The Association of College & Research Libraries (better known as ACRL) held its President’s Program in the Hilton Chicago on Monday afternoon. After awards fanfare, the program turned to the topic of Advocacy in Today’s Environment. It involved a panel (what doesn’t anymore?), but the real attraction was Stephanie Vance from Advocacy Associates LLC.
During the time I spent there (this being ALA, I couldn’t stay for the entire 4-hour event) focused on legislative advocacy. (And whenever you have time to digest it, ACRL’s full legislative agenda is online.) Vance talked about how government regulations are part of almost everything we come in contact with every day. (Listening to the radio? FCC. Sitting in a structure? building codes.) However, legislators are very accessible, you just have to know how to communicate with them and be willing to do it on their terms.
Time with legislators (or, more often, their staffers) is short and precious, so you must prepare your talking points ahead of time, boil them down to a specific, actionable message, and deliver it in a way that will get through. Realize what influences legislators: relationships, personal stories, media reports, their constituents.
One thing that Vance, an excellent and funny presenter, explained was the difference between advocacy and lobbying. Many people are not allowed to lobby because of the jobs they hold, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t help. Advocacy, Vance said, is a fancy word for educating people about topics (not talking about specific legislation). Lobbying, on the other hand, is asking someone to support or oppose a certain piece of legislation.
Vance went through exercises where the audience crafted and delivered messages intended to influence policymakers. That seemed to keep attendees interested and engaged through a long session about a complicated, but very important, topic. If you ever get a chance to hear her talk about this, go for it!
P.S.: check out her book, Citizens in Action.
~Kathy Dempsey, editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter