Meet Marci Merola, IIDA Director of Advocacy
Marci comes to IIDA with over a decade of grassroots activism leading to legislative successes, and a passion for professions that transform communities and lives.
IIDA welcomes Marci Merola as the new Director of Advocacy, where she joins headquarters after a long tenure at the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Library Advocacy, serving as their founding director since its formation in 2007. She brings an expansive skillset of relationship building and leadership skills; association know-how, and experience with lobbying efforts.
Merola briefly explored other careers and interests prior to her lengthy work with libraries—from working in the publishing industry, to being a freelance writer in the not-for-profit sector, to developing a passion for creative writing, poetry, and all things language. Here she talks about her background, advocacy as a professional and personal mission, and taking IIDA’s efforts to new heights.
Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you first develop a passion for advocacy?
I am a writer and communicator, first and foremost. My undergrad degree is in English and journalism. I started my professional career in the publishing industry, but eventually, I found more meaningful work in the non-profit sector, where I’ve now occupied all roles: volunteer, board member, employee, and consultant.I’ve spent many years with the ALA, where I began in the Public Information Office, working on public awareness efforts, public relations efforts, and advocacy work, which was what really resonated with me.
At the time, ALA had only a DC-based lobbying office that focused on federal funding, which accounted for only about 4% of total library dollars. We were missing the mark: spending so much time and effort educating members about advocacy at the federal level, when all the action was back at home and at the state level. So I worked to create a new department focused on grassroots advocacy, helping libraries at the state and local levels towards better funding, positive legislation, and building communities of support. I also did a lot of crisis intervention and I worked closely with the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which is focused around education and prevention of censorship and book banning.
In what ways has this experience informed and prepared you for your role at IIDA?
Aside from having a strong foundation in professional organizations and their chapters, as well as legislative understanding, I think there are a lot of parallels with both professions that make me well-suited for IIDA. Librarians are often taken for granted. There’s a stereotype that persists, despite the fact that the profession requires an advanced, specialized degree. At a city council meeting, they often feel they’re second fiddle to the chief of police or the fire chief. At a school level, they might be the only librarian on staff, getting lumped in with the lunch lady or groundskeeper, instead of at the table with other teachers. The challenge is in communicating the true value of what both of these professions do: both librarians and interior designers have the ability to transform communities and transform lives. That’s a pretty cool superpower.
I also understand the value of public space, and that how one experiences a public space transcends four walls and a ceiling. Not many of my close friends or family were surprised by this leap into interior design. Even as a little kid, in a hotel I’d push every button on the elevator—not because I wanted a long elevator ride or I wanted to annoy other people, but because I wanted to experience every floor, every foyer or hallway. “They’re all the same,” my parents would tell me. But I knew they were different, and deliberately so, but I had no idea why. Actually, what inspired me to even think about that was listening to Megan Dobstaff, IIDA, in our recent webinar Women Lead Design: New Changemakers, when she talked about how she’d make her parents rearrange their furniture!
I’ve always loved beautiful, functional spaces, in my home, in my office, and in the world. Now, when I visit a new city or town, I always want to check out their library. How communities take care of their libraries says so much about the people who live there and the people who fund it. And once inside a library, I head to the children’s section. How a library—and its community—treats its children, how invested they are in feeding children’s imaginations and love of learning, tells me so much.
What does advocacy mean to you? In what ways has your vision evolved over the years? What are the greatest advantages and challenges you had to face in this profession?
I love advocacy work because I love the idea that it’s entirely possible to create change. Even in the United States, I think most people are disenchanted; they don’t feel that the democratic process is for them. Nor do they believe that there are some good politicians out there, who are really working for the greater good.
I think the hardest part is seeing how disheartened constituents and advocates can become, for a variety of reasons. First, there’s the realization that the nature of advocacy is cyclical. Just because you proved your point and won your legislators over last budget cycle doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do it again next year. There is often fatigue. Second, that advocacy is about compromise. It’s a negotiation. Chances are that you’re not going to get 100% of what you asked for, but even little steps are actual victories. Third, advocacy is traditionally about the long game, an exercise in patience in an increasingly impatient culture. That’s changing. The youth of America are clearly demonstrating that they’re not interested in any long game, and that change is possible right now. But the price of that is an increase in factioning in our country. It feels like so many, especially older generations, are being left in the dust. The biggest challenge ahead may be to find a way to bring the whole community along.
The challenge is in communicating the true value of what both of these professions do: both librarians and interior designers have the ability to transform communities and transform lives. That’s a pretty cool superpower.
– Marci Merola
IIDA is an inclusive global network of creative and diverse professionals. Can you talk about the importance of community within IIDA (at a chapter-level), interior design and the world at-large?
I think it’s important to be deferential when it comes to chapters and remember that they are the experts when it comes to state politics, the collective personalities of their members, and what works for them in their state. So then the question becomes, well why do chapters need us at the national level? I think the answer is that IIDA HQ can provide them with that 30,000-foot view. We can see patterns that are emerging in legislation, education, member relations, and we can inform, support, and celebrate the work of all the chapters. Collectively we can help to move the profession forward.
In this unusual moment in time that we’re all living through, with so much uncertainty, I’m thrilled to be learning that IIDA leads in a progressive way: inclusive, collaborative and calling on the collective wisdom of both staff and members to better serve the profession.
From what and where do you get a sense of achievement? What motivates and inspires you?
I’m both creative and collaborative at heart, so I get a sense of achievement from creating something that wasn’t there before. And then I want to share it, and I get inspired if it makes people happy. Now, this could be as simple as making dinner to share with friends, or helping to foster a new work relationship or friendship, or finding best practices or a new way of doing things.
What are you most excited about moving forward?
I’m excited about working at the chapter level and finding new ways to help support the VPs of Advocacy. I’m very interested in the current legislation at play right now, and where that momentum will take the profession. This is such an exciting time for interior design.
Find out how to become involved in your state, or learn more about what IIDA Advocacy teams do for the profession, here.
This article first appeared in the IIDA blog here.Back to Blog