Advocacy in Library School

by Nicole Fonsh defines advocacy as “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending; active espousal.”  I know I heard and used this term before I began library school but I honestly think my awareness of it has increased tenfold in the last two years of my program.

You may think that it is because I’m learning all about advocacy and how to be an advocate for libraries and the profession in my courses.  And sure, you would be partially correct.  I’ve had a few professors mention budget cuts to libraries and what it means for the profession and the likelihood of us finding jobs when we are done with the program.  But as advocacy seems to be at the forefront of the library profession these days.  ALA even has an Advocacy University section on its website.   And the library blogosphere always seems to be talking about it (see Andy Woodworth’s blog for some fantastic posts on the issue).  However, I often feel that my LIS education has left me lacking the skills to take on real-life advocacy; both DURING my degree as well as when I’m finished.    But is this actually something that should be taught?  How to advocate?  Are those skills that should be integrated into a graduate program?  And beyond that – what role should library school students play in advocacy efforts that are going on in the area?

This last question is one I’ve thought about a great deal during the last year.  Some of you may have heard about the budget concerns in Boston that were threatening to close several branches of the Boston Public Library last year.  [To find out more you can check out the web site that was created by concerned patrons of the library.]  I feel like whenever issues like this arise, the more people helping out and raising voices, the better.  Yes?  And my second assumption was that library school students who live in the very same city as these branches and who are going into the library profession would want to be involved in the process that was going on right in front of them.  This is where I found myself kind of disappointed.  My fellow students did not seem to want to be engaged as I thought they would.  Now don’t get me wrong, there were several students who were all over what was going on and were involved and engaged.  And I also realize that grad students have school, work, families, and loads of other commitments.  But I saw this as kind of a perfect opportunity to not only get involved in the community but get involved with reaching out to local librarians and patrons; despite which type of librarianship you were studying.  On the other side of it all, I thought that perhaps my professors would encourage us to get involved.  And this was not 100% the case either.  Again, there were definitely professors who were involved but I would have really liked to have seen the program as a whole become more engaged in what was going on in the library community right at our doorstep.  I was worried that, as the library school community, we were guilty of thinking “that is someone else’s issue.”  But maybe I was asking too much of a graduate program?

My fellow HackLibSchool editors have had some of their own experiences with advocacy in their communities.  Britt Foster spent a tremendous amount of her time advocating for Measure L in LA and wrote a fantastic post about what it means to be an activist librarian along with her most recent post on Activism and Advocacy.  And Heidi Kittleson, in her last days of her grad program, has been advocating for the iSchool, at the University of Washington, as its funding has been threatened.  She wrote about the situation in a recent Hack Library School post.  Also, check out the great post on Lyndsey Runyan’s blog about the iSchool situation.