Vertical Advocacy in Libraryland

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CC Photo by becketchai/Flickr From my readings and observations, there is a visible disconnect between library types when it comes to advocating and action. When the state budget battle was being fought in New Jersey this past year, this lack of affiliation was readily apparent.

When it came to the news that school librarians were being cut from many districts, the anger and the outrage over the news was pretty intense. But when it came to taking a step to act on the issue, the refrain was something akin to “Well, what is the NJASL (New Jersey Association of School Libraries) doing?”, a question left hanging most of the time without further inquiry.

During the advocacy effort, I went to a meeting of academic librarians at Rutgers. As the state’s largest university and with a lot to lose regarding the cutting of internet service, databases, and interlibrary loan delivery (all proposals in the Governor’s original draft), Rutgers would take a big hit with the proposed budget passed. While the majority of their meeting concerned strategy discussion and type of action to take, there was a brief exchange about public libraries towards the end. As a public librarian, it was intriguing to hear some of the ideas and perceptions of what the people advocating for public libraries should be doing. Most of it were things that had come and gone as ideas, whether rejected or being put into use.

While I freely admit that I did not have much of a clue as to what the academic librarians were contending with in their simultaneous struggle, it struck me that there was a lack of basic information exchange going on between groups that were engaged in the same cause. Even this simple one hour meeting brought me much closer to not only what academic libraries in New Jersey were up against, but also informed me as to their course of action as well as avenues of advocacy.

“Vertical advocacy” would be the best way to describe this phenomena; the practice of lobbying on behalf of one type of library while offering little or no help to other types of libraries. I am not without guilt in this matter; I should be paying more attention or even working to advocate for other types of libraries. But when the majority of your contacts are in the public library field, the overall information intake is going to be skewed towards the public library. To compound matters, from conversations and reading blogs and other anecdotal evidence, library advocacy is heavily favored towards the public incarnation of the institution. How or why the other library communities tolerate this is beyond me; but in writing this, I’m looking for a recourse.

The question that this entry leaves me with is this: is the creation of different subset organizations (such as SLA, PLA, ACRL, & AASL) the library world equivalent of “separate but equal”? As in, there are organizations that are supposed to be on top of issues for those types of libraries but often (too often, perhaps) it turns into a place to pass issues that never return to the light of day? Where has the communication broken down? What (if anything) can be done to change this?

Because this is a status quo that needs to be changed.