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Tips for Effective Letters

Legislators want to hear from their constituents and to be perceived as responsive. A well-written letter lets them know you care and can provide valuable facts and feedback that help the official take a well-reasoned stand.


Use the correct form of address

Identify yourself

If you are writing as a member of your library’s board of trustees, as a school librarian, officer of the Friends, or college administrator, say so.

State why you are coming forward

Let your elected officials know you believe all types of libraries are central to our democracy and that you are counting on them to make sure that all libraries—public, school and academic— have adequate funds and resources.

Be specific

Cite a bill number or other identifying information. Give examples. If budget cuts have forced your library to cut book and journal budgets, or students are graduating without necessary information literacy skills, say so.

Write from the heart

Avoid clichés. Form letters that look like they’re a part of an organized pressure campaign don’t have as much impact as a personal letter.

Focus on the people who depend on library services

Include real-life stories or examples of how the library makes a difference in the lives of constituents. Use the “What’s Your Story?” campaign to collect stories from your patrons that demonstrate the value of your library in your community.

Be brief

A one-page letter is easier to read—and more likely to be read.

Be sure to include your name, ...

... mailing address, and telephone number in the letter, not just on the envelope. If the letter gets separated from the envelope, the legislator may not be able to respond.

Compound your letter’s impact...

... by sending copies to city councilors and members of Congress and other officials. Be sure to send a copy to your library’s advocacy coordinator and to the ALA’s Washington Office if appropriate. Also let them know of any response you receive.

Be strategic

Know the budget cycles for various governing bodies. Send letters early to maximize their impact. ALA and many state associations will issue action alerts on timely issues.

Excerpted from the American Library Association’s A Communications Handbook for Libraries, published in Summer of 2004. To see A Communications Handbook for Libraries in full, please visit: http://www.ala.org/ala/pio/availablepiomat/online_comm_handbook.pdf.

  • Montana State Library
  • P.O. Box 201800, 1515 East 6th Avenue
  • Helena, MT 59620-1800
  • Phone: (406) 444-3115
  • Fax: (406) 444-0266
  • msl.mt.gov