When I qualified in 1980, the Thatcherite cuts were just beginning to bite. Libraries came under threat – just as now – and LOAF (Libraries Open and Free) was set up, a sort of equivalent, in a very unsophisticated way, to today’s organisations such as Voices for the Library. I still have my badges, see left, but I honestly can’t say I remember much more about it. Of course, we were hampered by the lack of an internet to make it easy to communicate our message, but I don’t think there were any campaigners around with the passion and dedication of those of today, whom I greatly admire. I merely offer this snippet of history to show that I do have a little bit of activism in my past, even though I’m not a person to whom campaigning comes naturally. These days, it is limited to low-key efforts such as writing to MPs and signing petitions, although I did organise an event for National Libraries Day which got onto the STV website (though not, sadly, actually onto the TV.)
However, as the original Thing 16 blog post, and many other contributors have pointed out, advocacy is really something that should be in every librarian’s toolkit. If you don’t advocate your own service, what hope is there for it? You may think of it in different guises – in my days in public libraries (many moons ago) we talked about “outreach activities”: school visits, talking to local groups and so on to promote use of the library.
In academic libraries, you might think there is less need for promotion as you have a “captive audience”, but that’s not really true. Many students don’t see the relevance of the library (the “It’s all on Google” syndrome), or even know how to use it. For example, often they don’t realise that the electronic materials they use are “the library”, even when they are sitting at home. Every user education or enquiry desk session is a chance to combat this and get the message across. I’ve also advocated for the library in other ways, such as through social media, writing for in-house journals and attending meetings in other departments to explain what we do. And of course, it’s also important to advocate within the library for your own section – for resources or more staff perhaps – and beyond to the parent body, whether council, university or whatever. Make sure they realise what the library does, and the value it adds to the institution.
I realise none of this is new or original, and wouldn’t have been even if I wasn’t so far behind and had said it earlier. However, it’s important, and it’s something I hope I have honed, if not to perfection then to a high standard over the years.