When I went to library school I didn’t know that being an advocate for teens and teen library services was going to be a part of my job. But, over the years, it’s become very clear that without librarians standing up and advocating for teens, it’s easy for people to forget why the age group is an important one that deserves quality service.
How did I learn to be an advocate? Honestly, I can’t say what the exact tools or events were. I can however relate some of what I’ve learned.
- Partnering with others makes advocacy less scary and definitely easier to accomplish. This might mean partnering with other librarians in the area, partnering with other youth serving organizations, partnering with teachers or parents or teens. There are lots of possibilites for partnering opportunities. What can be beneficial when sorting out the best partner with whom to work, is to think about the goals of an advocacy effort and determine who in the community is the best match for reaching those goals. Also, think about who you know in the community that you trust as a partner. Trust is an important part of successful partnerships. If you can work with someone or some agency that you feel trusting towards, you will be more able to successfully meet your advocacy goals.
- Be specific and clear about what you want to advocate for. For example, do you want to advocate for funding for a specific collection area? If that’s the case then develop an advocacy plan for that specific purpose. By doing that you are better able to target the person, persons, or group that you might partner with in order to achieve success. You can also better target the audience to whom you make your advocacy pitch.
- Different techniques work for different advocacy efforts. There is no one-size fits all approach to advocacy. It’s important to look at the goals of a particular effort, the audience to whom the effort is going to be targeted, and who the partners are – if there are partners – and then come up with a plan that fits that set of variables. Sometimes face-to-face meetings are the best way to advocate. Sometimes social media meets the needs of the endeavor. There are many ways to go about it, think carefully about what your best approach is.
- Find out what others have done when advocating for a particular purpose. Pay particular attention to what didn’t work. Knowing about mistakes in the process can help you to not repeat those mistakes. Check-in with other librarians in your general area or around the country to learn from them about their experiences. Tools like Twitter and the YALSA YA-YAAC listserv are perfect for gathering this kind of information.
Advocacy can be difficult, and it can take some time for an advocacy effort to be successful. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul.
Librarians working with teens have to learn to take the initiative to advocate for quality programs and services to the age group. If teen librarians don’t, is it really OK to expect that anyone else will? Do teen librarians want others, who don’t have teen services skills and experience, to lead the charge? I don’t think so.