I just returned from the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) conference 2009. At the end of Saturday, I realized that virtually everything I attended was about a common theme. I thought it might be useful to connect the dots.
What was the theme? It was captured by the title of the preconference I attended: "From Awareness to Funding," based on the OCLC report of the same name. For a long time, libraries have done a lot of things to increase awareness and use. But as that report and recent events have demonstrated, neither of these has resulted in consistent public support for libraries (in Colorado, anyhow) as measured in voter support.
Yet many libraries are working on "awareness" -- such as celebrating their recent Library Journal Index ranking of being 5 or 4 star libraries (including Telluride, Vail, Boulder, and Douglas). There were presentations on branding, both internal and external - which has now taken place at Denver Public Library, Estes Valley, High Plains and Rangeview, among others.
Several of our speakers addressed ideas I would group under "advocacy." Peter Pearson (President of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library in MN ) spoke about his success using committed external advocates to lobby city officials. ALA-President Camila Alire spoke about internal or frontline advocacy to secure additional funding at her university. Several State Library senior staff spoke about the Butterfly Project -- a statewide library marketing campaign. I attended a CAL Legislative Committee, where our lobbyist reported on the environment in which they advocate for our interests. Sharon Morris mentioned the power and passion of advocacy for early childhood literacy by our amazing Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL) people. I attended a public library trustee session, where the commitment of these volunteers was palpable.
Finally, there were two harsh wake-up calls in the area of "support." First was Aurora Public's defeat at the polls, despite the huge decline of service that was at stake. Second was the report of the three measures that will likely appear on the 2010 ballot that seeks to roll back, to undo, the public infrastructure that provides such support as we have today. (See my blog posting here.)
I'm left with the clear conviction that although there is a confluence of energy and ideas, Colorado's libraries (and not just public libraries) are going to have to get far more organized than we have been.
We're all talking about the same things. Maybe it's time to team up and DO the same things that research suggests might work more effectively. Together.