CPD23 Thing 16

I was asked to write a Thing for the CPD23 project that I’m also taking part in. I’ve reproduced it below and it was originally posted here. It’d be great to get people talking about the topic of advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published, so even if you’re not doing CPD23, please do blog about this one 🙂

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Apologies in advance to international CPD23-ers; this is a fairly UK-centric post, but I hope that those from countries where advocacy has more of a history will be able to provide some useful thoughts and resources to the rest of us!

Advocacy and speaking up for the profession

Advocacy for libraries has probably been around for as long as libraries have, but recently it’s taken a big step-up in the UK. During These Economic Times it’s increasingly important for people working in library and information roles to be able to explain and express the value of their service – what it does that benefits users, how it can help non-users, how it can add value to the organisation it’s in, and so on, in order to serve as many people as possible, meet their needs as well as possible and crucially, to ensure that we’ve got enough of a budget to do all the things we need to do. Stakeholders need to understand exactly what it is we do and why what we do is important – they’re the ones holding the purse-strings.

Perhaps the highest profile advocacy taking place at the moment is public libraries campaigning; there’s a busy #savelibraries hashtag on twitter and organisations like Voices for the Library, CILIP, Campaign for the Book, Unison and the Women’s Institute are all fighting drastic cuts to public library services across the UK. Unfortunately it’s very hard for public library staff to campaign for their own sector without risking their jobs, so it’s very important for people outside of public libraries (and within, where possible) to shout about the role of public libraries and talk about why they’re more relevant than ever.

Annie Mauger's address to the WI by ijclark on Flickr

A lot of the advocacy for public libraries has involved activities that not all of us would be comfortable doing: banner-waving; shouting; marching on parliament; speaking to local and national politicians; giving interviews for tv, radio and newspapers; helping lawyers put together arguments for legal challenges…it’s certainly not part of any job description for a librarian I’ve come across! However, this kind of thing is far more along the lines of activism than advocacy, and shouldn’t put people off getting involved with advocacy. If promoting/advocating for your own service isn’t in job descriptions yet, it a) blinking well should be and b) probably will be soon…! CILIP have put together some advocacy resources for different sectors including special library and information services, schools and further education. There’s also a campaigning toolkit on their website. The American Library Association has absolutely tons of advocacy resources that I recommend having a scout around. Some fantastic advocacy came out of the LIS New Professionals Network Advocacy Challenge including jigaws, knitting patterns, and the That’s Not Online! Project. It’d be great to see more of that kind of thing. The Lib Code is an advocacy campaign from the Philippines I stumbled across on Tumblr when I was looking for images for this post – they’ve only very recently had a soft launch, and I think it’ll be worth keeping an eye on what they’re doing.


The Lib Code [2011] from UP LISSA on Vimeo.

Getting published

In addition to all the skills you pick up when engaging in advocacy (public speaking, constructing arguments, communicating with different stakeholders, using social media effectively, designing online and print materials etc.), there is the opportunity to write and get published. Keeping a blog about your work lets people know that you’re active and people will think of you if they need information, or someone to write an article. For example, the posts I’ve written for the Voices site and things I’ve published on my own blog have led to requests for articles from places such as False Economy, Living Streets and Public Library Journal. It’s also worth pitching article ideas to places like The Guardian’s Comment is Free – they’re keen to hear from people who specialise in particular subjects, and have commissioned pieces by me, Ian Clark and Simon Barron when we’ve approached them. Emma Cragg and Katie Birkwood approached Guardian Careers, who published their piece on what it takes to be a 21st century librarian. Publishing within library-related publications helps to keep library and information people up to date with what’s going on, and publishing outside of library publications helps to get your message out of the accursed echo-chamber. Both can be very useful, and help to boost your skills and experience.

Library Love by justgrimes on Flickr

Things to Do

There’s plenty you can do to incorporate advocacy into your day-to-day life; the hardest part is working out how. For this Thing:

  • Consider why it’s important to advocate for the section of library and information sector that you work for or want to work in.
  • Have a think about what advocacy you’ve been involved in. Give examples so we can pool resources and inspire others to do the same. Or, give an example of some advocacy that you think has been particularly effective – library-related or otherwise.
  • If you haven’t been involved in advocacy, reflect on what your skills are (or which you want to develop), what you’re most passionate about and think about what you might be able to do.
  • If you’re passionate about public libraries and want to help – let Voices for the Library know! We’re keen to get more people involved with things like asking organisations and well-known figures for supporting statements, securing sponsorship, liaising with other campaigning bodies and representing us at events.
  • If you’ve got any potential content for That’s Not Online! let Jacqueline know.
  • Think about where advocacy fits in with professionalism – maybe comment on Johanna’s blog post about Activism, Advocacy and Professional Identity or if you can get hold of any, look at some job descriptions and identify where you think the advocacy might fit within the requirements of the roles.
  • Publication challenge! A prize for anyone who gets a piece of library advocacy published.

Read-Ins: A How To

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

– Rudyard Kipling

A few people have asked me what they should do if they want to take part in the national day of action for libraries on 5th February.

Alan Gibbons has given some advice on his blog, so I thought I’d give a little bit of a How To based on what I’ve learnt over the last few months, in Five Ws (and one H) form:

What: A Read-In! I described what they are in this post for Voices for the Library. Basically, they’re family-friendly, peaceful protests.

Why: A few reasons – a) To celebrate public library services, librarians and library staff and the brilliant things they do for people, communities and society. b) To raise awareness of proposed cuts to library services. c) To bring people together to fight against those cuts. d) Show the level of support locally.

When: Any time that works strategically for your library campaign. For the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, that’s 29th January, as soon as we can after the extent of the cuts in Doncaster is announced on 11th January in the Mayor’s budget, and then 5th February, which is the announced national day of action against library cuts. There’s still time for you to organise something for that day, and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise it through national media channels if you send details to him by mid-January. Pick a time to hold the Read-In. It could be a couple of hours long, or last the whole day. Make sure you check the opening times of the library! Saturdays are the best day, obviously, so that more people can get involved.

Where: Wherever there’s a library under threat. You could hold a Read-In at the threatened branch itself, or at the central library of the town it’s in, if the smaller branch itself is hard to reach. An event at the central branch might be more practical and effective. For example, Doncaster is the largest metropolitan borough in the country, which means that it can be difficult, expensive and take a long time for people to get from one side of the borough to the other, hence the Read-In at the central branch on 29th January, even though the central library itself (as far as we know) isn’t set to close.

How: After you’ve picked a date and time, publicise it.

Police: The first thing it can be helpful to do is let the local police station know that there will be a Read-In. Remember, you have a right to protest and you’re not obliged to let the police know if you’re not organising a march, but it can be helpful. They can give advice about what to avoid (like obstructing public rights of way). Let them know it’s not a militant or violent protest. As soon as you mention libraries, they’ll probably laugh and say “right, so we don’t need to send a riot van then”, which is what I’ve experienced!

Communities: Make phonecalls, send emails, start a Facebook group and set up an event, give out flyers, put up posters in local shops, put an advert in the local paper, spread the word when you’re in the Post Office and ask people to mention it when they’re out and about.

Media: Let local (and national) newspapers and radio stations know. Journalists are more likely to pick up on the event if you send them a press release. There’s advice about how to write one here. Tell unions and anti-cuts organisations like False Economy, UK Uncut, Coalition of Resistance and Unison. Voices for the Library and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise your event.

It’s a good idea to designate a media contact for the event in case journalists want to interview someone beforehand or come to the event and interview someone there. They’re likely to want to know:

  • What cuts are being made
  • Which libraries are under threat
  • How many members of staff are likely to lose their jobs
  • By how much the book budget will be cut
  • Who stands to lose out because of the cuts
  • What impact the cuts will have
  • What new things are being proposed (for example, replacing paid staff with volunteers or self-service machines)
  • Why volunteers can’t and shouldn’t run a library service
  • How the decision-making processes of the council are flawed
  • How cuts to libraries are counter-productive and disproportionate

Gather together as much information as you can and be prepared to answer questions. You can use the information to make flyers with key information on them to give out at the event, too.

You need to think about what you’re going to do with people when they all turn up at the library. Some ideas are:

  • Ask people to sign a petition against proposed cuts and closures. Some councils don’t allow petition-signing to take place on council property (although most do), so it might be best to do it as people go in and out. Or, just make sure you don’t do it inside if you’re asked not to and shown the proof that you’re not allowed to 😉
  • Use the library! Browse the shelves, borrow resources, use the PCs, read the newspapers.
  • Encourage people to join the library if they’re not already members.
  • Get people to talk about what libraries mean to them, and how it will affect them if the library service is cut.
  • Hold readings of favourite books.
  • Get the kids involved – take some costumes, read aloud, get them drawing and writing, dancing and singing.
  • Have a musical interlude.
  • Get people to write to their MP and the council.
  • Maybe walk in and out a few times to really up the footfall statistics 😉

Who: Everybody. The point of public libraries is that they’re there for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation. Libraries are non-judgemental, democratic institutions that are open to all. It’s important for library campaign groups to be non-Political (with a big P) and promote the values of the public library. This means being welcoming to all and not discouraging anyone from taking part. It’s therefore important for publicity like flyers, posters and banners to be free of logos and have an inclusive tone. It may well be that your potentially strongest supporters may well have changed their mind about who they voted for in the first place, and being openly anti-whoever could prevent them from making their voices heard.