Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Advocacy 101: Be seen, Be heard, Be felt


A person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

Also, you, the teen services librarian!

Advocacy is the act of making your library’s presence in the community known, understood and valued.  You want to make sure the community knows what your library is doing in the community and why it matters.  Basic literacy, education support, lifelong learning, helping community members find jobs, and more – every member of your community needs to know.  Publishers talk about “impressions”: each time your cover is seen it makes an impression, their goal is to get enough impressions that their book can’t be ignored.  Your job is to get your library – your teen services programming – enough impressions that it can’t be ignored. As your message is repeated and ingrained in the community culture, your community members themselves become your best advocates.  The question is, how do you do that?

As teen services librarians we find ourselves doing multi-level advocacy: We advocate to our co-workers, our administrations, our communities.  We want support and resources; we want our front line staff to be our voice; we want our administrators to make sure we have the time, space and money we need to effectively serve our teens.  That is why we must advocate.

Phase I: Making your presence known in the community at large and with your admin/staff

Goals: Move your patrons and community members from thinking of it as “the library” to thinking of it as “my library.”  Creating a sense of pride and ownership on the behalf of the community means less advocacy work for you as they now become your greatest advocates.                                

How? Relationship, customer service, social media and presence

Get your name in the press as often as possible.  Contact the local newspaper and ask them if you can write a regularly occurring guest column.  Attend community planning and development groups.  If they don’t exist, start your own (see Mpact: Building an Asset Builder’s Coalition in the November 2011 edition of VOYA Magazine).  Have regularly occurring programming events that keep your library’s name on the tips of patrons tongues.  These events should range in variety and audience but generate buzz. 

Social Media                                                                                                                                            Facebook, Twitter, Pinterestand more – social media is an important tool in today’s culture.  It helps you build relationships with your teens, community members and increases your presence.  Different types of groups use different types of social media differently, and you really need to be using them all.  Twitter works well for brief blasts, fun contests, chats and more.  Pinterest is one of the fastest growing social media tools that have several advantages: 1) it is visual, 2) it is more easily organized and accessed, and 3) it can be used in such a diverse number of ways.  You can use Pinterest to share booklists, staff favorites, programming information and more.  You can also invite your community to create their own additions which helps generate buy in.  (See the Bookfessions Tumblr for a fun way to involve community members).  Share teen created artwork.  And don’t forget to blog! Daily.

Relational Librarianship                                                                                                                                                        
When members of the community feel that they know and are known by their library staff members – at all levels – we enter into a relational partnership.  Some of this can be accomplished through the library’s effective use of social media. Blogs can be your friend.  At my last two library positions I have created staff picks displays (like all good librarians, I borrowed the idea from elsewhere).  Here, staffs picks are continually put out with a staff name and face to go with it.  Over time patrons find the staff members that they have common reading interests with and seek them out for personalized RA services. 

Customer Service                                                                                                                                           
Good businesses know that quality customer service is key.  It helps you build those relationships 1 on 1.  The simple act of calling someone by name can make all the difference.  Continual staff training and communication is key to good customer service.  A satisfied patron is your best advocate.  Create the best library policies to create consistent, quality services and train your staff not only how to implement them, but why.  Key talking points help staff keep messages on point and keep your patrons satisfied.  Why do we have public computer limits? To help make sure that the greatest number of patrons get to use the computers in ways that are satisfying to them all.  Why do we have check-out due dates?  So that the greatest number of patrons can get their hands on the materials they need in a timely matter.

Phase II: Networking with your community leaders
Goals: Build partnerships with your community leaders and maintain relationships that keep your library moving forward and viable.           

How?: Meet and greet, extend an invitation, and social media

The Meet and Greet
Want to know your community leaders and advocate for your library?  Go out there and meet them.  Or invite them to a meeting.  Better yet, do both.  Visit the leaders in your community; drop them off a welcoming gift and your business card.  Make sure you have a tip sheet (might I suggest infographics) that highlight the who, what, where, when and why of your library and teen services programming to leave behind.  Then, invite them all to the library for an open house with tours, highlights and yes, food.  Don’t just seek out your community leaders, seek to be one.  Remember, show your community leaders how you are helping meet the 40 Developmental Assets of teens; more assets means less risky behaviors and all communities agree that is a good goal.

Extend an Invitation        
Find out where your community leaders are active – Rotary Club, Key Club, Community Foundations, etc. – and offer to be a part.  Regularly attend meetings and contribute meaningfully to the dialogue and goals.  If you see, or hear expressed, a need in your community, create an organization to help meet that need and invite others into partnership with the library.  Let your leaders know that the library is available to help provide information research, meeting rooms, or staff to do programming.

Social Media                                                    
Create unique social media pages to dialogue with your community leaders.  You can have a business oriented blog.  Or a teen services blog open to community organizations that serve teens.  Create a community Wiki where organizations are invited to share information such as hours and contact information as well as upcoming calendar dates.  This keeps everyone in dialogue and has the bonus feature of allowing staff members to know where to send patrons for assistance when questions arise.
Part III: Who does this?
On some level, you – the teen services librarian – has primary responsibility.  But every staff member has unique talents and interests and these can be tapped.  Phases I and II are concurrent and ongoing.  Advocacy is a process and your goal it to do it effectively and continually.  One voice in the wilderness is hard to hear, but a chorus of angels can not be ignored. 
Advocacy motto: Be heard, Be seen, Be felt

How do you advocate for teens in your library and in your community? Let us know in the comments.