In an article titled “5 Simple Ways to Make Sure Your Library Stays Around Forever,” I suggested that library lovers should routinely “…send [letters to] elected officials extolling the life-changing influence of your library. It doesn’t have to be long or complex; a few paragraphs and your signature are just right.” It’s a simple thing to do once or twice a year, but it makes a difference. While many elected officials implicitly understand that libraries are a smart investment, they may not always be able to bring forth the evidence necessary to defend them when facing the immediate demands of budget time. Why not help them think straight with a well-crafted letter of library support?
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But, you might say, most of us aren’t accomplished letter-writers. What makes a good letter to an elected official? Well, a little forethought goes a long way. Most legislators are dedicated to their community, motivated to serve, and very busy, so with that in mind, letters should be:
- Concise: No longer than a page or two.
- Personal: This is about why you love the library. Write in your own voice.
- Positive: Sometimes one writes letters of complaint to politicians. This is not that time. Keep it joyful!
- Sticky: You don’t have much time so tell your story and include your facts. No filler!
That said, here is a simple, effective sample letter:
Dear Councilmember Weatherby,
My name is Oleg Kagan, and I have been a resident of Cupid’s Arrow, TN for the past 22 years. I am writing today to share with you wonderful experience I had recently at our Cupid’s Arrow Public Library.
Did you know they had free concerts? I sure didn’t. Well, that is until I walked in yesterday and was lucky enough to attend a performance of “Cupid’s Shine,” a local flute ensemble! Not only did their music touch my heart, but between the songs the musicians talked about their instruments and some flute history. We got to listen and learn! My wife and I can’t afford to go to concerts very often, so this memorable experience will stay with us for a long time.
Even though the library is not on an upcoming ballot measure, I wanted to share my experience with you so that when budget time did come around, you would keep in mind the important work that the library does for all of your constituents — on one afternoon, the library bolstered local arts, held an all-ages cultural event, and gave us an education. I would say that that is tax money well-spent!
Thank you for supporting our library!
Of course, letters of support don’t all have to be about a recent happening. They can also speak to regular library offerings like book-lending, readers advisory, or general programs. If you’re having trouble coming up with a reason to write, ask yourself: What do I actually do at the library? Does that make a difference in my life? The activity doesn’t have to be big, the difference doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be there.
Feel free to back-up your claims numerically; for example, estimate how much money you saved by borrowing books from the library instead of buying them. In the above letter, I could’ve put a value on my fictional concert experience. After all, a ticket to see a talented group like Cupid’s Shine at the Cupid’s Arrow Music Hall can be upwards of $28.00! Compare that with the average of $7.50/month in taxes it costs an American household to keep a public library open.
Letters should be concise, personal, positive, and sticky. Start by telling who you are, how long you’ve lived there, and what the letter is about. Continue by sharing your experience. Conclude with a wrap-up statement generally summarizing your situation, and thank them for their support.
Now that you know how it’s done. Go get your friends together and send off your annual library letter! And if you want to make someone feel good, send a copy to the library director as well!