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‘To advocate well, you must be sure that your project is producing positive change in your community. You must speak from the heart,’ said Ms Amela Hodžić, director of Zavidovići Public Library in Zavidovići, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ms Hodžić was speaking at a seminar at which three experienced librarians told stories about the power of successful advocacy. The aim of the seminar was to share knowledge with EIFL-PLIP’s 14 new grantee libraries.
The library’s successful Youth Corner and Multimedia Centre, an attractive space where young people who would otherwise be loitering at the bus station can learn new skills, has won funding support from the support of the Mayor of Zavidovići and the district’s Canton government. In 2011, the municipality gave a special donation of €200 (about US$270) to the Youth Corner, and the Canton government donated €500 (about US$670). In addition, the municipality has agreed that part of the library’s budget should fund the Youth Corner in future.
Media was a crucial advocacy tool: ‘We made a video which showed the importance of the Youth Corner. When we heard that a national TV station was coming to Zavidovici to interview the Mayor, we offered them our video material. They liked it so much that they decided to broadcast it during the show where the Mayor was being interviewed. In this way, we promoted the library and at the same time captured the support of the Mayor,’ said Ms Hodžić.
Rural libraries in Serbia were struggling as a result of economic recession. Without support, many closed and had fallen into disrepair. They were battling to convince local government to keep them open. Then Public Library Radislav Nikčević in the town of Jagodina was awarded an EIFL-PLIP grant for the AgroLib-Ja service for farmers. The delighted librarians successfully used the award as leverage.
‘We informed local self-government that we had won the grant, and they were very impressed with the international attention we were receiving. At first they were reluctant, but when we said it was important for the farmers to have somewhere comfortable to learn, they decided to repaint four village libraries for AgroLib, and equip them with furniture. They also made sure the libraries were properly staffed,’ said Ms Jelena Rajić.
After 12 months, during which the library gathered evidence to show how the farmers’ new computer and Internet skills were improving productivity and how the AgroLib online market was increasing sales of farm produce, the local self-government decided to renovate an additional library to extend the AgroLib-Ja service. Now the AgroLib network for farmers works through five village libraries.
The library made good use of media in their advocacy strategy: ‘We did not need to put pressure on the local self-government through meetings and explanations. Instead, the project spoke for itself. Whatever we did was in the media all the time. People talked about the project, and the town representatives soon realized that our village libraries are valuable for the local community.’
On their own initiative, farmers started advocating for better library services. ‘People from other villages visited the Mayor several times. They put pressure on him to renovate the libraries which had closed long ago in their villages – and the Mayor is considering their request. And farmers also signed a petition asking for faster internet connections in their villages – and now it is being set up,’ said Ms Rajić.
Advocacy was a constant part of the library’s Creative Minds Create Job Opportunities service for the unemployed. ‘We kept the mayors of Radovis and Konce informed about every achievement and development in regular meetings and on the phone,’ said Ms Ivanka Sokolova, who coordinates the service.
In just one year, the service trained 82 unemployed people. Of these, 39 – almost half – found jobs. The Mayor of Konce was so impressed with the service that he started coming to the library for advice.
‘When the Mayor received a grant from the European Union to construct a new building, he asked us what he should use the building for – an NGO or a library? We said a library, of course! And now they are creating a new library in Konce!’ said Ms Sokolova.
The library also won the support of Radovis municipality, which has made library funding one of its priority areas for its 2012 budget.
The advocacy strategy also succeeded with the biggest employer in the area, Buchim Copper Mine. The mine funded equipment for an electronic reading room, which the library uses in training programmes. The mine also now regularly supports repairs and maintenance in the library. In return, the library is working to develop a website that will help the mine recruit young unemployed people, and has provided free membership for about 500 mine employees.
All three libraries implemented their new services from April 2010 to May 2011 with grant funding from EIFL-PLIP (up to US$30,000 each).