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Library Advocacy and Promotion

Libraries exist to serve specific populations but, contrary to popular belief, their demand for their local library is not guaranteed.  Without enouogh patrons and usage, a library will be closed down as undesire or irrelevant in its community.  This idea of advocating for and promoting the library in the community it serves has come up quite a bit lately both in my classes and at my job.  I like to think of advocating and promoting as the double-edged sword of keeping the library an important part of the community.

I took an online workshop for my job about advocating for your library in the community.  This essentially means garnering support for the value of the library to the community first from the people primarily responsible for keeping it open.  For medical libraries this is the hospital board of directors.  While public libraries must prove that the community utilizes  the library enough to justify the budget, medical and special libraries must additionally prove that they are not just a budget drain on the institution.  This means librarians must do things like compile statistics of usage, of what specific evidence-based medicine instances they helped with, of how much they are considered an asset in a teaching hospital, etc…

Advocacy goes beyond just statistics though, and I think this is the part many librarians could do better at.  Advocacy means being on friendly terms with both those responsible for keeping the library open and those utilizing the library.  Librarians can’t afford to be the hermit of the community.  If we are on a first-name basis with stakeholders we put a face on the library for them.  Additionally this gives us more informal opportunities to casually mention elements of the library.  The library becomes a facet of the stakeholder’s life instead of some budget-draining other.

Promoting the library is the other edge of making the library an important part of the community.  No librarian wants her library to be empty and devoid of patrons.  We got into the profession to help people find information.  In this age of ever-increasing amounts of information, not to mention types and methods of retrieval, this means we have far more eduating to do than before.  It used to be that a community knew to go to the library to get a book or to look at an encyclopedia.  Now we must outreach to our community to show all the non-conventional, non-traditional information resources we have to offer.

We can’t just limit ourselves to reaching out to those in our community who are already regular users.  They are the easy ones to reach with workshops, readings, etc… There are also the potential and lost users.  (Lost users are those who used to use the library but stopped).  There is some debate as to how exactly to go about this, and even if both groups should be pursued equally.  Obviously the answer to this is different for different library types.  In medical libraries potential users are generally new employees.  Including a brief blurb during orientation and in orientation packets about the library would certainly be a step in the right direction.  I would consider lost users in a medical library to be any employee employed at the institution for longer than six months who does not use the library, whether she once did or not.  For these people I would say there is probably some misconceptions about what exactly the library has to offer.  I admit I am at a bit of a loss as to how to reach these people.  We all know how quickly all-employee emails get deleted without being read.  However, I have faith that these people can be reached.  Maybe this goes back to the friendly librarian I was discussing earlier.  If she meets a lost user in the cafeteria and informs them she is one of the librarians, this could easily lead into a “what do you do all day?” conversation with the lost user.

Sometimes in all the hub-bub of economic downturn, budgets, and emerging technology advocacy and promotion get lost in the shuffle.  Libraries only exist because of the people in the community.  We need to remember that the main goal of a library is to help people and start humanizing the institution within our respective communities.

  1. October 8, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Our small-town public library has one of the highest usage rates in the area. In part, this comes from its many programs for students and kids. But also, it hosts writers for readings and signings that bring adults out to the library in the evenings. An annual book sale also keeps the library in the news.

    Some newspapers still follow a traditional practice or working with libraries by running librarian columns about new local fiction available in the library, book club news, and reviews from high school students. As newspapers fight to survive and cut their book and feature pages, a library blog can accomplish similar ends, especially when the library–or at least the librarian–makes use of Twitter and Facebook.

    Nice post!

    Malcolm

    • October 9, 2009 at 9:24 am

      Malcolm–Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you liked the post. I’m even happier though that you sound so involved with your local library.

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