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sustainable library advocacy

Based on a twitter convo the other day, I think with @MagpieLibrarian, I want to talk a bit about library advocacy. I think the conversations arose from my tweets about library budgets and about how the budget crisis is fake and how there is more than enough money to better fund libraries…1

I believe she mentioned that advocacy was an exhausting second job to have to take on that ends up exhausting and disillusioning librarians.

This? Zero doubts about.

This is actually why I so fervently talk about collective action rather than trying to discuss what we can do as individuals. Systemic problems like the underfunding of libraries but overfunding the police will never be solved by a single advocate. They likely wouldn’t even be solved a small team of dedicated advocates.

The best path is collective action where the majority of the people (ie, all of the librarians and staff and patrons) all work together towards a common goal. This is the way to get sustainable advocacy and, better yet, real and lasting change. At least in my humble opinion.2

One of the main problems I have with a lot of the discourse around trying to solve problems within the libraries is that they rely too heavily on white notions of individualism. They put the bulk of the onus on the individual to advocate for the change they believe, rather than addressing the problems in a systemic manner.

The problem with this is that individuals cannot sustain the levels of energy/effort required to push for widespread and lasting systemic change. They might be able to achieve their goals, certainly, but the end result far too often is burned out and bitter idealists who basically give up and become the cogs in the machine that tends to be most rewarded in our current society.

But working together, we can share the resources and burden of advocating for change. We can also really support each other’s efforts so that none of us are forced to stick our neck’s out with little hope that if it gets axed, we’ll have people around to pick up the pieces.

This lack of intra-community support is, I think, one of the biggest barriers for participation for a lot of people. Advocacy can involve taking on a lot of risk… but it is less risky if you have people to spread it amongst. People can take breaks or reduce their involvement without feeling like they are betraying the ‘movement’ or like everything depends on them.

Plus, we really are stronger when we work collectively. Both in terms of the amount and kinds of support we can offer to each other, but in terms of our opposition.

Advocacy isn’t a one person obligation.