Library Advocacy Stories: Michael Lambert (Part 2 of 2)

March 1, 2021

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Michael Lambert, City Librarian, San Francisco Public Library. It was originally published on the California Library Association website as part of the work I’m doing as Library Advocacy Training Project Manager for the Association.

Q:  What key issues do you believe need to be addressed in training sessions for California library staff—at all levels—interested in becoming strong advocates for libraries and the communities they serve?

Michael Lambert

A:  The basics

  • What is library advocacy? Why is it important?
  • What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying?
  • Political activities—Do’s and Don’ts
  • The Power of Storytelling and gathering stories to tell your library’s story about impact, outcomes

Importance of building a strong partnership with your local library support group; San Francisco has a model public/private partnership within our municipal government that has been highlighted by our Office of the Controller.

  • Requires investment of staffing capacity and time, but it’s worth it
  • Regular meetings, attend Board meetings, invite participation in Library Commission meetings, special events
  • Formal MOU

Q:  What formats do you believe work best for advocacy training for California library staff at all levels?

A:  The California Library Association has some excellent sessions at our annual conference and offers opportunities for staff to be inspired and engaged. Beyond CLA Annual, I think the current environment has demonstrated the utility and accessibility of the virtual environment, making it easier for a broader cross section of our library workers to participate and learn and grow. EveryLibrary’s ongoing newsletters and training offerings are excellent.

California Public Library Advocates have done a great job hosting regional advocacy training opportunities for members of library boards and commissions, Friends, Foundations as well as other library supporters and advocates.

Q:  What are we not currently doing that we should be doing to support library staff interested in becoming strong advocates for libraries and the communities they serve?

A:  As a library administrator, fulfilling our mission with excellent service delivery is the top priority. There are many strategic priorities that go into library operations, and San Francisco Public Library has an ongoing commitment to organizational excellence. Employee engagement and organizational development are key focus areas within our Racial Equity Action Plan, but I think there is an opportunity to tap into the latent community organizing ability of our staff to learn how to become even stronger advocates for libraries and the communities we serve. Ultimately, if we are able to provide more opportunities for growth and professional development on this front, we’ll be more successful in advancing racial equity and social justice.

Q:  You’re very active in a variety of social media platforms. What—if any—role do you see social media playing in your advocacy efforts?

A:  At the most basic level, telling the library’s story and sharing factual information about library programs and services.

On a personal level, I leverage social media to foster stronger connections with elected officials and community leaders. I recommend library directors engage with their local political leaders in every way possible, including social media; follow them and like their posts and/or comment to have a conversation. This is a great way to stay in tune with local priorities and the pulse of the community. You can invite them to your library events and subsequently post photos to give them a shout-out for their support.

Q: Your Facebook account offers a wonderful balance of posts that relate to work and posts and relate to your personal life. Any tips to advocates on how to maintain that sort of balance without veering into posts/topics that can come back to haunt them?

A:  Good question! One guiding principle I try to remember is: “would I want to see this post on the front page of the SF Chronicle?” My social media presence includes personal accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. I enjoy promoting and sharing the incredible work my SFPL staff are doing, and it’s easy to share such posts. My social media presence also comes in handy for recruitment and making folks aware of job opportunities within the City and County of San Francisco. It’s not uncommon for me to post my fellow department heads’ recruitments on LinkedIn to demonstrate my support for them and our City and County family. Overall I’d say my feed is similar to many other people with posts about my kid, what I’m eating, what I’m doing, etc.

Q:  Drawing upon your extensive experience as an advocate for libraries, what would you suggest individuals can do to effectively serve as advocates for libraries throughout California?

A:  Pay your dues—support your professional association—California Library Association; American Library Association

Attend CLA, get involved.

Support EveryLibrary—the only political action committee devoted to libraries

Volunteer your time to local library initiatives

Support your local Friends of organization

It’s pretty basic—we need to support library advocacy with our treasure or time or both.

N.B. — Paul’s work as a consultant/project manager with the California Library Association is part of a grant-funded project to develop and coordinate a statewide political advocacy training program for library workers and supporters throughout California.


Library Advocacy Stories: Michael Lambert (Part 1 of 2)

March 1, 2021

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Michael Lambert, City Librarian, San Francisco Public Library. It was originally published on the California Library Association website as part of the work I’m doing as Library Advocacy Training Project Manager for the Association.

Q:  Let’s start with your own experience as a library advocate. What first drew you into efforts to advocate on behalf of libraries?

Michael Lambert

A:  My experience as a library advocate has been influenced by my tenure with my hometown Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. They have a top-notch public library system and I have observed their library leadership working effectively with their Friends group over the years. From the very beginning of my career, I was able to see firsthand how their former library director was able to secure strong support for their library with robust grassroots advocacy from the community, including having a strong community showing at budget hearings, telling powerful stories, offering heart-warming testimonials, effective PR campaigns, etc. I’ve carried forward these observations and learnings throughout my career.

More recently during my tenure with SFPL, I was invited by then CLA President Misty Jones to serve on the Advocacy & Legislative Committee. This was a great experience and helped me understand how our state association organizes and advances a set of legislative priorities each year.

Q:  Can you tell a story showing how Richland Library leadership worked effectively with their Friends group?

A:  It’s been over 15 years since I briefly returned to Richland Library for a stint as Development Officer. In that role, I served as their liaison to the Friends. I can vividly recall the Friends packing their County Council’s budget hearing for the Library in 2006, netting a substantial increase in their budget for the following year. The Friends of the Richland Library delivered a master class that year in having library advocates prepared to offer powerful stories to demonstrate the impact of public library services on their community. Furthermore, their Friends group is essentially the “farm team” for their Library Board, which does a great job cultivating strong relationships with their County Council as well.

Q:  What was one essential lesson learned, from your time on the Advocacy & Legislative Committee, that you would share with others interested in advocacy?

A:  The essential lesson I learned from my time on the Advocacy & Legislative Committee is that it’s critical for library workers and library leaders to be engaged and active in getting involved to advance the legislative agenda. I observed strong leadership from Misty Jones and her successor as the Chair of the Advocacy & Legislative Committee, Sara Jones, to help develop legislative priorities that the California Library Association could support with the Dillons [Michael Dillon and Christina Dillon-DiCaro] and the State Librarian’s support in Sacramento. This work is critical for providing library advocates up and down the state with a set of tangible priorities that can be leveraged for discussions with lawmakers.

Q:  What have your own advocacy mentors done to encourage and inspire you?

A:  My inspiration and encouragement come from community. As a library director, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to be a good steward of the community’s resources. I am continually heartened by the stories and testimonials I hear from members of the public about the transformational impact of our services. Just this morning I received the following email from a parent:

Diane Ferlatte

I wanted to express my appreciation for the wonderful Diane Ferlatte recently. My daughter is 16 and I am homeschooling her. We’ve studied slave narratives and their role in abolition, the flourishing of writers that came after emancipation with an emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance, and African American folktales. Every Friday is poetry Friday, during which we have studied written poems as well as spoken word. I write all this to say that the opportunity to hear Diane Ferlatte as part of More Than a Month by SFPL fit right in.

Ms. Ferlatte was wonderful. We analyzed the stories she chose to share and discussed the history of African American storytelling in the US. As African Americans, it was a pleasure to be able to listen to the virtual event and to see so many people enjoying with us. As a parent, it’s always helpful when I can incorporate different pieces into our homeschooling.

So, thank you for this. And please let Ms. Ferlatte (and her musical partner) know how much we enjoyed her performance!

This is just one example of how library services delight and enrich the lives of our patrons. Similarly, I hear from staff about how they are innovating and delivering much needed services to the most vulnerable members of our community. We are extremely fortunate in San Francisco to have robust support from the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, our Library Commission, the Friends and Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library, our labor partners, our beloved library patrons, and our amazing library staff.

Some people who I admire—my predecessor, Luis Herrera, and his predecessor, Susan Hildreth—what they were able to accomplish in San Francisco with the Friends & Foundation of SFPL has been transformational for the residents of San Francisco.

Q:  What tips would you offer to other advocates interested in building positive relationships similar to what you have described the Mayor, Board of Supervisors members, Library Commissioners, and others?

A:  Building positive relationships with stakeholders at every level of the library ecosystem is critical to successful advocacy for libraries. Individuals who volunteer in your literacy programs often become library supporters and donors. Teen volunteers often develop an interest in library work and seek entry level positions to start a career in libraries. Members of Friends groups often have connections to municipal government that can spark important conversations regarding library funding and support for capital projects. Library leaders can help their cause by building strong relationships with the legislative aides and staff in the offices of elected officials. Extending one’s support to individuals up and down the library ecosystem chain can generate enormous goodwill that one day could net tremendous returns on that initial investment of a positive engagement.

Q:  Can you tell a story about a memorable/transformative experience you’ve had as an advocate for libraries and members of the communities they serve?

A:  I worked for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina from 2006-2011, and was employed there during the great economic recession. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library suffered a 35% budget cut that led to the layoffs of half the workforce and permanent closure of four branches. I led an effort to recruit and mobilize volunteers and harness the incredible outpouring of community support to restore operating hours and services. Over the course of 2-3 years, I witnessed how strong grassroots support from residents, volunteers, donors and advocates could create the political will to restore funding and library services after the devastating cuts. It was gratifying to lead recruitment efforts to bring back staff and fill roughly 70 positions before I moved back to California.

N.B. — Paul’s work as a consultant/project manager with the California Library Association is part of a grant-funded project to develop and coordinate a statewide political advocacy training program for library workers and supporters throughout California.


State of America’s Libraries: Open (Online) For National Library Week 2020

April 21, 2020

If I weren’t so busy using library services online and staying in touch with library colleagues across the United States, I might actually be feeling the loss of all that they usually offer onsite—a set of resources, services, and possibilities nicely summarized in the newly released State of America’s Libraries 2020 report from the American Library Association’s American Libraries magazine.

Anyone taking the time to read this wonderful yearly summary of why libraries remain cherished community resources (even when the buildings themselves are closed  because of shelter- in-place guidelines designed to fight the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic) can’t help but be impressed by and grateful, as we celebrate National Library Week (April 19-25, 2020), for all that libraries and library staff contribute to our communities—onsite as well as online.  

Libraries, those who wrote or otherwise contributed to the report remind us, actively support “learning and parent engagement” in the learning process; they offer wellness and health resources and activities beyond what many of us assume is in place, including “materials on healthy lifestyles, cookbooks that address medical dietary needs, multimedia for physical exercise instruction, and self-help mental health materials. Some libraries take healthy lifestyle services even further by offering walking, hiking, bicycling, or running programs that take place outside the library building. Nearly 23% of public libraries host fitness or yoga classes.” Most offer “digital literacy training programs, through which community members can learn résumé development and job searching and gain new skills to aid in career advancement. Nearly half of the more than 16,000 public libraries in the US provide free services for small businesses and entrepreneurs…”

And there is plenty onsite that goes beyond our traditional views of what libraries provide: “The best proof that public libraries are about more than just books is their evolution into libraries of things, offering nontraditional collections that are community-specific and imaginative. The wide array of items available to check out includes mattresses, dolls, bicycles, binoculars, and accordions. At the Beaverton (Oreg.) City Library, patrons can check out kitchenware, outdoor equipment, and games.”

For me, the “library” is a cohesive blend of onsite and online resources, services, possibilities—and people. (Never forget those wonderful people who make the library what it is—including staff as well as the people who use libraries and interact within and through libraries.) Before shelter-in-place guidelines were imposed here in San Francisco last month in response to the spread of the coronavirus, I was in San Francisco’s Main Library at least once a week; occasionally visited branches throughout the city; and did a substantial amount of my work through library resources (e.g., access to journal articles) online. Those buildings—and the all-important people who make them what they are—created homes away from home for me and the thousands of other people who visited them every day; temporary office and research sites whenever I used my laptop or tablet, through library Wi-Fi access; and cherished community centers where I would unexpectedly run into people I knew or participate in community-based conversations that were of interest to me and those I serve. Above all, they were places where I consistently came across unexpected treasures—a newly-released book by an author I admire, a DVD featuring a movie I wanted to see, or even an art exhibition that temporarily transported me into another world and left me entertained or immersed in thought about a subject or a place to which the exhibition provided access. And the conversations: seeing colleagues who would ask me what I had been doing recently or tell me what they had been exploring so we all grew through those wonderful exchanges of anecdotes and information made those onsite library visits an extremely important part of my training-teaching-learning landscape.

So, the move to a library that existed only online was a bit of a jolt. But one that has been accompanied by pleasant surprises. Never one to spend much time “going to the movies” online, I suddenly found myself enjoying access to kanopy (which gives me access to up to 15 free movies a month) and Hoopla (a streaming service providing access to audio books, comics, e-books, movies, music, and television programs) through my library account. Prompted by a promotion on the library’s home page, I followed a link to virtual storytimes and enjoyed watching San Francisco Mayor London Breed read Dave Egger’s book What Can a Citizen Do?, San Francisco City Librarian Michael Lambert read Alison Farrell’s The Hike, and Librarian Anna Cvitkovic’s continuing additions to the series. And because I am immersed in training-teaching-learning, I’m beginning to explore the free access my library provides to LinkedIn Learning’s Lynda.com, a great resource I have previously paid to use through a private account. Thinking about those wonderful exchanges of information through face-to-face conversations during my onsite visits, I’ve worked to transform them into “face-to-face online” conversations through the use of Zoom and any other videoconferencing tool we can easily use to remain connected to each other.

Circling back to State of America’s Libraries 2020, I once again admire what publication editor Steve Zalusky and our other colleagues at American Libraries have produced, and couldn’t agree more Zalusky’s introductory remarks: “As the State of America’s Libraries report goes to press, the coronavirus pandemic has upended our nation and our profession, so much so that aspects of this report —which provides a snapshot of our industry in 2019—now read like dispatches from a distant era. What hasn’t changed is our belief that service and stewardship to our communities are core to the library profession. We continue to see this every day even as library buildings close to the public but often sustain or grow their virtual services and make their resources freely available to all. Today and everyday, our nation’s libraries are on the front lines, playing an invaluable role in keeping communities connected.”

–N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


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