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Librarian as Lobbyist

February 28, 2007, 6:56 am

Here’s an idea I ran out of time on, but figured I would post it here in case someone else can take advantage of it. In a week or two our campus will be littered (literally) with Student Government election materials. I’ve never really been into SGA, it’s more of a Greek thing, but we could all definitely take advantage of it.

What I wanted to do was create a one page “summary” document that I could send to all the candidates before things got underway. I posted before about asking SGA candidates a question regarding the library, but this would have been an attempt to reach them earlier and to embed the Library within their platform. If I could get Library issues or concerns on their websites, on their posters, on their flyers, in their speeches… that would be a good thing. It’s all about strategically positioning the Library to gain exposure. I figure they’re going to be talking about making improvements, so why not get in on it too?

Keep it concise, just bullet points. Highlight the value and significance of the Library. Politicians typically want to champion things around campus, so why not the Library? Give them something to get behind and support. I would have highlighted our ACRL award and dropped something like that amongst a national benchmark (LibQUAL+) the GT Library was found to have a very high public service ranking. I’d also say something about how our attendance has increased 100% over 5 years. (Annually used to average 500K, now it’s over 1 million. Not too bad for a 12,000 undergraduate student sci-tech school.) So whatever you’ve got, highlight it!

Next I would have a few bullets about changes you’ve made due to student feedback. You asked for it, here you go. For us it would be loosening up food and cell phone policy, increasing popular fiction, 24×5 hours, adding some software programs, etc. Typical stuff, just show that you’re user-centered and responsive.

The final section would be issues and/or opportunities. This is where you give them something to add to their campaign– something to adopt. This is where you gain champions for the cause. We have a building extension in the works (5-7 years away) so I could probably drum up support for that. There is a floor we’d love to renovate but need about $500k. There is always furniture to be refreshed too. What about increasing late night shuttle service to dorms or distance parking garages? What about increased foreign language support materials since admin wants 50% of students to spend two semesters abroad? What about a photocopier that scans and send PDFs to your email? What about ebook copies of textbooks? What about increasing student club/org presentations/activities in the library presentation space? These are just a few quick examples, but in a nutshell, sell the candidates on the popularity and value of the library and then ways that they can help us improve, ways to improve the student experience. That’s what I wanted to do, maybe you still have time?

As a side note, it could be cool to also create “leadership” experiences for SGA members = future candidates. Whenever you look at their resumes or websites they list all these activities, accomplishments, and ways they’ve been involved around campus— so why not give them library experience? I’m not talking about shelf reading or circ work, but rather, each semester offer one or two student leadership volunteer experiences. Kind of like an intern. Design a real world, useful project that they can work on over the semester. They win by gaining experience and we get student participation. So something like have a student join the website redesign team and assist in concept development. Or have them run a program to get a handful of speakers come in throughout the semester. Or to organize some type of charity event. Or to find ways to increase advertising, I’d love to brainstorm with a student on how I can boost already success Safari Tech Book numbers. Have them lead focus groups or take some straw polls around campus. Have them start up or contribute to your podcast or videocast programs. Have them develop a video tour or plan an event leading to finals week that brings in tutors and TAs. Again, these are just some fast thoughts, I have not really worked this out in great detail. I just wanted to capture the impression for now.

I think that public libraries could adapt this as well. Have a library packet designed for anyone running for any local/state office. Sell them on the value of the Library. Highlight accomplishments and present adoptable ideas that they can get behind. It makes them look good and increase your exposure. Win-win.

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