In 1945, ALA founded the Washington Office to educate and work with legislators and public officials to obtain funding and policies that support libraries and public access to information.
Over the years, the office’s work has been instrumental in many important wins for libraries, including the passage of the first bill enacted by Congress granting federal aid to public libraries in 1956. Its successor, the Library Services and Construction Act, passed in 1964 and has helped thousands of U.S. libraries to build branches, operate bookmobiles, establish computer centers, and provide innovative outreach services. The construction bill was later replaced by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), which has moved federal support from construction to supporting new, innovative library services. This funding has made it possible for virtually every library to offer no-fee access to the Internet, summer reading programs to stop the education slide, and lifelong learning. Lobbying to increase LSTA funding to meet the rising demands of libraries continues to be a top priority of the ALA Washington Office each year.
In 1995, the Washington Office embarked on an unprecedented expansion of ALA’s commitment to promoting public access to information by establishing the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP.) Since that time OITP has worked with the Office of Government Relations (OGR) to advance ALA’s public policy activities by helping secure information technology policies that support and encourage efforts of libraries to ensure access to electronic information resources as a means of upholding the public’s right to a free and open information society. As we celebrate the 65th anniversary, the Washington Office recognizes what a pivotal time this is in our nation’s history for these issues in particular with the current administration paving the way for major changes to our nation’s technological landscape including advancing national broadband build-out, securing net neutrality, improving the E-Rate program, maintaining a more transparent government, and improving access to government information through technology.
On the copyright front, one of the most beneficial accomplishments over the years was the creation of the Copyright Advisory Network that connects librarians to copyright experts for advice and discussion on day-to-day library and copyright issues. Engaging in copyright issues in order to protect and preserve fair use continues a top priority of the work of the ALA Washington Office.
The last few years have not been without struggles. Fighting the USA PATRIOT Act was a hallmark battle of the post-Sept. 11 years, and seeking reform remains a goal we still strive for each time the bill is up for reauthorization. We also continue to seek improvements to our nation’s comprehensive education reform and have a tremendous opportunity to ensure the Elementary Secondary Education Act includes school libraries when the bill comes up for reauthorization in the 112th Congress.
The Washington Office is proud to take on the responsibility of speaking out for the needs of our nation’s libraries and the public they serve in our nation’s capital. We thank members for their continued engagement and for allowing us the privilege of being the ALA’s voice in Washington.