By Olivia Butze
Have you ever left an American Library Association (ALA) conference overflowing with ideas to implement at your library? Between the many events and vast exhibits, ALA conferences are filled with inspirational content. However, with cuts to library funding an increasing threat, libraries may have a hard time moving forward with new ideas. Enter ALA’s Office for Library Advocacy (OLA)—superheroes with books for capes.
Whether working on a national level with their Washington colleagues, or with ALA chapters across the country, the OLA is constantly working on crisis response, strategy assistance, resource development and more. One example of their work is The Library Advocacy Starter Kit they just released in celebration of National Library Week. This kit is designed to engage the general public in specific actions to support libraries of all types, in all communities.
“[We] assist on state and local issues impacting libraries, from legislation and funding issues to general advocacy strategy,” says Megan Murray Cusick, a Grassroots Specialist at the OLA. The office is also at every ALA conference, hosting the Committee on Library Advocacy meetings and partnering with other organizations to host events.
At this year’s ALA Midwinter meeting in Seattle, SAGE partnered with the OLA to host an opening night reception and raise funds for the organization. SAGE committed a donation to the organization for every badge scanned upon entry—and over 230 attendees showed.
Ultimately, we hope that our support leads to tangible benefits. “So many library advocates with whom we have worked on local issues attended,” recaps Megan. “In some cases, we were able to meet face-to-face for the first time. We were able to connect folks—a great opportunity to build the network.”
Yet advocacy is not easy; organizations like SAGE and the ALA can only do so much. Megan instead believes “real success is built slowly and steadily. At ALA, our job is to help lay the foundation, make connections, strategize and tailor the messaging. Librarians, library workers, and volunteers in schools, universities and communities are doing the everyday work (and then some!) to really drive home the critical value of libraries.”
So how can anyone—librarians, organizations, children—help? “Organizations can support the work of OLA in several ways. First, they can be a voice for the importance of libraries in all communities. By working with local libraries or state associations, they can advance a unified message. Our elected officials and local decision makers need to hear from people beyond the library’s walls. Sign up for ALA’s advocacy alerts on federal issues; and with your state association for state and local alerts. While the financial support of organizations is necessary and appreciated, individuals can take action, too. Join your local library’s friends group; talk to your district or school librarian and see if there is an opportunity to volunteer, donate, or speak at a board of education meeting. Let community-based organizations know how libraries are integral to their work. We all have personal and professional relationships that we can leverage to grow support for libraries.”
If you attend a future advocacy event hosted by the OLA, take some time getting to know Megan and her coworkers—ask them what challenges they are seeing in the library world and how you can help. While this week may be National Library Week, an annual celebration that highlights the importance of libraries, librarians and library works and their impact on society, all these resources and individuals, including the OLA, deserve recognition 365 days a year.