Good afternoon. First of all, thank you very much for inviting me along today to talk about advocacy and some of the things that we have learnt over the past couple of years. It’s hard to believe it has been nearly two years since we launched Voices for the Library, it has certainly not been an easy two years and it’s had plenty of ups and downs. That said, it is fair to say that those ups and downs have taught us an awful lot in terms of how to utilise channels that are otherwise outside our influence. To start off I would just like to give you a bit of background about Voices for the Library to give you a flavour of who we are, how we operate and why on earth we decided to do this in the first place. Sometimes it is good to remind me as much as anything else.
When we launched our campaign in the summer of 2010, one of the main motivating factors was our overall concern about the media narrative around public libraries, who was influencing it and who was excluded from the discussion.
This concern was borne from the realisation that as the need for demonstrating the value of libraries and librarians grew more urgent in the face of substantial cuts to services, there was literally no voice for the library.
Sure, there were people out there invited onto Newsnight to discuss what the future holds for public libraries, but they were nearly always people who were neither librarians or had any experience of running library services.
Furthermore many of those asked to comment on the situation perpetuated myths about the service which were contrary to the kind of messages that we might want out there. The challenge, as we saw it, was to destroy these myths – chief amongst these myths was the myth of overall decline in usage of the service.
Back in 2010, before Voices was established, I wrote the following:
So we set about trying to change the media narrative about the role of libraries and their relevance in the 21st century – no easy task when you set out with a budget of zero (although we were lucky enough to receive some sponsorship from various generous organisations as we started to grow).
But that initial budget of zero forced us to come up with creative ways of getting our message out there. We did not, and do not, have the resources to go mad spending money on all kinds of exciting ventures. We had to choose our weapons carefully. As we all came together through the power of social media, social media was to become our prime weapon of choice.
I should explain at this point that, at the time when the initial team all came together, many of us had never met each other. In fact, I hadn’t met a single member of the team when we did get together and didn’t finally meet many of them until about six months later. We came from pretty much every corner of the country except, funnily enough, London. Which in some ways was great as we couldn’t be described as Londoncentric, but also meant that it was a little tricky to keep a track of the complexities of the London library network. We were, however, able to come together in the way that we did despite the geographical limitations because of social media.
If social media had not existed, there is no doubt that Voices would never have come into being. It is simply not practical to launch a campaign like this without that background of communication between us. Social media enabled us all to learn about each other before we started, which made a substantial difference when deciding on our aims and purpose. And it also allowed us the opportunity to identify possible recruits as time went by. We certainly would not have been able to do that without tools such as Twitter, that enabled frequent and easy communication between us. And, between us, we already had a substantial audience we could use to help get the word out about what we were trying to do. Indeed, the role of social media has been fundamental throughout both in terms of communication amongst ourselves and in building support for libraries across the country. So, we decided that the prime forum we would utilise to get word out there was social media because, to be frank, it was cheap and easy to reach a reasonable audience from the start.
To build interest before we launched we began using tweets on our personal Twitter accounts with the hashtag #pling. Pling stood for Public Libraries In Need Group. It acted as a handy little code amongst ourselves and, subsequently, prompted numerous tweets asking us what on earth pling meant! It also, inadvertently, provided us with our Twitter handle,
@ukpling which, despite the occasional urge to change it, we have stuck with ever since. Meanwhile, we set about creating a Facebook Page and a Twitter account to help us get the message out there about the value of libraries and the threats that were made against them.
Using Facebook and Twitter we post news about library cuts and closures across the country and highlight local campaigns. To make this task easier we also employ tools such as paper.li which aggregates library related tweets to produce a daily Twitter based newspaper. But as well as highlighting the grim realities, we also seek to highlight the positive stories that are reported out there. Such as the blog posts or news stories that demonstrate the value and relevance of the service. Furthermore, we try to create evidence of this appreciation by requesting feedback from the online community about what they value and love about their library service.
For example, in advance of National Library Day, we asked people what they loved about their library service, collected the tweets, blog posts and Facebook comments into a Storify thread and published it on the front page of our website, once more highlighting the many positive things people are saying about our public library service.
When we first launched our presence onto the world, we gave little thought to how we would brand ourselves, it simply was not a prime concern of ours.
None of us were particularly artistic and, consequently, we chose to use the image of an acorn – representing knowledge. However, after a while we realised there was a need to go for a more professional look with an instantly recognisable logo. Luckily for us, my cousin is a graphic designer so we approached her to design a logo on our behalf incorporating the already established acorn motif.
After agonising over the designs donated to us, we decided on the logo we are using to this day across both our online and real world presence. This was an important step in our development. As I said, it helped to give us a professional look to the operation and enabled us to create an identifiable image across all of our online identities. I think it is crucial that every aspect of the operation appears professional and serious.
In fact, we have also employed the logo on business cards and other materials to help spread the word. The business cards have been a particularly effective way to spread the word about the campaign. Produced using the MOO cards online service, they highlight our key contact points on small cards that are relatively cheap to order and are easy to distribute. The cards also ensure that the focus is on the organisation itself and not one individual, helping us to ensure that the campaign is not personalised and is, in fact, about all of those who are concerned about public libraries. I certainly think without the branding we developed it would have been difficult for us to have been taken seriously as a national organisation. The creation of a logo and a clear brand gave us the added professionalism we required.
We then set about trying to encourage library users to write guest blogs for our site through Twitter and Facebook.
It was important to us that we were seen as a platform for people to express their appreciation for libraries and not primarily as a platform for us to pontificate on what we felt was important.
We were absolutely determined to make this a user led campaign. Which is why our website clearly states our intention to provide a place “for everyone who loves libraries to share their stories and experiences of the value of public libraries.”
Guest posts for the site were an essential part of what we were trying to achieve and, handily, provided us with substantial qualitative data to demonstrate to policy makers why libraries are still relevant to so many people (indeed, this data helped inform our submission to the Select Committee inquiry).
Our next step was to raise awareness of who we are and what we were trying to do. Relying on social media we identified early on the need to try and connect with celebrities who we believed would be supportive of our campaign. Obviously, as many celebrity tweeters had a lot of followers we could see that if we could attract their attention we could subsequently benefit from the possibility of them tweeting us and spreading the message about libraries.
This certainly seemed to pay dividends as we received a lot of support from celebrities such as Chris Addison who has frequently retweeted out tweets and given us a lot of support and encouragement.
Josie Long who has also followed our campaign closely.
And Lauren Laverne who has been particularly supportive claiming, as we were to find out later, that we were her favourite campaign to such an extent that she put together a really supportive pro-libraries piece on 10 O’Clock Live, highlighting why she valued the public library service.
We have also tried to get celebrity statements and articles posted on our site and have so far managed to receive contributions from the author Hari Kunzru, the actress Rebecca Front and the comedian Robin Ince.
To further establish the organisation, however, we needed to go beyond connecting with celebrities online. It was also important to connect with journalists to draw attention to the organisation and encourage them to come to us for comment.
Early on in the process I managed to track down the Library News editor for Private Eye on Twitter. Now, whilst Private Eye isn’t a massively selling magazine, it does have an awful lot of influence. As a result of making the connection with Private Eye, I was invited to join the editorial team for lunch at a pub in central London. The events themselves are pretty well known across the media world and renowned columnists and political figures are all invited to attend.
One of the people I was lucky enough to meet was the Head of News for Channel 4. Well, in truth, I didn’t know it was her until she left and handed me her card, but it was a pretty good stroke of luck. I was kinda relieved that I didn’t say or do anything embarrassing before discovering that! Like criticising Channel 4 News or Jon Snow. But this contact paid dividends later on down the line. After discovering some interesting information about the situation in Gloucestershire I tipped her off that this might be something of interest. This subsequently led to a story on the main Channel 4 news which was really well received by local library campaigners.
Building links with the media also provides opportunities to widen particular stories. For example, there was recently a report on the removal of children’s books from libraries which was, of course, highly misleading. When contacted by The Guardian on the story, we pointed out that not only was the story misleading, but that the issue of book removals would likely become a more pressing issue as community libraries grow – particularly as they are not bound by the same ethics as a professionally led service.
This aspect was subsequently reported in The Guardian’s online article which was then picked up by Radio France who wanted to conduct an interview (in English luckily!) on the issue of community libraries and book removals. This story was also picked up on German and Italian news sites which goes to show that if you can broaden out a news story, you can draw attention to wider issues.
Now, the important thing about both the drive to connect with celebrities and journalists is that it is relatively easy to do in the social media age. Before the advent of Facebook and Twitter we simply would not have been able to employ this tactic and the chances of getting any attention focused on our campaign and the message we wanted to put across for library staff and library users) was virtually nil. Social media changes the game entirely. It allows you to become a media outlet, communicating with an audience and building up connections. These connections, if used appropriately, can help shine a light on both your campaign or your organisation, and the message you feel is so important to be heard. Certainly, using social media to build awareness of our campaign has done much to raise our profile and the message amongst both the media and politicians.
So much so, that at the end of last year we were named one of the Independent Voices of the Year by the Independent newspaper. This awareness has elevated us to a position of authority on the matter of public libraries and has provided us with an attempt to influence the debate and discussion regarding the future for public libraries. It has also helped us to get involved in “real world” activities to help promote the campaign. Of course, we were always very much aware that not everyone uses the internet (unlike many of the detractors) and were keen to explore ways to spread the word amongst those that we would otherwise have immense difficulty trying to reach with a zero budget.
One of the first events we became actively involved in was the national Save Libraries Day that took place in February last year.
This came together on the back of a suggestion by author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons that we have some form of united focus on the plight of public libraries. We thought this was a fantastic idea as, at the time, there was little national focus on the issue of public library closures, it was generally restricted to a focus on individual, local campaigns. This provided an opportunity to pull together a much bigger national picture.
To support the event we pushed it as hard as we could on all the social media channels available to us. We set up a Facebook Event listing all the events that were taking place across the country and encouraged as many people to sign up as possible, as well as inform us of any activities we were unaware of. By the time of the day itself we had over 1,000 people signed up via the Page.
Of course, such an event also managed to garner a lot of media attention with BBC news 24 going live to a library in Doncaster throughout the day talking to library users as well as our own Lauren Smith. We were in regular contact with the media in the lead up to the event as well as during the event itself. And there was also a great deal of communication between people attending the various events taking place and our Twitter feed which helped to further promote the day itself. The Guardian provided a lot of coverage including a rolling blog and we were frequently in contact with them, correcting stories and drawing their attention to various developments.
The event was a great success both in terms of the events themselves and the media attention it managed to attract. The success ultimately led to the development of the first annual National Libraries Day celebrated earlier this year – of which we were one of the main partners, alongside CILIP, the SLA and The Reading Agency amongst others.
We were also lucky enough to be able to pitch a stand at the Hay Festival. This was one of the first opportunities we had to get the message out there beyond simply employing social media. As a result of our presence at the Festival we were highlighted on the official programme and attention was drawn to our stand on the Hay Festival blog.
Consequently, we got the chance to talk to a great number of people who were previously unaware of our campaign as well as other library campaigners that we were able to build links with.
We encouraged those of us who visited our stand to write on catalogue cards some thoughts about libraries and we collected many wonderful messages that we subsequently posted onto our Tumblr blog, once more making use of social media to highlight the need for libraries.
Perhaps the most important request that we have received was when we were called to provide both written and verbal evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into library closures, established earlier this year. Obviously, having collected a fair amount of qualitative data through our campaign, we felt that we were in a good position to make a strong case in defence of our public library service and gladly accepted the challenge.
This inquiry emerged as a result of pressure applied on Ed Vaizey, the minister responsible for libraries, by library campaigners from across the country. For months many campaigners fighting to save their local library service had been frustrated by a lack of action from the minister. Despite repeated attempts to force him to intervene, he resolutely failed to do so. When it was declared that there would be a Select Committee inquiry into library closures, campaigners everywhere saw this as a chance to put to the Committee the extent of the damage being done and why it was important for the government to step in.
As a result of our high profile campaigning work, we were invited to submit written evidence to the Committee and our own Abby Barker was also invited to provide oral evidence. This was obviously an important development for our organisation and symbolised how far we had come in fewer than two years – from a gaggle of volunteers who came together without a budget but determined to make a difference in difficult circumstances, to an organisation invited to present evidence to parliamentary inquiry. Such a rapid rise to prominence, again with such a limited budget simply would not, in my opinion, have been possible without the aid of social media. It has been by far the most important factor in our ability to do what we do.
Above all else, I think one of the most important lessons that we have learnt over the past two years is that people are on our side, despite what you might sometimes think. Journalists are generally willing to engage, to try to understand some of the issues and, once you do manage to engage them, they are a powerful ally to have on your side.
The same goes for authors and celebrities. There are a lot of public figures out there more than willing to bang the drum for libraries. Just as journalists are an important ally to have on your side, so are celebrities. When people such as Chris Addison have 150,000 people following them, the advantages for tapping into this are clear.
But it’s not just journalists and celebrities. Our principle goal when we started was to provide a voice for library users across the country. We have seen from the stories that we have received from library users and the comments that have been made on our website and on our various social networks that there is a lot of love out there, not just for public libraries, but all libraries.
And not just for libraries either, librarians are also very much appreciated for the work they do. People do understand the value of them and people are willing to do their bit to highlight why libraries are so important to them. Because they love them and value them. And we like to think that through our site, our use of social media and the work we have done such as presenting evidence to the Select Committee, we have helped to communicate that love and appreciation for the service.
As I said earlier, we are very conscious that to get our message out there we needed to go beyond simply employing social media. However, social media played a crucial role in getting us to the place where we were involved in organising a national event, appearing before a parliamentary committee and being one of the first ports of call for some journalists when a library related story makes it into the news. In short, the use of social media helped us to breakdown the barriers and reach out into the channels that are normally outside our sphere of influence.
Social media was the wrecking ball we needed to break out and try to influence the narrative about public libraries. Without that wrecking ball, we would still be very much on the outside looking in, failing to get our message heard and unable to have the impact we would have wanted. That wrecking ball gave us access to the national media, put us in the forefront for national library events, put us before a Select Committee inquiry, defending our public library service and put me here talking to you about the things it has helped us to achieve.
And you too have access to that wrecking ball and it is important that you grasp it. Libraries play an important role in the lives of our children and they are having ever greater demands placed upon them to demonstrate their worth. Whether it be school libraries or public libraries, across the board the service is under threat. School Library Services are being cut, professional hours slashed…And yet everyone in this room is doing great and wonderful things every day. It is more important than ever to shout out about the great things you are doing. So build contacts with children’s authors, celebrities, journalists, library users and, indeed, other libraries. Highlight all the great work you are doing in your library. Engage with resources such as Heart of the School and CILIP’s Shout About promotion. Tools such as social media provide a unique and fantastic opportunity for you to demonstrate the value of youth libraries and librarians. We took a chance to see if we could have an impact by reaching outside of our normal channels of influence, with the tools at your disposal, you can too.
Escaping the Echo Chamber: Advocacy outside our own circle.
“So, in short, are libraries
in decline? No.However, the narrative is not beingcontrolled by the profession but by thosewho either do not understand the serviceor are trying to undermine it for their ownends. The best way to challenge thesemyths? Personally, I agree with others whosay there is a need to break out ofthe ‘echo chamber’ and take back controlof the narrative. Only then can we bury themyth that libraries are irrelevant in thedigital age.”
Slide 1: Vanlal on Flickr:
http://flic.kr/p/3rwkeSlide 3 : Brianjmatis on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/bfa2dFSlide 4: englishpen on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/ar6FLFSlide 5: Mr.T in DC on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/5Vd4RsSlide 7: Herbalizer on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/adT6UWSlide 8: Whole Whear Toast on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/7YbaVmSlide 9: Steve Snodgrass on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/8mHxhMSlide 10: Stefan on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/77wGQGSlide 13: FOG libraries on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9fU8MCSlide 22: Andrew and Hobbes on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/66v6ULSlide 23: FOG libraries on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9fTV47Slide 24: magnetisch on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/bkqnBaSlide 25: Steve Cadman on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/JYedkSlide 26: Ellen Forsyth on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/6Xz2BqSlide 27: sahlgoode on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/8iqXSrSlide 28: mykreeve on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/7X7FZUSlide 29: acb on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/4dbyxmSlide 30: Roo Reynolds on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/7EVhhnSlide 33: Stuart Chalmers on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9o4rFSSlide 34: Boxman on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/7N3gJF
Slide 35: florian.b on Flickr:
http://flic.kr/p/4UFb6Slide 36: Bernhard Benke on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/4Bv2L6Slide 37: -wink- on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/6hDAEKSlide 40: Candy Gourlay on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/bq21ZsSlide 42: Wordshore on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9fXPvJSlide 44: Simonxix on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9QQynESlide 45: Simonxix on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9QMH5rSlides 46 & 47: Walkyouhome on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9QP4ZV, http://flic.kr/p/9QP51XSlide 49: DCMS on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/8kwUHYSlide 55: id-iom on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/aK1fKcSlide 56: Paul Goyette on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/aJb2FSlide 57: Shrieking Tree on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/8XLCYjSlide 58: Dullhunk on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/iVLZtSlides 60 & 61: Bethan on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/85uKQh