Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Friends: Thoughts On Politics and Elections

The Presidential election for 2012 is right around the corner Everyone has their own opinion on who is best to occupy the White House and fill the Mayoral seat in our cities. Librarians have traditionally been told that objectivity is the key to the profession. Never judge anyone for the reference questions they ask, don't take sides on which political party serves us the country better and collection development should, in theory, be based on a broad spectrum of ideas and opinions. Today is the perfect day to look at these standards as opportunities to reach out to newly elected officials in your city or county. It is important that all librarians and library advocates know who their representative are and how to build a relationship with them, thereby cultivating a new crop of library supporters.

When a new mayor or county commissioner wins an election in your city or town, what is the first action a good librarian or library director should do? If the first thought is to seek them out at the first city council meeting and congratulate them on their win, then the action is not bold enough. Actually it is rather timid. The first action to take is to call them at the first opportunity. If the library director is unfamiliar with the new mayor (or city council member), a self-introduction is a good start along with an invitation to come visit the library. If the new leader jumps at the chance to see the library, a good working relationship may be ready to bloom. If they don't come right away, there are ways of hooking them into your building.

Whenever new local officials are elected, libraries should have on hand a packet to give to each newly elected person which will explain the library's mission and purpose for their community. inside the packet could be a "welcome to the library", bookmarks with library hours, list of staff members, their position and contact information. This packet will serve as a great reminder that the services of the library is not limited to citizens of the city. it also includes aiding city hall, courts and other departments in the community who may need library services and research. This is critical to demonstrating to public officials that libraries provides services for everyone in the community with assistance in research to reading for pleasure.

One positive and productive way to get better acquainted with public officials is to host an Open House at the library. This gives everyone in the community to come together in a social and fun atmosphere where the library can shine as the community's "jewel". It's public relations at its best and it can be done very cost effective.

When meeting with newly elected public officials there are three questions that libraries should stay away from because the questions cause more harm then good. The first question never to ask ; 'Councilman Smith, how do you see the library fitting into the community?" Most politicians have no clue what libraries provide and do on a daily basis. Instead of asking how they view the library, tell them what the role of the library is in the community. Demonstrate in clear examples how the library is at the center of the community, Remind them that the library can be the bridge between citizens and city's communication by storing important city documents at the library.

Second question to ask is "Do you Have a Library card?" This is a weak question that many city officials will view as babyish. Might as well say, "You are not allowed in my club house unless you have a card." It's juvenile and non essential. A better question to ask would be,"Now that you know what the library can provide, How can we serve you?" Again, this is putting it into perspective that as a library director, you are making it a top priority to work along side officials regardless of whether the person is has a library card or is of a particular party. Both library director and city officials are there for the same purpose: giving the citizens the best possible service for their tax paying dollars.

Third but not least, "What was the last book you read?" This is a question that openly tells the person that one, if they are not avid readers they should be and two if they do read often, a judgement is being made based on the titles they choose to read. As all librarians know, there are several forms of reading, such as ebooks, CD on books and the traditional printed books. The genre, format or frequency is not important factors when cultivating library supporters in city hall. However, it is important when providing a services to them. Let new public officials know that they have many options to choose from when visiting the library from books on CD to classics literature in hard copy and everything in between. If they haven't been in the library lately, they will be curious to see what is now available to them and their family.

Librarians today must be politically smarter toady than perhaps decades ago. Of course it is good to build up good relations with the citizens of the community. However, that is not enough these days. It is crucial to the library's survival to network and form relationships with politicians. City Hall holds the purse strings in many instances, and librarians may fell helpless at being unable to "control" their destiny. Forming these networks, librarians will have a better chance to explain and advocate for library funding. Politics is part of a librarian's job, whether we like it or not. However, it is always a bonus to admit that we don't judge a politician by the party they represent. Instead, we judge politicians by the support they give to their local libraries. Wanting and needing that support to grow is as simple as shaking hands and starting a conversation. All public officials like that!
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