Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Thing 16: Advocacy - being a beacon for the profession and for libraries.

Be a beacon for the profession and for libraries!
Image (c) Stephen Gregory - Souter Lighthouse, National Trust

Lauren's post for Thing 16 outlines the variety of ways in which we can be engaged in professional advocacy. The brief goes further in suggesting that all professionals should consider their personal involvement and commitment to advocacy. I couldn't agree more, but can't help wondering if advocacy is role that we don't often recognise in ourselves? We might happily badge stuff that we do under the headings of marketing, service promotion, information needs analysis or user education, but advocacy probably doesn't feature on this list. I suggest that we do more advocacy than we think. Do you do any of the following?
  • Marketing your library service to your user communities and reaching out to non-users. In these sessions, briefings, articles or posts you will be expressing values in using the service, highlighting benefits and impacts for users and potential users.
  • Management reports. Updates on service utilisation, hopefully not just measures of inputs and outputs, but also those difficult to achieve measure of impact. Public libraries are now fantastic at highlighting how they can contribute to wider goals of their parent councils. For example aiding targets for health and well being, community cohesion, inter-generational interaction, as well as the traditional factors of improving literacy, supporting formal learning, servicing local businesses and innovators. As a workplace librarian I support not only the direct information needs of the organisation, but also support the health and well being of colleagues through book prescriptions, in addition to encouraging innovation through supporting personal development and learning.
  • Talking to your users and non-users, finding out about their information needs and requirements. This will probably involve discussion of your services, but may also suggest other services too. An academic librarian talking to students on a part time vocational course may well suggest using workplace or professional body libraries, in addition to their “home college” services. A workplace librarian may refer to local public libraries or near-by university / college facilities.
  • Professional groups may have collective formal remits for advocacy and therefore involvement in these will provide superb experience at national, local or subject specific level. My own experience of working for CILIP Groups (CDG, CoFHE) has demonstrated how valued this level of advocacy is. But I've also been impressed by BIALL's activities in this area, and those of UKOLUG in the past! Local information partnerships (e.g. Cardiff Libraries in Co-operation) also undertake valued advocacy work no behalf of libraries in and around their area.
These are just a few examples of things we do that may include advocacy, aside from the bigger scale political lobbying, newspaper articles, attending demonstrations, or talking to our elected representatives. I'm not dismissing these latter “big scale” and hopefully high profile advocacy activities. They are extremely important. It's just that many of us won't be able, inclined, permitted or suitably skilled to contribute to these large scale advocacy initiatives.

I also agree that in contributing to professional writing is an excellent form of advocacy, and a vital part of contributing to a vibrant, progressive and learning-centred profession. Again, it's easy to fall in to the trap of thinking that our work isn't innovative, or won't be of interest to others. We become blinkered by familiarity of our own roles. But sharing your learning, your achievements, or indeed your thoughts or questions, really will help the profession move on. I've written a couple of pieces in the past. The usual stuff of meeting reports and a book review, but I have also tried to provide a more informative and challenging pieces on how the legal information landscape is changing in Wales, and how this may impact legal practitioners and their librarians across the UK.

As Lauren's brief suggests, blogging is an excellent “way in” to this. Blogging encourages reflective practice, established a habit and practice of writing for another audience, and demonstrates your expertise, areas of interest and professionalism. I would still “advocate” for contributing to the traditional printed media, but acknowledge that online forums and media will become increasingly important.

Finally for this blog, I hope to increase my own expertise and experience in professional advocacy work in the near future with an exciting secondment opportunity with CILIP Wales. More on this to follow ...

To protect, warn, guide, inform, illuminate and broadcast?
Souter Lighthouse, National Trust. Image (c) Stephen Gregory

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