Friends groups can support their libraries by more ways than financially. They can also support them by talking with officials about what the library means for their communities.
Libraries “set the community spirit for a town,” said Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague. Osten spoke at the Friends of Connecticut Libraries Fall Conference in November at Central Connecticut State University.
Real estate agents will tell you that if a library is dingy, it isn’t inviting for someone considering moving to town.
“When you ask them why people move there, what attracts people, the library is always mentioned as a key asset,” she said.
Her local library in Sprague came up with a booklet, using statistics available from the state, to explain how many people use the library and for what reasons.
“It’s not just that repository (of books) but used for job searching,” she said. It’s where senior citizens and Girl Scouts often meet, where middle-schoolers hang out and where she often meets with constituents.
As the first selectwoman of Sprague, Osten is also in charge of local funding for her local library.
She said they got more than $1 million from a variety of funds to renovate an old grist mill that houses the library, which included installing an elevator.
Talk to your state legislators and let them know that you, as a constituent, want them to support libraries. Tell them why your library is important and deserves more funding. But keep your message short.
“Don’t write long emails to people because they won’t be read,” Osten said. Instead use simple bullet points and get to the message.
Contact people in different ways — one-on-one, at a public meeting, at some board meeting. You can’t expect others to do this.
“If you want your library saved in the state budget, you need to be active. You can’t just let lobbyists do it,” she said.
“Usually it takes twice or three times to get people to respond to you.”
In response to a question about the most effective way to get legislators’ attention, Osten said the
worst time is in the middle of a crisis. The upcoming special legislation session from February to May won’t allow much time.
You could band together with people from nearby towns and meet with two or three legislators at the same time. Or host a breakfast for your legislators to come talk with constituents and hand them a one-page report with your key points.
One area vital to small town libraries is borrowing items from other libraries. It gives them access to books they might never be able to see without it. The state funds this service.
Advocacy training for Friends groups is available from the state, said Dawn LaValle, director of library development for Connecticut.
“We already know how well (libraries) serve our community,” LaValle said. “We just need to get the word out.”
Another place to find out how to help is a free online course called “Library Advocacy Unshushed,” said a Friend from Canterbury. He found it on edx.org by searching for the word “library.”
The size of your group doesn’t matter, Osten said. Just present your message in a clear and concise way to show the value of your library.