There are so many ways for library advocates to make their voices heard these days– emailing their representatives, sending action alerts via text message, blogging to raise awareness within communities, calling a senator’s office–that writing a letter seems like an antiquated form of communication by comparison.’ However, it’s still one of the most effective ways to get your message across to representatives at all levels of government.
What’s good about writing a letter?
Issues that demand our attention and support are sometimes complex.’ They can’t be fully articulated in a soundbite.’ Putting your thoughts into written words lets you organize your thoughts and arguments.’ Letter-writing can happen anytime.’ If you are seized by inspiration at 2:00 a.m., you can sit down and put it down right then and there.’ Advocates who write letters can tell their own stories to support their cause, and these stories are often the most powerful evidence there is.
So I’m ready to write.’ How should I do it?
Other bloggers will elaborate upon best practices for communicating with elected officials throughout the’ month.’ However, these are the key points to keep in mind if you plan to launch a letter-writing campaign:
- Use or create talking points for letter-writers to use in their own letters.’ Often, many people are motivated to participate, but they don’t know where to start.
- Keep your letter short, sweet, and to the point.
- Tell your story.’ Anecdotes make a big impact.
- Ask for a response or acknowledgment of your letter.
- If you are contacting an official at the federal level, send your letter to their Washington office.’ The people who work on policy are in Washington, and though letter sent to local offices eventually get to Washington, they are delayed.
- Send your letter early (or fax it.)’ All paper mail is extensively processed for security reasons, which could cause delays.
What about email?
For many of us, reading and writing email is as easy as breathing.’ Sending an email to an elected official is a perfectly effective way to communicate your concerns.’ There are some things to keep in mind about email, however.’ If you are writing to a federal representative, you will have to use an online form on their website.’ These forms automatically discard any emails from people outside of the legislator’s constituency.’ In addition, I spoke with several staff members in the offices of city, state and federal offices who said that they are inundated with email.
Are letters effective?
Staffers tell me that they read every single letter that they get–from their constituents.’ This is why its important for everyone to be involved–we need advocates in every city and every state!’ In some cases, letters have alerted legislators and officials to issues that they’d not known about previously.’ I was also told that it is useful to relate your issue to that particular official’s legislative agenda, which is often found on their website.’ In addition, the staffers suggested that form letters are not particularly useful.’ Personal, personalized letters are key.
You can do it.
You can write to your city council member, your county commissioner, or your state or federal representative, and your letter can make a difference.’ We have tools that can help:
Find out what’s happening around the country at ALA’s Legislative Action Center.
Most state library associations also have their own advocacy toolkits for specific local issues.