American libraries are fundamental to our democratic society, yet are facing budgetary and other challenges which undermine their fiscal security and threaten their long tradition of providing free and equal access to information. The support of library users is essential for libraries’ survival, but the challenges are so great, and library needs are so compelling, that new approaches are needed to advance the cause of the public library and, through it, the well being of our communities.
Libraries for the Future (LFF) and Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA) propose to combine their expertise and resources, in partnership with those of other library support organizations, to broaden the base of library support at the local level and to strengthen local political advocacy. The LFF/FOLUSA Community-Library Advocacy Project will develop, support and connect community-based advocacy coalitions in eight states over two years as the first phase in a longer-term national initiative. The project will create a network of 25 trained advocates available to provide tailored advocacy training and ongoing mentoring, and an advocacy support bureau to coordinate local assistance, document problems and solutions, and distribute exemplary resource materials and organizing tools culled from such successful groups as the New York Library Association. The project will operate, in part, through partnerships with state libraries, state library associations or statewide advocacy groups in the eight states, which will assist in disseminating project information and distributing resource materials during and beyond the project.
By combining the resources of Libraries for the Future, which reaches more than 12,000 individuals and organizations through its National Library Advocates Network, and Friends of Libraries USA, which represents 3,000 Friends groups across the country and has a strong advocacy committee composed of successful lay advocates, the Community-Library Advocacy Project has the potential to significantly diversify and expand the number and type of library supporters in the eight participating states, strengthen the skills of these supporters, and build networks of local advocacy coalitions in states that now suffer from relatively low levels of public library support..
The project will benefit from being linked to Libraries for the Future’s national network of Community-Library Information Collaboratives (CLIC-Net), twelve “laboratory” libraries that emphasize outreach to nontraditional users, develop innovative community services and create new constituencies for public libraries. (see information attached). LFF’s expertise and experience in constituency development with rural and urban community-based organizations and its connections with community organizers, educators and lay advocates across the country will complement the skills and expertise of FOLUSA’s Advocacy Committee. In addition, the Community-Library Advocacy Project will work closely with professional librarians, particularly through the New York Library Association, and will draw on the resources of other strong state-based groups, such as the Friends of California Libraries..
The primary goal of the Community-Library Advocacy Project is to establish an infrastructures for long-term, sustained advocacy in the communities and states selected for participation. The mentoring program, Resource Bureau and technical assistance components of the two-year project support this goal, as well as providing a framework for a national advocacy structure. While the project is defined as a two-year initial effort, it will be, in effect, the basic building block for an ongoing program of local advocacy support to which both organizations are committed.