Kevin Smith knows how to get library advocates revved up about meeting with policymakers. As the President-elect and Legislative Coordinator of the Virginia Library Association, Kevin uses his political expertise and messaging know-how to advocate effectively for libraries every year during the American Library Association’s annual National Library Legislative Day (NLLD). When he’s not in Washington, D.C. advocating for libraries, Smith—an advocate with more than 13 years of experience—works as the director of the York County Public Library in Yorktown, Va.
When you meet with legislators, what’s the most important thing you want them to know about libraries?
My strategy is all about educating our congressmen about what libraries do. When I go to Washington with librarians, library friend groups, and patrons, we let those congressmen know that we’re not just about asking for money—the American Library Association (ALA) has always been a watchdog for civil liberties. We also talk about the resources that we offer and that libraries help residents find jobs, a selling point that we have emphasized to legislators over the last couple of years. We tell them that most employers—including local, state, and federal government—require online applications, and if you don’t have a PC at home you can’t apply for a job, so people come to the library. We’re there to be a presence. Everybody loves libraries and we need to go to the Capitol to show them what a 21st century library does and what the ALA stands for.
They need to know that we are an educational institution. We’re not Blockbuster. Entertainment is part of our business, but our major business is education and literacy.