Advocacy is crucial for telling voters, legislators, patrons, and other stakeholders WHY their continued support for libraries is so important. To help inspire and inform members on the many forms of advocacy, the Legislative Committee spotlights Christian Zabriske’s advocacy journey.

I got involved in library advocacy the same way that most of us do: a really nasty budget came down and I had to take time in my spare time to protect jobs and library access. It has become a pretty common story, librarians putting themselves out there politically because they have to. I don’t think anyone sets out to advocate for libraries, not librarians anyway. Every librarian I know believes in libraries and is willing to speak up for them but would ultimately rather be in one working with the patrons and collections. How then do we as a profession keep turning into activists every single year?

In a lot of ways it was easier for me than a lot of people. I had already started a librarian social/networking group called Urban Librarians Unite which met about once a month to drink beer, eat cheap tacos, and talk about libraries inNew York City. It was all very casual until the rounds of cuts started coming in fast and furious. Suddenly lots of our members’ jobs were at risk, people were getting layoff notices, and there was talk of closing libraries. Once pink slips were out it was pretty easy to motivate people to get on board and advocate for budget restorations.

We tried to continue that vibe of “we’re here for cheap beer and tacos” and make our events fun. At the same time we opened them up to a much wider demographic. We started reaching out to a lot of nonlibrarians, bringing seniors and families into the fold as well. We recruited teens as canvassers and to come out and help at our events and found them tireless and wonderful. Teens’ wells of optimism and energy are incredible resources for advocacy.

Letting teens be part of the process, even the decision making process, of what you are doing is so important to make people feel like they are part of something. People will always work harder if they feel like they belong and giving them real work to do makes them really feel like this is their cause too. It is incredibly hard to do this work on your own, having many hands makes things fun and friendly along the way. After your budget battle is done it is amazing to see the sense of accomplishment that teens have when they have been a part of saving their library.

2 Thoughts on “YALSA Advocacy Spotlight: Practical Advice for Getting Started

  1. Hi Christian,

    I really enjoyed your fresh approach to library advocacy. In spite of the fact that we all believe that libraries are the heart of our respective communities, it seems as though it does often take some catastrophic event such as a budget cut or the threat of job loss/library closures to spur advocacy into action. I can’t help but wonder how much stronger we could be as advocates and activists, as you say, if we didn’t wait until a crisis to get our message out. We all know that libraries provide immense value to the community, bringing together people and ideas, but I think that libraries need to make a conscious and continual effort to remind people of this fact, through publicizing our “Library Story” and conducting outreach to patrons. Even though we are really busy, we are really passionate and creative too! Librarians ceaselessly find ways to do more with less, and advocacy is no exception to this rule!

    That being said, I think there are many merits in regard to the way that your group embarked upon the advocacy journey. By keeping the vibe relaxed and casual, you were able to reach out and connect to a wide variety of supporters. I think it is interesting that even though you may have been in “crisis mode” at that point, you were still able to stay positive, and what is more, to have fun in the efforts of getting the message out. Finally, I absolutely love the way that you got teens on board in the advocacy process. As you point out, “Teens’ wells of optimism and energy are incredible resources for advocacy.” Indeed, teens are incredibly valuable assets that many people may have the tendency to overlook when involved in “serious matters.” However, their buoyant spirits and boundless vigor bring so much to the cause – and for everything that teens can learn from being involved in a grassroots cause like this, adults stand to learn just as much from them.

    Thanks again for the compelling post and best of luck to you in all your advocacy endeavors!!


  2. I really enjoyed how you involved your teen patrons in your library advocacy. Teens are a great resource to have because they often feel very passionately about their causes; therefore, adding the library cause to their radar is a great way to get a large support group for you advocacy, and like you mentioned, it gives the teens a great sense of accomplishment. This is another great way to encourage and promote teen library patronage.
    Thanks for the post and good luck in your advocacy.

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