Have you ever wanted to be an advocate for your library but weren’t sure where to start? Chances are you’re already doing it in ways you might not have realized.
On today’s show we talk with Lance Werner, Executive Director for Kent District Library, about the difference between formal and informal advocacy and how we all probably already do some this on a daily basis.
With the information on this episode we can all get better at building relationships, maintaining those, and finding ways to intersect our interests with those of decision-makers, and others, who can help us sustain and grow our libraries.
This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas; and by the Park City Library, making film and podcasting possible with green screen and sound recording resources.
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.
Have you ever wanted to be an advocate for your library, but weren’t sure where to start? Chances are you’re already doing it in ways you might not have realized. On today’s show we talk with Lance Werner, Executive Director for Kent District Library about the difference between formal and informal advocacy, and how we are all probably doing some of this on a daily basis.
With the information on this episode we can all get better at building relationships, maintaining those, and finding ways to intersect our interests with those of decision makers, and others, who can help us sustain and grow our libraries.
Question #1: Welcome to the show, Lance. You are a leader who helps others remove the mystique of advocacy. Often advocacy in libraries can seem like something formal and intimidating, however you say that it does not have to be daunting, and actually can be a natural expression of self as we work with a variety of people from patrons to local officials. First off, why is advocacy important? 01:48
Oh, so many reasons this is really a great question. I think a lot of times when people think of advocacy in Library Land, maybe just in general, they’re always kind of considering the interaction with elected officials and other decision makers. But truthfully, advocacy is much wider than that. Advocacy really is anytime that you are sharing the library story, and your story, and sharing your passion around the profession with anyone else, whether it is to influence a decision maker or just talk to people about the important and invaluable work that’s going on in the library.
That all counts as advocacy. So advocacy really, you know, is us telling our stories, whether it is to a decision maker, or a friend, or colleague, or somebody outside of our, you know, potential partner—somebody who’s outside of our normal area that we are trying to make contact with.
Advocacy is us telling our story. And, it’s so important. Because, not only is it important in the legislative arena, or with decision makers around influencing things that happen to the library, and happen on our behalf. It’s important for us to get out there and get the word out, and tell people our story, and about the things that are going on in the library. It raises a greater awareness around that.
One of the things that happened recently was the OCLC perception study that had gone on. They had done it in 2008. The stats may be incorrect. If they are, please forgive me—slightly incorrect. But in 2008, I think it was 74 percent of the people that were polled—this was a national survey, indicating they would vote yes for a library tax levy. And then, they did the same study in 2018. And, 58 percent of the people that were polled said they would vote yes on a library tax levy.
So, it’s kind of alarming. To me, it really illustrates the need for us to get out there and talk about the invaluable work that we’re doing. Get out there in front of people and tell our story. Get out there in front of people and share our passion. And get them passionate about it, because the things that happen in the library are unique, and wonderful, and the world needs them now more than ever.
So that, to me, is why advocacy is so important.
Question #2: They really are unique and wonderful. I like that you say that. And, I also like that you point out we’re really doing this every single time we talk to somebody about the wonderful things going on here, to a friend, to anyone. So, there’s informal advocacy, and we’re doing that all every day in every one of our lives. What’s the difference between that, informal advocacy, and formal advocacy? 04:27
Yes. I’m so happy to speak about this. And you’re right. All of us have been advocating the entirety of our lives since we became self-aware. In fact, our pets advocate. Everyone you know advocates. And, we’re all experts at it. I always like to say that, whenever I’m doing any sort of speaking publicly. Because, I like to remind people that they’re already skilled.
So, this issue of formal versus informal advocacy is something that comes up quite often. And I think it’s great to have some clarification. To me, formal advocacy is more of an action of taking a canned message and delivering it to someone that you don’t have a familiarity with. A lot of time this happens when ALA does things through the Washington office where they send form letters out. They ask people to send it to their elected officials. Every library does a great job of formal advocacy.
It boils down to—formal advocacy is really the situation where the vehicle’s more formalized. It’s more canned. And, it’s more of a quantitative endeavor. So, the whole purpose of formal advocacy is to demonstrate there are a lot of people that are passionate about an issue. So, it’s very quantitative. And, it’s absolutely critical.
Informal advocacy is very much relationship driven, and in my opinion, is a much more powerful form of advocacy, because it is personal. It really is relationship driven. It essentially boils down to a conversation between friends, and colleagues, and people you have a trust with, and a mutual understanding of, and a mutual respect with.
One thing I’ve learned, and I don’t mean to be obtuse, but one thing I’ve learned in life is that people have a hard time screwing over their friends. If you have a friendship with somebody, if you have a real relationship with somebody, and you need their help, chances are they’re going to come to your assistance.
I’ve personally used this method, used informal advocacy to defeat money, to defeat partisanship, to defeat a lot of things on their face that seem to be impossible to defeat. It all boils down to that relationship.
So formal advocacy is very much a quantitative endeavor, where you’re delivering just a bunch of messages from a variety of people on an issue. Informal advocacy is a qualitative endeavor where you are making a personal connection with somebody and you’re expressing your story to them, and sharing with them, and relying on the strength of that relationship.
Question #3: That’s awesome. And, I’m kind of laughing because you say, Anybody can do this, even your pets do this. I’m thinking of my little dogs’ faces as they look up at me and say, Can I have a bite of what you’re eating? You know what they want [laughter]. 07:19
Right, That looks delicious, I’d like some, thank you.
Absolutely, and you have a relationship with them, so you’re likely to give them a little something, right? Which you say is important [laughter]. 07:34
Right. They leveraged that relationship when they get out of you what they want.
Question #4: Absolutely. And as you say, if you have a friendship with someone, if you know someone well, if you have a relationship, you want to do right by them, right? So, this important aspect of relationship building is integral to this. So, how does that work, relationship building? 07:47
A lot of times people, maybe, overthink this part of it. Like most things, when I’m building relationships around advocacy, whether it be a decision maker, a potential partner, or maybe somebody who you’re interested in working with, and trying for donations, you start humbly. It’s an initial contact. Before you start going down this road of developing a relationship, the first step actually is to do your homework. Find out who you are talking to. Find out what their interests are. Find out what makes them tick.
Then you have an idea of who this person is before you ever contact them. If it happens to be somebody who’s introverted, you know, you have that in your back pocket. You walk into the initial contact as a bit of an expert on the other person that you’re talking to. You know where they’re coming from.
You start small. Have a phone call. Set up a visit in a place that’s convenient for them. Start small. Start humbly. And, when you’re starting a new relationship, an advocacy relationship, I think it’s important to always go and be humble, and be a better listener. Practice your empathic listening. Get a good understanding of the person that you’re talking to. Get a good understanding of what their concerns might be, and what their interests are.
So, I think doing more listening than talking is absolutely critical in the beginning. The other thing is, you know, at the Kent District Library we practice everything with kindness, empathy, and love. And, I think it’s important to come with kindness, empathy, and love.
Now, there are situations where you might find the person, for whatever reason, personally repugnant. But, I think to be effective in starting these relationships, you have to put that on the shelf and remember you’re not there for yourself, at least not initially. You’re there for the institution of libraries, not just your library, but all libraries. You’re representing us. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.
I would never discourage people from having their own thoughts, and their own feelings, their own partisan beliefs. In fact, I encourage that. I think that’s fundamental for us as Americans. But, I do think that when we are engaging in these activities, it’s important to recognize where that line is. And, recognize like, These are my feelings. But, I’m not here for myself right now. I’m here for the greater good, for the bigger cause of libraries. And, I’m going to put that in the back seat.
So, you establish that first meeting. You start humbly. You listen. And, you get a sense of who the person is. And then, get down to that meeting. It’s important to try and schedule another meeting. Set-up a regular meeting and get to know this person. My goal with informal advocacy relationships is always to try to make it step by step, more and more informal. To try and take it out of a formal setting, like say a district office of a legislator and try to get it to where we’re, you know, having lunch at a restaurant. Then move from there and try to get it to where we might be doing an activity together. And, make it a safe place for them.
That’s kind of how we start. Very gradual. Start with a phone call. Start with a simple meeting. Also, know that if you are going to meet a decision maker, it’s absolutely critical that you are the nicest person in the whole world to any staffers that you might come into contact with, any office employees that might be in their office. If they have a secretary, or an assistant, be amazingly wonderful and nice to that person, as well.
Because, here’s something that I don’t think a lot of people think about when you leave, that decision maker is going to end up talking to the people in the office about you. And their impression of you is as important as that decision maker’s impression of you. And, they will help inform that decision maker’s ongoing impression of you, and what kind of person you might be. So, I think it is important to be very positive. I think it’s important to be very kind and empathic, and act in a very loving, altruistic way.
After all, we’re public servants. We all got into this industry because we wanted to make the world a better place, and we wanted to pick people up, and make people happy, make a difference. Everybody has a servant’s heart and is altruistic. So, I think we need to remember that.
To answer your question. I just gave you a giant answer. I really think you start small, and then you build on your humble beginnings.
Question #5: That makes a lot of sense. And, once you’ve started to establish the relationships, how do you maintain those? 12:53
Like most things, it’s any other relationship that you might have in your life that’s meaningful, they take work. It’s like tending a garden. You have to—in Michigan, everybody’s working on their gardens. Everybody’s working on their flowers. You have to go out there and pull those weeds. You have to make a commitment to having regular contact. I also think another mistake people make is that they are making, and trying to establish these relationships in times of trouble. Of course, you have to do that if you don’t have a relationship, but what’s much better is to try to establish a relationship way before there’s any problem. Have that relationship in place before you need to rely on that relationship. So, work on it.
Just having regular maintenance of the relationship, making sure you’re meeting on a regular basis, making sure that you’re a safe person, that you’re listening, that you’re sharing the stories that you have with that person that make your heart go thumpity, thump, thump, thump, the personal stories that make you so proud about the work that we do. Share those stories.
I think it’s important to be vulnerable, too—as vulnerable as you can allow yourself to be. Because, I think without that vulnerability you can’t ever be a really safe person. I think if you’re able to be vulnerable with these folks, I think that it makes the relationship more genuine and authentic. I think that’s where the real power comes from.
But, it’s just a matter of, you know, making a commitment to maintaining that relationship, much like you would with any friend, or anyone. You just have to put the effort in. Again, I really make an effort to make it more, and more informal as the relationship matures, to make it less of a work relationship, and more of a genuine relationship. It’s not always possible, but I tell you what, when you have a genuine relationship with a decision maker, or anyone else, if you need help, chances are that person’s going to be there for you. That’s what it’s all about.
Question #6: And if you have an authentic relationship on a regular basis, when you do run into times of need, you’re not walking in with your hat in hand, trying to start that up, you’ve already got that, which is a good asset. 14:54
Absolutely true. And, I always say that if you don’t have that relationship ahead of time, essentially what you become is a telemarketer. You don’t have any credibility. You’re just—and I’ve heard it said in the legislative corridors in Lansing before, Oh, this person’s whiny, you know, they’re whiny. There’s no empathy there. There’s no empathy because the person that has the problem, and has approached the legislators, and is now being labeled whiny has no relationship with those legislators. The legislators don’t know who that person is. They have no emotional connection to them.
So, they realize this person had ample opportunity to establish something with them and elected not to do that for whatever reason, and only comes to them when they need something. That doesn’t make the decision maker feel valued at all. So, I think it’s important to make them feel valued, and I think it’s important to value them. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say and do. I don’t want to sugar-coat things. I think that there are people that I associate with that I don’t share their beliefs at all, but we do have places that we intersect. I think that’s what we talk about.
Question #7: Sure. And you don’t have to take people down paths that might be polarizing like politics. There are other things you can talk about, right? Can you tell us about that? 16:21
Yeah, absolutely. And, I’m glad you brought that up because I think it’s very important. It’s my opinion, and I don’t claim to be enlightened or anything, but it’s my opinion that right now that people are angry—very, very, angry. And I think there’s a lot of people that are afraid. They think partisan politics—people have stronger feelings now than ever. The whole thing is a little distressing. But when you are—and I don’t hold that against anybody.
I think that people need to have their partisan beliefs. They need to stand up for what they think is right. But when we are dealing with advocacy for the library, and not ourselves, and our own personal issues, and we are representing the institution, I think that it’s important to put your personal politics in the back seat for that interaction. I think that—I try to limit my discussions and my thoughts to library related issues, and not focus in on votes that maybe a legislator, or a congressperson has taken before on different issues that have nothing to do with what I am there for. And, I am there for the library.
Because, if I start focusing in on those things, I think it’s hard to be positive, and kind, and emphatic, and loving. It’s hard to be vulnerable. I think that it’s easy to become frustrated and angry. So, I don’t focus on those things. I put those things in the back seat. I always say, Leave your political animal at home when you’re out advocating on behalf of the library.
And that’s true if you’re talking to decision makers, or if you’re talking to potential donors, or you’re talking to potential partners, or you’re talking to people in the public about the library. We just leave that stuff at home, here. And I think that helps us be more effective.
We need to be safe. I think if we’re going to be successful at informal advocacy, we need to be safe people. I think that’s important. I think that’s what we always strive to do here. So another thing to think about is sometimes what happens is you might need help from a decision maker, like a legislator and that legislator may have voted against a library issue recently, in the recent past, or even the farther past. And, you might be frustrated at that legislator.
But what you’ve got to understand is that if you’re going to be a good informal advocate in that arena you cannot hold grudges. Even if somebody’s voted against library interests in the past, doesn’t mean that they’re not worth talking to in the future. Your enemy, you know, yesterday might be your friend today. And your friend today, might be your enemy tomorrow. And that’s the topsy-turvy world of politics.
I think it’s important to understand that, that you know, this is the way things work. I think it’s important not to hold grudges, and realize that everyday’s a new day. Even if somebody’s been consistently opposed to the library’s mission and the work that we do, they still need our attention. Because, there might be a break-through moment. There might be a moment where you find some intersection, and you know, touch their hearts and they change their direction. I do really believe that it’s important to leave your own political animal at home, when and only when, you are dealing with library advocacy.
Again, I don’t suggest that we shouldn’t have our own partisan beliefs, or anything like that. In fact, I think that’s so important, especially now, to have your beliefs. But, when you’re advocating on behalf of the library, when you’re there on behalf of the library, in our profession, I think it’s important to leave that at home.
Question #8: Sure. You mention finding a common ground where the library has something of value that intersects with their interests, can you give any tips or tricks for that? 20:23
Yeah, absolutely. This goes back to what I said earlier about doing your homework. And I also want to add, it’s not just where the library’s mission, and the library’s work intersect with the person’s interests. You might have a personal intersect with a person and that’s another thing you could talk about—another commonality, another way in. So, keep that in mind as well. So, it’s not just what the library’s doing, it might be something that you’re doing. Something that you’re interested in. A common thing in your background.
You might be a veteran, and the person you’re speaking with might be a veteran. So, you have that kind of kinship there. I think it’s important to keep those things in mind. So whenever you are engaging, really, in the preliminary stage—as I said before, whenever you plan on engaging on an informal, developing a relationship, to do your homework and look for intersects between what the library’s doing, or your personal interests, and what the interests are of the person that you’re speaking with.
You want to find places where those two things, your interests, and/or the library’s work intersects with what they’re focused on. What their interests are. Whether it’s, you know, could be education, could be concerns for the environment, environmental causes, could be veterans, could be anything. You find those intersections. This is a door into a relationship for you. These are things that you can talk to. This gives you something to craft a story around, about how the library…
Somebody’s interested in early childhood education, and so you—just for instance, you have a great story about how the library intervened and, you know, helped a child learn how to read, and how it’s lifted that whole child up and changed their trajectory. And they’re successful now, and their family is better off, and the school’s happy with it. Then that person’s interested in early childhood education, they’re going to be moved by that story.
So, you know if there’s an issue that comes up around funding, and early childhood education is something that’s near and dear to that person’s heart, you know that you have an intersect with them. So, you know what story you’re going to be telling.
I also think whenever you’re talking to any decision maker, doing any sort of advocacy, I think it’s important to always be able to answer the, What’s in it for me question. Whether it’s intersecting with their interests, and giving them something they’re personally satisfied by, or you know, being able to answer the question about how it’s helping constituents, their constituents. Or, if it’s somebody that’s not a decision maker, but somebody out in the public that you’re trying to partner with, I mean, talking about how it might help their business. And, to be able to answer that, What’s in it for me question, with people is really important, too.
Question #9: Gosh, that’s good to think about. And, I know that we realize as librarians we have something for everyone within our walls. And, I imagine if we really put our minds to it we really can connect on so many levels with people about what they get when they come through our doors. So, I like that a lot. 23:28
Absolutely. You know, It’s so funny. I actually—it might sound unbelievable, but every spring in Michigan there is a steelhead trout run up all of the rivers in April and May. I happen to be a wild and crazy fisherman. I practice catch and release, just for the record. And, I have a boat. So, what I’ve done. I’ve started guiding legislators, lobbyists, mayors, county officials, just…
I usually run about twenty different guide trips in the months of April and May on steelhead fishing. And it gives me a chance to connect with the person, you know, on a one-to-one basis, in a safe environment, doing a fun activity, and giving them memories that, you know, last a whole lifetime. It’s kind of become my reputation here as that person.
So, what I did to do that is, I found where my personal interests intersected with, you know, the legislator’s interests, or the mayor’s interests. And, I made an invitation. I’ve taken those relationships to a place where it’s at and forma, where we’re going fishing together now. That’s what we’re going to do. And, we’re going to have good conversations. And, they can be themselves around me. They don’t even have to wear the partisan jacket. They can just be who they are.
I think it’s really fun. And, I have genuine friendships with a lot of people that, kind of, transcends politics. You know, we don’t talk about that stuff. They are genuinely interested in what’s happening at the library. They’re interested in the human component of it, and not interested in the political parts of it.
So, I just wanted to throw that out there because I think it’s important when you’re thinking about intersects. Think about things that you do, and things that you like, and think how that might intersect with somebody else’s interests.
Question #10: How awesome. Those who fish together, stick together, maybe. 25:29
That’s right. That’s right.
Question #11: Anything else you’d like to add? 25:36
I am committed to not ever being comfortable. I feel that a lot of people get happy being comfortable in their positions, and comfortable in their line of work, and comfortable in their lives. And what I know about comfort is, comfort is a kissing cousin of complacency. When you’re comfortable it’s easy to become complacent. And when you become complacent, you’re sliding backward.
Given the OCLC study information, and given the current state of affairs, we do not have the luxury of being comfortable. So, I want to challenge everybody to be uncomfortable. To push everyday to try to become a little bit better around advocacy, around the work that we do. To push your boundaries and not be satisfied with being comfortable. Because, people that are comfortable don’t do profound and extraordinary things.
We don’t have that luxury anymore. We need to commit as a profession to being uncomfortable, to doing extraordinary things. Pushing ourselves beyond our, you know, boundaries, our comfortable boundaries to challenging ourselves to be better. To not be apathetic in thinking, Oh, somebody else is going to do it.
Don’t assume that. They’re not. I don’t think we should take anything for granted, you know. I think we need to all invest in this thing, and realize that we’re already experts, and we need to run hard at it. We need to tell our story. Because, what we do is so important. If we don’t raise our voices, if we don’t go out there and spread the good word about the invaluable, and incredible transformative work that we do, it will go away. You know, this is our time. This is our time to make a difference for a profession that we all love and care about. And, it’s our duty to do that.
I know it’s hard. I know people struggle with that. I know you have to be vulnerable. I know a lot of people struggle with that. But, what we do is so important it’s worth taking that chance. It’s something that we all need to do. So, I challenge everybody, everybody in Library Land, to be uncomfortable, to push yourself. You know, to push this profession, to raise your voice, to be an advocate, and share your love about the incredible work that we do here. And, if we can do that? The future’s bright. Our future is in our own hands and we all need to own it.
And, I also challenge everybody to ask themselves, in everything they do, to ask themselves the question, Is this the best I could have done? Did I give it my best effort? And if the answer to that question is not yes, I challenge everybody to make the answer, yes. I think we need to be able to answer that honestly, and we need to be able to answer, Yes, it was my best effort. I did try my hardest, you know. And, I think it’s also important that we all get comfortable with the idea that failure’s okay. And that we should be failing, because if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.
So, everybody needs to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, comfortable with failing, comfortable with pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. And, if we can do that, I’m telling you what, it means there’s nothing that we can’t accomplish. So, I appreciate you asking me that question. I had to go on my little soapbox rant because I think it’s important.
Question #12: Wow, mic drop. Well, I think we all in Library Land [laughter] heard that challenge, so we should be ready. I like it, thanks, Lance. Do you have a favorite book, or resource you’d like to share about leadership, and why? 29:11
You know, it’s funny, I’ve been asked this question a lot of times and the answer is, I don’t do any professional reading. I watch people. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and I watch people, and I watch groups. I watch how people interact with one another. I’ve, kind of, lived a wild and wooly life so, you know, pain’s a great teacher, and I picked up a lot of wisdom. I pay attention to small things, because I think things you might think are inconsequential are usually consequential. And, if you spend enough time watching people, not in a creepy way, spend enough time watching people and watching how groups interact, you can learn a lot about leadership. You can learn a lot about how people act, and react, and you can learn a lot about how to best navigate through being a leader, and being a successful leader.
So, I’m a great student of just the human condition in watching people and paying attention to what they do. Like you said, not in a weird way, please don’t think I’m being strange, I do that. That’s, kind of, how I learn, and how I interact with the world.
Question #13: Sure, not at all. We would never think that. And, it’s working for you. We’ve gotten so many practical applications of your study of human beings, and it’s going to be something that we all can go out and use to advocate for our libraries. So, I’m grateful that you do that. In closing, what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 30:51
The library is—it’s my calling. When I was young I wanted to be a preacher, and I don’t know why, I just did. I wanted to help people. It’s interesting. I was thinking about this recently. I am a preacher. And, the library is my ministry. The things I do, those are my gospels. I think if you can spend your life helping other people, then you’ve spent your life in the very best way that there is to spend it.
I don’t think that there’s a greater gift. There isn’t anything in the world that I’d rather do than do what I’m doing now. I plan on never retiring. I love—I don’t even feel like I have a job. I love to come to work every day. I miss work when I’m not at work. I love my family, too. But, I have a family at work, you know. There’s just a huge, huge family. I always feel like—every Monday I feel like I’m going on an excellent adventure with my best friends. And, the people who work here feel the same way. I feel like there’s so much good that we can do, and I think that having an opportunity to do that is such a gift. And I don’t take it for granted. It means so much to me. And, so, yeah…
Thank you, Lance. It’s been so great having you on the show.
Thank you. Thank you so much for giving me the time today.
It’s our pleasure.
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 libraryleadershippodcast.com, 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.