In my visits to libraries across our country, I am often asked, “How can we support a national agenda for libraries in current times?”
Threats to libraries include budget cuts and legislation that would directly impact people from our communities, including women, children, first-generation college students, job seekers, new US residents, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and all the other people who visit our libraries every day.
Our strategy needs to be twofold: library advocacy and community engagement. We can accomplish this through our activities, like National Library Legislative Day; social media advocacy tools; digital tools; videos; and crosscutting and comprehensive resources, which I have made a presidential priority. And we can achieve our strategy by harnessing opportunities to speak up for libraries, which gives us the chance to collaborate with library advocates to amplify concerns to Congress, at state houses, in city councils, and in front of school boards.
As a librarian of action, I am thrilled to know that our great team of more than 56,000 American Library Association (ALA) members rallies for services for all in our communities. Together, along with millions of library Friends and supporters across this country, we strive to advocate for equity, diversity, inclusion, information policies, and funding, and to raise awareness about the value of libraries.
Along with these efforts, I agree with former ALA President Nancy Kranich, a lecturer at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, who wrote in the October 2017 issue of Library Quarterly that “as the nation’s great experiment in democracy comes under increasing threat, librarians must shift from a mission that not only informs but also engages constituents.”
ALA’s Center for Civic Life provides links to resources, training, and examples of libraries engaging communities. As the site says, public engagement in libraries is a process that can take many collaborative forms, including outreach, forums, research, and policy that is made with patrons and partners to improve our communities.
As Kranich wrote, a process of engagement and collaboration can help “promote greater citizen participation” and “increase community problem solving and decision making,” which she noted are key to transformation.
As trusted institutions, libraries are strengthening the communities they serve in academic, public, and school settings. A central part of our strategy must be to continue building coalitions with national and global organizations from academia, human rights, and diverse groups that share library values. Such action will engage our communities and strengthen our efforts against draconian proposals and budget cuts.
For instance, ALA has been intentional in communicating how the public can depend on libraries as key partners for a successful, inclusive count by the 2020 Census. We are providing resources to libraries to engage their patrons, community members, organizations, and partners. With one year to go until the launch of the 2020 Census, it was important to me to highlight ALA’s actions at the April 1 live press briefing with the US Census Bureau.
Although the panorama might look daunting at times, I encourage libraries and library workers to work together with us using multiple online and in-person platforms from ALA’s advocacy and community engagement resources toward supporting a national agenda for libraries.
Together we can!