After calling Congress, write a letter to the editor

The single most impactful action you can take to save funding for libraries right now is to contact your member of Congress directly. Once you’ve done that, there is another action you can take to significantly amplify your voice and urge public support for libraries: writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. (Examples published subsequent to this post are here.)

excerpt from http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/06/getting_in_touch_with_pennlives_opinion_staff.html

Each newspaper has its own guidelines for submitting letters to the editor. Source: pennlive.com/opinion

If you’ve never done it, don’t let myths get in the way of your advocacy:

Myth 1: My local newspaper is really small, so I don’t want to waste my time. It’s true that the larger the news outlet, the more exposure your letter gets. But it’s also true that U.S. representatives care about the opinions expressed in their own congressional district, where their voters live. For example, if you live in the 15th district of Pennsylvania, your U.S. representative cares more about the Harrisburg Patriot-News and even smaller local newspapers than he does about the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Myth 2: I have to be a state librarian to get my letter printed in the newspaper. Newspaper editorial boards value input from any readers who have specific stories to share about how policies affect real people on a daily basis. Sure, if you’re submitting a letter to the New York Times, having a title increases your chances of getting published. The larger the news outlet, the more competitive it is to get published. But don’t let your title determine the value of your voice. Furthermore, you can encourage your library patrons to write letters to the editor. Imagine the power of a letter written by a veteran in Bakersfield, CA, who received help accessing benefits through the state’s veteransconnect@thelibrary initiative – especially when their U.S. representative is on the Veterans Affairs subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Myth 3: I don’t have anything special to say in a letter. You don’t need to write a masterpiece, but you need to be authentic. Letters in response to material recently published (within a couple days) stand a better chance of getting printed. How did you feel about a story you read about, for example, the elimination of library programs in the Trump budget? Was there a missing element of the story that needs to be addressed? What new information (statistics) or unique perspective (anecdotes) can you add to what was printed? Is there a library angle that will be particularly convincing to one of your members of Congress (say, their personal interest in small business development)? Most importantly, add a call to action. For example, “We need the full support of Senators {NAME and NAME} and Representative {NAME} to preserve full federal funding for libraries so they can continue to…” Be sure to check our Legislative Action Center for current language you can use.

Ready to write? Here are a few practical tips about how to do it:

Tip 1: Keep it short – in general, maximum 200 words. Every news outlet has its own guidelines for submitting letters to the editor, which are normally published on their website. Some allow longer letters, others shorter. In any case, the more concise and to-the-point, the better.

Tip 2: When you email your letter, paste it into the body of the text and be sure to include your name, title, address and phone number so that you can be contacted if the editor wants to verify that you are the author. Do not send an attachment.

Tip 3: If your letter gets published, send a copy to your representative and senators to reinforce your message (emailing a hyperlink is best). Also, send a copy to the Washington Office (imanager@alawash.org); we can often use the evidence of media attention when we make visits on Capitol Hill.

Finally, get others involved. Recruit patrons, business leaders and other people in your community to write letters to the editor (after they have called their members of Congress, of course!). Editors won’t publish every single letter they get, but the more letters they receive on a specific topic, the more they realize that it is an issue that readers care deeply about – and that can inspire editors to further explore the impact of libraries for themselves.

About Shawnda Hines

Shawnda Hines is the press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office. Contact her at shines[at]alawash[dot]org.

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