In October, YALSA sponsored an echat on the topic of advocacy. During the conversation participants talked about how the economy has an impact on their advocacy efforts.
This discussion got me thinking. How can libraries continue to seek support in a tough economy? Do librarians need to use different set of advocacy techniques than they would when money flows a bit more freely? Do teen librarians have to find ways for local businesses to provide support when that support can not be provided financially? Do teen librarians have to step-up advocacy efforts in order to fill-in financial gaps? The answer to all of those questions is “yes.” That being the case, how do teen librarians go about it?
Example 1: In the October echat a participant mentioned that she had trouble gathering donations/incentives for the summer reading program. Local businesses that traditionally provided support for the program with prizes, had trouble continuing to find it financially feasible to continue to do so. What’s a teen librarian to do when this happens? Find other ways that the business can provide support in order to make the program a success. For example, does the business have a web or social networking presence that teens pay attention to? If so, ask the business to support the library teen program by helping to advertise upcoming events in that space. That form of marketing can go a long way to helping get teens involved in the program. It might actually also free up the library’s budget. If less time (and money as a result) has to be spent on the library’s own efforts at marketing and getting the word out, that time and money can be spent on another library teen related activity.
Example 2: If services for teens are being cut in the library and the community overall, use this tough economic time as an opportunity to expand collaborations with other agencies and organizations. The library may be struggling to provide all that it wants to for teens. So too might the youth commission, the local YM/YWCA, the parks department, etc. If you go out and talk about what the library is trying to achieve with, and for, teens and offer to pool ideas and resources with other organizations, not only might you be able to maintain services, but you might even be able to expand them. And, once the economy improves, you will have created relationships with others that you will most likely be able to expand.
Example 3 If the library can no longer afford to give you time to go out into the schools or the community to advocate for teen services, explore and implement use of technology tools to get the word out. You might use a library Facebook Fan Page to provide examples of how services to teens support successful youth development. You might use a Twitter feed to explain what value the entire community receives when the library provides programs and services to teens. Web 2 technologies make it possible to get the word out without ever leaving the library. Use the tools to not only inform but also to demonstrate that the library is a place that understands technology and how to use it in order to provide services to the community. This will help show the library as a forward-thinking institution that will be ready to move forward when money is again available.
For some, a lack of funding may seem to be the exact time to limit the amount of advocacy efforts undertaken. It may seem that by limiting advocacy endeavors you are also limiting the work required thereby freeing up teen librarian time for other activities. However, at times of limited financial security, advocacy continues to be as important, if not more important. You don’t want community members to forget why you are an important part of the lives of teens. You want to make sure that when dollars and sense return, that businesses and organizations think of the library as a strong and viable partner and service provider. You want them to remember you kept in touch during times of limited funds. And, you want to guarantee that follow community agencies are ready to work with you when you can ramp up teen program and service efforts. Use the economy as a chance to keep a high profile in the community and to help others that might be struggling too. When the money is back you’ll be glad that you did.