Stakeholders are the lifeblood of a library. They are our audience and our supporters. We need to keep them happy, and to give them all the materials and services they want and need. We need to justify our expenditures and our existence to them.
In short: Stakeholders are a big deal.
But who are they? How do we find them? Could they be labeled (maybe with a nice bar code) so we can be sure we are there for them?? (Short answer: No. That would be way too easy!)
Identification is both a challenge, and the easiest part of it all. Sit down at your desk, or with your colleagues, and make a list of the first people you can think of who are important to your library – who have a stake in it.
Pretty easy, right? Sophomores, tiny kids and their parents. Provosts and Mayors. Doctors, prisoners, soccer moms. Essentially it’s the people in your neighborhood.
Those are the easy stakeholders to identify – the ones who you see regularly.
Now you want to expand out and identify the people in your community and the people who are important in keeping your library up and running. For many libraries, it is good to turn to some demographic information.
- If you are in a special library, or have a defined population as in a hospital, corporate, or prison library – probably your parent organization has the information about your community and can help you to identify them.
- In public libraries and libraries accessible to the public – schools, academic libraries, and others – you want to look at the demographics of your town, county, or other service area. The City-Data site can provide you with a huge amount of information about your community. And of course the Census is always a good place to find information on all kinds of things that might be useful to your library’s service.
Spend some time talking to patrons. This can be done in an informal context of chatting after story-time or at the Circ desk or before computer training; or it can be a more formal focus group session, interview, or survey. Find out what is important to them, and what you can do for them; but also ask about their friends, family, neighbors. Do they use the library? Do they have suggestions on reaching out to these people?
Definitely talk to your funders. Where does your money come from? It may be nice to think that money is not important to you: but without money, you are not employed and do not have cool stuff to share. Money matters, and the people who give it to you matter. Track down funders: provosts, city councils, vice presidents of finance, donors – whoever. People whose job it is to give money get asked for things all the time. Generally, they will appreciate the rarity of you coming to ask THEM what you can do to help them, and to provide them with the resources they need. Tell them all about how you spend your money. (Transparency is always ALWAYS best with money matters! Don’t do things you need to hide!) Too many people think libraries get books and databases and resources for free. REMOVE THAT ILLUSION!! Talk about how much those expensive journals cost, tell them about the rise in the cost of bringing in speakers, explain in detail how you spent money testing your website’s usability. Most of us are not involved with for-profit organizations; but we need to show we are giving a big return on the investment (ROI) made in us! And usually, it is amazingly easy to show this – we just need to be very vocal about it!!
Get involved in the community outside your walls. You know your website is your electronic branch, and hopefully are doing some good care and feeding of it, to ensure good service to your remote patrons. Go join some local groups like the United Way, the Lions, AAUW. Volunteer at soup kitchens, hospitals, or other organizations. Find organizations for people focused on aspects of their lives that are important to them: disability, ethnicity, language, religions, hobbies. Read their websites, find a contact person, and infiltrate a meeting or two. (Ask first!) Deliberately talk with people in the laundromat, the grocery store, the hardware store, picking up your kids at daycare. Attend student meetings, go to the PTA, go to all-staff meetings, ask to sit in on planning sessions. Go places where you can chat about libraries and all the fantastic things we provide. These people may not even know about the things you have; and you can find out some strategies for connecting to people who may not (yet!) be users of your service. If you do not tell people what you have, they can not know what they are missing. And if they think you have no voice – and no value – it’s really easy to whack you right out of the budget, and out of existence.
Talk to your colleagues! There is a world of information available across the profession about all the ways to reach out to stakeholders – so don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel each time you start this process. Join some professional organizations! Send an email to someone at another library like yours! I have talked to thousands of librarians over my career, and almost all of them want to help you. (Plus: we are Minnesota Nice here, which is always a good bonus!) So find out what is working for other people when they reach out to stakeholders, and adopt it into your own library.
We know all kinds of stakeholders we can help, and we have ideas about materials and services they want. Where do we go from here?
Be deliberate in your planning for reaching out. If you already do things your stakeholders need, work out a way to connect it to them.
There is literally no such thing as too much communication!! We are all drowning in information, so you need to say things in a format and a style that reaches your target stakeholders.
Are you on social media? Really on it, or just “we have an account somewhere.” Are you on multiple outlets? Some people Tweet, some Snapchat, some hate all this stuff.
Is your website up to date? I am always so embarrassed for libraries proudly displaying their “latest” programs – from six months ago, or two years ago. That kind of communication matters to stakeholders; they see you don’t care, so they don’t care about your library.
Do your marketing materials look tired and tacky? Do you hand out flyers and bookmarks that look like a neighborhood kid made them in the basement – and not in a cute way?? It is like getting dressed in the morning: if you wear stinky, torn clothes, or Styles Ripped From The 70s – people will not take you seriously. If your handouts look tired, cluttered, badly printed – people will not take you seriously.
Write things down!! Be ready to share information!! What if someone comes in today and wants to know about your best services? Your most popular books? Your top ten reference questions? Write this down!
Be ready to share information in a situation where it really matters!!
Why are we doing all of this??
In the end we want to accomplish a few basic things.
- Ensure community members and assorted stakeholders value and use your stuff
- Ensure you are satisfying the needs of your stakeholders (which is your whole reason for existing!)
- Connecting your materials and services to people who may not have even realized you were there, or how much they needed you!
There is more to advocacy, and we will spend more time on it over this month; but identifying and connecting with your stakeholders will allow you to really be successful in any kind of advocacy program!
Would you like to talk about advocacy? Work out some ideas? Plan an entire advocacy campaign?? Contact us at CMLE Headquarters, and we are ready to help!