Monday, June 29, 2015

Advocacy Made Easy - Letter to the Editor

Previously on the IASL blog (here, here, here, here, here and here), posts have encouraged you to tell the story of your library through newsletters, social media, meeting new teachers, and communication with your legislators. These are all key elements to keeping your community informed of the vital role you play in the education of our students. Another effective venue for advocacy is a bit more "old-school" - a letter to the editor.

How can you craft the perfect letter to your local news media? How do you ensure that your message will appeal both to stakeholders in your community and those in our government?  

Of course, organization of letters can vary widely, but remember to include a clear problem and solution, keep it concise, and look for ways to lend authority to your message with statistics, anecdotes, and references to state/national laws or educational best practices.

1. Know your paper. Most newspapers now have an online submission form for opinion letters. Check there for submission guidelines, including length requirements which range between 200-500 words. Some papers will accept longer submissions to be published as Guest Opinions rather than in the letters section. When in doubt, send the longer version - the paper will contact you about length if they are interested in publishing. Don't be shy about submitting your letter to multiple publications - the wider audience for your message, the better!

2. Know your message. In 200-500 words, you won't be able to write a dissertation on how valuable school libraries are to our students, so pick one major theme to focus on in your letter. Did a recent event inspire you to write? Is there something you can celebrate and tie to your program? Is there a problem you'd like people to help solve?  Make your first paragraph grab the attention of your readers and want to read on.

3. Keep it positive. It's easy to get whiny when trying to advocate for a program few seem to understand. It's important that your letter doesn't seem defensive - rather than complain that "no one gets it," be straightforward and explain what students/staff/community members gain from Teacher Librarians.

4. Keep it factual. Just as it's easy to go negative, it's easy to get emotional. Certainly, being enthusiastic and passionate in your letter will improve your persuasive power, but be sure to stay professional. Anecdotes and stories are fantastic ways to illustrate your point, but so are numbers. Try to include one or two statistics that will appeal to the practical side of your readers' thinking.

5.Call for Action. Your letter should end with a call for some kind of action - whether it's to vote a certain way, to speak to a community leader, or just to visit a local library - leave your audience wanting to do something.

Below is an example of a 500 word letter published in Iowa City's Press Citizen. Click here to see PDF version.
Letter by Chelsea Sims, Teacher Librarian.

What message does your community need to hear? Gather your thoughts and start writing!