Libraries are in a revolution fueled by rapid advances in technology, and thus the roles, capabilities, and expectations of libraries are changing rapidly. National public policy for libraries must reflect these changes. Today the American Library Association (ALA) released a National Policy Agenda (pdf) for Libraries to guide a proactive policy shift.
“Too often, decision makers do not yet understand the extent to which libraries can be catalysts for opportunity and progress,” said ALA President Courtney Young in a press release. “As a result, investments in libraries and librarians lag our potential to contribute to the missions of the federal government and other national institutions. We must take concerted action to advance shared policy goals.”
The agenda was developed in concert with major library organizations that serve on a Library Advisory Committee for the Policy Revolution! initiative and with input from a public comment period. Funding for this project is provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of a three-year grant that also supports efforts to deepen national stakeholder engagement and increase library advocacy capacity.
“Libraries cannot wait to be invited to ‘the table.’ We need proactive, strategic and aligned advocacy to support national policies that advance the public’s interest in the digital age and support libraries as essential community assets,” writes Deborah Jacobs, director of the Global Libraries Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a foreword (pdf) to the agenda (pdf).
The agenda flows out of library values and the imperative of “opportunity for all,” as well as within a context of national political, economic and demographic trends. It seeks to answer the questions “What are the U.S. library interests and priorities for the next five years that should be emphasized to national decision makers?” and “Where might there be windows of opportunity to advance a particular priority at this particular time?”
The agenda articulates two broad themes—building library capacity to advance national priorities and advancing the public interest. Among the areas for capacity building are education and learning, entrepreneurship, and health and wellness. Public interest topics include balanced copyright and licensing, systems for digital content, and privacy and transparency. The agenda also identifies specific populations for which there are significant demographic shifts or bipartisan opportunities to address specialized needs.
“National decision makers often don’t understand the roles or capabilities of modern libraries,” said Alan S. Inouye, director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and co-principal investigator of the Policy Revolution! initiative. “Thus, an underlying imperative of the agenda is communication about how modern libraries contribute to society. Progress on specific policy goals is significantly impeded if this broader understanding is lacking.”
“Sustainable libraries are essential to sustainable communities,” said Ken Wiggin, president of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), which is a grant partner. “I believe this agenda will help unify and amplify our voices at the national level and can be customized for state-level action, as well.”
Using the Agenda, the ALA Washington Office will match priorities to windows of opportunity and confluence to begin advancing policy goals—in partnership with other library organizations and allies with whom there is alignment.
While initiated at different times, the Policy Revolution! initiative dovetails with the new proposed strategic framework and plan for the ALA, which focuses on three Strategic Directions: information policy, advocacy and professional and leadership development. “Taken together, along with a growing focus on transforming libraries, we are ‘connecting the dots’ across the profession and strengthening our collective voice,” said Larra Clark, deputy director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and co-principal investigator of the Policy Revolution! initiative.
Attendees at the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco can learn more about the agenda and related advocacy at two programs. On Saturday, June 27, from 1-2:30 p.m., Policy Revolution! Senior Policy Counsel and partner at Arent Fox, Alan Fishel, will lead an interactive program on Negotiating to Advocacy Success with Clark. On Sunday, June 28, from 3 to 4 p.m., ALA Incoming President-Elect Julie Todaro will join Inouye and Wiggin to discuss Dollars for Local Libraries. More information on the initiative also is available online at www.ala.org/oitp.
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