Perhaps slightly controversially, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of advocacy for public libraries. While I do believe strongly in the value of libraries in all sectors of society, and in particular public libraries, I sometimes find it difficult to believe that library advocacy has much power to influence government and council decisions. I have a great deal of respect for library campaigners who spend hours and days and months promoting their local library services, but a lot of the time it seems that all their efforts fall on deaf ears – because ultimately the local councils have already made up their minds to cut library services.
I am currently following the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaign with great interest because this group has been granted a judicial review of Gloucestershire County Council’s plans to make severe cuts to its library services. The campaigners will be challenging the legality of these cuts in court later this month, and I really want them to be successful. If they do indeed manage to save their libraries through their tireless advocacy and campaigning, it would definitely restore my faith in the power and importance of public library advocacy.
I used to work in a public library and so I understand how important library services are to the local community. In my opinion, education is one of the most important building blocks of a successful society and as such I believe that provision must be made for people to educate themselves even when they are not members of educational institutions like colleges or Universities – public libraries can provide this service. I also believe that knowledge should be freely available and accessible for those who can’t afford it, whether this means books or an internet connection – and both of these are provided for free by public libraries.
The sector in which I currently work is Higher Education rather than public libraries but I believe that libraries are equally as important in this sector, albeit for slightly different reasons. I am a huge believer in the importance of information literacy skills and I think that the teaching of these skills should be embedded into the curriculum from school right through to University. In a world of information overload, it is increasingly important that people learn the skills necessary to sift, locate, organise, analyse and present information. Given that teachers and lecturers are, quite rightly, preoccupied with their own subject areas, I think that librarians are the ones who are best placed to teach these skills. My interest in librarianship stems from my interest in education and in helping students to learn how to navigate an increasingly complex information landscape. Librarians are there to help students understand that not all information is on Google, not all information is free, and not all information is reliable. As such, I feel that it’s very important to advocate for libraries and librarians in educational institutions.
Having said all this, I feel a little guilty because I haven’t had much opportunity to get involved in library advocacy so far in my career. I’m not sure if it really counts as advocacy, but last year I did volunteer to staff the library stall at our University’s Freshers’ Fair in order to advertise library services to students. We handed out lots of library flyers to new Freshers and marketed the use of library resources as something that would ultimately improve their degree results – which I think went down well! I hope to be able to do more to advocate library services in my next job, possibly by creating marketing materials which will promote the library to students, but also by building positive working relationships with the teachers or lecturers in order to encourage them to see librarians as skilled educators and to see the library as a provider of crucial information and resources.
Since I am a bit inexperienced in the area of library advocacy, I thought I would share this link to an interesting article which lists at length the many reasons that libraries are still important and relevant in the digital age – it’s full of convincing arguments which might prove useful for budding library advocates!