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When my congressman visited me (or, How National Library Legislative Day came back home)

This guest post is contributed by Jami Trenam, Associate Director of Collection Development at Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and past chair of the Minnesota Library Association’s Legislative Committee.

As a first-year National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) coordinator for Minnesota, I was equally thrilled and anxious to lead our state’s delegation this year. After diligent, patient persistence, I was lucky enough to schedule time with all 10 of our congressional offices. Our group of advocates soaked up the training materials and briefing information to prepare. One of our three asks at NLLD was to extend an invitation to our legislators to visit a local library when they’re back home in the district to witness firsthand the impact libraries have on communities, particularly to see broadband access in action and to learn how libraries leverage federal funding.

The Congressman and librarian sit in chairs on either side of a whiteboard that reads "Sneaky, Squeaky," and children face them
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN-6) reads to a group of children at Great River Regional Library (St. Cloud, Minn.). Also pictured: LuAnne Chandler, Patron Services Associate. Photo credit: Abby Faulkner

After returning home from Washington, D.C., I was sure to follow up to thank each office. Imagine my surprise when the scheduler for Congressman Emmer’s office (R-MN-6), reached out to me to schedule a visit!

The visit was confirmed less than a week in advance – not a lot of time, but absolutely worth the last-minute effort. To prepare, I made sure both frontline staff and administration knew Representative Emmer was coming. The Congressman offered to read House Mouse, Senate Mouse, so we arranged for a low-key story time with a mouse theme. The office indicated the Congressman was also open to a tour, so I took time to connect with a few key staff around messaging.

A key component of visiting with lawmakers is researching your legislator’s track record and values. Knowing Mr. Emmer is quite fiscally conservative and serves on the Financial Services Committee, we made sure to highlight programs and services that demonstrate the library’s stewardship of tax dollars. For example, our library system has a patron-driven, floating collection: because we centralize selection and share materials among all 32 of our branches, we can stretch our dollars to build a broad and deep collection allowing us better respond to patron requests. Further, in Minnesota, Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds are the backbone of our statewide interlibrary loan (ILL) system. An ILL staffer underscored how LSTA dollars facilitate cooperative resource sharing by highlighting how our MNLINK program works.

We shared how the Great River Regional Library system previously used LSTA grant dollars to projects like “We Play Here” (interactive early literacy kits) and a mobile laptop lab to provide digital literacy classes for seniors. We discussed the potential of applying for an LSTA grant to support our partnership with community organizations such as our local workforce center and Adult Basic Education to proactively address the closure of a major manufacturing plant in the area.

While Rep. Emmer may not yet be a leading champion for federal library funding, I think it’s the visit that increased his awareness of how libraries support communities in Minnesota’s 6th District, which is a small win in my book. Plus, his office shared pictures of the visit on Facebook and Twitter.

If you get the chance to have any lawmaker in your library, I encourage you to take it! Do your homework and craft your message, but also remember that once you get them in the door, the activity in your building – the kids registering for summer reading, the people using your meeting rooms, the folks using the wireless and computers – speaks for itself.

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Shawnda Hines

Shawnda Hines is an assistant director of Communications at ALA's Washington Office. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Evangel University in Missouri. Before joining the ALA in 2016, Shawnda worked as press secretary and local media organizer for the national advocacy group Bread for the World.

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