Advancing Advocacy

The road to sustaining libraries in the community continues

June 23, 2010

During my travels as president-elect, I often spoke about the challenges and opportunities of becoming 21st-century libraries that incorporate new formats, technologies, and ways of learning. By transforming libraries for this new era, we are leaders in a rapidly changing and increasingly global economy that depends on people getting the right information, at the right time, and getting it quickly.

Libraries, freely open to all, are needed now more than ever. There is no other institution as well equipped for guiding individuals in the development of skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and information and technological literacy. This is our time, this is our opportunity.

Simultaneously, we confront a perfect storm of escalating costs, shrinking financial resources, increased demands for service, and surging usage. Our challenge is to keep moving forward—to build and remodel our libraries and ensure that we have them staffed with individuals who blend traditional and technological skills, anticipate change, and fearlessly adapt to address those changes. To do this, we need support.

The foundation of my presidential initiatives is advocacy, ALA’s strategic goal number one. Libraries cannot thrive without funding and the commitment of communities, institutions, and government officials. By focusing on advocacy in a variety of forms, I continue the tradition of ALA presidents before me.

Here are three ways that advocacy will be advanced in my presidential year:

Frontline fundraising. Responding to the reduced resources at libraries throughout the nation, frontline fundraising will provide information for all libraries—despite size or location—on supplementing their budgets with additional support. A particular focus of this initiative will be how to establish a planned-giving program.

“Why I Need My Library” contest. This initiative is aimed at growing a new generation of library supporters and philanthropists-kids and teens whose YouTube videos will be incorporated into the ilovelibraries and atyourlibrary websites. The prize money the winners receive will come with the requirement that it be donated to their school or local public library.

"Our Authors, Our Advocates." Authors are not only the natural allies of libraries, but often celebrities in their own right. As the project manager for the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., over the past decade, I have personally witnessed the eloquence of America’s most creative writers.

"Our Authors, Our Advocates" was launched in June during my inauguration at ALA's Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., with Marie Arana, author and veteran editor of The Washington Post’s “Book World”; Carmen Agra Deedy, storyteller, children’s writer, and recent winner of ALA's Association for Library Service to Children's Pura Belpré Award; Sharon Draper, author of books for teens and winner of multiple Coretta Scott King awards (presented annually by the Coretta Scott King Committee of ALA’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table); and Brad Meltzer, author of political thrillers.

Their impassioned presentations, along with the public service announcements and interviews taped with them and other authors at the conference, are available for libraries to use in their advocacy programs. In addition to this partnership with America’s authors, a “Cultivating Your Local Notables” toolkit will be developed with information on how to identify and enlist local celebrities as your library’s advocate.

During my presidential year, I will be on leave from my position as outreach projects and partnerships officer at the Library of Congress. As ALA president, I will dedicate myself wholeheartedly and unreservedly to representing and advocating for our Association, our libraries, and library staff everywhere.

ALA President Roberta Stevens is on leave as outreach projects and partnerships officer at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Visit her website. E-mail: