The Funding Game: Rules for Public Library Advocacy

J.D. Hendry (Cumbria County Council)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 July 2000




Hendry, J.D. (2000), "The Funding Game: Rules for Public Library Advocacy", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 5, pp. 252-260.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The Funding Game is a very apt title for this work. It is typically American, but as is so often the case, with resonances for how circumstances may be in Britain, and in other places too, before long. For public libraries in the UK are in a very fragile state after almost 20 years of neglect, lack of support and lack of any political interest by Conservative central governments and their counterparts in local government. The incoming Labour Government of 1997 came into power with seriously good intentions to improve many parts of the nation’s life and its public services. It has already achieved much in terms of education and the economy. It has begun a major initiative to reposition and renew public libraries in the Information Age by investment in ICT infrastructure (New Library: The People’s Network) and in the re‐skilling of library staff. But buildings and stock are still tired and sometimes shabby. Staff morale remains low, with half a generation of committed middle managers leaving the service prematurely. We know that twenty dismal years cannot be rectified in two years. And we hope for the future. Only time will tell where the desperately needed new funding will come from. I fear that it will not come from local authorities as we now know them, for the changes we shall see in local government in the next few years will change these institutions beyond recognition.

In such circumstances we can ask again, what can we learn from the USA? Not only in what we might do, but in what not to do. Mary Anne Craft relates current American public library experiences of funding and lobbying in The Funding Game but, as she makes clear, this is not a game where there is much fun. It is a game which is deadly serious, and its future success or failure may reflect the future of public libraries well beyond America. The “game” is to keep libraries growing, thriving and performing as essential players in local communities. To continue the analogy, advocacy is the name of this “game”. Designed to increase and maintain funding and involving all library initiatives, be they administrators, board members, staff, or Friends of the Library. These activities Craft rightly stresses have to be taken within the context that local public libraries are always on view and always accountable. Craft points out that most American public libraries receive their funds in the main from their local community (78 percent or more from their local entity, and almost 10 percent from gifts and donations). The people who fund the library are those who either use it, are related to those who do, or like to say they do. I wonder if public libraries in Britain would be in a different state if their funding circumstances were similar. I rather think they would. I rather think, too, that this may be our future, and perhaps a better, brighter and more locally active one too, if this proves to be the case. All the more reason for us to assess carefully what this author has to tell us.

She covers some 46 chapters, albeit some are very short, but brief and to the point. These chapters are divided into eight sections, which Craft calls “Rules”. Their headings will give the reader the flavour of the book: Rule 1, Think change (or change think); Rule 2, Mobilise the team; Rule 3, Partner with clout; Rule 4, Talk assets; Rule 5, Mind the opposition; Rule 6, Create and innovate; Rule 7, Recap.

Finally, in Rule 8, Craft concludes with a look at a future where funding of this kind, and the advocacy which accompanies it, portends the restructuring of public libraries and, taken with the changes in information provision and systems, has borne a new partnership as a result of library advocacy. When a library becomes a partner it will become a new kind of organisation as a result of the processes involved in working together with partners, and the resulting effects in the local community.

When library management expands its thinking to accommodate the thinking of partners it will, inevitably, open a window to real change in all that it does. This is a thought‐provoking and stimulating book. It has confirmed for me something that I have pondered for some time, namely what kind of future does a financially healthy and community‐active public library need to have? Will the reform of British local government save us, or do we need to save ourselves by embracing the American model? I suspect a little of the first and much of the second. I reckon the day of the British Public Library Trusts is not far away.

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