Before speaking with Marijke Visser, Associate Director of the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), I honestly had very little knowledge of what exactly was involved with the duties of the Washington Office staff other than advocating on behalf of ALA and libraries in general. In my usual over-imaginative fashion, I envisioned their days spent in conference rooms filled with charts (as seen in The American President), having power lunches (image courtesy of West Wing), and standing up for libraries using some incredibly uplifting call-to-action speeches (think Braveheart). While I’m sure these moments exist (or at least some version of them), talking with Marijke about the structure of the Washington Office and some of the exciting projects staff are currently exploring broadened my view of their work and inspired me to advocate for our profession with a renewed Scottish-like vigor.
As Marijke explained, the Washington Office is separated into two distinct offices: The Office of Government Relations and the Office for Information Technology Policy. When I thought of the Washington Office, I associated it with direct lobbying on the hill; The Office of Government Relations is the group that works to follow and influence legislation, policy, and regulatory issues on the hill. The Office for Information Technology Policy works with a variety of groups, such as the Department of Education and the SEC, on outward facing issues, such as issues supporting a free and open information society.
One way that the Washington Office, particularly the Office of Government Relations, helps to inform and influence legislation and policy is by identifying and building champions on key issues. This is one way that Marijke highlighted for ALSC members to help and become involved. Creating and nurturing strong relationships between legislative members and local librarians can provide opportunities for librarians to bring attention to key issues impacting library services to children while legislative members build connections on a local level and gain a more direct understanding and/or experience of how issues like literacy, media mentorship, or the digital divide are directly impacting youth. One example Marijke provided of this concept is an interest in how the digital divide is impacting disadvantaged teenagers. The Washington Office was able to connect interested legislative members with local librarians in their service area to discuss how the digital divide impacts teenagers and how libraries are able to help bridge the economic gap for this population.
Towards the end of our call, Marijke explained the Office for Information Technology Policy’s Policy Revolution! Initiative. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this initiative is in its second of three years. Described by Marijke as “shaking up how we do policy”, this initiative is designed to examine how libraries are branded to other organizations, look for more ways for their office to become proactive rather than reactive, and to build connections between agencies many people do not usually associate with libraries, such as HUD and Veterans Affairs. Ultimately the goal is to increase the perception of libraries as essential to policy and community conversations in a way that influences organizations to view library professionals as essential participants at the discussion table.
How does this apply to us? How can a little (seriously… I’m only 5’2”!) children’s librarian in Akron, Ohio stay current on legislative and policy issues? How can I best use this information to make a difference? Marijke suggested following the Washington Office’s blog, the District Dispatch. (http://www.districtdispatch.org/). You can sign up for news and alerts and locate a lot of other advocacy pages at http://www.ala.org/offices/cro/legislationandadvocacy/legislationandadvocacy. ALSC’s Everyday Advocacy website is essential for staying informed and inspired on all facets of advocacy. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out (what are you waiting for?!) you should stop what you are doing right now and visit it at http://www.ala.org/everyday-advocacy/. Also, reach out to your local, state, and national representation to share successes and challenges. While you may not need to directly advocate for an important issue today, building those relationships now may someday prove to be invaluable.
Libraries offer such a valuable service to the public, and librarians are consistently doing important work that directly improves the lives of children. I urge each of us (myself included) to remember the importance of our work on the toughest days and to channel our inner William Wallace (blue face paint is optional).
Today’s guest contributor is JoAnna Schofield, member of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee. JoAnna is a children’s librarian at the Highland Square Branch Library where she enjoys singing Laurie Berkner’s “I Know a Chicken” more than most people. She finds her greatest inspiration from her three rambunctious children, Jackson (5), Parker (4), and Amelia Jane (2). JoAnna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More than anything, she wants you to know if any information in this blog is not accurate, it is completely her misunderstanding and no fault of Marijke Visser. Marijke is truly lovely.