When I first received the email asking if I could serve on ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation Committee, I almost said no. It’s not that I feel that advocacy is unimportant. Quite the contrary, I’ve long romanticized advocacy. I had this vision in my head of the tireless, dedicated, and most of all, supremely well-informed volunteer, who spent her days storming Capitol Hill and her nights penning letters to Congress. As much as I admired all that, I was sure I could never be that person. My biggest fear was that I simply wasn’t well informed enough, and all my previous attempts to become better informed had left me drowning in a mire of acronyms and bill numbers. At the end of the day, however, I decided there was no better way to learn about something than to join a committee.
I very quickly learned two important facts that made the whole business much less daunting. First, you don’t have to join a protest on a weekly basis to be an advocate; you can fit it into your daily life quite easily. Indeed, as I discovered, I already am a powerful advocate. I am a school librarian, and a large part of what I would consider to be simply doing my job falls under the heading of advocacy. I keep my administrators and teachers informed about the value of the school’s library through a monthly newsletter. I keep parents informed through a website and periodic Family Reading Night events. And I push for our local public library at every opportunity, letting teachers, administrators, parents, and students know the value of their local branch.
Second, there is a well-developed and completely non-intimidating toolkit already out there for anyone interested in doing any advocacy. Candice Mack wrote about these resources in an excellent blog back in March: https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2014/03/everyday-advocacy-for-everyone/. I invite you to take a look. Two of my favorite tools are the website Everyday Advocacy, which provides tips for on-the-ground library promotion, and Take Action Tuesday, a column in Everyday Advocacy that gives the reader simple weekly suggestions.
Knowing about these tools didn’t necessarily mean I’d use them, however, and even as a committee member, I let the five months between Midwinter and Annual go by still in a state of guilt-ridden inertia. I knew I should be reading Everyday Advocacy, especially on Tuesdays, but somehow never quite remembered to do so. (Yes, I was getting all those helpful reminders through ALSC-l, but my inbox is so choked with mail from ALSC that it’s hard to focus on any one message).
On the plane back from Vegas, I realized I would have to plot my own escape from Newton’s First Law. What could I do to make everyday advocacy actually happen? First, I placed a repeating note in my calendar for every Tuesday at lunchtime to check Take Action Tuesday. Second, I bookmarked Everyday Advocacy in Symbaloo, which means that I can access it regardless of which electronic device happens to be holding me captive at any given moment. Third, I liked the ALSC blog on Facebook and added it (@alscblog) and the Everyday Advocacy content editor Jenna Nemec-Louise (@alajenna) to my Twitter feed. Call me superficial, but I’m much better at getting to social media than I am to my inbox.
Finally, since deep down inside where it really counts, I still have visions of being that woman storming Capitol Hill, I added the contact information for my national, state, and local representatives to my electronic address book, so that I can fire off impassioned emails at the touch of a button. You can find contact information for your senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm and for your representatives at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. For local representatives just Google your state and local representative body (e.g., “New York State Assembly”); it should be easy to find the information from there. I also added a note in my calendar for early April to think about attending National Library Legislative Day, which takes place every year in early May in Washington D.C. This gathering is where ALSC members contact members of Congress personally to discuss why libraries provide vital services to all.
Eileen Makoff is a school librarian at P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School in Coney Island, NY. She is writing this blog on behalf of the Advocacy and Legislation Committee.