Advocacy Spotlight: New Jersey Leader Uses Community Base to Advocate for Libraries

Pat TumltyPat Tumulty is the executive director of the New Jersey Library Association, the oldest and largest library organization in New Jersey. As the head of the 1600-member organization, Tumulty coordinates statewide advocacy efforts and represents libraries to legislators. Additionally, she serves as the chair of the American Library Association’s ALA Committee on Advocacy, working to encourage library advocacy across the country.

How did you get involved with library advocacy?

I’ve worked in public libraries, special libraries and state libraries for over 20 years, and I’ve always been involved with advocacy, but my position as the executive director [of the New Jersey Library Association] has been where I got my advocacy training. The ALA Washington Office sets the policy and we follow their lead on whether we should contact our legislators. On the state level, we work with specific goals to set policy in our own state, whether it be for school library funding or public libraries.

With advocacy work, it really is a team effort. You need a lot of people working toward the same goal.

Advocacy is a really personal thing and it requires people to work with their legislators. Recently, [New Jersey] had a budget cuts so we started the advocacy website www.savemynjlibrary.org. We send out messages to our members to let friends and constituents know that we need help, and we get thousands and thousands of responses. I do a Listserv for my members every week and I use information from the District Dispatch. It’s information that they can all use. I also go on Facebook to send fans political news items to keep them aware of what’s going on. We recently used our base to help us restore $4.2 million in the budget to fund the library network.

Can you share a memorable advocacy experience?

We sometimes hear from legislators that they got many, many emails sent to them [by supporters]. They were taken aback and receptive because they restored the money. State legislators restored the funding by adding it back to state budget in 2010. When people realize that precious library stories are threatened, they get involved.

I have one story: [The NJLA] fought for a $45 million library construction bond in the late 1990s, and that funding led to New Jersey 68 libraries being built or renovated. The state legislator that proposed the bond told the story of how her librarian helped her when she was young and had polio. Librarians bought her books to her home when she could not go to the library. None of the other legislators knew this part of her history, so they were taken aback. She became a big supporter of libraries. So it pays to be good to those kids in story hour! The programs we have are too important to ignore anybody.

Why do you participate in the American Library Association’s National Library Legislative Day?

I’ve done 15 or 20 of them because it’s an important thing to do. I get to meet people across country and share experiences. I do it because I love advocacy and I want to help people get involved. I think that with advocacy work, it really is a team effort. You need a lot of people working toward the same goal.

In New Jersey, we’re trying to focus on our state budget right now. Our libraries are only getting $0.41 per person. We’re showing legislators that libraries are instrumental in workforce development. Showing that libraries are at the table of those issues is very critical to us. Politically, it’s a very difficult time. Our state is still going through the economic recession like everyone else. Our governor proposed flat funding for libraries again this year.

I’m very lucky that my own congressman is Congress Rush Holt–it’s quite an honor to have him as my own congressmen because he’s such a big advocate for libraries. It’s been very rewarding to work with people through advocacy. Our libraries are certainly doing the best they can, but it’s a very difficult position in terms of what’s happening. It’s the perfect storm when you have such a demand for resources but not the money to make things happen.

Do you have any advice for first-time advocates?

It is a lot easier than you think. It’s a little scary the first time. If you just try it once, you can do it. Try to remember that legislators like local stories; they want to know what’s happening at their local libraries. How is it helping my town? How is it affecting my library? They want to know what it all means. Bringing up how we use e-government in our libraries every day to do income taxes and file jobs online is a very important point.

Pat Tumulty is the executive director of the New Jersey Library Association. Follow her organization on Facebook.

About Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association’s Washington Office.

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