The first few months of my tenure as president of ALA have been amazingly full and rewarding. At once exhilarating, educational, and sometimes exhausting, this time has reinforced one of my own longest and deeply held convictions: Libraries are powerful. They shape minds, bolster economies, and anchor communities of every size in every corner of America.
Libraries really do change lives. That reality is well known and proudly understood by every one of us. I don’t believe, however, that we have internalized an even more fundamental and vital truth: Libraries are powerful because librarians are powerful.
In this issue, I’d like to speak to that power—to you—and to be very frank. I am concerned that librarians (and the schools that prepare them) have not yet fully embraced what I believe to be a core professional responsibility. That responsibility is advocacy.
Clearly, we become and remain librarians out of a deep commitment to affording the broadest possible access to information as a means of enriching every person’s life, the lives of those around them, and their communities. We are passionately dedicated to our profession and to fundamental human rights like education, privacy, and intellectual freedom. We support and become involved in ALA precisely because of that commitment and dedication, knowing that we have a much greater impact when we work together.
I know that your commitment is total and your dedication sincere, but to truly effect the change that we want to see in the world, every single one of us must also act. That action is advocacy—and it cannot succeed without you.
That’s why I call on you and all of ALA’s more than 57,000 members to become an active advocate: a librarian or friend of libraries who accepts my challenge to pledge to spend an average of just one hour every week on library advocacy.
What is this advocacy I’m talking about?
- Advocacy is working with other colleagues who are actively involved. They’ll be happy to have you join them and will show you the ropes if you’re a newbie or simply shy.
- Advocacy is meeting with your local officials to talk about your library and its impact on and importance to local community members of all ages.
- Advocacy is taking every opportunity to speak at your local Rotary Club, church, PTA, AAUW, or any of a hundred other organizations, to tell the story of how crucial libraries are in the 21st century.
- Advocacy is proactively inviting members of Congress, state representatives, and local officials to your library for a simple visit, town meeting, or even a hosted debate to help build personal relationships and invest in them a full sense of libraries’ value that will be critical when, for example, difficult funding and other policy decisions are being made.
- Advocacy is hosting a Declaration for the Right to Libraries signing ceremony in your library to help start a conversation about the value of the library for everyone in your community.
- Advocacy is supporting your library colleagues when they face censorship challenges or threatened budget cuts.
- Advocacy is becoming part of the national campaign to make sure every student has a school library and a full-time certified school librarian.
- Advocacy is building relationships and coalitions with other community groups that can help leverage your voice in supporting learning, literacy, the freedom to read, and libraries.
- Advocacy is actively engaging with your community: by helping community members to realize their aspirations while creating a more essential library and a stronger community.
Of course, advocacy is also helping ALA and its many coalition partners ensure that state and federal lawmakers and officials also understand the critical importance of 21st-century libraries and where librarians stand on such core issues as library funding, intellectual freedom, copyright, privacy, and many others.
So, without question, in addition:
- Advocacy is attending your state legislative day and meeting with your state representatives and executive branch officers to talk about the value of libraries and to promote library funding. (Hint: Fill your car up with trustees, Friends, family members, or, better still, the representatives’ or officers’ family members.)
- Advocacy is signing up for state and federal “legislative alerts” sent via text or email and keeping up with District Dispatch—the ALA Washington Office’s terrific, easily understood blog about what’s happening in Washington that’s vital to libraries—and encouraging every library patron, trustee, and Friend to do so too.
- Advocacy is contacting your state representatives or members of Congress right away when the call comes to deliver an urgent and specific message about an issue or piece of legislation. Visit, call, email, tweet—whatever you’re comfortable with is good, just act!
And finally, critically:
- Advocacy is inviting every colleague and friend of libraries you meet to join you in becoming an active advocate and using the many informational and organizational tools provided by ALA’s Offices of Library Advocacy, Government Relations, and Intellectual Freedom (among others) to make your advocacy effective and easy. Find them at ala.org/advocacy/advocacy-university.
There certainly are a lot of ways to spend that hour, so take your choice. With every conversation, presentation, visit, email, or call, you’ll also be delivering a larger message to policymakers and, I hope, to yourself: Librarians and the ideals for which we stand are powerful.
So, too, will be the nearly 3 million advocacy hours that together ALA’s members would collectively contribute. Just one hour a week will make a world of difference. Please, won’t you join me in becoming an active advocate? Let’s do it together—all 57,000 of us. Let’s do it today.
COURTNEY L. YOUNG is head librarian and professor of women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University, Greater Allegheny campus, in McKeesport. Email: email@example.com.