Fight for Libraries

Despite challenges, advocacy continues—and thrives

May 1, 2017

Julie B. Todaro

Every ALA president has the opportunity to address members with seven columns during his or her yearlong term. These columns identify new directions, provide opinion, introduce content, and recognize people for their achievements. At the start of my presidency I mapped out my topics, but these ideas were quickly derailed last fall when our efforts needed to be refocused on reminding the country about why libraries are essential.

Right now, here are some possible scenarios with regard to the federal budget:

  • We win most: The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) are funded but partially cut.
  • We win a few: IMLS and LSTA are funded but seriously cut, and IAL is cut significantly—
    or completely.
  • We win it all (unlikely).
  • We lose it all (unlikely).

With these challenges, advocacy continues, but our persuasive “ask” is different:

  • ALA is targeting decision makers, both elected and appointed.
  • We still use our stories, but they are illustrated with even more data.
  • The data is targeted and focused on outcomes and impact.
  • We are unapologetically asking legislators to name libraries as one of their top five funding commitments and following up for firm yes votes.

The bad news is that many sectors—­including the arts, humanities, education, labor, and agriculture—are fighting for the same dollars. And unlike any other time in recent memory, we must press our advocacy work on a more consistent schedule, at least weekly.

To do this, we must solidify and expand our partnerships, including with those in for-profit environments. With these new partners, we must explore new business and marketing models and assess which current successes can and should be maintained and how to maintain them.

So, what’s the good news?

For one, we have significant data to make our case about libraries’ excellent value and the return on investment. We need to ramp up our impact data, but all systems are in place to increase standardized data gathering, aggregating, and impact content.

Second, we offer unique programs that meet our constituents’ needs—in all types and sizes of libraries—and are well positioned to expand our critical role in society.

Third, our users need us now more than ever. In a world that depends on technology access, libraries can help bridge the digital divide and help others keep up with the exponential growth of technology and information.

Fourth, our partnerships are integrated into our infrastructures, and like us, these partners care about how we can succeed together.

Fifth, the interconnectedness of infrastructure is precisely how our research and information world is structured, which means identifying our needs and impact is easier, as is the consequence of defunding the library piece of the puzzle.

And finally, we have a dedicated, growing army of stakeholders who champion what we do and who we are. We must accept their willingness to not only speak about us but also use their expertise to help fight for us.

Stay tuned, and keep that advocacy ­flowing.…