ve gotten to know key officials, stay in touch even when you aren’t asking for something.
Attend hearings on library-related matters. Ask questions and voice your opinions.
Be a walking, talking billboard for libraries. Wear t-shirts and other pro-library accessories.
Be on the alert for good library user-stories and forward to the appropriate person.
Create a database with names of advocates, their contact information, names of their elected representatives and other pertinent information. Keep it current. Send it, along with the annual report, funding and legislative updates, and other concerns, to library advocates along with the library newsletter.
Maintain your advocacy network. Invite library users and others to testify at budget hearings, participate in media interviews, and visit legislators.
Work in collaboration with other organizations or departments. The library has a lot to offer potential partners as a visible, respected place with high traffic. For other tips on building your network, read “Building Your Network and Cultivating Relationships.” (Download the PDF)
Participate in influential community or campus groups and use this as an opportunity to get the library’s message out and recruit advocates.
Participate in state and national Library Legislative Days.
Raise funds to help raise awareness and build support for the library.
Recruit others to join you in speaking out for libraries.
Start an advocacy committee to work with library administrators and the board in building public awareness and support for the library.
Support candidates who support the library and donate to their campaigns.
Survey your library’s trustees, Friends and supporters. What civic or professional organizations do they belong to? Are they willing to write letters, call legislators and recruit more advocates? Do they have contacts with the media, administration, school board or community? Utilize this important resource.
Thank everyone involved in an advocacy effort. Whether it’s a personal letter, or a party or plaque, a thank you is a powerful tool.
Use a library message or quotation as part of your e-mail signature.
Use your political savvy and connections on behalf of the library.
Work at keeping a high profile for your library. Develop a marketing communication plan with a strong, consistent message.
Write, email, or call legislators and decision-makers to let them know you want them to support libraries.
Join United for Libraries to stay informed about the bigger picture of libraries and library-related issues and legislation.
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