Library Advocacy – An Annotated Bibliography

by Cheryl Hoover


Advocacy is often confused with marketing and public relations.  While it is related to both of those concepts, advocacy is the art of using marketing and public relations techniques to defend or promote a cause. Library advocacy is the process of educating and influencing decision makers to enlist their active support for libraries of all types.  Library areas requiring advocacy campaigns include public opinion, financial support, and legislative impact.  People who champion the cause of libraries come from different backgrounds and advocate on the local, state, regional and national levels to increase public awareness of the value of libraries.  Advocate groups can be individuals or part of a formalized group: they are the child down the street, a bookmobile user, the new library staff person, a member of the library’s board of trustees, or the president of the Friends of the Library.  Improving the public’s perception of libraries leads to more powerful advocacy through amplified library use and increased demand of library services.

Passive community support for libraries is not enough to help libraries improve their lot in society.  Libraries compete for tax monies, grants, donations, and funding from other sources. The library benefits when passive supporters become more knowledgeable, vocal, and proactive about supporting their local library institution.  Proactive, effective advocates are vital to libraries of all types; the need to develop successful advocacy campaigns is critical to organizations spiraling towards funding crisis problems.  While data indicates that overall library usage is strong, active advocacy by stakeholders has more untapped potential.

This annotated bibliography provides resources related to the historical development of library advocate groups and also provides resources to help develop an advocacy campaign, ranging from a small-grassroots effort on the frontlines in the library trenches to the formation of formal, structured groups whose mission is to advocate on behalf of the library. The resources are divided into three sections. The first section provides a touch of historical context in regards to two powerful advocacy groups. The second section is the largest and focuses on how to cultivate advocates and offers tips on creating appropriate messages. The final section offers a resource that plays the role of devil’s advocate; friends advocate groups can be helpful but they can also create problems for library staff and administration.  Are they an asset or liability?

Historical Context

Reed, S.G. (2009). Amalgamating for advocacy: Two venerable groups combine their expertise to advance the cause of libraries. American Libraries, 40(3), 34-36.

Author Sally Gardner Reed provides brief historical information on the formation of the Trustee Section of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1890 and how it evolved into the Association of Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA).  Reed also discusses the formation of another library advocacy group:  The Friends of Library. This non-profit organization supported local libraries primarily through fundraising and advocacy efforts. This organization was formalized in 1979 to become the Friends of Libraries, U.S.A. (FOLUSA). Like their Trustee counterparts, members of FOLUSA advocate for libraries to members of the legislature and annually honor a member of Congress who has demonstrated significant support for libraries.

This historical background adds context to the recent formation of the Association for Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) by ALA, which is a combination of the two groups. The power of these two groups was magnified when they joined forces. Their combined advocacy has done much through the years to garner citizen support for libraries, which translates into positive outcomes, politically and financially, for libraries.  Reed proceeds to give specific examples from around the country of how these groups have collaborated to develop campaigns to support and improve library service within their communities.

This article was selected because of its brief overview of the formation of the two advocate groups and for the sample success stories of how formal advocate groups can create positive change for libraries.

How To Advocate

Dimattia, S. (2011). Advocacy and image: Partners in creating a value proposition. Information Outlook, 15(2), 14-16.

A successful advocacy campaign begins with the foundation of a strong image of the organization.  This image, or how others perceive you, must inspire assurance that you deserve their support.  Part of cultivating this image in the library setting requires information professionals to communicate a strong image of what they do for their clientele. If library users or the greater community do not understand the library profession or how it creates value in the community, these people cannot be expected to advocate on the library’s behalf.

Dimattia describes the basic steps to creating an advocacy campaign. The first step involves the creation and verbalization of the overall vision and five issues to use to create messages for potential advocates. The second step is to prioritize issues in order of importance. Step three identifies target audiences for the specific issues and develops a statement of why this issue is important to the target audience.  The next step requires determining the talking points of the main message and to test the message with a sample group. The final step is to select and train advocates to deliver this message to the target audience. Effective communicators are passionate and well-prepared. The understand how to use tools of communication to draw listeners in and convey their message.

This article was chosen because of its discussion on creating an appropriate image for the profession and included details for how to develop an advocacy campaign. The image of today’s library is unclear in the minds of some decision makers and it is important for the library to make sure they convey the right message.

Gerding, S. (2007). Advocate for more: Focus on legislative funding. Public Libraries, 46(2), 36-39.

Alternative funding sources are important to generating income for libraries; however, the normal revenue streams must be protected and should be a priority for library advocacy groups.  For example, libraries receive funds from local tax dollars and also from agencies on the state and federal levels.  Advocating to these constituents is necessary to maintain funds from these sources.

Gerding explains that the first step is finding the right people to advocate for the library. The reason is that the person who delivers the message is often more important than the actual message. Putting the right person in the role of delivering the message can improve the odds of the message being positively received.  The right person to be the advocate varies according to the type of message that is to be delivered.   The next step is determining which audience to target first and then develop the advocate group from within their peers. An important consideration is to build connections in the community before they are needed.

Another important aspect of library advocacy is the ability to organize people to a course of action or for a particular cause. Decisions need to be made regarding who the target audience would consider important people. Then those important people should be cultivated as advocates. Advocating to elected officials can improve funding situations.  Gerding provides advice on how to utilize in-person meetings, telephone calls, letters, email, and editorials to get the message across.

This article provided specific details for how to communicate with elected officials, which was useful for this annotated bibliography. While many of the suggestions were common-sense, they still serve as a reminder for those composing or initiating correspondence.

Lowman, S. S., & Bixby, M.D. (2011). Working with friends groups: Enhancing participation through cultivation and planning. Journal of Library Administration, 51(2), 209-220. doi: 10.1080/01930826.2011.540551

As library budget woes continue unilaterally, improving public awareness of library services to the community increases in importance.  Lowman and Bixby examine and discuss the very successful Friends of the Library activities at Fondren Library that build library loyalty in the donor community and encourage active participation.

Fondren Library at Rice University fosters growth in library resources by encouraging participation through their Friends group. The Friends of the Library’s mission is to increase community and alumni interest and support the University by helping to fund library initiatives and goals.  This active group sponsors various community programs, including lectures, books sales, and author receptions; assist with publicizing library resources and services; sponsor gifts and memorials and purchase materials and equipment. The use of free public events as outreach is particularly successful for the Friends. They sponsor an annual gala which has raised a minimum of $100,000 each year. The money has been used to establish two endowments for the library. Lowman and Bixby attribute the success of the Friends to quality leadership and a successful director who is diplomatic, organized and knowledgeable with event planning, and able to work successfully with a wide range of volunteers.

This article was included in the bibliography because it provides an excellent example of just how successful and productive a Friends group can be and offers fundraising ideas that could be used by other institutions.

Pecoraro, J. (2009). What’s it worth? The value of library services as an advocacy tool. Texas Library Journal, 85(1), 8-9.  Retrieved from

Libraries must be able to tell their story accurately and effectively to library stakeholders in order to raise public awareness of the value of their services. Determining the value of specific library services and then communicating that value to the public is a challenge.  Pecoraro, Coordinator of the Big Country Library System, shares his experience in gathering and preparing such information and making it meaningful and relevant to library users.

Libraries need to determine which services they would like to highlight and then decide on the appropriate value of that service. The information can be entered into a spreadsheet template but statistics need to be available.  The goal is to have the total value of the library’s services exceed the actual amount of the library’s budget.  This demonstrates a positive return on investment. This information can then be used to advocate to library constituents.

Pecoraro also provides links to personal value calculators used by other libraries. Patrons enter information on how they use the library and a value is generated demonstrating the monetary value of the library to the patron. For example, how many books or videos were borrowed and how many programs were attended?  These tools can be placed on library home pages and used to improve public awareness and increase support of the library.

This article was included because it provides links to calculators that can easily be added to a library’s home page. It also offered concrete ideas on how to determine the value of the library’s services and how to further communicate that information to the library stakeholders.

Price, L. (2010). Bringing in the money: Elevator speeches for libraries. Public Libraries, 49(5), 24 – 27.

Opportunities to advocate on behalf of a library can occur suddenly, without warning, and in some pretty unusual places.  To be ready for these types of situations, Price recommends library advocates have a short speech ready to sell or promote an idea that would benefit a library or organization. However, there are right and wrong ways to go about presenting this speech. It needs to be brief enough so that it can be stated during a short elevator ride — hence the name “elevator speech.”  The speech should be modified and adjustable based on the intended recipient and finished with a request for action.  The speech and request for action should be performed in about 90 seconds to two minutes time. To further illustrate his point, Price provides fictitious elevator speeches written by professionals at various institutions.

Lastly, the author offers final pointers for preparing successful elevator speeches.  Remember key points and avoid memorizing, remain flexible and adaptable to the nonverbal responses of the listener, and work on developing several elevator speeches in order to be ready for different situations.  Any library stakeholder can utilize an elevator speech so it is important to teach this skill to others.

This article was chosen because it was a simple act that could be done by many library advocates  who find themselves in the right situation with the right person.

Wong, P., & Todaro, J. (2010). Frontline advocacy is everybody’s job. American Libraries, 41(6/7), 82-84.

Wong and Todaro discuss the importance of frontline advocacy to libraries of all types. This idea is so important that the American Library Association’s (ALA) President Camila Alire made frontline advocacy a presidential initiative. She encourages libraries to commit to this type of advocacy to improve public awareness of library services during tough economic times. Frontline advocacy is the action of staff who work at service points within the library to engage and promote the library during work time and beyond. This connection with library patrons and citizens in the community is an important part of library advocacy and helps spread a positive message about the value of libraries.

Libraries do not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to creating a frontline advocacy program; there are tools available at the ALA website to help get them started. Using these tools can improve the success of frontline advocacy and help make it part of the organization’s culture.  This ALA toolkit is available online in the Advocacy University section. The toolkit can be used in its entirety or as separate, individual items. Training materials in this toolkit include videos, PowerPoint presentations, tutorials, and a webinar. An initiative document, 52 Ways to Make a Difference: Advocacy Throughout the Year, provides a list of themes that can be used on a weekly basis to help support the library’s frontline advocacy campaign.

Creating formal advocacy campaigns can be daunting to library staff; therefore, this article was selected because it discuss the importance of a grassroots campaign that begins with library staff.  The Toolkit mentioned provides a good starting point for libraries who want to begin a frontline advocacy program.

Problems with Advocacy Groups

D’Andraia, F., Fitzpatrick, J., & Oliver, C. (2011). Academic libraries and friends groups: Asset or liability? Journal of Library Administration, 51, 221-230. doi: 10.1080/01930826.2011.540553

D’Andraia, Fitzpatrick and Oliver examine the early years of friends groups in academic libraries but state there is very little useful information regarding the history or chronology from a theoretical standpoint. Most of the historical information available on friends groups relates more to the practical aspects like how to do fundraising. The first academic friends group was founded at Harvard University in 1925 and the trend quickly grew.  Despite the growth of these groups, the authors argue that are inherent problems that can occur whenever a friends group is formed and that they are not always beneficial to a library.

While many friends groups function without problems, the authors examine literature that discusses various issues common to some friends groups. Members can become lethargic and may require excessive assistance from library staff to do their jobs. Friends may have difficulty understanding their specific role in the organization and the differences between a friend and a trustee.  Current opinion believes that the primary role of a friends group is to assist with the fundraising needs of the library or to support special events. However, finding the right mix of people who are willing and able to work hard to advocate on behalf of the library without creating undue stress on staff and other library constituents is a challenge.

This article was selected because it offers an alternative perspective of friends groups; whereas, the majority of other articles focused on the positive benefits. D’Andraia, et al, describe potential problems of these advocacy groups that are believable and realistic. While this article focused on academic library friends groups, the information easily transcends into friends groups for libraries of all types.


The review of literature included in this annotated bibliography indicates an overwhelming agreement among library professionals that libraries benefit from advocacy efforts. Positive results occur whether advocacy is done on a small scale or through large, organized efforts with formal groups. Important steps for formulating an advocacy campaign include determining the mission, creating the message, and finding and cultivating the right messengers. Despite a library’s best intentions, problems may arise and personality issues within the advocate groups will need managing. Library staff and administrators should use the available resources and tools to guide them in any level of advocacy effort they would like to undertake.

Cheryl Hoover is a MSLS candidate at the University of North Texas. She works at the Montana State University –Billings Library.

Idaho Legislative Committee

by Becca Stroebel Kabasa and Audra Green

The Idaho Library Association Legislative Committee advocates legislatively for Idaho’s libraries.  What exactly does this mean?  Well, along with our legislative advisor, John Watts and other members of the Idaho library community, the committee tracks legislative that might potentially affect Idaho’s libraries.  After tracking that legislation we develop strategies to support the legislation or to oppose its passage.

Another facet of this advocacy is to build relationship with legislators to educate them about the importance of libraries to Idaho communities.  Annually, the Idaho Library Association makes targeted visits to legislators in key positions. This year the delegation consisted of Legislative Co-chairs Audra Green and Becca Stroebel, ILA president Gena Marker, ILA incoming president Karen Yother, and John Watts, legislative advisor (see attached photos).  Meetings this year focused on the purpose of ILA, the importance of the support offered to Idaho’s libraries through the Idaho Commission For Libraries, a demonstration of Learning Express, the importance of school library involvement in Students Come First and the value of Read to Me. We visited with Governor Otter, the chairs of the Education Committee, Senate and House Leadership, the Revenue and Taxation chairs, the Joint Financial Appropriations chairs and staff from the Superintendent of Education’s office. These meetings vary year to hear depending on pertinent issues.

Many ILA members contacted their local legislators about these issues. This grass-roots advocacy is so important and makes a tremendous difference when it comes time to contact legislators about a particular issue. We thank you for all of your participation and support for legislative activities.

This session the Idaho legislature supported a request to provide funding for the Read to Me program, the LiLI-D databases and most of the budget of ICFL.  They did not support funding for Learning Express, which will expire in October. We plan to advocate for this database throughout the rest of the year and hope to bring it back for re-consideration in the 2013 legislative session. We will be counting on ILA members to communication with their legislators about the value of Learning Express to their libraries. In a few weeks, we will be visiting staff from the offices of Idaho’s Federal Representatives.

Although contacting your legislators can seem like a daunting task, the more you do it, the easier it gets.  Throughout the year, the Idaho Library Association Legislative Committee is making contact with legislators as is our legislative advisor John Watts. Along with your input, these contacts help to keep Idaho libraries top of mind for legislators.

Becca Stroebel Kabasa is a Librarian at the Boise Public Library Main Library. Her term as legislative co-chair is 2010-2012

Audra Green is a Librarian at the Collister Library. Her term as legislative co-chair is 2011-2013.