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August is peak season for advocacy

August is not just for vacations and summer reading programs—it’s high season for library advocacy. US representatives are on recess and back home in their districts to reconnect with their constituents, so now through Labor Day is the perfect time for library advocates to share the many ways we are transforming our communities.

Invite your representative to your library to see in person how your library is meeting the needs of your community. The value of your library’s services may be crystal clear to you and the families, students, researchers, and other patrons you serve, but your elected leaders may not understand the value of your services unless you show them. Here are a few tips from librarians across the country for arranging visits with members of Congress.

Know your legislator’s background and values

During National Library Legislative Day in May, librarians in Rep. Tom Emmer’s (R-Minn.) district invited him to visit their facilities. As Jami Trenam, associate director of collection development of Great River Regional Library (GRRL) in St. Cloud, wrote, “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 GRRL, that meant focusing on their state’s Institute of Museum and Library Services–funded interlibrary loan system and community partnerships on workforce development.

Stay in touch with congressional staffers

Rep. Charlie Crist’s (D-Fla.) staff members became especially interested in technology services after the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office held a National Library Week event showcasing library makerspaces, and libraries in Crist’s district quickly followed up. Crist has visited three libraries in his district over the past three months, focusing on different services each time. As Rino Landa, maker studio coordinator at Clearwater Public Library System, wrote, “The best way for legislators to understand the value of our libraries and library staff is to see us in action.”

Plan B: Visit your decision maker or their staff at their home office

To cover a detailed list of policy priorities, including school and rural library issues, Ann Ewbank, director of Montana State University’s school library media preparation program, requested a one-on-one meeting with Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) field staff in Bozeman. In addition to attending a listening session with Tester, “I chose to take the time to meet with my senator’s field office staff because I believe in the power of civic engagement,” Ewbank wrote, “and because I know that libraries change lives.”

Build relationships with other library advocates

When the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) learned in early 2017 that Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) was going to chair the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, staffers developed an advocacy plan to promote national library interests. Even though the NJLA was unsuccessful in getting a face-to-face meeting, they contributed to ALA’s successful campaign to save federal funding for libraries in the FY2018 budget cycle. “Don’t be discouraged if you are turned down,” writes NJLA Public Policy Committee Chair Eileen Palmer. “Use the opportunity [of sending an invitation] to convey your concern about library funding.”

Most importantly, remember that advocacy is about building relationships, which takes a long-term commitment. Whether the short-term goal is to protect federal funding for library programs in FY2019 or to pass the Marrakesh Treaty, making the health of all America’s libraries a national priority requires your year-round advocacy.

For guidance in setting up a visit with your member of Congress, or for the talking points on current legislative priorities, contact Shawnda Hines, assistant director of communications in ALA’s Washington Office.

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Kathi Kromer

Kathi Kromer is the Associate Executive Director of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

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