Self-Advocacy in the LIS World

For many people, self-advocacy is tough. Period. But, it’s especially tough when you’re part of a profession in which budgets are often tight, roles are hierarchical, and barriers can feel insurmountable. I’m not just talking about working in the library or information science professions. All apply equally to the experience of being a student in an information science program as well. So, what can we do, as students and professionals, to advocate for ourselves effectively?

In the workplace.

Often it’s best to just go for it. Ask for what you want or point out what you see as a problem. Your co-workers are not mind-readers, and they shouldn’t necessarily have to be. Sometimes people just don’t see what you see because everyone is experiencing the day-to-day workflow differently, and they’re certainly not experiencing your job as you are. If you want to learn something new or try something new – ask! If you think your job should be re-classed (see Courtney Baron’s post from last year) – say so! Speaking up initially is the hardest part of self-advocacy, and I think the only way to get better at it is to just do it. As long as you’re respectful and do good work, you’re not likely to get a negative response.


Self advocacy: go for it! Image courtesy of Brooke Novak, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In school.

Becky Katz wrote a post a few years back about self-advocacy and getting into the classes you want to in library school. Have conversations with your advisor and email professors who teach what you want to take! I’ve had to do this many times throughout my first year of library school as an online student. Many courses aren’t offered to online students that I want and need to take. But, I’ve decided that I’m not going to take “no” for an answer. If I can’t take it through my school, I’ll try to take it somewhere else. If you’re passionate and excited about something in school, your advisor and professors will more than likely try to help you pursue it. Same goes for being part of student groups as an online student. Ask the organizers to include you and keep you informed about what the group is doing. Again, you’ve got to go for it!

So, here’s a little summary of tips for effective self-advocacy:

  1. Let your passion show and be positive. It goes without saying that approach is everything. For instance, if you approach your advisor with a request to help you get into a certain class, they’ll likely be much more willing to help if you maintain an upbeat attitude and explain why the subject is important to you. Every situation is different, but in most cases, it’s probably best to avoid sounding entitled to your request or angry about it.
  2. Say thank you. Whatever you do, don’t skip this one. When you make sure your colleagues, supervisors, advisors, professors, etc. know how much you appreciate them, they’re more likely to become advocates for you themselves.
  3. Maintain a decent level of professionalism on social media. I think it’s awesome that we live at a time when LIS students and professionals alike can interact so easily online. Just be mindful about what you’re posting, and ask yourself if it would help or hinder your case.
  4. Be persistent. If and when roadblocks arise, try to think of other solutions, and present those to people.

Finally, I think what can be hardest about self-advocacy is that it can feel uncomfortable and futile. It’s easy to get into a funk where you think what you’re feeling and what you want won’t matter to anyone else. Most of the time, that’s just not true. And, remember that your efforts today are bound to help someone else in the future. Maybe distance students will be able to take a class online at your school that you couldn’t when you went there. Or, maybe opening a line of dialogue with your co-workers about an issue will set a tone that carries forward into the future. The bottom line is that self-advocacy, like all advocacy, has far-reaching impacts.

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