Building Relationships with Local & State Officials
At its most fundamental level, successful library advocacy is about building relationships between the library and decision makers. Elected officials (and even appointed officials) need to understand the role of the library and its importance in the community. A recent study by OCLC, From Awareness to Funding, showed that two factors influenced voters' decisions to support the library with funding: the understanding that the library is transformative in people's lives, and the perception that the librarian is involved in the community.
Librarians and their community advocates all have a role to play in building relationships with decision makers. Opportunities to build these bridges range from general involvement in the life of the community to direct outreach to office holders and government officials.
Participation in the life of the community, whether representing the library or simply as an individual, is an essential part of building both interpersonal relationships with decision-makers and support for the library. It is in these forums that you meet and interact not only with officials at various levels of government, but also other community leaders who talk to and influence the officials. This type of involvement is a holistic approach that has a deep and lasting impact. And it's not just for library directors: there's a role here for Friend leaders, trustees and other library supporters. There are opportunities in every community for this type of interaction, both conventional and less conventional.
Some conventional types of community involvement:
Local organizational boards (Chamber of Commerce, hospital, arts organization, community theater, senior center, etc.)
Some other opportunities:
Community strategic planning task forces and committees
Steering committees for local capital campaigns
Community celebration/event committees
Advisory boards for the school system, community college and other institutions
One benefit of getting to know elected and appointed officials on a business-social level is discovering shared interests. Does a legislator have a hobby or an avocation about which the library is particularly suited to providing information (genealogy is an example)? Is the library hosting a discussion series about a topic particularly close to a county commissioner's heart? Would a town council member who's a Star Trek fan be delighted to know that the library has all the episodes of all the series on DVD? "Hey -- we can help with that!" is a way to build a relationship at a fundamental level.
Most libraries have ongoing communications efforts with patrons and the public at large: print and email/online newsletters, Facebook and other social media offerings, news releases, annual reports, and more. Making sure elected officials are "on the mailing list" is another key way to build relationships.