Friday, November 9, 2012

Education and Politics: Keeping Communications Open

The political season is over for a while. The President has gained another four years to add to his resume and to continue with his policies. It is always a "mixed" feelings for librarians around this time of year. The support of one candidate over another is usually toned down in front of patron due to the fact that librarians are to be neutral and not offend their fellow citizens who support the library with tax dollars. However, this is not always easy to do. Librarians and library advocates must become politically involved now more than ever. If for no other reason to protect their libraries from budget cuts that seem to lurk about when the economy is bad and even in some cases when they are good. It's a harsh reality that libraries live and die by the "support" they receive from the community. The very first place to go for that support is city officials state representatives and anyone in government positions who can aid the library when times are lean. Many politicians, if not all will claim that education and libraries are very important to the community when campaigning. However once they are in office, excuses are made at every turn why there is a lack of support and interest in the libraries. Perhaps its because politicians lump libraries in with the schools and education. (That is the case in Michigan, where they are an agency of the Department of Education) This is well and good in some ways but it fails to see the unique roll public libraries have in communities. The challenge for library advocates is to be "heard and seen" by elected officials throughout the year. Even when it's not time to go "vote." There are state library associations that are very good at connecting legislators with the profession. Typically there is a library "legislative" day when the two sides come together to talk about the issues and concerns of libraries. This is a wonderful event and idea. This is where the conversations start but it should be by no means where it ends. Library advocates should not miss the chance to invite local officials to the library to see first hand the great programs and services libraries provide to their constituents. This is where the conversation not only continues but turns into a lesson of what makes a library important to the community. Why libraries are the life-lines for so many users? Why legislators should look to libraries as the place to keep the community thriving. Officials just like the citizens need to be educated on what the library does and how they serve the public. This is not a one time lesson to be learned. it actually a lesson that needs to be repeated and expended over the years. If libraries are fortunate there will be those who not only remember the lessons but will pass on what they have learned to family and friends. This helps the library community tremendously. If the legislators to share what they know it's akin to striking gold in the library world. Taking baby steps is the best way to begin. Start the conversation, invite officials to the library and last never let them forget that the library exists. Give updates on what is happening at the library, show statistics on the great programs, let them know how businesses have been served and are supporting the library. Politicians, no matter the party love to hear good news from their area. Thy also want to share the news and in some cases take credit for it too. That's okay let them. If they feel that this will make them look good then it looks good for the library too. It would be a wonderful day when a Presidential candidate adds to his platforms that all libraries are protected by the U.S. Constitution and they will never close. There is no need to hold one's breath for that. It won't happen. Nor should it in many respects. However it couldn't hurt to have a law enforced that all communities, large or small, should have a library. Could it? Something to continue to strive for in the future.....
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