Blog Entry 23: Agreeing on Advocacy

If there is one thing that we can agree on, it’s that we’re not going to agree on a definition on advocacy. For example, back in November, I was on a panel with the Chair and a fellow Steering Committee member of the I&A Roundtable, and it took a bit of back and forth before we could reach consensus on a definition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Advocacy should be broad, encompassing, and whatever a particular person or group needs to get the job done. That last part is the most important part—when certain advocacy avenues are ignored, it is often detriment of a larger cause.


Before I go on, here is my definitely of advocacy. Simply put, advocacy is taking action. You—or your organization—set a policy agenda and then you fight for and hopefully achieve it. I view advocacy as analogous to promotion and education (“this is what archives can do for you,” “this is what I do as an archivist,” “this is why you shouldn’t cut our funding,” etc.), but ultimately advocacy is something beyond that. Advocacy is you playing offense.


SAA’s Advocacy Agenda for 2012–2013 states, “This Advocacy Agenda identifies a limited set of broad priorities that serves to guide the Society’s advocacy efforts in the public policy and legislative arenas.” I am all for this statement, but why not include every avenue available to us?  Not all law is made in the legislatures, and legislatures aren’t the ones interpreting laws. We don’t just need to be advocates in the legislative area; we need to be advocates in the courtroom.


In the United States, there are times when courts can make law—known as common law, or judge-made law—and then other times when courts interpret laws created by legislatures. If you want to advocate within the courts, and are not a party to the case, you can file an amicus brief. Amici—also known as friends of the court—are acknowledged experts in a particular field. Judges rely upon the statements of these outside experts to understand the effect a ruling may have on a field, profession, or portion of the economy. Amicus briefs can be filed in support of one of the parties involved in the case, or in support of neither party. They can include all sorts of useful data or provide narratives about a profession. They can be filed with other interested parties, or filed by a single interested party.


Advocacy in the courts is not a stretch for us. SAA is no stranger to amicus briefs, as past Council minutes show. If you want to see an example, check out, the brief from Greenberg v. National Geographic Society where SAA worked together with organizations such as the American Library Association and the American Association of Law Libraries. In the brief, SAA is described as an organization that “provides services to and represents the professional interests of more than 4,500 individual archivists and institutions as they work to identify, preserve, and ensure access to the nation’s historical record.” SAA used its acknowledged position as a body of experts to advocate on behalf of its interests and the larger interests of those involved with preservation in respect to copyright law interpretation.


What’s the take away from this? Advocacy within the court system is as important as advocacy within the legislatures, but it is a completely different animal. It requires following cases across the country, building relationships with attorneys, and other resources. A good example of an organization that excels at advocacy in the courts is the Freedom to Read Foundation, which is affiliated with ALA.


Is advocacy in the courts applicable to every situation? No. It may not even be possible to muster the resources necessary to engage in such advocacy every time a court case comes up. However, at the very least, it’s important to be aware that we can advocate within the courts, and to be ready to explore the possibility of using it. After all, ultimately, isn’t advocacy the act of fighting the good fight with whatever tools are available to you?



Christine Anne George is the Archivist & Faculty Services Librarian at the Charles B. Sears Law Library at SUNY Buffalo.