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Library Advocacy from CILIPS to Celebrities

Category: #LibrariesAreEssential, Blog, News

From CILIPS to Celebrity, Library sector advocacy from local heroes to world leaders. Image of Barack Obama.

Librarians are great. You know it, we know it. However, sometimes it takes a personal story, or viral social media phenomenon to remind others of the unique ways in which the library and its services resonate with communities. It can become a great advocacy story when that message is picked up by the media, bringing the spotlight onto libraries in the process. These past few weeks, we’ve seen some fantastic sector advocacy from world leaders to local heroes!

Barack Obama, former President of the United States, shared a love letter to libraries, as part of a campaign to promote libraries and reading in America. You can read the beautiful letter in full here. Obama is no stranger to shouting about the library, in a video for the American Library Association (ALA) in 2021, he said “I do believe that libraries are citadels of knowledge and empathy.” You can watch his full speech here. This year’s campaign sees him tour around local libraries including Kankakee Public Library and Harris County Public Library, starring in TikTok videos which he makes in collaboration with the staff. The choice of platform is best placed to interact with younger audiences, and I think the fun and jovial spirit of the content really captured the warmth and welcoming spirit of the library. You can watch a compilation of the videos here.

On the other side of the coin however, the state of Texas has seen the highest instances of banned book attempts in school libraries according to a report from non-profit organisation PEN America. This type of exposure on an issue like this is crucial to widening the debates and gathering support for library institutions and the communities that use them. Library and information professionals are the ones best prepared to advise and debate these practices, with their extensive professional knowledge and connection to the patrons they serve. Obama lends his perspective to the Unite Against Banned Books campaign, saying:

“Some of the books that shaped my life- and the lives of so many others- are being challenged by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives… the impulse seems to be to silence, rather than engage, rebut, learn from or seek to understand views that don’t fit our own. I believe such an approach is profoundly misguided… In a very real sense, you’re on the front lines – fighting every day to make the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas available to everyone. Your dedication and professional expertise allow us to freely read and consider information and ideas, and decide for ourselves which ones we agree with… And it’s not just about books. You also provide spaces where people can come together, share ideas, participate in community programs, and access essential civic and educational resources.”

Having the 44th president of the United States acknowledge and thank his nation’s librarians is a big win for library advocacy, and his statements ring true for librarians across the world. It’s also reassuring to know that someone like Obama recognises the nuances and roles of librarians in these debates, really speaking to the importance of holding these debates and spaces.

(Mr Obama, if you’re reading this, could you please make us a viral TikTok too? You can get in touch at Thanks!)

Our colleagues down south at CILIP have excellent advocates for mobile libraries in Stephen Fry and author Michael Rosen! As the decision to shut down Devon’s mobile library service was taken, it was met with celebrity opposition and an accompanying petition. Stephen Fry wrote to councillors sharing his thoughts on the decision:

“Mobile libraries are lifelines for rural communities. I know, I grew up in the remote Norfolk countryside. The arrival every other Thursday of our mobile library quite literally changed my life… The idea that such a vital, beautiful, simple service should be denied to future generations is heartbreaking.”

I think Fry’s point about the simplicity of the service versus the impact it makes to a child’s life and wellbeing is a really poignant one. The most vital services are the simple ones often times, and its worrying that they could be subject to cuts. Mobile libraries offer crucial services to those who cannot often make the trek to their nearest public library. Cutting these services further isolates and punishes children who may already feel a lack of connection in their rural communities, the escapism and imagination involved in reading cannot be underestimated for children (and adults) that may not have the resources to find it elsewhere. You can read the full article here.

My personal favourite celebrity interaction (and the one that convinced me I’d chosen the right place of work), is a throwback to when Membership Officer Kirsten achieved (in my book) the ultimate Hollywood seal of approval. In the form of Sex in the City star Kristin Davis’ #LibrariesAreEssential tweet, which you can see here:

Kristin Davis tweet to CILIP Scotland saying #LibrariesAreEssential.

We are so fortunate to have some fearless and tireless Library advocates, who yearly are awarded Honorary CILIPS Memberships. One of this year’s Honorary Librarians is author and journalist Kerry Hudson, who has been an outspoken and steadfast supporter of libraries for many years. One such example is Kerry’s 2022 column about the importance of school librarians in her upbringing, you can read this heartfelt tribute here. This past July, Kerry was in conversation with Head of CILIPS Sean McNamara to discuss why libraries matter, and what they have meant to her in terms of growing up in poverty with a challenging childhood. But equally, how formative they have been in terms of access to books, in the formerly mentioned column she shares:

“…school librarians are not just safety. They’re aspiration and inspiration, too. Every time a trusted adult hands a book to a child or a young person, what they’re actually saying is: “Look at the world and all the things you might do in it.”

From these interactions with librarians, Kerry is now someone whose own books are housed on those very same shelves in the library. I think this couldn’t speak more aptly to the rewarding nature of having a school librarian who invests in children and unlocks a whole world of potential in their education and imagination. Within the conversation, Kerry touched on a few of the key points about libraries sharing that, “Wherever I am in the world, I go to the library and feel an instant sense of home…” and that in her eyes, “a normal, neutral and free space can be radical in being exactly that.”

A lot of what Kerry says about libraries is echoed by fellow writer and CILIPS Honorary Member 2023, Damian Barr. Equally as outspoken when it comes to library cuts and closures, the sentiment of reader to successful writer is laid out plainly in his article for The Guardian here, saying:

“Newarthill Library saved my life. It was safe and warm when home was cold and chaotic. Nothing bad ever happened in the library, except in books – I’m still not over Aslan and don’t get me started on Of Mice and Men. As a boy, I lost myself in stories. And eventually that’s where I found myself too, because every writer starts out as a reader.”

It feels very fitting that CILIPS can honour these supporters in such a meaningful way, it becomes a very full circle phenomenon: readers to writers to honorary librarians. You can read Damian’s full ‘Save the Libraries’ article here, and also watch his keynote speech from #CILIPS22 here.

Ultimately those of us working in the library sector advocate for libraries every single day, and I don’t want to suggest that celebrities should take all the credit here. However, I do think that these instances are a really interesting case study about the dissemination of positive library encounters in the media, away from the echo chamber of social media. Hopefully the dissemination of these stories extends to audiences that we maybe don’t reach on a daily basis. I would implore celebrities and non-celebrities alike to celebrate the library every day, not just when it is facing closure or cuts. It’s also a good example of people who have done really well in their chosen careers, and who attribute this success to their involvement with the library to a large extent. This audience, above all, know that #LibrariesAreEssential, so I hope above anything, this blog post feels like an apt appreciation of the outstanding and absolutely crucial work you perform.

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