Leading Together: Academic Library Consortia and Advocacy

Leading Together: Academic Library Consortia and Advocacy

ACRL announces the publication of Leading Together: Academic Library Consortia and Advocacy by Irene M.H. Herold, a detailed look at the current work of library consortia and how library and consortia staff can develop and execute advocacy plans.

Learn more about Leading Together in this excerpt from the Introduction.

Katherine A. Perry made a prescient statement in her article, “Where Are Library Consortia Going? Results of a 2009 Survey.”[i] In the section on future priorities, advocacy was listed, and she said:

Gone are the days when librarians who work with consortia could think in terms of advocacy only with regard to legislators, funders, or other external decision-makers. Now, staff of consortia need to be certain that our members also realize our full value to their institutions.[ii]

When leaders of consortia were asked about their consortia advocacy activity in research for this book, the common response was about legislative and/or policy advocacy. The kind of advocacy that Perry identified in 2009, while a growing need, was not on their minds. Thus, a decade later, this type of advocacy—consortia-focused and member institution-intended—is the core purpose of this book.

As past ACRL president (2016–2017) and a librarian since 1992, I have had a variety of roles within several consortia, including negotiating state-wide database licensing agreements, serving on and leading strategic planning, helping to re-envision leadership development programs, and as a member of diversity, equity, and inclusion working groups. As a library and ACRL leader, I have done advocacy work on a personal, professional, and political level. Twice I was an invited speaker on advocacy at state-wide ACRL Chapter conferences, a consultant providing an advocacy workshop to an academic library state-wide consortium, and a peer-reviewed selected presenter at a state academic library conference on the advocacy concepts of this book. It was my consultancy work that served as the inspiration and genesis for Leading Together:

Academic Library Consortia and Advocacy.

In May 2018, I was on my personal Facebook feed and saw from someone I had friended, a consortium chair with whom I had served on a national committee, a call for a consultant to lead an academic state-wide library consortium in creating an advocacy plan and to do virtual follow-up on how it was going. I contacted the chair and submitted a proposal to be their workshop consultant. The proposal was accepted in August of 2018.

In preparing for the January 2019 workshop and post-workshop check-ins, I started to research what other consortia have done to develop an advocacy plan, actions, and how they were assessing it. Searching for other consortia best practice exemplars revealed the gap in the literature. While the work I had done in January was not completely unique, the consortium’s developed approach was not easily in evidence elsewhere. After reviewing more than one hundred forty United States-based and three Canadian consortia and member groups, few mentioned advocacy beyond legislative advocacy, few have advocacy in their strategic plan, and I did not find evidence of how consortia planned on assessing the effectiveness of their advocacy work. I contacted many who served as executive directors and board members of various consortia to ensure I was not just overlooking something or to ask if there were documents that were not publicly posted that incorporated advocacy. What I found was that the Canadian consortia more consistently incorporated advocacy planning and work into their strategic and work plans than did almost all of the United States-based groups.

At an October 2019 state conference, I presented on the concepts of this book. In the audience were members of a statewide private academic libraries’ consortium. I was invited to present to the consortium directors to help them develop an advocacy plan in June of 2020. Due to COVID-19, the priorities of the second consortium shifted and the workshop was canceled two weeks before the delivery date. While canceled, the preliminary review work was already completed and reinforced the usefulness of the lens I utilized in this text in thinking about and planning for advocacy work. Through these workshop and conference events, the curriculum for creating an advocacy plan has been conceived and road tested.

For the purposes of this work, advocacy is defined as using influence and persuasion, inspired by Julie Todaro’s article that actually states she decided to move away from using the term advocacy to focus on influence and persuasion in her 2006 article on grassroots advocacy.[iii] Often, advocacy is perceived as a kind of marketing, but as Christie Koontz and Lorri Mon state, “Advocacy is ‘high class’ PR—taking image building to another level. Advocacy activities challenge people to step up and believe in the organization’s product and services—and to speak out for it.”[iv]

Perhaps some may confuse advocacy with marketing. Advocacy may need to be combined with solid market data, but the focus is on what your stakeholders have a vested interest in and how can you influence and persuade them that what you are asking supports that interest. Advocacy is not making a sale, but rather having those you advocate to through influence and persuasion respond by behaving in a way that reflects the goals of the organization. One may think of public relations as image, marketing as sales or to inform the public, and advocacy as influence and persuasion. As Koontz and Mon describe, “Advocacy activities challenge people to step up and believe in the organization… and to speak out for it. Advocates reframe an organization’s issues and achieved outcomes.”[v]

This book is not a scholarly research study per se. Chapter 1 is a historical overview of consortia and academic libraries, focused primarily on the United States. Chapter 2 provides the questions that prompted this research, a literature review of what has been published on advocacy and academic library consortia, the theoretical frameworks employed for examining academic library consortia advocacy work, and the methodology for information collection.

Using influence and persuasion as the definition of advocacy, consortium needs to be defined (consortia being the plural form). Merriam Webster states the legal definition is “an agreement, combination, or group (as of companies) formed to undertake an enterprise beyond the resources of any one member.”[vi] Synonyms included associations, guilds, organizations, councils, etc. This book only examines groups to which academic libraries belong, although a few extraordinary examples of advocacy by individual and institutional membership organizations that are not typically considered consortia are included in chapter 3. Consortia work tends to fall into categories of focus, such as purchasing agents, and not all engage directly in advocacy work, although all could leverage what they are doing into advocacy if they wished.

Chapter 4 reviews the current landscape of what academic library consortia are doing for advocacy. This will include some examples from the United States and Canadian consortia. The environmental scan was generated from reviewing web pages, email contact with board members and executive directors, plus phone interviews directly with executive directors whose consortia had evidence of advocacy planning, actions, and assessments.

Chapter 5 creates a case story of Consortia “X”, based on the groups I worked with in January 2019 and June 2020, but anonymized to create a generic but relatable case story of a state-wide academic libraries’ consortium and their advocacy need. It presents the case as a story that could represent many consortia.

Building upon that story, chapter 6 is an outline of the advocacy work that was facilitated for the consortia with rationale for what was included.

Chapter 7 includes a discussion of the effectiveness of the workshop, implications for others who wish to engage in this work using this approach or other approaches, and conclusions. I share advice for consortia wanting to do something beyond legislative advocacy and areas for future investigation.

A more detailed plan than the outline in chapter 6 for advocacy workshops is shared in Appendix A. It is in the form of a generic curriculum that readers may adopt and adapt to create their own consortium advocacy training with the desired outcome of a plan for action and assessment. It includes links to multiple readings, resources, exercises, and tools. A facilitator may pick and choose which to use to build their own curriculum.

Overall, the goal of this volume is to begin to fill the gap in thinking about the power of academic library consortia advocacy that is neither legislative nor government policy directed, providing a sampling review of the current landscape of consortia advocacy work, a consortium and other groups’ advocacy frameworks, a workshop curriculum which may be used to develop an advocacy plan, and thoughts for the future. There is strength in a consortium voice. It provides the opportunity to lead together under a unified plan. This does not mean that individual libraries abdicate their contribution and role in grassroots advocacy, but rather reinforces the concept that each library contributes to the consistent messaging to influence and persuade for the agreed-upon goals of the consortium.

[i] Perry, “Where Are Library Consortia Going?”

[ii] Perry, 126.

[iii] Todaro, “The Power of Persuasion,” 228.

[iv] Koontz and Mon, Marketing and Social Media, 263.

[v] Koontz and Mon, 263.

[vi] “Definition of CONSORTIA.”