With my time on the Advocacy & Legislation Committee coming to a close, I thought I would share my experience at the 2016 National Library Legislative Day (NLLD).
Advocacy is something that I feel strongly about. You may have read my previous “Did You Know This is Advocacy” post or saw my desperate attempts to bribe people to contact their Senators to confirm Dr. Carla Hayden as the Librarian of Congress (which worked by the way).
But even with a strong commitment toward advocacy, I have to confess that NLLD made me nervous. The idea of talking to elected officials face-to-face and trying to remember everything that is important to libraries, and trying to do it in five minutes made me feel incredibly uncertain.
The day before NLLD officially started, the ALA Washington Office invited attendees to visit their location and attend an orientation session. I can’t tell you how important this was for me. ALA Executive Director Keith Fiels, ALA Washington Office Executive Director Emily Sheketoff, and Adam Eisgrau, Managing Director of the Office of Government Relations each gave us a pep talk, which was followed by a very engaging introduction to advocacy and how legislation works in Washington by advocacy consultant Stephanie Vance.
In a very fast hour, Vance presented everything that I needed to know about sharing the advocacy message to members of Congress. First, know who you are talking to. Find out whether they are on committees—your message can change if they are on certain committees such as Appropriations, Energy, or Judiciary. What are some of their “pet projects” and how could you help them? Where are they on the policy spectrum?
She discussed that since NLLD usually takes place when Congress is out of session we would most likely be talking with their staff members. More importantly, she said that talking with staff members can actually be advantageous since they would be more familiar with the details of the issues we’d be discussing. And while staff members are not the elected officials, they act as an extension of the elected official and are of one mind with the Senator or Representative they work for.
As a strategy, Vance introduced the SPIT acronym (you get to decide how apt the acronym is) in order to be most effective at communicating. You want to share information that is Specific, Personal, Informative, and Timely. Then have a strategy for following up.
The most important aspect of the conversation is the ask. Know what you want, and ask for something specific. This advice was great when talking to my Senators’ staff. “I would like the Senator to vote to confirm Dr. Carla Hayden as the next Librarian of Congress before the summer break!”
Recapping, Vance gave us this formula. “Hello! My name is [your name here] and I am from [your library]. I’m here to talk to you about [issue]. Knowing of your interest in [important issue], let me tell you a story about [personal story concerning issue]. That’s why I hope you will [specific action]. Will you support [specific action]? I’d like to follow up by [follow up strategy].”
Following that, I had to head back to the hotel to take a nap!
Then NLLD begins. ALA Washington provides packets of information to everyone in attendance. Of particular value are the issue briefs that are prepared on issues impacting libraries. In 2016, these included: Rapidly Vote to Confirm Dr. Carla Hayden as Librarian of Congress. Maintain “Innovative Approaches to Literacy” Funding for School Libraries. Support Freedom of Information Act Reform. Support Lifeline, Affordable Broadband and Strong “Net Neutrality” Protection. Support Real Privacy and Surveillance Law Reform Now! Support the Marrakesh Treaty (Copyright “Recalibration”).
For each of these issues, ALA Washington has prepared an entire summary of the bill information, the ALA position, what ALA wants Congress to do, how the legislation might affect constituents, and facts about the bill. These sheets are easy to read and the language can be used verbatim when talking to Congress.
Day One–the conference session–is filled with speakers giving further support and information about policy, working with the Media, and hearing other stories and information. All of this is to get you energized and prepared to talk with your elected officials.
The second day is all about visiting your delegation. Your state will have a NLLD Coordinator. The people from your state usually get together to strategize and discuss who will talk about what, and what roles each person has. If your job prohibits lobbying, perhaps you provide strictly information. If you have a State Library Association representative, they may be the one charged with the ask.
It all takes place in a whirlwind of finding offices, talking to staff, using your advocacy armor and presenting your message, and repeating. I even discovered there is a Dunkin Donuts in the basement of the office building!
After the meetings, I had a rush of energy. I know that my legislators don’t necessarily share my viewpoint on the issues we presented. But everyone treated us with respect. More often than not, they shared their perspective very rationally and understandably. In a couple of cases, I was able to use what the staff person told me to further the case on the issue. And I believe that was largely due to the fantastic information prepared and presented on the first two days.
So now it is your turn! Plan on attending National Library Legislative Day soon. Collectively, we have a strong voice. Legislators and their staffs are happy to speak with their constituents. And sometimes, your call or visit will tip the balance in the decision for an issue that is deeply important to you! If you absolutely can’t attend NLLD, you can definitely participate in Virtual Library Legislative Day at the same time. In 2017, both occur on May 1 and 2.
Don’t forget your Advocacy Resources that are just a click away. ALSC has created “Everyday Advocacy” which is full of resources that can help you prepare to share your message with a legislator, a local elected official, or a community stakeholder. And keep an eye on the National Library Legislative Day website for registration information.
Finally, you can turn to the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee or call the ALA Washington Office for more information, to discuss strategy or clarify issues. We want you to feel confident anytime you are advocating and we are very willing to help you!
Matt McLain is the Manager of the South Jordan Library, part of the Salt Lake County Library System. He is ending his term as co-chair for the ALSC Advocacy & Legislation Committee.