Let me tell you about the coolest thing I’ve done in my 14 years as a library professional.
Back in January, I had the honor of accepting the 2014 Opening Minds Innovation Award for Every Child Ready to Read @ your library, 2nd edition (ECRR2) on behalf of ALSC, PLA, and children’s librarians everywhere.
Sure, it was fun to dress up (which I never do, trust me), deliver an impromptu speech, and hold a super-fancy crystal statuette while a bunch of people snapped my picture. But that stuff wasn’t what made the event so exciting.
Standing on that stage, I knew the night was more than a moment for ECRR2 to shine. As a passionate professional committed to improving outcomes for young children and families, I looked into the smiling faces of new colleagues—early childhood educators, caregivers, program administrators, business owners, and fundraisers—as they cheered for public libraries and welcomed them warmly as partners into the early education conversation.
So how’d we get to this pinnacle of awesomeness? One word—advocacy.
Opening Minds USA didn’t just call up ALSC and PLA one day and say, “Hey, we think you’re doing some great work for young children and families. Mind if we give you an award for it?” We had to let them know what children’s librarians have been up to for the past 10 years and why we thought ECRR2 deserved recognition as a game-changer in the field of early childhood education.
Through collaboration with the ALSC and PLA offices as well as members of the ECRR Oversight Committee, I took the lead in prepping the Innovation Awards application, which required thoughtful answers to three prompts:
- How does the innovation meet a need?
- Please supply evidence it works.
- Tell us about the unique value of your innovation.
What we ended up writing for the third point—the unique value of ECRR2—became my elevator speech during the Innovation Awards Showcase, a two-day opportunity for finalists to talk up their innovations to Opening Minds Conference attendees. (Fellow children’s librarian Cen Campbell was also there promoting Little eLit, which was also named a 2014 Innovation Awards finalist. Yay!)
Sharing my knowledge and expertise with such a receptive audience was exhilarating, especially when I heard responses like, “I love my local public library!” and “Wow! I didn’t know public libraries did all that!” I couldn’t have been prouder to talk about the everyday difference children’s librarians make in the lives of young children and their families, and it paid off in all the ways that matter.
Conference attendees did more than cast their votes for ECRR2 to win the 2014 Opening Minds Innovation Award. They recognized the power of public libraries to inspire and transform young lives.
That, my friends, is advocacy at its zenith.
Now don’t go thinking you have to get all gussied up and accept a big award to be an advocate for libraries. Your best bet? Find new audiences outside the library world and talk to them about the unique value of what you do. Go ahead and bring your passion, but balance your equation with the where, when, why, who, and how of your work.
Great advocacy has to go beyond the warm fuzzies. When you appeal to people’s heads as well as their hearts, you’ll really get ‘em where it counts.
More information: http://www.chicagometroaeyc.org/EveryChildReady