Does library advocacy feel more important than ever to you right now? On this show, I speak with Beth Nawalinski, Executive Director of United for Libraries a division of the American Library Association.  She shares that now is always the time for advocacy.

There is a certain sense of urgency as we work to recover from the pandemic. Working with trustees, foundations, and Friends groups can provide essential support in the current environment. Beth provides intentionality and tools to help all of us work together to help our libraries.

United for Libraries Website: Link



This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

Does library advocacy seem more important than ever to you, right now? On this show I speak with Beth Nawalinski, Executive Director of United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. She shares that now is always a good time for advocacy. But there is a certain sense of urgency as we work to recover from the pandemic. Working with Trustees, Foundations, and Friends groups can provide essential support in the current environment. Beth provides intentionality and tools to help all of us work together to help our libraries. Enjoy the show.

Beth, welcome to the show.

Beth Nawalilnski:

Thanks so much Adriane, it’s great to be here.


Question #1: Thank you for talking with me today about the importance of advocacy for Trustees, Foundations, and Friends groups. First of all, how can we understand advocacy and its role for libraries? 01:18 

Beth Nawalilnski:

Here at United for Libraries we are the division of ALA, the American Library Association for Boards of Trustees, Friends of the Library Group, and Library Foundation, and advocates. We have many members who participate with us who are just users of libraries, patrons, general advocates in the community. 

So advocacy, if you think about it from the sense of supporting a cause, or a proposal, or a policy, this would be public support for the library, in this case. It’s recommending, supporting, and telling other people about a particular thing you support.

And of course, you were talking about libraries. So, advocacy for libraries is that opportunity to communicate the value of libraries and why they are important to elected officials, funders, others in the community. And there’s a slight difference between public awareness, which is making the general public aware, or making community members aware of the library, and advocacy which is more of a direct role in that process of making change, of directing towards the support of the library, at large.

And there’s a real perception gap between reality and perception of what libraries are. We hear, Do we need libraries anymore? We have Google. We have the internet. We can find whatever we need. We can read books on our eBook readers. Do we need libraries? 

But libraries are so much more than most people realize. Advocacy really gives us that opportunity to broaden the view of what people see as libraries. Understanding the importance. It’s not just what libraries do, but why it matters.

Advocacy is that place where if you imbed it, weave it throughout the activities and the work of those groups, trustees, friends, and foundations who govern, fundraise, and advocate for libraries, it really helps to move the needle for libraries both as a leading organization in the community, but also positioning them with funders, as well, to ensure the library has the funding it needs.


Question #2: Absolutely. Trustees, Foundations, and Friends are uniquely positioned to talk to stakeholders about libraries, why is that? 03:50 

Beth Nawalilnski:

For example, if we’re talking about the budget there are sometimes where it’s the library director, or a library staff member who is key in presenting the very details. Or if we’re going to go into things specifically to reference other areas, where definitely a library staff member, or director is most key. But the difference where it comes in for Trustees, Friends, and Foundations is that they are volunteers. 

So, when they’re going out there and advocating and they’re talking to elected officials and to funders, they’re not advocating for funding to pay their own salaries. They are there on their own time. They’re volunteering, in most cases, unless there’s a paid staff member for a library Foundation, or a Friends group. The general membership of those Boards, and then the larger membership of Friends groups, and the supporters of Foundations, or the donors are not being directly paid. 

In fact, there’s a great video clip from an author, Simon Sinek. He wrote two books that I’ll mention which are, Start with Why, and Find Your Why. I mentioned Why in my previous questionnaire but I’ll bring it back here as well. He says, People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. 

So, you’re a Library Board Member, Trustee, and you’re talking to your elected official. That might be someone on your city council, town council, mayor, county, whatever—at a local level. Take that up to the state, and all the way up to the federal level, and you’re there. You’re talking about why the library’s important, what it means to you, your personal story. That always makes a big difference. The difference it’s making in your community. And, why it is important.

So, when you’re having that connection and that communication, again, you’re there and they can recognize that you’re there as a volunteer, and demonstrating how significant the library is to you, and how much value you put in it.

So, they are uniquely positioned because they’re not paid to be there. 


Question #3: That makes a lot of sense. Why is now an important time for this work? 06:09 

Beth Nawalilnski:

I would say that everyday is an important time for this work. But, of course, we are in some really unique circumstances here with everything that is happening with this pandemic. We know there’s budget cuts coming. We just know that that’s happening. It’s already happening. The discussions are happening. Boards are looking at how they’re going to do funding in the coming fiscal cycle. Friends groups and foundations are quickly pivoting to support their libraries in different ways. And, we know changes are coming.

This is after all these advocates and library staffs have spent many years building the budgets back up. So advocacy is going to be really important right now for both ensuring that libraries have funding, that any potential cuts are minimized, as best as possible. And really, so that the Why, the importance of libraries now more than ever is really communicated to those funders and those decision makers.

United for Libraries hosted a webinar, Advocacy for Your Library During a Crisis, and one of our attendees, Eileen Palmer from New Jersey shared an amazing quote, I just love this. Libraries are not essential to combating a public health emergency. Libraries are essential to a robust recovery. So, we’re in a time of high unemployment, yet just about every place that you need to apply for a job is online. 

We have a large gap in our country with internet access. We see the impact that’s had with the closure of libraries, closure of schools. How many libraries have gone out, I believe the number from the American Library Association was 80% of libraries are providing internet access, even while their building is closed. That’s either keeping their Wi-Fi on 24/7, extending that Wi-Fi so it is going out further into their parking lot, people pulling up in their cars because that’s their only place they can get on Wi-Fi. School buses being equipped to go out into parking lots. Book mobiles, again, being placed in parking lots of large apartment complexes and areas where people are to get that Wi-Fi. 

Think about that. Think about the connection to government services. The library is this key place. The census online this year, right? Yet such a large percentage of those in the US need to go to a library to access the internet. So, this work is really important because we have to remind our elected officials, our funders, our decision makers that libraries are not nice to have, they’re essential. And they will be essential to this recovery.

Connecting people to the services they need as libraries, and communities reopen that opportunity to get people in to apply for jobs, apply for the support that they need, even to apply for unemployment right now. 

But also, the connection to our services by providing computers, learning new skills. That could be in software or in other areas. They’re just extremely important for those things, but they’re also extremely important for that connectivity. That interaction that we all haven’t had, face-to-face during this time. There are so many ways. I could just give you dozens of different things in ways that libraries are really more important right now than ever. 

But this advocacy, we’ve got to make sure that as all of these things are on the mind of our elected officials, and our funders that they remember that libraries are key. Advocacy is the way that we’ll get there.


Question #4: Absolutely, so important. And another thing that’s important as we do this is intentionality. How can we be intentional and prepared for advocacy? 10:23 

Beth Nawalilnski:

One thing I like to tell people always, is to have your library story. I do believe whether you are a regular user of libraries, whether you do that through eBooks, or you go in, you connect to any of these other services. That everybody has a library story that they can tell. 

That compelling personal story is part of that Why that I talked about. It really does help you to have that connection when you’re talking to people. It doesn’t just have to be your story. A very important part of advocacy for libraries is also that cultivation of stories of how libraries have made a difference in the lives of community members. Then being able to take those stories and share those. And the elevator speech, that’s kind of your library story, but it’s also bridging your library story to the Why, that connection there. 

Just to share a quick story, when I was at National Library Legislative Day two years ago, and I’m in Pennsylvania so I was with the Pennsylvania group going in. Someone there shared a story about a remote area, a really rural area in Pennsylvania where not even the school had really strong Wi-Fi. In fact, the library got hotspots that were funded in part from LSTA dollars. Library Services and Technology Act dollars, funds that are matched by the state to do hotspots that they would check out. Even the school would be using these hotspots. 

There was this fantastic story about a family that checked out a hotspot, and took it home. At that point neither of the parents had a job. With that hotspot at home two amazing things were able to happen. The father was able to get a job, so fantastic. And, the high school student was actually able to apply for college, and apply for scholarships and get into college and go. Now, if they hadn’t been able to check out that hotspot from their library the difference would not have been made for those individuals in that family.

That connection, that ability to make that change, to move that needle, it doesn’t just impact that family it impacts the community at a much larger scale as well, as you start to look at how all of these things compound together.

So, when you can share a very personal story, whether it’s yours or one that’s collected through the advocacy work of your library and the Board, having those personal stories to share as you go in are very compelling and they really support that Why libraries matter.


Question #5: So impactful, wow. What are the Five E’s that help with advocacy? 13:20 

Beth Nawalilnski:

Oh, I’m so glad that you asked about The E’s of Libraries. Our listeners are probably thinking E-A-S-E, ease. I’ll say instead, NoThe E’s of Libraries are a way to prove your library’s value through persuasive, organized, and memorable messages. First, let me name those five E’s, right? So: Education; Employment; Entrepreneurship; Empowerment; and Engagement. And you don’t have to stop there. E, libraries are for Everyone. E, libraries are Essential. They’re essential to a robust recovery. They’re essential to so many things. Equity. So there’s a lot of E’s that you can come up with that fall in under this.

But it’s memorable, right? It’s Easy to use, there’s our E again there. You can use it to connect with people that you’re talking to. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about that sort of reality/perception gap. Far too many people view libraries as either nice to have or obsolete. But the reality is they aren’t obsolete, nor are they nearly nice to have. They provide essential services. 

This gap exists for two reasons because there’s this past perception, again referring back to, We don’t need libraries, we have Google, or there’s a lot of things out there that people talk about as to why we don’t necessarily need libraries. And they may not even be aware of all the things that happen in their local library.

But there’s also this, what I’ll say is, a lack of single dominant activity. Libraries do so much. They’re so much more than just checking out books, which is what a lot of people keep in their mind. But there isn’t a good way to categorize all of those things. As I started saying earlier that libraries do this, and this, and this, and I could name dozens of things—but, The E’s of Libraries, if you think again about those Five E’s, they allow you to take the things that you do in the library and categorize them in some areas.

Now there’s going to be overlap, obviously. Education and Entrepreneurship, if somebody is seeking to start their business they’re seeking the learning to help them in those areas. Think about our business libraries and our business resources in libraries, or our business incubators. 

So, for example, let’s say in your community, or at your state level, even at our federal level, there is an individual, an elected official who is very passionate about that business startup, and that business incubation. So, you’ve got Entrepreneurship. So, you can talk about the services your library has. The support, the programs that they have in that area, that business incubation. But then you can also talk about that from Empowerment. 

The library is there, providing those resource services and the connection to empower those people—to then seek to start their businesses. It’s a real opportunity to categorize things in this organized way that’s very persuasive and memorable.

I will mention for our listeners that there are some great free resources that we have about this. The E’s of Libraries is registered, and the corresponding What’s Your E?, is trademarked. But they’re free to use. There’s some amazing examples that we have on the United for Libraries website of how libraries have taken this information and used it to create their own materials and talking points to connect with their elected officials, funders, and the decision makers. Over, and over, and over again, we hear about how impactful this has been for people to do this. 

So going back to that library story piece, if I was sharing that story before I might be able to categorize that under Empowerment—probably also Engagement, Education, I could wrap that story within one or more of these E’s. Then I could turn around to the person I’m talking to and say, What’s your E? What’s your library story? What does it mean to you? It’s personalized. I’m saying why it matters to me. I’m inviting the other person to tell me why libraries matter to them. We’ve made a connection. We’ve talked about the, Why libraries are important. 

All of these things we’re talking about here, Adriane, are just sort of all tying together. I hope that our listeners are able to see how everything can thread together.  And how as Boards, and Trustees, the Friends group, the Board and the larger group, and the Foundation, as well can use these resources and these approaches to really craft messaging to really raise the bar on their advocacy efforts in their communities, and at the state, and federal levels, as well.


Those are very helpful, and I hope our listeners will go to the website and check those Five E’s out because I think, like you say, they can be applied in so many ways. That’s fantastic.

Question #6: Anything else you would like to share? 19:00 

Beth Nawalilnski:

Yes, absolutely. I want to let everybody know that United For Libraries—we are the association, the Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends, and Foundations. And, we’re here. We’re very passionate about the work we do. We’re here through email, through phone, through our electronic discussion groups, through all the resources on our website. We provide training. We provide connectivity between Boards around the country. We provide best practices, and tips and ideas. We have a lot of amazing resources on our website. 

So at your Board of Trustees, you have some things you’re struggling with, or you have some questions between governance and management, or working together as a Board, or parliamentary procedure, any of those things, we have great resources to help out.

Friends Groups? Many a library’s looking to start a new Friends Group, or revitalize the Friends Group that they have. We have resources there, Foundations, as well. So, on our website there’s a lot of really wonderful free resources. But, our staff is here as well. And, our Board. We’re very lucky to have Board members who are very passionate about the work that they do. They are very involved in their own communities, serving on Boards, and working on Boards. So, I invite people to reach out and ask questions, we’re here to help.


Question #7: Thank you for letting us know we can do that. That is really good to know. It just feels good right now to have that support system out there. Do you have any books or resources you’d like to share with our listeners? 20:40 

Beth Nawalilnski:

I’m very excited to share two brand new publications that we have coming out. One, of course, is on The E’s of Libraries, perfect timing. We have this interactive action planner. It is titled, Proving Your Library’s Value, Persuasive, Organized, and Memorable Messaging. On our United for Libraries website there is a whole page of resources, ideas and suggestions for how you can use The E’s of Libraries, sample graphics, all of those things are there. 

There’s a link to watch a really good webinar about The E’s of Libraries with the Baltimore, Maryland Public Director talking about how they’ve used it at their library. And also, how the state used it. They actually combined two E’s and they ended up, I think Economic Development. They brought two of them together, and they used that as state-wide messaging when they were doing their state-wide advocacy for the State Legislative Day. 

Another library also talked about the Foundation, and the library, and the Board and how they used it, as well. People can sign up to watch for free. 

The Action Planner, though, is this interactive workbook. It walks the Board—whether this is something you do with just your Trustees, just your Friends, just your Foundation, or all together, or each group separately and coming together. 

The workbook supports the groups going through a series of activities to look at that past perception, the reality perception gap, the past perception hurdle, looking at what E’s may resonate in the community and then really exploring it and drilling down to see how you might take the various things that the library does, and pull them in under these E’s and then come out with some talking points, and that messaging to help develop those elevator speeches.

That book will shortly be available in print through the ALA store. Additionally, there’s going to be this fantastic Action Planner PLUS option. It includes the eBook for all the Board Members to use. That workbook—they can print it out, use it on their device, whatnot, several webinars that go along with it, too. So, I’m very excited about that.

Now we haven’t talked at all about this other subject. I need to let you know about this fantastic group of four librarians who are part of what is called, an Emerging Leaders Program, through the American Library Association. About two years ago, there was a Pew Research study that talked about millennials as being the age group that used their library more than other age groups. 

So, we were wondering—so we said, Okay, one of the things we often hear, regardless of whether we’re talking about Trustees, Friends, or Foundations, but absolutely in the Friends of Libraries arena, but also in the Boards of Trustees, is sort of that aging out. How do you get the younger generations involved and cultivate a succession planning for your Boards? Planning for the future, so cultivate individuals to come on your Boards. But also ensuring that your Boards are representative of the community, right? That we’re not just honing in on a small group, but that we ensure in a Board of Trustees that we are representing the community, especially, but across all those Boards.

So, we have another publication that is like the same one I already talked about. It’s an action planner with interactive worksheets and everything. It is called, All Ages Welcome. It is recruiting and retaining younger generations for library Boards, Friends groups, and Foundations. This group of librarians Lina Bertinelli, Madeline Jarvis, Kathy Kosinski, and Tess Wilson were fantastic. Not only did they do the research initially by reaching out and doing a very large survey, they connected with libraries. They connected with Boards, they did interviews. They did additional research. They actually found a correlation between getting volunteers to serve on library Boards, or in libraries, and how the Volunteer Fire Departments are working to get volunteers, and their particular onboarding process in keeping them engaged. 

One of these women on the team here actually went through a volunteer firefighting training program and became a volunteer firefighter. And then used that experience and that information to help inform how she approached a lot of this. I’m very proud to say that this group earned the honor of Library Journal’s Movers &  Shakers just recently. And they really are moving and shaking the world in this area which has become such an important topic about engaging the younger generation.

So, just like the other one I mentioned, not only is the Interactive Planner to help you walk through and look at things like understanding the generational differences, how to navigate challenges of fundraising with these debt generations, looking at recruitment and retention, and also making sure that as a Board you’re not just looking to have someone on as a token, right? To say, Okay, we have more diversity now, but how to really engage and empower these younger generations because you need that succession planning. You’re going to need someone to replace you in the future on the Board, or replace another person.

So again, the book, or that entire package—just really excited. There are some free resources on our website as well on this topic. We also have some free resources for those Boards who want to take it to the next level. We’re there to support that as well.


Question #8: So much to utilize and think about, thank you for sharing those. I know we’ll all go take a look because they sound really pertinent. Beth, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 27:03 

Beth Nawalilnski:

I’m so glad that you asked that. A lot of times people think that I’m a librarian, but I will say I actually am not. I am extremely passionate about libraries. They are just so important to me because they thread throughout my life. 

My degree is actually in engineering. But when I graduated, I really didn’t want that job. What I really wanted to do was to keep doing my work with libraries and volunteering. I have served on a number of PTO Boards, and been involved in Girl Scouts and volunteering throughout my life. So, that is a very key part of who I am. But growing up, my dad was in the military. He was in the Air Force for twenty years. He retired right as I was getting close to graduation, graduating from high school. We moved around a lot, a lot, when I was young. 

When we would move to a new place, the library—it was the familiar home. It didn’t matter what that building looked like. It didn’t matter who was standing behind the reference desk, who was in the children’s department. When I walked into that library it was home, regardless of the fact that outside those doors I was in a new community and trying to get settled in a new school. Going to the library, getting that library card was really important to me, personally, in how it helped me transition from one community to another. There were times when we might be in an area for a year, or three years. But there were times when we were at some place for six months. 

Not just the public library in the community, but the base library as well, and then my school library. It was just always that peace that threaded throughout my life. Even in college when I was at work-study, I worked in the library. I actually filed cards in the card catalog. I typed spine labels for books, and I did shelf reading as well. 

So, I had all those great experiences of what the library meant to me as a place, and it helped me to connect with my community, to get the pulse of my community. But also the connection with the librarians and the library staff in each of those communities as we moved around, and how they made me feel welcome.

So, it has threaded throughout my life and I really feel I have the best job in the world. I feel lucky everyday to be helping Board Members, the volunteers, advocates to go out there and really move the needle for their library.


And now you’re helping all of us advocate for those resources. That’s perfect. Thank you for sharing that story, and thank you for talking to me today about why advocacy is always important, but especially right now.

Beth Nawalilnski:

Thank you so much, Adriane, for the opportunity to be here and talk about what I’m passionate about and help others who are passionate about libraries, also. And, please reach out. I invite everyone to reach out to United for Libraries. Connect with us, let us know how we can help you.


We will. Thank you so much, Beth.

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You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.