Advocacy is not the work of a season; it is the work of a generation

Zola Maddison /

How many times have you tried to get the word out about the important work happening in your library? How many times have you tried to convince your community, politicians, and even colleagues of the value of the library? After attending Jamie LaRue’s webinar, Telling the Library Story, I was reminded that advocacy is one of the skills we need to develop and practice daily in our work. To be successful advocates for our libraries, it is not something we can do once, and then tick off the to-do list.

Jamie’s foray into advocacy began with his “Campaign of Shame” in 1990. At that time, his library system was ranked the worst public library in Colorado State. Since then, he has been using new approaches and developing strong skills in articulating the value of the library. He learned to make smarter surveys that ask our community what they want, value and need and then provide programs and services that meet those needs—rather than asking the community what they want the library to do. He learned to take library services outside of the library, implementing ‘community reference’ services that made politicians and key community stakeholders change their perception of the library and eventually donate $40,000 to the library. And through the Douglas County Library’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) advocacy campaign in 2006, he learned to tell the library’s story.

WARNING: Listening to the webinar archive and hearing Jamie tell his library’s story may lead to tears! But it is through this story that we are reminded of the powerful work we are doing for our communities. Through this story we also begin to understand the key elements to communicating our value to our communities. All you need to develop your library story is:

  • A real person
  • A problem they faced
  • How the library took action
  • A happy ending (cue waterworks)
  • And a tagline: Libraries change lives!

As Jamie said, we don’t need to develop new messages or slogans—we already have them. We just need to gather stories from our patrons about how the library has changed their lives. We must tell these stories again and again.

To learn more strategies for successfully telling your library’s story, see Jamie’s slides, webinar and suggested resources, on the archive page.