Guest post by the Chair of the Committee on Legislation, Dr. Ann Dutton Ewbank.
ALA’s Washington Office has, for the past 70+ years, been the voice of libraries in the nation’s capital. That voice — your voice — has had a significant positive impact on laws, policies and attitudes that deeply affect matters about which libraries and librarians care deeply because they profoundly affect what you do for your patrons, communities and ultimately the nation.
Over the years, library values, grassroots advocacy and direct lobbying have positively influenced scores of bills, agency rules and even presidential orders that have defined our intellectual freedom, privacy, and abilities to use and provide our patrons copyrighted material, government information, access to the internet and more.
It’s clear that the recent elections have raised important questions, often passionately expressed, about how ALA can and should pursue its members’ and the Association’s policy goals, and defend its core principles, in Washington in the coming Administration. The Committee on Legislation and the Washington Office recently shared some thoughts about that with ALA’s Council and leadership in the statements reprinted in full below. Both the Committee and Washington Office are committed to continuing this important introspection and discussion and hope that you’ll share word of two near-term opportunities to make your views heard.
First, please take time to share your thoughts about the Committee’s and Office’s statements by commenting on them here on District Dispatch. As Chair of the Committee on Legislation (COL), I’m committed to promptly and personally replying online to foster a real dialogue about these critical matters.
Second, the Committee on Legislation will devote the second half of its joint public meeting with the ALA Legislation Assembly (LA) at the upcoming mid-winter meeting in Atlanta entirely to an open 90-minute discussion of these issues. Visitors will be welcome to ask questions and share their views with the Committee and Assembly.
That joint COL/LA meeting will take place on Friday, January 20th at 1:00 pm in GWCC Room B 214. Suggestions for other means of continuing to share thoughts and ideas after the Midwinter Meeting for those unable to attend also are very welcome.
ALA has risen to – and met – many public policy challenges throughout its history. If there’s a common lesson to be drawn from those experiences it’s that we’re better together. COL and the Washington Office feel strongly that that’s the best way forward in these challenging times. Please join us as often and in any way that you can.
Statement from the Committee on Legislation (12/12/2016):
In light of the recent discussions among the membership, Council and the Executive Board, the Committee on Legislation (COL) has been asked by the Executive Committee to provide a statement to Council regarding our work.
COL is a committee of ALA Council. COL believes that ALA’s core values (including but not limited to equity, diversity, inclusion, intellectual freedom, and privacy) are best supported by robust federal funding for libraries of all types, policy legislation, and Executive Branch procedures that are in alignment with these core values. Our charge is as follows:
“To have full responsibility for the association’s total legislative program on all levels: federal, state, and local. To recommend legislative policy and programs for council approval and to take the necessary steps for implementation. To protest any legislative or executive policy adversely affecting libraries. To seek rulings and interpretations of laws and regulations affecting the welfare and development of libraries. To represent the ALA before the executive and legislative branches of government as required at all levels. To provide a forum within ALA to gather information about needed legislation and to keep all units of the association informed of the ALA legislative programs. To direct the activities of all units of the association in matters relating to legislation.”
Some confusion may exist surrounding the roles of The Office of Government Relations (OGR) and the Washington Office in regard to recent statements issued following the Presidential election. OGR is one of two offices* in the Washington Office, and reports to the Committee on Legislation. OGR is the lobbying arm of the Washington Office and actively lobbies for ALA core values, issues, and policies approved by the ALA Council after being vetted by COL.
COL is in constant, year-round contact with OGR, including an annual retreat, nine hours of meetings at both Annual and Midwinter, monthly conference calls, and regular email communication. Members of COL are thoughtful and deliberate as they vet each policy position and make recommendations to ALA Council and provide direction to OGR.
To this end, OGR, under the direction of ALA policy and COL, works with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, in order to secure positive federal legislation for libraries of all types and to advocate for federal policies that are consistent with ALA’s core values. This includes continuing to lobby for E-rate, LSTA, the Library of Congress, IMLS, ESSA, balanced copyright, privacy protections, and a host of other federal programs and policies that directly impact libraries. Continued and increased support for these programs are vital to libraries’ ability to enact the core values that are expressed by ALA.
Be assured that COL will continue to keep ALA’s core values at the forefront as we make recommendations to ALA Council and provide direction to OGR. We invite all ALA members to join us at our open meetings at any Midwinter and Annual conference. We invite dialogue and questions from ALA members. We thank members who have expressed their thoughts and opinions during this time and ask that members continue to communicate with COL.
We also recommend that library supporters participate in National Library Legislative Day, subscribe to District Dispatch, and respond to Calls for Action around legislation and policy. Our library patrons depend on the services we deliver and we need to make sure those expanding services can continue with positive legislation and policy decisions. And that only comes from very active advocacy on our part. Together we can make a positive impact for libraries of all types.
If you are interested in learning more about the work of COL, please see the following article:
Ewbank, A., Masland, J.T., & Zabriskie, C. (2016). Library issues at the federal level: An introduction to ALA’s Washington Office and the Committee on Legislation. Political Librarian, 2(1), 11-16. http://openscholarship.wustl.edu/pollib/vol2/iss1/7/
Ann Dutton Ewbank
COL Chair, 2015-2017
Statement from the ALA Washington Office (12/14/2016):
I wanted to follow up on the message from the Committee on Legislation by providing some background on how we have worked with new Administrations and Congresses in the past, and how this work is always informed by our core values as an Association.
After every federal election, both the Offices of Government Relations and Information Technology Policy in ALA’s Washington Office actively engage in educating new political actors on library issues. Specifically, we reach out to every newly elected Member of Congress in both the House and Senate, and to every new President’s Administration, to share our white papers, one-pagers and brochures on all the various issues that affect library professionals ability to deliver the best services to their patrons. Both OGR and OITP will continue to work closely with COL and the OITP Advisory Committee to promote the best in library services.
This practice gives us a valuable early chance to fully explain how a broad range of laws and policies can potentially help or hurt our ability to deliver needed services across the nation. These issues include the obvious, like LSTA funding and privacy, and more complicated matters such as copyright, surveillance and even aspects of immigration policy. Eight years ago, for example, we worked with both the incoming Congress and Obama Administration on their efforts to implement a Stimulus Program, which led to libraries benefiting directly from the “BTOP Program,” which underwrote library broadband services across the country. Similarly, in the immediately prior Bush Administration, ALA’s direct engagement with the White House and Congress resulted in First Lady Laura Bush’s championing, and Congress’ creation of a dedicated title supporting Librarian Education in LSTA.
As it has for over 70 years, the ALA Washington Office will continue to work with all federal decision-makers to maximize libraries’ and librarians’ ability to make the most and best library services possible and accessible to all of our patrons, and to keep libraries at the core of their communities. These actions are always aligned with our core values of access, confidentiality/privacy, diversity, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, social responsibility, professionalism, and service, and in concert with ALA’s policies in these areas. Much of our work with federal programs, including LSTA and the E-Rate, directly supports the ability of thousands of libraries to provide equity of access and inclusion for all.