Today’s post comes courtesy of Heidi Bamford, Outreach and Member Services Coordinator for the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC). As archivists and archives-funding organizations continue to advocate for our institutions, WNYLRC’s work provides examples of how to structure outreach and engage with local and state government leaders.
If you are in the library world, you know how hard it is to get people to think of your work and your space as anything more than a quiet place to read a good book. And you always hear the phrase, “Everyone loves their library” to the point you want to throw down the gauntlet and ask, “Do you REALLY?!” Library advocacy can be a difficult and frustrating activity, but like the glaciers, things will eventually begin to move and people will take notice!
The Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC) began a concerted library advocacy campaign about three years ago and have been fine tuning and changing it up since that time. The first year began with office visits to New York State Senate and Assembly members representing people, and libraries, in upstate New York’s six counties. The goal during our first year was to establish a connection with each of the district offices we visited – getting to know both the representative and his or her staff – and to assess who were our best potential allies and active supporters. We sent them a quarterly e-newsletter of library achievements in their districts to keep us on the radar after the budget was passed that year.
From the start, the intention was to make our advocacy efforts an educational experience for the legislators. We assumed their knowledge of what libraries are and who we serve was limited – which was the case with most representatives. In the second year, we worked to help them realize that libraries are everywhere. Their districts encompassed not just public libraries but school, academic, hospital, corporate, museum, historical society, and art gallery libraries! During the second year, we gave each representative a framed historic image from his or her district that had been digitized and put up on New York Heritage – a WNYLRC program services for members. We also made note of each member’s committees and their biographical information. What schools did they attend? Maybe one of our academic libraries. What were their special interests or organizations? Maybe one of our special libraries… and so on.
This year, we held district meetings at various public, school, academic and special libraries across the region, instead of going to district offices as in previous years. Library programs and services were highlighted, demonstrating our support of community lifelong education, regional economic development and quality of life! We touched on some “negative” aspects of our situation: the dire need for basic construction and renovation of many library buildings; the lack of staff to meet growing demands for library programs and services; the high cost of maintaining technology and electronic resources. But our main focus was that libraries are vibrant and necessary elements in the lives of practically everyone living in New York State! This year, we shifted the emphasis from “I love my library” to “I NEED my library.”
Recently, we were able to meet with the Governor’s regional representative to bring our message to the executive branch. We have consistently faced our stiffest resistance to budget growth at the state level. We had no idea of the existence of this office and so were pleased to have the opportunity to bring our message to the Governor. We noticed that the office has less awareness of libraries than legislative offices, simply because it is removed from the local everyday interactions with entities like libraries! So, reaching out to make these important connections and to inform policy makers of the work we do and the impact we have on people is critical to our success – no other way around it! Our efforts are not just about the resource allocators’ awareness of what librarians’ work, but of telling them an attention-getting story of how we do it. So go on, get out there and start those glaciers moving!
Heidi Bamford has been with the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC) since 1990, first as the Regional Archivist for the Documentary Heritage Program and more recently as WNYLRC’s Outreach and Member Services Coordinator. Before that she worked at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. after graduating with an MA from the University at Buffalo. She has two daughters who she is very proud of and who are also library supporters, both in terms of using them and often owing fines for overdue materials!