This year’s National Library Legislative Day, sponsored by the American Library Association, is scheduled to take place April 23-24 at the Liaison Hotel in Washington, D.C. Click here (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/nlld) for more information, registration, etc.
Isn’t this an event dominated by public librarians? Why should academic librarians care? In answer to the first question, yes, most participants tend to come from the public library world. The short answer to the second question is that it is in our interest as academic librarians to let our legislators hear our voices. A longer answer is provided below.
There are several good reasons why legislators need to hear from us in the academic library world. For one thing, many of our interests overlap with the public library constituency. However, there is a shocking level of ignorance found in at least some of our Representatives and Senators about how their actions can have either favorable or deleterious effects on higher education in general and library services in particular. A lot of legislators, federal or on the state or more local level, really do not understand that slashing education-related budget appropriations hurts academic and school libraries which in turn hurts the quality of education of our students which, ultimately, hurts our society and makes us less competitive on a global level. I don’t want to sound too reductive and equate the value of higher education solely with professional or vocational success but sometimes the practical, monetary and social implications of library-related budget cuts need to be spelled out in such a way for the legislator to understand the consequences of his or her vote.
Many of you might think, “I’m no lobbyist. I have no aptitude or desire to approach my Congressperson and, basically, ask for money.” The good news is that, no, you are not expected to do actual lobbying. No political connections or great rhetorical skills are needed. Typically, your encounter with the Congressperson, or more likely, his/her office staff member, is brief – perhaps around 10 minutes or so – and, in my own experience, it has been of a cordial nature. Legislators are busy people but they do pay attention to their constituents, especially if contact is made in person as can be done during National Library Legislative Day.
What this day is about is advocacy, not lobbying. This means briefly and clearly explaining to the legislator (or his/her office staff member) why certain bills or appropriations are important to academic librarians and also to the social and economic well-being of the legislators’ home state. You are definitely NOT expected to provide favors, take the legislator out golfing, etc.! You do not need to know all the minutiae of a particular bill although it certainly would not hurt to indicate that you at least have a good understanding of a bill’s implications for the academic library world and thus to the social and economic well-being of the legislator’s home state. If your legislator is already on board and supportive, this would certainly be a good occasion to thank him/her in order to encourage continued support.
Participants in National Library Legislative Day are briefed and provided with some basic orientation by ALA Washington Office staff, so you want to be prepared to address perhaps no more than two or three at most basic points when you visit the legislators’ offices. Having one or more specific anecdotes to relate to the legislator concerning the effects of funding (or lack of it) can also be helpful. The ALA Washington Office has some very helpful ways of keeping you informed about federal legislation and how it relates to libraries. Take a look at the ALA Advocacy & Legislation page at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg and also the ALA Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/ala/home/ for very helpful information and tools you can use anytime, not just in connection to NLLD, to contact legislators to express your concern or support as the case may be. Finally, I strongly encourage you to sign up for an e-mail subscription to the District Dispatch at http://capwiz.com/ala/mlm/signup/ . This is a great way to stay informed.
So far, I have directly participated in only one National Library Legislative Day but it was a very rewarding experience. In May 2008 I was part of a tiny delegation of librarians from the state of Alabama. I was the only academic librarian. We visited the Washington offices of all seven Representatives and two Senators from Alabama that day. Each meeting was a rather pleasant, almost conversational experience. The three of us in the Alabama delegation each spoke for about five minutes on a single separate issue. Generally, the legislator or his/her staff member listened, so there weren’t many questions to answer. I concisely explained why legislation pertaining to the National Agricultural Library was important to higher education, especially in Alabama. Coming from a large land-grant state university with a major College of Agriculture and with connections to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Extension Service, I was able to concretely demonstrate to the legislators why maintaining full funding for the NAL was a very good idea.
Even in this age of fiscal strain and the posturing of some legislators against the evils of Big Government, getting through directly to such a legislator or his/her office staff with your advocacy on behalf of academic libraries is important and worthwhile. Contacting legislators by letter, telephone call, or e-mail message is worthy and helpful, but an in-person visit is even more effective.
I hope you will consider taking part in National Library Legislative Day on April 23-24, 2012.
ACRL Chapters Council Legislative Network Representative