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ALIA Public Library Ambassador program
We launched the national Public Library Ambassadors campaign at the ALIA Public Libraries Summit on Thursday 16 July, 2009, with several high profile individuals.
'Out of school, my mum would take me to our local library, where I could proudly use my own membership card to take books home. High school brought a more sophisticated library, a dedicated librarian and a rich resource to help with the grind of study. In years 11 and 12, I spent long hours at the old State Library which was dimly lit and smelt of wisdom. Then UWA's Reid library, then Curtin's Robertson library and now I use the Battye library predominantly to look back at WA's history. Best of all, I take my daughter, Bronte, to our local library where we borrow books to read to her at home.'
Why do we need Library Ambassadors?
We know Australians love their libraries. With such latent goodwill in the community, why do we want to appoint Public Library Ambassadors?
ALIA recognises that we need a more active appreciation of public libraries; a surge in popular appeal to support our position as a vital service. Library Ambassadors can be the public face of their local library, publicise their library and influence public opinion about libraries.
Who would make a good ambassador?
Ambassadors need to have standing, if not hero status, in the community. They should have earned their reputation over a period of time.
Look for people with strong, positive appeal. You may be fortunate to have a library user whose fame has spread to a wider national, even international, audience.
At the same time don't ignore the value of less obvious candidates. Sometimes you can find champions in unlikely places, and they may reach out to groups who would be unimpressed by more conventional spokespeople.
It's also important to look outside the conventional Western view of fame and celebrity, to potential ambassadors who represent different faiths and cultures.
Here are some thoughts and advice about developing your own library ambassadors:
1. Give someone the job of co-ordinating the program
2. Create a wish-list
Find out if any of these people are library users - Hugh Jackman takes his children to a Sydney public library, for example.
Make sure you're aware of any protocols in your organisation about contacting residents or organisations to be Ambassadors (in local government terms it's on behalf of the Council, not the Library).
3. Make your approach
It is extremely helpful to have a personal introduction, but if this isn't the case, the best approach is by post, through their agency, club, home or business address. Draft a short letter (no more than one side of A4), signed by the Library Manager or the appropriate person from your organisation explaining what you will need an ambassador to do. Download a sample letter.
Allow a couple of days for the letter to filter through the system, then phone and ask to speak to the individual, their agent or personal assistant.
You will receive rebuffs, but don't let this put you off. There will be someone with standing in your area who feels strongly about public libraries and just needs a nudge from you to do something about it.
At the same time, you don't want to devalue the role of Ambassador, so if everyone on your wish list turns you down, leave it for a few months and then go back with some examples of how it has worked elsewhere, rather than compromising your criteria and ending up with people who can't fulfill the role you intended.
4. Detail what you are looking for
You will want someone to take on this role for at least a year. Less than this, and their involvement is too fleeting to make an impact.
Of course, the role will develop over time as we find out what does (and doesn't) work, but try and give an idea of the kind of things with which you will expect them to become involved.
5. Draft a plan of activity
You will need a new Ambassador to visit a couple of branches just to familiarise themselves with what's happening in the public library service.
You will want a photograph and a short, signed statement from your Ambassador saying what they feel about public libraries and the value they bring to the local community. This can be posted on the web, used for advertising and PR purposes, and to create posters and print materials.
You may want them to meet with councilors and local politicians, to add their voice to yours.
If you have a special library anniversary or calendar event, you will want them to be present as a VIP guest.
Remember, a personal appearance is a significant request of time and effort, even if your Ambassador is not famous enough to usually charge an appearance fee.
6. Brief your Ambassadors
Once they are clear about the structure, they will want to know, as a guide, what we would like them to say. There are common themes that we will naturally ask Ambassadors to include, but the messages will have the most impact if they come from the heart. . It is essential that Ambassadors use their own words. We can give them a steer, but if they don't naturally talk about "sustainable communities", for example, it will sound hollow and false coming from their lips.
It's unlikely our library Ambassadors will be heckled, but it's important that, as well as knowing which positive messages it would be most helpful to put across, they should also be able to deal with difficult questions.
7. Communicate regularly
It should be possible to cover everything in a short, friendly, monthly email.
8. Promote your success
Useful links on writing a media release
Examples of other library media releases
For further information contact:
ALIA National Office