Build relationships to advance advocacy

Rep. Grijalva at the press conference.

This advocacy guest post was written by Arizona’s Pima County Public Library Director Amber Mathewson, whose member of Congress, Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), led the recent effort to gather 144 signatures on a “Dear Appropriator” letter in support of LSTA funding. To highlight the important local uses of Federal LSTA funding, Rep. Grijalva held a press conference in front of the library at the El Pueblo Neighborhood Center during Congress’ spring recess.

A crowd gathered this week outside the El Pueblo Library in South Tucson where Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D) and other library advocates to discuss the possible effects of President Trump’s proposed budget cuts — including the elimination of the IMLS —on libraries in Arizona and nationwide. A statement by ALA Julie Todaro was read at the event, in which the American Library Association thanked Rep. Grijalva for his leadership in fighting for library funding.

A statement by ALA Julie Todaro was read at the event, in which the American Library Association thanked Rep. Grijalva for his leadership in fighting for library funding.

Manager of the El Pueblo Library Anna Sanchez was among those who spoke: “Public libraries play a significant role in maintaining and supporting our free democratic society. They are America’s great equalizers, providing everyone the same access to information and opportunities for success.”

At Pima County Public Library, across 26 locations and 9,200 square miles in Southern Arizona, we passionately embrace that role in all that we do. From innovative programming helping entrepreneurs launch their dreams to high-tech youth centers where young adults engage in life-long learning, the Library gives everyone — regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or economic status — a chance to thrive.

Sanchez added: “Libraries are truly the one place in America where the doors are open to everyone.”

Pima County (Ariz.) Public Library Director Amber Mathewson

Arizona’s Pima County Public Library Director Amber Mathewson, whose member of Congress, Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), led the recent effort to gather 144 signatures on a “Dear Appropriator” letter in support of LSTA funding.

While libraries nationwide form the cornerstone of our democratic society, they cannot afford to be complacent. As the current threat to funding demonstrates, it is critical that we dedicate ourselves to building relationships with elected officials. It is their votes that can drastically affect the future of libraries. In Southern Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, we have a champion and steadfast ally in Congressman Grijalva. He recently secured 144 lawmakers’ signatures, across party lines, on a letter to Congress, urging against the cuts and requesting more than $186 million in funding for library programs. Last year, the letter was signed by 88 Representatives.

Grijalva has helped to preserve and defend libraries, elevating library service in the local, state and national arenas. We must build upon that support and expand relationships with other policymakers. Like Rep. Grijalva, they are the ones who will help ensure a future in which libraries are valued as pillars not only of our communities but of our nation.

Last year, as the President of the Arizona Library Association, I attended ALA’s 42nd Annual National Library Legislative Day. Alongside State Librarian Holly Henley, citizen advocate Teresa Quale, and Legislative Chair Kathy Husser, we spoke to all 11 Arizona staff representatives from the House and Senate. We highlighted STEM programming and workforce development, answered funding questions, discussed collaborations and made plans for onsite visits.

In-person meetings are immeasurably meaningful. They are vital if we wish lawmakers to view libraries and librarians as true changemakers. It is in those meetings where we are afforded the space to share the powerful stories of transformation that take place at our libraries every day.

Pima County Public Library is an active partner in the Arizona State Library Association and the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records. These organizations are committed to our success and offer much to help us become our own best advocates.

Staff training provides tools to communicate effectively, while easy-to-use resources guide us in identifying and securing meetings with elected officials.

As a county-run system, the relationship we have with our Board of Supervisors is one of paramount importance. To be fully engaged in a library’s vision, one must see for themselves what the library makes possible.

We regularly invite supervisors to attend events and to visit their district libraries. The location of our Library Board Retreat, held annually, alternates between districts which help strengthen those relationships.

At Pima County Public Library, we believe it is our job to educate others so they can advocate on our behalf. The value we bring to our community is incalculable. Every day, we provide people with pathways to a better future. For many, we are a lifeline.

“Free and public libraries are a great tradition in this nation,” said Grijalva. Thankfully, he vows to continue fighting on our behalf. But it is up to us to make sure others — from lawmakers to board members, volunteers to citizen advocates — do, too.

As writer Caitlin Moran once said, “a library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival.” We have seen it in our libraries and on the faces of our customers whom we serve. Now is the time to make their stories heard and to ensure our future.

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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