A blog from the Ontario Library Service

Blog Series: What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? (Post #2 of 4)

In a series of guest blogs library board members Andrew Hallikas and Caroline Goulding will be exploring the question What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? In this post we will be focusing on politics. Read Part One.

Be Proactive and Be Politically Active

The best possible situation is to have a Municipal council that supports and values its Public Library. To that end work to elect individuals who value Libraries.

This process starts during the campaign period leading up to the Municipal Election and even before. Ensure that Library Issues become campaign issues. Mobilize Library Board Members, your Friends of the Library Group, and Library patrons to ensure that Library issues are raised in public meetings and by the media. Attend meet the candidate nights and ask questions of potential candidates regarding their view of Public Libraries. Be organized in this; plan and create a list of pertinent questions, then have several different Library supporters ask the questions. The media will pick up on this and Library issues become amplified. Support Candidates who are sympathetic to library issues.

We should insert a note of caution here. Be careful in how you support candidates. It is important that the Library not run afoul of election laws and Municipal by-laws around elections. Board members can as individuals involve themselves in elections, but be careful not to act in the name of your Library.

Encourage library users and supporters to run for council and support them when they do.  Although be careful that you do not run “one issue” candidates.

Municipal Councillors, like all politicians respond to publicity and public pressure. Well timed and well written letters to the Editor can be highly effective in keeping Library issues in the minds of the public and politicians. This is something that the Library Board Chair can and should do, as can library patrons or members of Friends of the Library. Keep your community constantly informed of library issues. Social media works well for this.

Be organized, consistent and politically aware. Only the Library CEO or Board Chair should speak for the Library unless another Board Member is specifically delegated to be spokesperson on a particular matter. All Board members when out in the community should speak with one voice and should have ready “elevator” speeches made up on a topic. Generally, the Board Chair speaks on political issues and the Library CEO speaks on Library issues, although the line on this can become blurred at times. Councillors will often say all sorts of things to the media, do not let negative or inaccurate comments about the Library go unchallenged.

Cultivate good relationships with local media

Local Media are essential to Public Libraries for a variety of reasons. The media like most of the general public tend to view Libraries favourably. Libraries provide many and varied newsworthy stories. Always ensure that all local media, newspaper or radio, is invited to all significant Library events. Feed them. Get to know local media personalities and reporters. Send them personal invitations to attend events and particularly events where Municipal Councillors are invited. Send out regular press releases.

Our Library keeps press clippings and posts them on a bulletin board. Patrons enjoy reading them. Politicians are always aware of press coverage and will notice if your Library is getting a lot of positive media coverage.