Gaining the support of local officials

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Home Forums Advocacy Gaining the support of local officials


This topic contains 8 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Charles Mayberry 2 years ago.

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    Please post your comments and questions about gaining support for your library from local officials.



    An important aspect of gaining support is crafting exactly the message you want people to hear. Word choices DO matter; even subtle differences in language carry different connotations or may lead thoughts down the wrong path. Ask yourself if there’s another meaning or context for what you are planning to say. Could someone draw a different conclusion than the one you intend them to reach? The first step in assessing your communication is to assume there will always be one new person who doesn’t have background knowledge. If you paint a complete picture for that individual, you assure that everyone gets the clear message.

    When I’m writing a speech or presentation, I try to put myself into the mindset of the officials who are my audience. What do they care about? And then I select “power words” that apply to their interests or responsibilities: education, workforce development, healthy economy, business support, civic engagement, democracy, empowerment, positive change, building community. Words like these link support of the library to goals that local officials already want to reach.



    Thank you. This is an area that I’m looking to grow in. Would it be possible to post some examples of these phrases used when dealing with city officials who do not have the background understanding of the mission of libraries? I am looking for phrases that I can use and repeat that provide a better picture and meaning “plug-ins” that can be understood easily by others not in the profession.


    I read an article today that was encouraging because it appears on a site dedicated to the ‘local officials’ side of the equation. The article is entitled “Where Public Libraries Can Support Community Goals.” It is on the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) website ( Here is the opening paragraph:

    “Public libraries can play an important role in advancing such community priorities as broadband access, digital literacy, early childhood education, primary-secondary school attainment, and online/virtual learning, according to a recent ICMA survey of local government leaders.”

    Be sure to click on the link in the article to the recent ICMA survey. This goes to the survey itself which augments the Aspen Institute’s study from 2014.

    While I am, indeed, encouraged by this article and the ICMA survey, I think the benefits of libraries to their communities are greater than the ones cited. I believe that libraries are community assets that should be elevated in discussions of community planning and development on par with discussions of anchor institutions and anchor businesses. Along with providing a lot foot traffic in an area needing renewal or undergoing development, the well-placed library also enriches the community with its many services and spaces. Unlike the shops and stores in the business district or the cultural/historical district, everything in the library is free of charge.


    The trends cited in a recent Library Journal article are a bit disconcerting for libraries. My thinking has been turning towards the idea that libraries need to speak the language of ‘community development’ when advocating at all levels. As the economy improves (we hope), developing and redeveloping the nation’s cities and towns is becoming a priority. We should work to position libraries as ‘community catalysts’ and ‘anchor institutions.’ In other words, speak the language of community development to our politicians at all levels, and to those financing and developing communities.

    I cannot help but think of several communities I know of in Florida that have been trying with limited success to revitalize their old downtown or historic area. This is frequently done by attempting to create an artist community using the old buildings already there. Why not put the main library there, with the library services supporting the arts (stage/auditorium, maker spaces, etc.), along with its core functions? The library would bring in one of the most important component of revitalization – foot traffic.

    Consistent with the above is that we need to plug libraries into the ‘billion dollars for infrastructure improvement’ that is a stated objective of the new administration in Washington. Working against this is the usual narrow focus of governments at all levels that recognizes ‘infrastructure’ as highways, bridges, ports, and airports. Broadband access, badly needed in our rural counties, should also be included. We should argue and demonstrate that libraries play an important role as infrastructure, similar to hospitals, schools, parks, and other non-profit institutions. The synergy that could be established between the library and those other institutions will benefit all concerned and better position libraries to serve their communities.


    I’ve known too many library administrators who stated explicitly that they didn’t care about local politics, but then can’t understand why they and their library are not valued by their community. Your relationships with local politicians and your ability to intertwine your library’s mission with your community’s political priorities are vital for keeping your library visible, financially healthy, and an integral part of your community. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure that they know who you are, why your mission is vital, and what you can contribute to the well-being of their constituents!



    Great posts. My goal for the summer is to try to get some local elected officials to attend programs at the library. Invitations over the past year have not been successful, but I am determined!


    Thanks, Robin. I saw early on that one of the best ways to get support from the local officials is to bring them in to the library, especially during a children’s program. I remember watching this technique at the Martin County Library a number of years ago. Disinterested minds and distracted hearts changed rapidly when observing the children benefit from the library’s services.


    Below is a link to an article about how one Florida public library joined in with their city’s economic development initiatives by collaborating and partnering with the organizations that were stakeholders in the development. Some of the major points that I picked up on were: 1) The fact that it was an ongoing, sustained effort over time; 2) that small projects and small victories in this effort lead to greater successes later on (Nothing succeeds like success!); and, 3) the library re-created itself along the way to meet the community’s needs.

    Here is the link to the article. I look forward to reading your reactions to it!

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