BCLTA Governance Workbook: Advocacy

Public library trustees are expected to be advocates and champions of public libraries.

Advocacy is commonly defined as a planned, deliberate, sustained effort to develop understanding and support incrementally over time. Every public library board, regardless of library type or size, should have stated expectations of how trustees may advocate for the public library to local elected officials or as part of a province-wide advocacy initiative.

As well the board should have a high-level plan or stated expectations as to how trustees can best champion the public library in their community. Championing the public library may be seen as a more personal act than advocacy. It might include talking about the public library at places such as work, sharing social media posts from the library and adding a positive and factual personal message, or inviting others along to a library program or event.

Key to successful advocacy or championing is to be sharing messages that the governance team has agreed are the key messages for promoting the library’s success, to believe in and make the messages your own story, and to ensure that the messages and story are relevant to whoever you are talking with.

The public library trustee relationship with local elected officials is of critical importance. This is true for even regional library boards, as those trustees also need to advocate for the ongoing funding and development of the regional library system to their municipal or district colleagues. Local government is a substantial funder of BC public libraries. Trustees are uniquely placed to champion the public library as a key community asset, as trustees are not employees of the public library, but they have knowledge and credibility for sharing the stories, the impact, and the value of the public library.

The BCLTA has developed the resource Relationship Building, Influence, and Advocacy to provide trustees with ideas, approaches, and proven practices that, along with the knowledge of their communities, trustees can use for successfully connecting others with their public library. It is important that boards work with their library directors, so that their efforts to champion and advocate for the public library is

  • telling an accurate and up-to-date story about the public library
  • supported with high-level statistics, impact stories, and needs assessments (enough for credibility, but not so much as to be boring or irrelevant to the moment)
  • supported with library-staff-generated marketing and communications material, such as annual reports, social media campaigns, website updates, and press releases
  • aligned with messaging across the organization; staff and trustees may be talking with different people, but the essence of the message or story should be the same
  • about people and community impact or outcomes
  • meaningful

Indicators of Effective Board Performance

The following are indicators of effective board performance in advocacy:

  • The board has approved and abides by the organization’s advocacy or community engagement plan that includes an analysis or a list of key stakeholders, influencers, and decision makers.
  • The board has approved and abides by the organization’s marketing and communications strategy. The strategy might be to hire an outside consultant, or it might be for staff to best use the website, social media, and the local radio and news outlets.
  • The board has a policy about who serves as the official spokesperson and when this role is delegated to the library director.
  • The board has established relationships with key stakeholders, influencers, and decision makers and maintains those relationships to further the understanding of the valuable role of the public library and the needs of the public library.
  • The board makes presentations to local government, MLAs and MPs.
  • The trustees and their board work are accessible to the public on the library’s website, including
    • names and possibly photos of board
    • board contact information, such as an email for the board chair (e.g., boardchair@ ca).
    • board meeting dates, agendas, and minutes