Advocacy Primer

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Advocacy Primer
Becoming an advocate for libraries is one of the most important and rewarding roles you can take on. Your voice will help shape the future of libraries for the people of Texas and help ensure that our libraries are strong and are able to meet the great demand for services and resources.

Whether you work in a library, are a lay supporter, or a concerned member of the public, by becoming an advocate, you'll not only strengthen a concerted voice of those us committed to education, literacy, and learning, you'll also find that you will develop skills and build networks that can assist you in other areas of your life.

TLA offers many resources to help you become an advocate, including in-person and online training. Below, we offer some essential information to help you get started.

10 Basic Advocacy Tips
Making “The Ask”
How do I contact offices?
Sample Letters, Speeches, Editorials
Resources and Links



10 Basic Advocacy Tips

  1. Document the difference your library makes in your community! Keep records and measure outcomes. Be sure that whatever information you keep about your library services is personal. Elected officials want to know how your library improved lives. Start collecting stories from your patrons. Take the time to ask them: How has our library helped you?
  2. Communicate your library’s programs and events with your community, local government, state legislators, and the media. The need for and power of communication cannot be understated. Communicate through letters or the media. Send newsletters and stories to members of your community/school, elected officials, and media representatives about what is happening in your library. The single most devastating problem libraries can face is obscurity! You are doing great work. Make sure people know that! Keep them posted on what is happening at your library.
  3. Involve your community and support groups in your library. While elected officials like to hear from librarians, they REALLY LOVE to hear from the people you serve (students, parents, etc.). If you don’t already have a Friends group, develop one. If you can get your community behind you, then you have a whole army of people willing to help you win important budget battles.
  4. Bring elected officials and administrators to your library! Make a point of inviting school, city, and state leaders to your library’s important events. Ask your local state representative to participate in story hours. Have a representative from the local paper there to take snapshots and get the story in the paper. Publicity can be your friend! Make the most out of your activities. Even if elected officials cannot always come to your events, you gain recognition by inviting them.
  5. Learn when to make requests. Find out when your governing bodies are making decisions. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask for increases in your budget or anything else your library needs. Take the time to know your decision makers. Visit with them long before funding decisions must be made. Officials should not be hearing about a request for the first time during a school board, city council, or county commissioners meeting. Talk with them early.
  6. Be ready for meeting elected officials. When you do visit with them, take one or two of your lay advocates or parents with you. Set up an appointment and prepare for the meeting. Plan what you want to say and how to say it. Remember, personal examples and specific information go a long way. Don’t be sidetracked. Remember why you are there. The meeting is an opportunity to discuss a specific need not a long list of topics. Get to your point. Don’t use jargon; USE THEIR LANGUAGE. And, be sure to leave a brief statement of what it is you want. The elected official may need to refer back to your written material later.
  7. Follow up with elected officials. Thank them for meeting with you and provide the official with additional information if necessary. Make sure that anyone who supports your library gets recognized. People really do respond to praise!
  8. Advocacy is the democracy in action! Remember, elected officials and administrators are there to serve the public. We, as librarians, serve the public and have the right and responsibility to speak out on behalf of our patrons.
  9. Advocacy is an opportunity to represent the best of our profession and the best of libraries. In all your advocacy efforts, remember that your represent your library and the people you serve. Advocacy is about making friends of elected officials and administrators. Don’t be misled by people who want to engage in personal attacks. You are a professional with a plan and a mission. Stick to it!
  10. The "be" part of being an advocate:
      Be professional Be compelling
  Be on time Be BRIEF!!!
  Be reliable Be persistent
  Be honest Be committed
  Be direct  Be factual

Remember, advocacy is based on action. To advocate, you must act. Write letters, make phone calls, get the word out, visit with elected officials–
it all adds up to success for your library and all libraries throughout the state!

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Making “The Ask”
Okay, you have developed your message and a plan for delivering it.  Now, it’s time to get to the point and “make the ask.”

  • Know what you want.
  • Know who is the right person to ask to do it.
  • Know when to ask them to do it.
  • Get friends (i.e., parents, principals, etc.) to help you.
  • Be clear about what you want someone to do.  Make sure you give it to them in writing.
  • Be brief, focused, clear, and honest.
  • Provide statistical information when needed, but always include YOUR STORY.
  • Asking is about SOMEONE ELSE.  Speak in their language and in terms of the things that matter to them. It’s not helpful to try to get them to understand us; it is helpful to frame our needs in terms of how our work helps communities, students, and the people the administrator or elected officials serves. Stay on point! MAKE THE ASK!
  • Follow up.

These rules apply to writing letters, making phone calls, or visiting with elected officials.  

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How do I contact offices?
Find out who represents you by going to the Take Action Center. There, you will key in your home address, and you’ll get a list of who represents you along with contact information (district and Capitol addresses, phone numbers, fax, and Web or email contact information).

You can send a letter, email, or make a phone call.

For quick action (as in a vote or decision is imminent), you’ll want to call.

  • When you call, you can ask for the staff person who is working on your particular issue (e.g., appropriations, education, telecommunications, etc.). You will be transferred over to the appropriate staffer. Remember, talking to a staffer is just fine. Staff members do a lot of the legwork for legislative offices.
  • Then, you’ll want to tell them who you are—name, that you are a library supporter, which library you are affiliated with, and that you are a constituent. It is important for your legislators to know that you live in their district.
  • Briefly, tell the staffer your issue. If you have a bill number or specific citation, this helps enormously as they have many issues to follow. So, for example, if you are calling a legislative office about a funding matter, you would refer to the General Appropriations Bill, General Government (Article I) for State Library funding or Education (Article III) for school or higher education funding issues. All TLA alerts will give you this information, so you will know how to reference the issue.
    Briefly (a couple of sentences), explain why your issue is important.
  • Tell the staffer what specific action you would like your elected official to take. For example, you can specify vote to allocate an additional $x million for this program; contact Chairman X on the committee about the importance of increasing funding for X program; or sign on as a sponsor to X rider, etc. Again, TLA alerts will give you specific information. However, whenever you are contacting offices, it is important to be specific in what you are requesting.
  • The staffer might ask you a couple of questions. Be sure to thank them and your elected official for their support of libraries. Offer to be a resource should they have any questions, and do follow up with them. And don’t worry, if they ask you something you can’t answer, just tell them you’ll research the issue and get back to them.
  • Calling offices takes only about five minutes, and staffers are always polite and take note of why you are calling and your position. Calls do matter!

If you are emailing or writing, the principles above apply. Be sure to note your physical address if you are emailing so that the office will know that you are a constituent.

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Sample Letters, Speeches, Editorials

See the TLA PR Toolkit, Section IV, which is dedicated to advocacy and contains other samples and templates.

Resources and Links

ALA Advocacy Site: Contains many excellent toolkits

On using persuasive letters to engage elected officials

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Created on Mar 15, 2010 | Last updated September 02, 2014