Nicole Helregel, one of the library-school student interns at last year’s HSLI conference, was featured in an article from the latest edition of AL Direct. (The March 31 issue is available here.) Nicole, who contributes regularly to “Hack Library School”, a blog for MLS students, recently wrote a piece on strategies for reaching out to lawmakers regarding library issues. As she notes, doing so is becoming especially crucial with the release of the proposed federal budget for FY 2016. The budget calls for the elimination of federal funding for the Institute of Museum & Library Services. (I will put together a separate post on the potential impact of the cuts.) ALA President Courtney Young has already released a statement expressing her strong concern over the proposed cuts. The statement can be read here.
Nicole gives the following advice for researching legislative issues and then actually contacting lawmakers to advocate for libraries. (I’ve expanded on some of what she discusses.)
Research the situation. Reading the actual text of a legislation is crucial for determining just what it proposes, since news stories and other sources of information can be vague and, in some cases, inaccurate. In particular, if a proposal affecting libraries is part of a larger piece of legislation, viewing the text can make it more clear just what role library funding plays in that legislation.
Learn what stance other library and information science professionals have taken. It is important to know not just that librarians are supporting or opposing certain legislation, but why. This will help in putting together a uniform message that will make it clear to legislators just what impact proposed legislation would have on libraries and the people they serve.
Use online resources. These range from the national level (the American Library Association has had a Washington Office since 1945, the website of which can be accessed here) to the state and local levels. (The Illinois Library Association’s advocacy page is here.) These resources are useful not just for learning the background on an issue, but determining which legislators should be contacted.
Craft your message. Make certain that the message one sends to elected officials is as short and to the-point as possible, while still making it clear why an issue matters. Legislators can interact with hundreds of constituents on a daily basis; they won’t have time to read or listen to a long appeal, regardless of how well-written or relevant the message may be.
Call the lawmaker. Contacting the person directly ensures that he or she will receive the message. (There is always the possibility that an e-mail or letter will never make it to the lawmaker’s inbox or desk.) Also, that one took the time to call will make one stand out in the politician’s mind and could be the beginning of a long-term relationship. Of course, visiting in person is an even better option, although this may not be as feasible, particularly for meeting with federal lawmakers, except during organized advocacy events such as National Library Legislative Day (which is coming up soon, by the way).
Encourage others to act on the issue. While a positive interaction with a legislator can leave a lasting impression, he or she is unlikely to be moved to vote a certain way simply because of one appeal. (This is probably especially the case for library-related issues, since these matters are relatively low-profile, compared to policy affecting other institutions.) The more people who speak out on an issue, however, the better the chance that a legislator will take notice and perhaps think twice about voting against libraries’ interests, not just on this particular issue, but on future ones, also.
Thank you, Nicole, for taking the time to lay out strategies for advocating on behalf of libraries and the profession as a whole. And, congratulations on having your work featured in AL Direct!