Common Stacks Episode 16 Jayanti Addleman on Becoming a Library Advocate


It was lovely to chat with Jayanti Addleman about how libraries can be better advocates. Jayanti is the Director of the Hayward Public Library, and you can follow her on twitter @Addlemom. 

Here is the rough transcript of our talk about advocacy. Share and let us know what part resonated with you the most!

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Jayanti Addleman on Library Advocacy

Hello, and welcome to the Common Stacks podcast. This is the show that brings together professionals from within the library world, as well as interesting experts from other professions to engage in discussions around the issues affecting libraries, looking at the ways in which libraries are dispelling the myth of, well, this is how it's always been done. I'm your host, Heather Teysko. This is episode 16. It's a conversation with Jayanti Addleman about advocacy in your library. A reminder that this podcast is sponsored by library lever library lever is a brand new library buying club, negotiating vendor discounts on library products and services, specifically seeking out new and innovative mission driven companies, offering services for both public and academic libraries. An example is genius academy, who is brand new to the library marketplace. They bring cinematic learning to mental health tools. There's also proof co with their large database of private companies learn more about us and our vendors at

So let me introduce you to Jayanti Addleman. Jayanti is the director of Hayward public library. She previously led the Monterey county free libraries during a period when the organization came to be recognized for its vibrancy, creativity and innovation in stretching the resources and delivery of services in an increasingly diverse community. Edelman is widely considered a passionate advocate for literacy inclusion of underserved and marginalized communities and helping people reach their potential. She's been recognized for professional achievement, including selection in 2015 as California library. Association's outstanding librarian in support of literacy and as one of Monterey county's outstanding women. So let's hop right into it and learn all about advocacy with, maybe I can ask you a personal question to start with. How did you become interested in advocacy and how did you kind of learn how to become a good library advocate?

So, you know, advocacy is probably something I just fell into. You know, when we work, we find that we come in, you know, we are full of our ideals and we are naive and we think, oh, everyone loves libraries as much as we do. And everyone will give us money for everything we want to do. And then reality hits and you realize, okay, it's not so simple. And you're advocating at every level, no matter whether you are a entry level library page, or, you know, you are hire a librarian or a library director, whatever position you're in, you find yourself suddenly, you know, you have to make a case. It doesn't matter what it is. I mean, you might be a librarian trying to say, I'd like to do programming in this area and you're advocating to your library director. So, you know, you sort of grow into this and maybe the impact gets more and it gets more difficult. So that's sort of how I fell into it. I'm also a natural storyteller. I really love storytelling. And for me, advocacy is all about storytelling. And I think if you can really link some part of advocacy with your, with what you do, what you're passionate about, you will win <laugh>, you will do well. So, yeah,

Heather (03:30):
That's great. So finding those things where you can tie it into the things you're already passionate about, so you can speak easily about it and, and things like that. Yeah, yeah.

Jayanti (03:39):

Heather (03:40):
So what, why do you think it's important for people to become to become skilled at advocacy? Particularly librarians like this, isn't something they necessarily teach in library school, the skills to H how, why do you think it's important to, to become skilled at that?

Jayanti (03:57):
Yeah, so absolutely. And, and, you know, I wish we would teach it at library school. I wish we would do, you know, maybe a unit of, you know, three units on advocacy would be really an excellent thing to do, but, you know, as I said, we find ourselves in this position where we have to have to advocate and it's really, you know, not as simple as that, oh, okay. I'm just gonna go ask for money. It's, you're advocating for many different things. And so, you know, you get to this like let me back up a little bit. So this idea of you want to serve, we come into this profession to serve and, you know, there are many people who are also serving in our communities, and this is something we face that, you know, we are constantly competing for a small part of dollars.

Jayanti (04:51):
And also we are constantly competing for a small group of volunteers. We are constantly competing for these grants. And so really why we, we have to lay the groundwork, make it known. It's sort of, you know, one of these interesting things about even now, when I came into libraries, which was, you know, 30 years ago, a long time ago. And I came into libraries the same time as computers were coming into libraries and people would say, oh, you know, there'll be no more paper. You'll be, oh, there'll be no need for libraries. And I've been hearing it every year since then. And has it changed? No, the demand for libraries is just as high. We still using as much paper as you would ever think, you know, maybe a little less in some ways, but then we still, you know, there, we still using paper, we still have print books.

Jayanti (05:40):
And so, you know, when you get to this thing of realizing first thing is that people don't really know who we are. They still think of us. Those as those gray haired, old women, you know, saying sure, the, you know, or or a man with a ponytail, a gray haired man with a ponytail, you know, there are these sort of these stereotypes and you be, you find, you know, you have to change this and you have to get people to understand what an impact we are making and how important our role is. And we've constantly been changing. We have evolved so far, and if we don't make people aware of what we are doing, then, you know, it's very hard to get people to understand and support us. And the problem is it's usually the power, the people with the power, the people with the money who have least understanding of what we do.

Jayanti (06:30):
It's, you know, the the common Joe, the common Jane, the common, whoever is using our library, people that have needs, who are looking for jobs who need no help at school, whatever, the ones that need the help are in the library, the ones that read a lot, the ones that love using the computer that want their wifi, you use our library, but the ones who are really making decisions, don't always know what we are doing. And some of it is, they're just so busy. I get that. They're so busy. And so how do we tell them our story? How do we bring them on our side? And so this is what advocacy is all about. And I'll tell you one of the things I also like to remind all library people is advocacy and fundraising run hand in hand. If you can do one, you can do the other.

Jayanti (07:21):
And they are both equally important to us. There it is the rare library that doesn't need to do fundraising. And it's as a profession, we definitely need to do advocacy. So, you know, really thinking about this step by step, what you I think you asked me how to go about it, how to learn about it. One of the biggest things I really encourage people to do is join, join a professional organization, you know, and it's very, there's very simple reasons whether, you know, it's a California library association, the American library association, Texas, Michigan, wherever you are join a library association. Because one of the things we very often are hampered, you know, hampered by in our organizations is sometimes they very often, I won't just say sometimes we cannot do advocacy. We are limited in the amount of advocacy we can do. But if you have an organization that does, you know, that's represents your profession, typically they can do that advocacy for you.

Jayanti (08:25):
The other thing also is even if your city or county allows you to do the advocacy, there's a level at which, or they'll have picked their priorities and allow you to do that. If we often aren't up, we don't know what the issues are, what is it that's before our legislators, what are the issues that we need to be, you know, making our case for. And that's where your organizations really come in. They can keep you up to date. They can tell you, okay, now's the time, write your letters, make your calls, contact your friends of the library groups. Let's get people to get out, get, make their voices heard. So those are some of the things that are really important in how to do it. And then of course, really preparing yourself step by step for the process.

Heather (09:11):
Right. Can you give me an example of a success story that you've had?

Jayanti (09:17):
Yeah, of course. I mean, we've had you know I can tell you one of the big ones for us while I was president of the California library association was the lunch at the library big funding. So, you know, we, we are very successful in California and use it in the lunch lunch at the library program. And we were serving about, you know, 300,000 people. We was you know, just doing all these extremely wonderful programs and serving the community. And so we had gone to governor Newsom and asked for more money and they did, he put more money into the budget, but the, it was in the new fiscal year, which starts on the 1st of July. Well, we all know summer and lunch at the library starts before that in June, sometimes even as early as may. So one of the big bushes we did was to ask for an early release of the money.

Jayanti (10:14):
And so that was, you know, we really, that was just a simple thing where real grassroots advocacy paid off, where everyone was talking to their, you know, local representatives and, you know, really putting the pressure. We were talking to the appropriations committee, we were talking the budget people, and then it did. And so they did release the money early, simple, easy, very, you know, very impactful success. Yeah. And, you know, success stories in the other on the other direction, which is, you know, I love to tell, talk about how a simple story can make a real difference. And this is about 10, 12 years ago. And I love to tell the story is there was a broadband initiative in the Sacramento for us. And, you know, we've got this last minute notice saying, send us your stories really quickly. We want to be able to make the case for this money.

Jayanti (11:06):
And I was, you know, in a rural, in a rural lobby area at that time. And I said, I don't have the time to write the story, but let me send you a picture very quickly. So I sent a photograph, which was from one of our really small rural libraries. And it was a picture of these two young girls in their first holy communion, bridal looking outfits because the day of their holy communion, they were supposed to go from church to their party, their family party, but a book mobile was in town. And that was a little place, you know, I wouldn't even call it a town was just this little area, which had no wifi, no broadband. And they waited for the book mobile, and there was no way they were not going to use the book mobile first, holy communion or not. And, and so there was this beautiful picture of these two girls in there.

Jayanti (11:58):
I mean, like looking like brides and pouring over the computer. And I sent that in, and that was so effective that, you know, our our advocates are lobbyists printed off just multiple copies of this picture and was handing out in Sacramento at the capital. And it was a successful initiative. And I mean, obviously it, wasn't the only thing that made the difference. But you know, when I talk about stories, I will say, I always, always, when talking to legislators, I take photographs, I take pictures because I think facts and numbers are great and they want that, but they will remember something that you show them. If you can show them a really vivid picture like that, it makes all the difference.

Heather (12:46):
Hey, are you enjoying this conversation? If so, hop into our free community at community dot library, to chat about all things related to advocacy, see you in there. And what about now with videos too? Would that be helpful?

Jayanti (13:03):
That would be helpful. It can be helpful. It depends how you're using it. Usually when you go to talk to a legislator or to, you know, even to your city council members, they don't have a lot of time. And so really being aware of how you're using the time and sometimes a picture works better, but you know, the videos work really well in educating your public and getting them ready to, to advocate for you. And so those videos are really good, but you have to be very sensible about where you use, what medium for, you know, getting your message across.

Heather (13:37):
Yeah. So that was something I wanted to ask you about. How do you kind of think about how do you strategize when you're talking to different types of people? Like if you're going to city council versus if you're going to Sacramento, like how, how would you strategize for different types of people?

Jayanti (13:51):
Yeah. So, you know, I, I think it's really important. I always say that advocacy be begins long before you've actually gone to talk to your representative. So you should be building those relationships. You should be building the community and it's sometimes is hard. You know, you may not be real comfortable talking to people, but if you just tell your story, even in your, like, you know, it's story time, just always dropping those little hints to your community and really building those relationships in a city situation, depending on how large your city is. It's nice. If you can get to know your city council members in the, in county, getting to know your board of supervisors, it's a little harder at the state level, you know, at the federal level, getting to know your representatives, but try to get to know the person in the local office.

Jayanti (14:42):
And, you know, like when we make appointments to go say like day in the district, when we go to talk to our legislators, sometimes, you know, librarians will be very disappointed that, oh, you, you know, our assembly member said they would be there, but they weren't there only their aid came. And I almost say that, you know, it's okay. First thing is your assembly. Member's probably feeling very sorry and very, you know, sad. They couldn't meet with you. So you've already won a few points over there that they're going to be feeling like, okay, I've gotta be a bit nice to make up for this. I hope <laugh>, but you know, the aids, you really have their ear. And if you can make the case to your aids, they can make your case for you very well. So never, and underestimate the power of an aid.

Jayanti (15:23):
And they really know what the legislators are interested in. If you know, what committees your legislators on, then it's really good to be able to use that. One of our representatives here, he is a PhD himself, very much a scientist loves science. So if you can take those things that resonate with your representative, it's a really good thing to do. So just know all of that and know how to talk to them, but really building the relationships is key. And having your, if you can keep the public behind you as much as possible, that's probably the best thing. And then they can also speak for you, but just build those relationships, tell your story. Don't feel shy about ting, your horn, you know, just do it, tell people any success you have, you know, tell people post it on social media, make a little TikTok video. If your, if you know, if your system does that or just, you know, little tweet about it, whatever, get the word out, make sure people know what you're doing. You know, sometimes you might just have like a, a say a computer screen, you know, one of those monitors in your library. And if you can post pictures about what's going on all the success, it's a really good thing to do. Yeah, yeah,

Heather (16:41):
Yeah. What you talked about, like different advocating to the public, what are some places where people, when they think advocacy, they might just think, okay, going to Sacramento or going to the capital or legislative, where can people find like maybe sneak advocacy, like people that they might not have thought would be advocates.

Jayanti (16:59):
Yeah. So, you know, one of again, I'll say, you know, anytime you do a program or something, you talk about it. If you go even do a restaurant often, you'll just start talking to people and saying, Hey, you know this and you are talking to people at the next table and you just mentioned, Hey, you know, we at the library and then they will invariably be interested if you say a library. And so, you know, you can, and there's always a few people who don't care and it's like, oh, library, you know, okay, don't wanna talk to you. That's fine. But the ones who are interested, just tell them what you can, but really, you know, simple things like offering to do programs at rotary or, you know, meetings that are just in your community. You go talk about what your library has to offer.

Jayanti (17:43):
That is your first step in advocacy. If you can talk about what your library does, what you offer, you know, talking, going to schools, talking to teachers, all of that really is advocacy. You know, there was a really fascinating study that was in 2018, came out for O C L C a a had put together from awareness to funding, which was a great, great study. And it really talked a lot about things. It was how voters, what they think about supporting libraries. And, you know, it had these things about, you know, 60% of voters believe that, you know, that funding comes to libraries from federal and other sources, but actually eight, you know, close to it's over 85% of funding is local. And so, you know, got a lot of information out. But what I felt was a real, real kind of disappointment for me in that study was it only talked about voters.

Jayanti (18:40):
And what we need to understand is there is a huge community. That's not voting. We never, never, and especially in places like California, Texas, Florida, most urban areas, you cannot underestimate the power of the new immigrant who doesn't vote, but lives in your community. It's they have so much economic clout. It is really important. And now more and more cities are allowing, you know, non-citizens to vote if you're a taxpayer, but really not focusing just on voters. And this has several reasons for it. Obviously there's the whole issue of economic impact. I mean, the, we, they hold non-voters hold so much power in their hands and they have a voice. They talk to legislators also, who don't ask, are you a voter? They will just listen when you are in you're from their community, but also this whole issue of inclusiveness of diversity, which we often forget. And it is really, really important to make sure you're speaking to many, many different groups. And you, that's why talking about this, what I call stealth advocacy is really getting out into these little groups in the community. You know, if you go to some, like a potluck or you go to your, you know, your church, some event really talking, taking every opportunity ask, Hey, can I talk about what the library does? Can I talk about what's, you know, your kids, the programs for kids, and that's really the first step in really good advocacy. <Inaudible>

Heather (20:20):
It just occurred to me. You talked about like how often peop different organizations are competing for limited dollars. And it also occurs to me that a lot of times partnering with some of these organizations, it might be good fits. Does that ever work like partnering with other places that you might see as competing for the same money, but maybe not? Like, do you have any thoughts on that?

Jayanti (20:42):
Yeah. You know, it is hard. I will say it is a collaboration and cooperative work can often be the most difficult because you come together, you want to do things, but then you have competing interests and both of you want to take credit for the work. Both of you are trying to say, well, you know, I'll provide, I'll provide the room, you do the service, you know, <laugh> or, you know, just sort of, I mean, we are all so overworked, we're all so stretched. And so really trying to find that place, but it is true. It's a really good investment. And again, for us and out in where I am in Hayward, now we have some really strong partners who speak for us. It's, you know, whether it's the school district, we have four C's, you know, first five, all of these groups, we partner with them in a very strong way.

Jayanti (21:35):
And so they really do advocate for us when it comes to grant monies, maybe that's something we are not competing with at that point. Or even if you're competing, they know that we are going to be working with each other. So they feel comfortable. And we write letters also, you know, just writing letters of support for grants. We do it for our community partners all the time. So, you know, we do, I think you really do build those relationships and you call upon them, and then you just advocate for each other and really looking for places where you can help each other. And in the end, if you just make that investment of a little time and effort, it is possible and it is successful, but it, it, it's just, you have to say, I'm going to make that effort. I get it. And sometimes just put your ego aside and, you know, go forward.

Heather (22:26):
Sure. For sure. Okay. Well, I'm trying to look at my questions here. I wonder, like, have you, do you have any examples of just like really unusual things libraries have done that have worked advocacy wise, like super out of the box? You might not even think,

Jayanti (22:44):
You know, I mean, I think it's how you do programming. For example, you know, one of the things like the, what should I say, the drag queen story times, it's a really good example of how we've been, been able to build partners. And really we are doing advocacy in a way for a community that is being treated badly. And we are also bringing that community to become our supports and our advocates. And we get, I mean, you know, we recently here in our area, San Lorenzo, they were doing a, a drag queen story time and they had some very strong protestors come in. And there was a lot of problems. We had a drag queen story time just last Saturday. And our library got, you know, tagged really with some very, really misguided and awful comments, huge letters on the side of the building, but we don't let that, you know, deter us.

Jayanti (23:37):
It's like, okay, we just clean it off and keep moving because we believe that we need to support a community. This is what we are here for. We libraries are about supporting all the communities about spreading ideas, about educating the public, making people aware. And so we do these programs and sometimes, you know, it does, we do have to fight hard to do the programs. It takes a certain toll on us, but we know that we have built this relationship. We are supporting a community that needs support. And so we are in a sense advocating for them, but we've also built a relationship because we know they will advocate for us when the time is, is right. So, you know, really being willing to put yourself out there, work hard, look for those partners and you know, and really it, it does work. And I think libraries actually have done a really good job with their, with the drag queen story times and other ways of supporting the Q I a plus community. It's very, very important.

Heather (24:38):
Well, final thought, what's like, number one thing that somebody should do if they're listening this and they're like, yeah, I wanna get better at advocacy. What should they do?

Jayanti (24:47):
So I will say, know your story, know the facts, you know, need to know your numbers, but know your stories because you have to have to have some good stories. And again, I love telling stories, but I I'll just tell you another example of a story that really, really resonates when I would talk to people. This was about you know, why libraries, how we change lives. And this is, we do a lot of literacy programs. And I talk about this woman. We once a literacy program, we who had our literacy program, she had grown up and had been to 18 different schools. She had been a foster child growing up and had been into 18 different schools. And by the time she graduated high school, of course she couldn't read. She had, did not know how to read, but she fell in love and married this gentleman and who was really sweet, supported her all her life.

Jayanti (25:40):
They had a really successful, happy marriage. And when she turned about 60 or just a little past 60, he died. And if you think about your life partner, you've really lost someone. You've lived all your life with and lost this person. But at the same time, you've lost the ability to function in the world because he did all your reading, all your writing for you. And you just think of when you're in that kind of a situation. And if when the, like we talk about how the library helped this woman and changed her life, it just is. So to me, I still get goosebumps. Whenever I think about this story, that it is so impactful and so important. And so really, if you can just remember, reach out to the people you serve, every story you hear, just keep it away, store it away, because that really it's much better than we talk about elevator pitches and all of that.

Jayanti (26:36):
If you have that story, which has to be a true story, don't make it up. <Laugh>, you know, a true story of, you know, where you've really changed someone's life. And if you can keep that ready, have a few of those stories ready. Of course you need your facts. You need all of that, but really have those stories because they're inspiring to you, to us, ourselves, you know, that we really did so gratifying to know that even though we are facing whatever graffiti or protestors or angry complaints, we know we are making a difference. And so keep yourself inspired by those stories and, you know, inspired the people around you and all of your legislators, local lawmakers, and all the people that hold the money and the power. It really makes a big difference.

Heather (27:26):
Awesome. That is a wonderful note to end on. Yeah. Thank you Jayanti so much.

Jayanti (27:31):
Thank you. Thank you. And you know, I just want to say, I really love advocacy and I'm happy, you know, if people reach out and want help, I'm always happy to talk to anyone about that. Yeah.

Heather (27:47):
Thanks to Jayanti for your time and to you for listening. What takeaways did you get from this? What actionable steps can you take after listening to this, hop into our community or drop us a voicemail at library, and let us know. Thanks so much. And we will speak with you again soon. Bye bye.

About the author 

Heather Teysko

Heather Teysko is head of community and engagement for Library Lever, and she loves running the Common Stacks Podcast. She's been in Library Land for close to 20 years, with a career that has focused on technology and ebooks. She is also passionate about history, having built a website on Colonial American history in 1998 that got to #1 on Yahoo (when that was a thing) has been podcasting on Tudor England since 2009, and her podcast The Renaissance English History Podcast has a social following of over 50,000 people. She has published several books including Sideways and Backwards: a Novel of Time Travel and Self Discovery, which was negatively compared to Outlander in several Amazon reviews, despite the fact that it is set in a completely different time period, but the comparison still feels like an honor.
You can follow her on twitter @teysko.

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