By: Annie Schutte is Director of Libraries and Center for Inquiry at the Maret School in Washington, DC.
Libraries are doing amazing work in our communities, so don’t you want your elected officials to know about it? Your senators and representatives are your direct link to federal policies that determine library funding, and they’re more likely to support programs when they have first-hand knowledge of how they work for their (and your) constituents. The best way to educate your elected officials is to invite them to an event at your library (see: District Days 101: How to Get an Elected Official to Your Library).
Follow these eight easy steps, and you should be well on your way to hosting a successful event for your elected official, your patrons, and your library.
1. Start with a pre-existing event. You don’t need to create something special for your elected official. Pick an event you’re already doing that would give you an opportunity to show off a library program or educate your Congressperson about the type of work your library is doing. An example would be asking a Congressperson to participate in the culminating summer reading event at your library.
2. Give the elected official something to do. It helps to have a clear role for your guest at the event. For example, you could have the Congressperson act as a judge for a contest, hand out awards teens as part of a program, give a speech, or even pitch in to help with a volunteer initiative.
3. Advertise, advertise, advertise. You’re going to want to aggressively market the event to your patrons any way you can. A crowded library will underscore how important your library is to the community. Ask your patrons and other librarians for ideas about how to get the word out.
4. Notify the media. Talk to the elected official’s press aide a couple weeks before the event to discuss ideas for media coverage and make sure the Congressperson is comfortable with any press you are planning on inviting. You should contact media a week prior to the event with information, adapting YALSA’s press release and media message‘ or writing your own.
5. Take lots of photos. Make sure to line up a library staff member or volunteer to take high-quality photographs documenting the event. The pictures aren’t just for you and your library–the elected official’s office and members of the local press may want to use them, as well.
6. Provide educational materials. You may want to have available at the event some handouts or brochures about your library or the importance of libraries to teens and communities. YALSA has many free handouts available, as well as the Teens Need Libraries brochure.
7. Create a take-away packet. Give your elected official and his or her staff members something to take home with them besides just the memories. Put together a folder of information about your library for them. You may want to include a fact sheet about your library, a library card for the elected official, recent newspaper articles or photographs of library activities, a list of upcoming events, your business card, and YALSA’s Teens Need Libraries brochure.
8. Send a thank you note. Make sure to get names and contact information for any of the Congressperson’s staff members that attend the event so that you can send a follow-up note to the elected official, as well as any of their aides. You may also consider asking the staff members if you can sign them up for your regular newsletter, a library card, or other outreach efforts.
Good luck planning your event! For more information and resources, visit the YALSA District Days wiki.