Library advocacy tips from 2015 “Academic Friend” Conference Grant winners

Congratulations to Molly Hart and Heather Murphy, this year’s winners of the United for Libraries/SAGE Academic Friend Conference Grants! The grants will fund their trip to San Francisco, where they will attend the ALA Annual Conference from June 25-30.

Tips for Expanding YOur NEtwork ofHeather and Molly share an outstanding commitment to library advocacy and the expansion of their Friends of the Library groups, a program offered by United for Libraries that connects library supporters across communities and campuses. As an associate director of publications and public affairs at the Urbana-Champaign Library of the University of Illinois, Heather oversees the production and dissemination of newsletters, development pieces and other marketing materials that convey the value of the library to stakeholders and patrons. As a student engagement assistant at the Columbia College Library, Molly developed a plan to revitalize their Friends of the Library group that focused on new ways to promote the program and empower students to become library advocates.  Inspired by their innovative ideas, we asked our winners the following question:

What are your top tips on growing, managing and leading your network of library supporters?

 “It can be a challenge growing our network of Library Friends; we’re always looking for new approaches. Here are some best practices I’ve learned along the way.

“Concentrate your Efforts: When we reach out to library supporters, we rarely go about this broadly. We think in terms of students, alumni and non-alumni, faculty and staff, the community, and the general public. For example, we publish a special newsletter just for campus faculty to promote the programs and services of our library and to foster communication about library-related issues. Also, through a new monthly e-newsletter for staff, we share stories of impact and remind our internal audience how important the library is.

“Embrace Social Media: Find your niche with the tool that makes the most sense. We inform and engage with students and younger audiences by utilizing Facebook. Through Facebook, we talk about what our librarians are working on, which exhibits are coming up, and the latest library news. We also just introduced Instagram to showcase our beautiful library spaces.Murphy_Heather_2014 PM PS

 “Try New Avenues to Get the Message Out: To gain visibility with the community and the general public, think outside the box. We’re partnering with a local radio station and putting librarians on air to talk about collections and events. This is something we’ve never done before.

“If It’s Not Broke…Keep doing what works. For us, a printed newsletter to our library supporters is a highly-successful fundraising tool. It highlights current gifts to our library as well as our collections, faculty, programs, and services. One of the most successful components of this newsletter is our Library Is Looking For feature in which we list items currently in need. So many of our Library Friends sponsor these individual items to support our library.

“All of these efforts boost our visibility and raise awareness about our library and our needs.”

Heather Murphy
Associate Director of Advancement for Publications and Public Affairs
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Here are my guiding principles:

“Availability: Make your Friends program as transparent as possible, hold public meetings and consider having a free level of membership, so everyone is a friend! Make donating as easy as possible, by enabling text or website donations.

“Applicability: Friend’s programming should aim to bridge the gap between college and the ‘real world’ by providing workshops that augment the disparate information students receive throughout their academic careers. For instance, you could offer a workshop comparing AmeriCorps with Teach for America and Peace Corps.  Information on these programs is easily accessible but by offering it in a side-by-side comparison, you offer the students a more honest lookMolly at their options and demonstrate the weighing of unequal choices.

“Advocacy: Student engagement is aboutadvocacy. What do your students want? What do they need? With a national average student debt of $30,000 – why should students donate to the Libraries they already paid to have access to? Because we fight for them! Consider using part of your Friend’s funding to help establish a book scholarship or annual grant for a needy student.”

Molly Hart
Student Engagement Assistant
Columbia College Chicago

We celebrate Heather and Molly’s achievements with their libraries and look forward to learning more about library advocacy at ALA. We’ll see you there!

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