Advocacy basics (Just add You!)

We all know that advocacy for our libraries is important. We know libraries are wonderful and valuable members of the communities they serve; but other people need to be educated in our value!

But it can be hard to know how to get started, or what to say. So we are starting you off with a few ideas here. These will also be on our website, and we invite members to contribute their advocacy materials so we can share them on the site!

Remember: Minnesota Library Legislative Day is Feb. 22!! If you can go in person: great! If not – I would like to have all CMLE libraries contribute phone calls, emails, and letters to be sure legislators hear about the value of libraries!!

February is our month to look at Social Media, and this can be a powerful tool for advocacy. Does your library have a Twitter account? Facebook page? Instagram? Snapchat?? If not, you are missing out on a great opportunity to connect with people in the community, and to hear what they have to say! These cost only your time, so be thoughtful in how you decide to use them.

Writing a letter, or an email, to legislators and other stakeholders can give you a chance to explain your message. (Concisely! No one will read a rambling missive!) You don’t want to exactly copy anyone’s text – spam filters will catch those and your message will be lost. Talk about issues that actually matter to you. You can tell when someone cares about what they are telling you, so tell stakeholders about the things that you care about in your library.

Where should you start? Here are a few tips:

  • Address them politely (Dear Senator/Dr./Ms. Whoever:) It’s okay to be a little overly formal, but no need to overdo it.
  • Have a specific issue you want to address. An advocacy letter is not the time to ramble on about how great your library is (it is!!); focus on your one idea.
  • Make your “ask” also clear. You are writing to ask for something, legislators are used to being asked for things, so be clear about it.  Any details you can provide to make it more clear will be better. Instead of just “Please support increased funding for libraries!” if you can say “Please vote yes on House Bill #12345, to increase funding to libraries” then it is easier for them to know what you need.
  • Keep it short! Your legislator or stakeholder has staff who will read the majority of these, and that’s fine. But no one has time to waste reading long emails or letters. So focus yourself, and be sure you say just what you need to get across.
  • Consider telling a (concise) story. It’s hard to make numbers sound exciting; but people can easily relate to an inspiring/tear-jerking/adorable story about a patron who was served in your library.
  • If you are sending an email to a federal legislator, you may need to fill out your name and address. This is not (just) to track you; legislators have finite amounts of time and attention, and their focus is on their own constituents. You can email anyone; but you should only assume emails to your own legislators will have much impact.
  • Say thank you!! Whether or not you love your legislator, they are working for your community. People ask them for things all day, every day; and most of them never come back to say thank you. It may not get you want you want by itself, but when you are consistently polite to your stakeholder over months and years – that gets remembered; and it may help you and your cause down the road.

Phone calls may be even more effective. It takes more energy and passion to pick up a phone and go through everything to leave a message for a stakeholder; so the impact can be much greater than the less personal letter or email. (Currently, the federal House and Senate’s phone systems are being overwhelmed by people calling in to share their ideas with their legislators! Passion is important!)

You can basically stick to the same ideas in a phone call as in an email or letter – but it has to be faster and more concise. Definitely write out an outline of what you want to get across to be sure you say what you really mean. You can write up a script, but reading things tends to make you sound less passionate; so just use it as a reference.

You will be speaking to a staffer, not a legislator (they are busy working!); this is fine. They may ask you if you are a constituent, and possibly where you live. Again – they need to be able to show they are meeting the needs of the people who elected them, so let them know you are part of their district (or not -and maybe a quick sentence why you are calling).

  • Stay on one issue; this is not your lovely Aunt Mable who wants to have long rambling phone chats with you. This is a business call about a topic important to you – so know what you want to say.
  • Have an “ask” here too. Be very clear in what you are asking this person to do for you. And don’t be afraid to ask for things – it’s fine!Just ask clearly and politely.
  • That leads to: Be civil. Even if the politician supports everything you hate, and consistently votes to defund libraries (eeek!) – you are not going to achieve anything by yelling, calling people names, or other rude behavior. This is just like talking with anyone: making your point effectively is the best way to go. Acting like you are on some crazed reality TV show is going to get your message tossed in the trash, and everyone will be less likely to listen to your point in the future.
  • Practice your pitch in advance. Yes, I mean practice it out loud. Things sound different in your head; and if you are nervous about calling, you can help yourself feel ready by practicing. Tell your dog, cat, goldfish, or plant all about your issue – they will appreciate the attention, and you will appreciate the help in being concise!

However you are ready to advocate: DO IT TODAY!!! Libraries need you!! If you can not speak up for yourself, your library, and the community you serve – who will??? Dive in, and let people know how valuable we are!!