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Washington Office Grassroots Advocacy: A New Year Brings New Opportunity

A month has passed in the new year and a new Presidential Administration and Congress have settled into Washington. They have hit the ground running, dealing with the many challenges that face our nation. The economic crisis has been a primary focus, and since the downturn, the library community has likewise been moving quickly to adjust to the needs of the public.

During financially unstable times, the library has maintained its role as a cornerstone of the community. The increased use of libraries has been well documented by a variety of news outlets nationwide.

The old misconception of a “library” as a place for books alone is being transformed in this rush of use by a public in need. Though librarians have been preparing for this new role as media and information specialists for many years, the public is coming to realize what libraries have to offer in the information age.

Many patrons have rediscovered the library as a place of opportunity, where access to the Internet is offered at no fee, job search engines and career advice is available at the stroke of a keyboard, and knowledgeable librarians offer expertise in navigating the many sources of information that are available and welcome to all.

The ALA has been front and center in this effort, protecting the interests of libraries, supporting library professionals, and educating the public on the variety of services that libraries provide.

The Washington Office (WO) serves a unique purpose for the ALA,  focusing on advocacy and policy, providing the library community a voice in our nation’s capital. The work of the WO is significantly enhanced by its grassroots network.

Recently, grassroots efforts of the library community were successfully put into action dealing with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (though there is still more work to be done: CPSC Announces One Year Stay), and we expect to maintain that same intensity and effort throughout 2009. It is crucial that each of our members and all those who take an interest in libraries, continue their efforts to reach out and make our voice heard loud and clear.

Improving the economy and getting people back to work is the top priority, but there are many other issues that will be front and center in the coming days and months ahead. In order to support our strong grassroots network, the WO has provided a number of tools to aid in library advocacy.

Discover the many issues the Washington Office is working on with – Libraries: The Place for Opportunity (currently, only an online version is available) – a publication covering the surprising breadth and scope of topics that are important to librarians.

Visit the Legislative Action Center (LAC) and contact Congressional Representatives to make sure that public libraries are included in recovery funding. As more issues develop and take precedence, the LAC will continue to be a valuable tool to deliver our message to Congress.
Take part in National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) May 11 and 12. Receive talking points and basic training from the advocates who maneuver the Capitol every day, and then make a trip to the Hill to meet with representatives and communicate the message of libraries in person.

Can’t make it to Washington, organize a Virtual Legislative Day sending the message of libraries from a local public library.

Need some practice before attending NLLD, or additional preparation to advocate for libraries with legislators and officials on the local level, make use of the Washington Office’s Online Advocacy Resources, or attend our Webinar on Libraries and the Federal Budget on February 10.

Find additional information about library issues by visiting the homepages of the Office of Government Relations, Office for Information Technology Policy (among other tools you will find the new Section 108 Spinner), Copyright Advisory Network, and Google Books Settlement. Also, participate interactively by visiting our Web 2.0 platforms at ReadWriteConnect (wikis, other library blogs, etc).

In addition, make use of the new ALA Web site (Issues and Advocacy), which consolidates all of the information of the ALA offices, divisions, and roundtables, offering a comprehensive view of the collaboration taking place across a spectrum of library interests.

Old technology works just as well too — call the WO toll free at 1-800-941-8478. Any of our staff will be happy to help.

A new year brings new opportunity. Be prepared to make the best of your advocacy efforts, even in challenging times.

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Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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