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Advocacy Spotlight: Brandy Hamilton Uses Passion for Documentaries and Storytelling to Support Libraries

Library Advocate Brandy Hamilton
Library Advocate Brandy Hamilton

Brandy Hamilton is the public policy chair for the North Carolina Library Association and the regional library manager at the East Regional Library in Knightdale, Wake County, NC. Hamilton coordinated the North Carolina group of the 2012 National Library Legislative Day event in Washington, D.C., helping the advocacy team earn the distinction of being the largest state group to participate this year. Learn about how this 13-year library veteran is working with the NC Library Advocacy Taskforce to support libraries by collecting personal stories and using videos to influence legislators.

How did you get involved with library advocacy?

Advocacy has been one of those things that I went into because someone asked me for help. In 2009, I was invited to participate in National Library Legislative Day. For the next few years, I learned advocacy skills by observing and participating. I had three years under my belt before I was elected earlier this year as one of the spokespeople for the North Carolina Library Association and I took the reins as the state coordinator. It was a little intimidating at first, but the more you get involved, the more your passion for things grows.

“We’ve worked to get personal library stories on the website because we want legislators and community members to see the emotional connection people have with libraries.”

How do you work with your grassroots team to advocate for libraries?

This year, the North Carolina Library Association created an advocacy team called the NC Library Advocate Taskforce, which is an ad hoc group of the state association. Our group joined various library organizations across the state to create the NC Library Advocacy Taskforce website in order to advocate better for libraries. This year, we’ve worked to get personal library stories on the website because we want legislators and community members to see the emotional connection people have with libraries. We also wanted to show them how libraries support workforce development and job creation. Our goal is to get stories from each congressional district. The stories are coming mostly from library patrons. For example, one library patron came in to a library for a writing workshop, and got the courage to write her own story, which turned into a bestseller. You can read stories like hers on our website. We’ve recently started creating two-page brochures out of the stories.

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

Every year, I work to encourage librarians to get on “The Bus” for our annual trip to Washington for Legislative Day. Once we’re in Washington, we visit every N.C. district representative, and advocate primarily for public libraries because state funding focuses on public libraries. To prepare for the event, we calculate library use for the year, and we put that information on the front of packets that we give to legislators.

We discuss Internet access, as well as Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants because a lot of the rural libraries depend heavily on federally funded grants from libraries.  We also advocated for school libraries and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). We worked hard to unify public and school libraries this year. I managed to bridge the gap by getting three school librarians and the president-elect for the North Carolina School Library Media Association (NCSLMA) on the bus [to Washington]. Right now, library use is down because a lot of libraries have had to reduce their library hours, so it’s important that we advocate for the services that libraries provide.

We know that we have some strong stories to tell, and we’ve always been well-received. We find when we meet with legislators and their assistants that the assistants and aides have their own personal stories about libraries. They are recent college grads and they have memories using libraries.

North Carolina library supporters host their own North Carolina State Legislative Day. What is your role in the state advocacy day?

The N.C. State Legislative Day will be held on June 13, 2012, in Raleigh, N.C., and will be facilitated by state library directories. As a coordinator, I support the NCPLDA [North Carolina Public Library Director’s Association]  administratively. The event will have a rally by the legislator building on the mall. The day will include storytellers and we will bring over kids from local daycares. We really want people from the community to speak for libraries.

We will start strategizing soon on how to involve the community in advocacy after State Legislative Day. We will probably do training at the biennial NC State Library conference in 2013.

There are a few videos on the NC Library Advocacy website. How is your team using videos to advocate for libraries?

I have an interest in documentary films, so I want to bring more videos into our strategy. The Taskforce created a video prior to going to Washington, which we left with the legislators and will also use at the state level (film below).

I just finished working as a volunteer at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, N.C. There was a film not long ago called the “Hollywood Librarian” that inspired me to want to do an advocacy documentary about libraries. We invited a cameraman, who is also a digital librarian, to videotape sessions with advocates and legislators at the National Library Legislative Day meetings in April. We thought it would be fun to see what it was like to go into [legislators] offices and talk to them, so we wanted to make a short video out of that. The documentary on the trip itself is under production.

There are also other videos on the website. We recently sent those videos to state legislators on flash drives.

Do you have any advice for first-time advocates?

I tell advocates to read the issue briefs that the ALA puts out, particularly the briefs on the LSTA grants. The ALA offers great webinars on advocacy. I want to recognize the ALA for having these webinars for people who cannot travel. It’s important to take the time to utilize these resources. My advice is to take some of these webinars, look at the advocacy page, familiarize yourself with the material and don’t be afraid! Tell your personal story. I think now it’s important to advocate, especially today when we see libraries being used by nontraditional users, job-seekers, et cetera.

When it comes to meeting face-to-face with legislators, I try to prepare with a personal story. We encourage everyone in the group to relate a personal story of how libraries have influenced them.

Lastly, we always try to coordinate the meetings so that the legislators meet constituents from their hometowns. It gives the meetings more of a personal touch.

What are you doing when you’re not meeting with policymakers?

I go to events at the Chamber of Commerce in Knightdale, N.C. to host presentations on the library services available to business members. I teach them how they can grow their business for free using library services. Most people are amazed that they use library to help their businesses. Libraries do a lot more now than they ever have to help people. [Libraries] are really relevant for job services, business services, the Internet and story time.

What keeps you motivated to work so hard to support libraries?

I come from Raleigh, a pretty well-off area compared to the rest of the state, and it was really eye-opening to participate in [Legislative Day]. I’m fortunate to have a county that supports libraries regardless of the economy. There are some libraries that are really struggling. One of the best things about my job is hearing about the way libraries have changed people’s lives in positive ways: Children who learn to read in libraries; people have learned to use computers in public libraries. Libraries are a unifier. I just want to keep public libraries strong.

Brandy Hamilton is the public policy chair for the NC Library Association. Read personal library stories compiled by her group, the NC Library Advocacy Taskforce or follow the group on Facebook.

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright is a former press officer of the Washington Office.

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