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How to Achieve Success as You Lobby for Your Library

Dec 01, 2010

So, you want more money for your library? You are hardly alone.

Intensifying competition for diminishing academic resources may be the problem of the day, but it’s hardly a new challenge. As budgetary cycles ebb and flow, the strategies for successful advocacy remain surprisingly constant. The process of lobbying for funding is not easy, but it is quite simple.

The NYSHEI case study provides inspiration

Successful advocacy requires discipline and simplicity. Take for example the progress of the New York State Higher Education Initiative (NYSHEI).

Academic and research librarians in New York State have long desired greater state support, particularly for shared licensing of electronic resources. However, a short 3 years ago no one asked state lawmakers to make an annual appropriation for shared licensing. In 2007, NYSHEI, on behalf of public and private academic and research libraries, began a lobbying campaign to secure such funding and submitted a funding proposal to the state legislature.

By the end of 2007, a blue-ribbon commission appointed by the governor to improve higher education in New York was recommending an annual appropriation of $15 million for the NYSHEI proposal, and the state’s lead economic development agency issued a report underscoring the need for an “information infrastructure” built on academic and research institutions. Today, legislation that has won the unanimous, bipartisan support of both houses of the state legislature is on the governor's desk, awaiting his signature.

Our success formula centers on discipline and simplicity

What changed over those intervening 2 years? Simple. Public and private academic and research librarians, through NYSHEI, asked. But not just once. NYSHEI representatives met with lawmakers and staff, submitted white papers and gave testimony, made phone calls and wrote letters, held forums, conducted tours, built alliances and basically pitched the idea to anyone who would listen — and to many who would rather not have listened.

Also, we presented the idea clearly. That is, the NYSHEI proposal was short, to the point and used language that policy makers were familiar with. Further, NYSHEI did not ask for money for libraries. Instead, NYSHEI spoke about investing in an information infrastructure. NYSHEI talked about information as the raw material of an information-age economy.

We advocate for information infrastructure

Certainly, the NYSHEI message was tweaked for specific audiences. To higher education communities, NYSHEI talked about research grants, faculty recruitment and the technology transfer cycle; to lawmakers, NYSHEI talked about improving the economy and creating jobs in their communities; to budget gurus, NYSHEI touted the efficiencies of collaboration. But, with all audiences, we never stopped talking about the economic role of academic libraries.

NYSHEI did not ask for money for libraries. Instead, NYSHEI spoke about ... information as the raw material of an information-age economy.

In short, NYSHEI never talks to people about library problems. Instead, we talk about economic development issues confronting decision makers and then offer library-based solutions.

We deliver compelling messages focusing on the library’s role in the economy

Statewide shared licenses were made compelling by presenting the concerns of key constituencies. Getting a biochemist to publicly testify that “library resources are as critical a tool as computers and lab space” is an example. Her voice gave NYSHEI the ability to avoid monologues about the numbers of database downloads and start talking about the dynamic pursuit of innovation.

Importantly, NYSHEI stuck to this message assiduously. A member of the governor’s staff recently emailed me to say he admired our tenacity. He wrote, “No matter the hole, this [statewide library licenses] peg is going to fit, right?” Yes, it is, and the nonlibrary world is starting to understand.

When the political conversation focuses on improving the economy, or supporting higher education, NYSHEI is there. Workforce development and lifelong learning? Again NYSHEI has a solution for that. When policy makers talk about reforming state procurement practices, creating budget efficiencies or building research partnerships, NYSHEI is there.

Academic libraries offer solutions worth investing in

By focusing on the importance of information infrastructure, NYSHEI offers New York State a way to solve its challenges by leveraging the nation’s largest state university system, the nation’s largest city-based public university system and the nation’s largest independent college and university system.

In New York State, academic and research libraries have entered the minds of policy makers as readily as a marketing campaign enters the minds of consumers. Policy makers are coming to understand that academic and research libraries are not resource-eaters, but rather solutions worth investing in.

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