The new year brings a new focus to the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP)—the Policy Revolution! initiative. As previously reported, this initiative involves a re-evaluation of ALA’s national policy and advocacy strategies and activities, and the subsequent development of an agenda for the coming years. Based on this agenda, new and strengthened relationships will be sought, coupled with increasing the profile of libraries in national policy discussions and deliberations. Ultimately, the goal is to achieve outcomes that advance the mission of libraries in serving the nation’s communities.
While this characterization is accurate, it is also pretty fancy talk. Really, the idea is a simple one: the purpose of the initiative is to get more attention for libraries, so that more decision makers and those who influence them, think about libraries more often. When faced with a policy problem, we’re trying to get decision makers to think routinely about libraries as part of the solution.
How do we get attention? One way, of course, is to have ALA and the library community at-large communicate directly through myriad channels. Indeed, the initiative includes funding to support strategic communications planning and implementation, as well as background research needed to propel successful communications.
However, just as important, if not even more so, is to work towards getting non-library entities to communicate the message that libraries are part of the solution to many national social challenges. Though the library community has high credibility in Washington, support by outsiders carries the most weight. And of course, entities with national or international prestige in the policy context are the most powerful communicators for us.
We have a good baseline of such entities. For example, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, led by the well-regarded Lee Rainie, is engaged in studies on libraries in the digital age. These reports have received widespread coverage in national media and garner the attention of important decision makers. Thankfully the Pew research also provides important and credible data for the kind of library advocacy we mentioned earlier, from E-rate advocacy to positioning libraries for the future. The Aspen Institute is in the midst of a national dialogue on the future of public libraries and previously worked with the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Community, which also featured libraries as vital players. And of course, the strongest ally of all is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, both directly as a national (and international) advocate for libraries, and as a funder of strategic activities for the library community.
ALA—as well as state and local libraries across the country—must continue to build and extend our relationships with corporations, government organizations, and advocacy groups at all levels. In the coming months, ALA will be working towards strengthening our key national relationships, as well as developing new ones. With library interests and engagement so wide (from aiding people to enroll in Medicare or health exchanges to convening community conversations around local priorities) and deep (supporting literacies of all kinds and ensuring equitable and uncensored access to information), the biggest challenge of all for us will be to figure out which of the numerous opportunities to pursue.
We’re looking forward to taking the initiative with a new Library Advisory Committee and Public Policy Advisory Council in formation. Stay tuned in coming months for more details as we develop a national policy agenda for libraries!
Alan S. Inouye, director, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, and Larra Clark, program director, America’s Libraries for the 21st Century, contributed to this article.