The start of a new year is a great time to set new goals, work on new projects, and begin advocating for libraries! Reaching out to share information about your library and voicing your opinions on legislation that impacts libraries can lead to tangible benefits in terms of funding and community support. However, getting started in advocacy often can feel intimidating and overwhelming. To help, Justin de la Cruz, Chair of the Committee on Library Advocacy, and Joe Thompson, Chair of the Committee on Legislation, have answered some questions you may have so you, too, can advocate like a pro!
1. On January 20th, Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States of America. Do you foresee any changes in support for legislation that affects libraries from this new administration?
Based on the individuals that President-Elect Biden has put forth for key positions in his Administration, some of which have previously served in the government and he has worked with in the past: we expect that the legislative landscape for libraries will be a bit more predictable in the years ahead. Thanks to the dedicated advocacy efforts of ALA’s members at both the grassroots and grass tops levels responding to threats by the White House to eliminate IMLS completely for four consecutive years, funding for the agency actually increased from $231 million to $257 million. We look forward to retaining this momentum to push for continued, increased funding for IMLS and other library programs and greater receptivity on other issues relevant to libraries into the new administration, albeit perhaps without the ominous fear of losing federal funding entirely. The incoming president will be faced with many challenges and funding priorities, but we anticipate a more friendly reception to the library agenda.
2. In this past election, many new Congressional Representatives and Senators were elected, as well as State Senators and Delegates. Do you have any tips for contacting new legislators and sharing with them the importance of supporting and funding libraries?
Building a relationship with your elected officials and maintaining rapport is crucial. They want to hear from you, their constituent, above all. Library advocates are encouraged to utilize the ALA’s advocacy center to find their newly elected federal and local representatives’ contact information and make a connection. Let them know who you are and why the work you do is so critical. Especially throughout the pandemic, libraries have stepped up to provide critical resources and support to members of each community. Share your personal, localized story with your newly elected representative, and ensure that they keep in mind the profound impact libraries have in upholding and rebuilding the community as they establish their legislative priorities for the new year. Consider inviting elected officials to participate in a virtual tour of your library by showing firsthand how library funding is contributing to the community during the pandemic, and make a case for why library funding needs to be increased.
3. While most libraries are not doing in-person programming at this time, librarians around the country are hosting a plethora of amazing virtual programs. What are the best ways of sharing these events, and other library services, with legislators to show them that libraries remain valuable and necessary resources for their communities?
There are various ways to showcase what libraries are doing virtually these days. Individually, you can reach out to representatives on social media platforms to show them your libraries’ online programs (you can find your representatives here), write op-eds for your local paper about how libraries are adapting to current challenges, or speak out at virtual town halls about how your libraries’ programs are positively impacting your community. But there’s nothing quite like group action, so if you are able to coordinate your efforts with your state’s ALA Chapter, state librarian, library lobbyist, or other regional library organizations, you can organize group write-ins or call-ins, launch social media campaigns, create library promotional materials (like videos), or maybe even secure media coverage for your local libraries. And ALA is available to help! They have compiled a list of great state and local resources for advocates across the nation here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/state-local-resources. Any amount of effort to spread the word on the value of libraries as centers for education and growth will go a long way.
Diana Price is a member of the ALSC Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee. She is the Beatley Central Library Manager for Alexandria Library in Alexandria, Virginia.