Monday, 21 September 2015


With all the library cuts and closures, advocacy is very much a buzzword of the moment. But it does mean different things to different people ... campaigning, lobbying, promoting, publicising, showing what you do, spreading the word ... all these and more are advocacy tools. If you are doing one of them then you're certainly advocating but it's not the whole picture.

For advocacy to be successful, you need a relationship with the people you are trying to engage with. If you already have that connection, then people will listen to what you are saying. It is also harder to ignore (or say no) to somebody you know and work with.

Professional organisations advocate at strategic levels, working with the decision-makers and influencers - the politicians, businesses and media - so that they can be "at the table" when issues are discussed. It's hard to influence anything if you're not there in the first place.

But we can all advocate on a personal level too. We can support our professional organisations in the media, spreading the messages they are promoting. We can also advocate within our own institutions, working collaboratively with colleagues, showing them by example the difference we can make to them, building up those one-to-one relationships; people that see your value and benefit will become your supporters.

When I first became a school librarian, promoting the library and my services within the school seemed natural to me. I saw where I could be of assistance so offered it. I picked up clues regarding how I could improve my service delivery and implemented changes. I realise it was easy for me to do this as I've got quite a bit of autonomy over my day-to-day work and other people may be constrained by the system. But I never really took this advocacy into the wider world.

Then libraries began to be hit by councils looking to cut costs. And school libraries didn't escape this ... as school budgets became smaller, Heads would see where they could reduce their outgoings and often this was in the library resulting in closures, staff being re-graded or having hours cut. And to me this was wrong. I saw (and still see) the benefits of a school library every day and believe every child should have access to these.

So I organised a Mass Lobby in support of School Libraries. This was sort of by accident as the idea of a lobby had been mooted on our school librarian forum (SLN) and even a date mentioned, and the following week I was on a school trip to the Houses of Parliament so thought it would be a great opportunity to find out how to organise one. I then found myself being booked into the parliamentary diary as the organiser!

Thus a group of librarians, parents, authors and students marched to parliament (with banners and T shirts with slogans), met with lots of MPs and the event even resulted in the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) Libraries being commissioned to write a report

However .... as is the way of so many of these reports, it is now gathering dust on a shelf somewhere and none of the recommendations have been instigated. But my advocacy has since been more outward looking.

So does advocacy work? Is it effective? I'm really not sure. There is now a large body of evidence as to the benefits and value of libraries - physical, social and economic - yet this is consistently ignored; we certainly don't seem to be feeding into the agendas of those who have the authority to keep libraries open. We certainly seem to have been arguing for libraries for a long time with our words falling on deaf ears. I guess if we're using the same arguments and the same tactics then we're going to get the same results (ie: nothing much) so perhaps it's time to change our advocacy strategies.

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