Advocacy is part of the American Library Association’s Core Competencies of Librarianship. It’s also one of the primary student learning objectives of the Library and Information Studies program at UNCG and the focus of a major project in the foundations course.
We talk about advocacy in the classroom, but how can one become a library advocate, especially as a graduate student? Participating in coordinated legislative advocacy events is one way. Next Wednesday, Feb. 25, is North Carolina Library Legislative Day, a day when librarians (and library students) from across the state gather at the capitol in Raleigh to speak with legislators about the importance of libraries.
Learning By Doing
Laura Brown, an MLIS student who graduates in May, knows firsthand the power of advocating for libraries with some of the state’s top legislators. She participated in the 2014 State Library Legislative Day. Laura first heard about the advocacy event in Dr. Anthony Chow’s library management course last spring as part of an assignment where students were asked to read stories from North Carolina residents at NCLA’s library advocacy website (https://nclibraryadvocacy.wordpress.com/).
“I was inspired by the stories I read on the library advocacy page and the ‘Happy Dance’ videos from across the state showing support for libraries,” Laura said. “I wanted to be a part of these advocacy efforts because I believe in the relevancy and importance of libraries. If I didn’t, I would not be pursuing my MLS. Individually, librarians are generally not the type to boast about their accomplishments but collectively this is what we should, and have to do, to avoid budget cuts. It’s unfortunate but we have to really show our legislators exactly what libraries are doing and why they are so important.”
Last year’s group started the morning off at the State Legislature in Raleigh with a rally and inspirational address by State Librarian Cal Sheppard. Laura and other students joined Dr. Chow as they visited the offices of several legislators, sharing personal stories and data collected by NCLA to show how libraries are making a difference in North Carolina.
“The overall message,” Laura said, “was that libraries build communities through supporting workforce development, promoting literacy and lifelong learning, connecting people and resources, partnering with local organizations, and bridging the information divide … Each time that you made a personal connection with one of our state’s lawmakers and reminded them of how libraries had impacted their own lives, it felt like a small victory.”
Dr. Chow sees opportunities like Library Legislative Day as a way for LIS students to put their education into action. “It’s an opportunity to apply what you’re learning and see hands-on what the process is like,” he said. “It takes courage to advocate and express support for libraries in such a hands-on way … but advocacy in person at the legislative level is one of the purest democratic acts you can do. And advocacy as a skill is critical in our field.”
Laura agrees. “Getting involved with library advocacy has definitely contributed to my education,” she said. “I’ve learned a great deal about how state funding affects libraries and learned even more about the great things our libraries are doing. I was able to meet library professionals from across the state and spend some time with our wonderful State Librarian. Some of the most valuable experience came with just having the opportunity to speak with professionals in the field and with legislators. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone to speak with some of the most powerful people in our state.”
Laura encourages other students to understand how and why advocacy is important. “As librarians entering the field right now, I think we need to be prepared to continually defend the relevancy of our profession (unfortunate as that may be),” she said. “We can do this by gathering data that demonstrates the direct benefits to our communities and by continuing to do great things. Advocacy will be a part of our careers as librarians and what better way to get practice than by participating in events like State Library Legislative Day!”
How To Get Involved
Laura has a few suggestions for how students can get involved immediately. For anyone interested in getting involved with State Library Legislative Day or any other advocacy efforts, she recommends getting in touch with Dr. Chow (firstname.lastname@example.org). Currently, LISSA (Library and Information Studies Student Association) is partnering with Dr. Chow and NCLA to assist with a project where local legislators will visit their community libraries so they can see firsthand the wonderful work they are doing.
If students do not have the time to participate in one of these projects they can always share their library stories on NCLA’s advocacy site: https://nclibraryadvocacy.wordpress.com/nc-libraries/state-library-legislative-day-2014/ or send a letter to their local legislator urging them to vote against library budget cuts.
Article compiled from interviews conducted by Corrine Luthy, MLIS student and LIS graduate assistant.