As the citizen control over the public library, the board of trustees has a responsibility for telling the library's story to the taxpayers, donors and funding bodies that support it. Even the best programs and services are of limited value if people don't know about them. It is important to keep in mind that residents are more likely to support programs they understand, value and use. As leaders in the community, trustees must be prepared to discuss the importance of the library at every opportunity.
What's your “why”? Personal connections and word-of-mouth are proven to be the most effective way to connect residents with the value of the library. How effectively do you speak not just about what the library offers but why the library offers the services and programs it does? Do you have a personal story of why the library is important to you or your family, or to another resident whose life was changed for the better? Work to get very good at telling the story of why the library is important since this will truly resonate with your listeners. Ensure you can deliver this "why statement" or "elevator/parking lot speech" concisely, so you will grab your audience’s attention and effectively make your point.
Beyond word-of-mouth, there are numerous ways to reach the public. The board should budget for at least one print mailing to the entire area served by the library. The required annual report to the community may be a smart choice for that mailing. Utilize both print and electronic newsletters. Brochures with basic information (such as: “Where is the library?” and “How to get a library card”) are required under Education Commissioner’s Regulation § 90.2. Develop a website worthy of being called your online branch. Have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and other outlets. Ensure that patrons can access library services through their mobile devices. And don’t forget routine press releases and public service announcements for the newspapers, radio and television stations in your region.
There are always new and creative ways to get the word out and the library must relentlessly work to connect with the community to ensure a maximum number of residents understand the value of the services you provide.
Public relations also involve partnerships. Trustees should look for ways to form networks and coalitions. Many other organizations, such as the school district, service clubs, the chamber of commerce and local social service agencies have a vested interest in a strong and vital community library. Help others see how the library can help them reach their goals for the community.
The board should expect to see library staff deployed out into the community, not just in the library building. Often referred to as “embedded” librarianship, a staff presence in the community where residents work and play, is a smart way to connect to your patrons and position the library as a good partner in the community.
A critical aspect of public relations is legislative advocacy. Libraries can help elected officials understand the needs of a large portion of their constituents and should work proactively to invite legislators (local, county, state and federal) to the library. Elected officials should be on the mailing list for all library publications. Dynamic boards and trustees write, call and visit their elected officials frequently. Trustees are in a unique position to be effective in the governmental arena because they are citizen volunteers with no direct financial benefit from library funding decisions. Trustees keep the library's financial needs in front of elected officials. Of course, there are many other non-financial issues at the local, state, and federal level that affect libraries. Zoning ordinances, labor law, copyright, telecommunications rules, environmental regulations, censorship and many other issues can have an impact on libraries and trustees must ensure that the library's interests are well represented.
Many trustees support library advocacy through their active membership in the Library Trustees Association of New York State (LTA), the New York Library Association, and New Yorkers for Better Libraries.