Handbook Highlight: Public Relations and Advocacy

As the summer ends and boards get back together, take time to review this important activity for all Boards of Trustees.

Public Relations and Advocacy

As the citizen control over the public library, the board of trustees has a responsibility for telling the library’s story to the taxpayers, donors and funding bodies that support it. Even the best programs and services are of limited value if people don’t know about them. Conversely, people are more likely to support programs they understand, value and use.

There are numerous ways to reach the public. One essential tool is a web site that broadcasts the library’s message and provides access to library services twenty-four hours a day.  Many libraries now maintain a presence on MySpaceor Facebook and keep their patrons up to date with library blogs and Twitter accounts.  Some even maintain virtual libraries in virtual worlds like Second Life.

More traditional publicity avenues include newsletters, public service announcements and feature stories on radio, television and newspapers. Personal communication is always the most effective way to get the library’s message across in a meaningful fashion. Trustees are leaders in the community and must be prepared to discuss the importance of the library at every opportunity.

Public relations also involve partnerships. Trustees should look for ways to form networks and coalitions of library advocates. Many other organizations, such as the school district, service clubs, the chamber of commerce and local social service agencies have a vested interest in a strong and vital community library.

A critical aspect of public relations is legislative advocacy. Elected officials want to be invited to public events at the library and they should be on the mailing list for all library publications.  Dynamic boards and trustees write, call and visit their elected officials frequently. Trustees are in a unique position to be effective in the governmental arena because they are citizen volunteers with no direct financial stake in library funding decisions. Trustees keep the library’s financial needs in front of elected officials. Of course there are many other non-financial issues at the local, state, and federal level that affect libraries. Zoning ordinances, labor law, copyright, telecommunications rules, environmental regulations, censorship and many other issues can have an impact on libraries and trustees must ensure that the library’s interests are well represented.

Many trustees support library lobbying through their active membership in the Library Trustees Association of New York Stateexternal link opens in a new windowNYLAexternal link opens in a new window  and New Yorkers for Better Libraries PACexternal link opens in a new window.

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