Monday, November 12, 2007

Advocacy 101: First Steps for the Library Advocate

"The great end of life is not knowledge but action."

Thomas Henry Huxley, British biologist (1825-1895)

Advocacy has pretty much become a major buzzword within recent years. The term was, at a time, only associated with the legal profession, for after all, this is what a lawyer is; an advocate: one that speaks on behalf of, or pleads for the cause of another. But now, the term has become applicable to all such persons and activities that plead for and promote causes, whether inside or outside a courtroom, albeit mostly not with the type of compensation that bona fide lawyers can demand. Merriam-Webster Online tells us that the word ‘advocate’ comes the Latin advocare, meaning ‘to call.’ And indeed, this what advocates do when they speak, write or whatever activity they perform with respect to whatever cause they represent. They seek to summon or call attention to the issue which they believe has not been or is not being properly addressed.

The word that was more widely used for fighting for and promoting causes is, of course, the word activist. But somehow it seems that for many, this word has come to carry too much of a combative connotation: too radical and reserved for matters considered of greater gravity. Some on the other hand, believe, however, that this is how the fight for causes should be: pulling no punches and holding no quarter and letting the chips fall where they may. They see the term still retaining its cachet of passion, integrity, resolve and moral high ground with the likes of activists such as Sojourner Truth, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.

But regardless of which term is used, the objective of any strategy applied still remains to call attention to what is deemed a lack of or wrong focus upon an issue. The main strategy is also structured around gaining media attention or simply put, is described as a media campaign. And this should be so, given that the media are the lens through which most of us do get information and become aware of issues both near and far. And so advocates have to become media savvy and become expert at communication techniques to be effective.

I wish not to delve into matters seemingly too weighty but let us borrow a bit from political science and look at how authors Ball and Dagger, in their book Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal define ideology. They define it as “A fairly coherent and comprehensive set of ideas that explains and evaluates social conditions, helps people understand their place in society, and provides a program for social and political action.” I allude to this definition here because as Ball and Dagger go on to explain its key terms (or tags), it becomes obvious how these can be applied to advocacy.

Explanation: (Ideology) Explains why social, political and economic conditions are the way they are.

(Advocacy) In any advocacy situation we firstly must be able to explain the issue. It should be clear to ourselves and be as clear to others when we speak for our cause.

Evaluation: (Ideology) Deciding whether those conditions are good or bad.

(Advocacy) In our explanation we must show whether the conditions that prevail are good or bad (and of course provide reasons why we believe them to be one way or another). Advocacy can also be about furthering something good and not always attempting to correct a bad situation.

Orientation: (Ideology) Supplies its holder with an orientation and a sense of identity.

(Advocacy) This is self-evident, in that our audience must be able to identify and ‘buy in’ to our issue for them to support it.

Program: (Ideology) Tells followers what to do and how to do it.

(Advocacy) When you do finally have some support people need to know how to take action. Advocacy is about calling attention to an issue but after this is successful something then must done to affect change to sustain or improve it.

So advocates all, let us continue to call, and surely be prepared when others respond to our call to provide the reasons for our advocacy and a direction of where and how we would like our cause to be advanced. Onward Libraries.

Some Library Advocacy Resource Links

Advocacy OCLC

ALA Library Advocate's Handbook

IFLA School Library Advocacy Kit

ProQuest Library Advocacy

News for a Change: An Advocate’s Guide to Working with the Media

No comments: