Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Feature #21b: Public Libraries

Gary Green has kindly written a follow up post to our #uklibchat on the Public Libraries Crisis chat, full of ideas for what we can do about.

The last #uklibchat focused on public libraries and though I wasn’t involved in the #uklibchat session, I wanted to share a few ideas in relation to a couple of the questions that were raised on the agenda:

How can we best advocate for public libraries politically?

As a library worker not in the public library sector, what can I do most effectively to help?

I’m going to address both of these questions together. I know that some of my comments will just act as a reminder, but there might be some other suggestions that readers have not considered before.

Speak UP for Libraries  Rally Photo taken by Tom Roper

Speak UP for Libraries Rally Photo taken by Tom Roper

The general election and some local elections will be happening in May 2015. This is an important time for advocates of public libraries to get their message across to those who are standing for election and those who are currently either an MP or local councillor. All candidates can be reminded of the value of public libraries and that a pledge from them to support libraries will encourage a vote in their favour from yourself. If you can remind them of the value of libraries in regard to their specific political interest they have, it will help attract their attention. For example, if they are a health portfolio holder remind them about the Society of Chief Librarians Universal Health Offer. If you can also highlight how public libraries have had an impact on individuals in their constituency it shows politicians that library services make a difference to real people. Take a look at the stories on the Voices for the Libraries site as an example. Don’t forget that, as a public library user, you will have your own library story to share as well.

There is also plenty of evidence out there that can be used to remind politicians of the value of libraries. Here are a few links with examples:

If you’re not sure what to ask MPs or local councillors to pledge in support of public libraries you could use the election pledge created by Speak Up For Libraries – its members include Campaign for the Book, CILIP, campaigner Elizabeth Ash, The Library Campaign, UNISON and Voices for the Library.

For details of how to contact MPs take a look at the UK Parliament website.

Public librarians and library staff themselves can act as advocates for their services, through the work they undertake with a broad range of library users and partner organisations, and by ensuring that their local council members know about all the positive activity that is happening in public libraries in their area. However, it also needs people from outside these roles to show why public libraries are important too. This can include librarians outside of the public library sector. Here are a couple of ideas:

1.) Tell others (including politicians) how public libraries have a positive impact on services in your sector. For example, health librarians can highlight the S.C.L. Universal Health Offer available in public libraries; librarians in the social sector can highlight CILIP Libraries change lives finalists http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/advocacy-awards-and-projects/awards-and-medals/libraries-change-lives-award/past-libraries . Following on from this, you could also consider building similar partnerships with your local public libraries.

2.) Librarians outside the public library sector will understand the ethics that underpin public libraries and why they are important to many people, and as a public library user yourself you will be in a perfect position to act as an advocate for public libraries. Ask yourself why public libraries are important to you, your friends and family and other people you know? When have public libraries been there for you? You have a story you can share with politicians right there and you can emphasise that many other library users in the future will have similar needs to you, your family and friends.

Here are links to a few more advocacy ideas for public libraries in the lead up to the general election:

At the moment there are many groups and individuals doing their own thing in regard to advocacy for public libraries. This may be down to slightly different perspectives on issues surrounding campaigns, whether the organisation is a local or national campaign, and whether it is a member led organisation or not. It’s useful to have so many different advocates spreading the message that public libraries are important, and there is often common ground to be found on various aspects of the debate. Focusing on the common ground highlights the benefits of working together. For example, since its formation a few years ago, Speak Up For Libraries has organised a rally and parliamentary lobby, as well as a number of library conferences.

Even though there are many groups and individuals advocating for libraries, people aren’t always aware of what is happening. This often comes down to the fact that this good work isn’t shared widely enough. Sometimes the groups/individuals themselves don’t highlight what they are doing, or they might share the news themselves, but it gets spread no further than that. It’s important that all advocacy work is shared as widely as possible. You can do this easily online via social media networks, public library advocacy blogs, library profession mailing lists, and on sites that aren’t necessarily library focused, but have a tie-in with libraries. Sharing keeps people informed, will encourage others to participate in advocacy, and is more likely to be picked up by others outside of the library bubble.

50 pence with public libraries image

Please don’t forget that even the smallest piece of advocacy for public libraries is important, as it all helps raise public libraries up the agenda and keep them fresh in the minds of the public, the media and politicians – all of whom can become advocates for public libraries themselves.

Gary Green

Gary Green is a public librarian with a focus on online services and supporting physical library services with technology. He is also a founder member of Voices for the Library and more recently one of the creators of the Library A to Z project.

About Ka-Ming

Librarian at a University in London and one of the founding members of uklibchat.wordpress.com Find me @agentk23

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This entry was posted on February 17, 2015 by in Feature and tagged , .


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