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Advocacy and Building Relationships: Advocacy & Building Relationships

Advocacy & Building Relationships

An effective trustee promotes the interest of the library at all times. As a trustee, you must have a deep personal commitment to your library and the services it provides. You must have a sense of what you want your library to be in the future, not just what it is today, and you must be willing to work to help move forward to that point. The trustee who has the deep personal commitment to the library is well on the way toward being a good advocate.

As a trustee, you will come to appreciate the concept of libraries as an integral part of our society. Our entire educational process depends, to a great extent, on the quality of information services. Libraries are not only part of our present society; they are a part of our history that has helped move society forward. They are the hope for an informed future. They serve the societal good. When you advocate better public library services, you advocate better quality of life for American citizens today and in the future.

As an advocate for libraries, you must be willing to go out into your community on behalf of the library. All communities served by public libraries consist not only of library users to whom the trustee must respond, but also of citizens who pay taxes to support the library but do not use it. You must recognize the entire community and be prepared to work with groups as well as individuals. This means not just waiting for an invitation, but aggressively pursuing opportunities to speak before various community groups.

You are expected to know enough about your library to be able to respond to queries and to articulate just what the library has to offer. You must have a clear idea of how your library fulfills community expectations and values and be able to "tell the library story" to illustrate this in a meaningful way.

To be an effective advocate you must understand the different roles and responsibilities of librarians and trustees and do everything possible to work together meaningfully to develop and promote a comprehensive library program. For example, at a county commission or city supervisors meeting it is appropriate for you as a trustee to present and support the library's programs and budget, and for the librarian to be there to answer technical questions regarding services. The more you understand your library's roles the better advocate you will be.

A successful advocate can bring new users into the library, bring new revenues into the library, and increase awareness of library services. Legislators have been known to see the public library from a new perspective after speaking to an effective trustee advocate. Remember, the reason you were appointed to the library board is because you have the ability to help improve the library's services. The people to whom you speak may be motivated to write a bequest to the library in a will, ask a corporate officer to consider a donation to the library, or speak to state or federal legislators on behalf of the library.

Your advocacy for the library will take different forms, including establishing a relationship with the mayor, city manager and supervisors and/or the county manager and county commissioners, and state legislators. You will also be expected to communicate the value of library services to the taxpayer. Your advocacy efforts will generally be part of a planned board effort. The board must speak with one voice. You, as an individual board member, can speak about the board's official position on library-related issues. An effective trustee promotes the interest of the library at all times.

Finally, as a trustee advocate, you will be a defender of intellectual freedom, and of an individual's right to information. That includes, but is not limited to, firm support of the American Library Association's Freedom to Read Statement and Library Bill of Rights. (Both documents are included in the Appendix.) One of the questions frequently asked of library trustees (usually in open forum) is whether a particular book or other item should be in the library's collection.

The response must be unequivocal in defense of intellectual freedom. You must explain that the role of the library is to provide materials in response to the needs of all segments of the community and (when available) to provide information on all sides of a given issue. Communicating to the community about library services and programs is of great importance.

Planning for the Future

The purpose of planning for the library's future is to anticipate both opportunities and problems. Planning involves the following basic questions:

  • What is our purpose?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How will we get there?
  • What is the optimum timeframe for achievement?
  • How will we know what we accomplished?
  • What is our purpose?

The library mission should be expressed in a brief statement of the library's purpose that sets the focus for planning. It is based on, but not limited to, a vision of the library's roles in the community. While somewhat general, the statement should summarize the library's major areas of emphasis.