Over the past few years, the ALA has begun to make itself, our members and the profession more visible to key decision makers by exhibiting at national conferences sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators, National Association of Counties (NACo), ICMA and others. Sometimes conference attendees ask: “What are you doing here?” (since we’re not selling a “product”) while others say: “We’re so glad to see you’re here.” In both cases, we have a great opening for a conversation about how libraries are doing in their local communities (or schools), answer questions and share materials related to the resources available through our nation’s libraries. While many of the people who stopped by left their library cards at home, we were able to talk several conference attendees into showing us the smartest card in their wallets.
More than one person, however, who stopped by the booth told us they were in our corner – but we need to do a better job of marketing ourselves and our services to gain support. With so many demands on library staff – and often fewer staff to meet those demands as furloughs and layoffs take their toll – making time for marketing and advocacy is a challenge and a necessity.
In addition to staffing the booth at the NACo 75th anniversary conference in Reno, Nevada, I was excited to present a program. In partnership with Michael Dowling, director of the ALA Chapter Relations Office; Susan Nemitz, director of the Ramsey County Library (MN); and Susan Wolf Neilson, adult services manager and business librarian with Wake County Public Libraries (NC), our proposal for “Working Smarter: Libraries Partner to Support Workforce Development” was accepted.
Both Susans (along with their county commissioners) did a great job talking about how library use has increased during the economic downturn and highlighting new collaborations and services geared to workforce development. In addition to providing access to the Internet and more than 600 computers, Ramsey County Library is part of a digital literacy taskforce, which also includes St. Paul Public Library, the Minnesota Literacy Council, Employer Solutions, and more collaborating to benchmark best practices, share digital literacy curriculum and conduct staff training. Working with Workforce Solutions and using federal funding for salary, the library also hired 21 people for 12 weeks to do RFID tagging, resulting in a value of $130,000. Through a summer youth program, the library also brought in seven young adults to work in the library and ultimately hired four of them.
Wake County’s award-winning Employment Assistance Program began in January 2009 with programs in four areas: career retooling, technology skills, life management and small business assistance. The program involved the support of many partners, including JobLink, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the State Library of North Carolina. Library staff marketed the programs through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and websites for The News & Observer newspaper and the library. More than 1,050 people participated in the programs, more than 800 attended one of the technology classes, and more than 200 received direct job and career assistance. “Perhaps the most important strategy was to utilize the community. Library staff found many people who were willing to help and volunteer their time to teach résumé writing, career coaching, interviewing and other skills needed,” Neilson said.
Combining new PLFTAS data on how libraries support job seekers, new data from the Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Public Libraries, and local stories and statistics, libraries have a strong story to tell.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is quoted as saying, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste…it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.” What would you like to do that couldn’t be done before? What would you like elected officials to know about your library services right now? Who are you partnering with to extend the library’s reach? Let us know, and we’ll share your stories and examples as we continue our outreach to elected officials.