Let me begin my blog on Legislative Day, but saying that two months ago, I had no intention of attending Legislative Day. I just learned what it was a couple of months before that. For those of you who don’t know, library Legislative Day is when delegates (librarians, library staff, and library supporters) from all over a given state travel to the state capital to meet with state senators and representatives to discuss issues affecting libraries. Often, delegates advocate for certain funding or policy initiatives that they hope the legislators will support. I knew there were tons of reason that I should go, like the fact that I really believe in championing the cause of libraries or that I conveniently live in the state capital, but the whole idea seemed too overwhelming. I haven’t even graduated library school — what was I going to say to a state senator?
Flash forward and I find my local library facing major cuts and budget issues. Everywhere you go, all you hear is “Recession. Recession. Recession.” If there was any time to quit being a wimp and speak up about library issues, the time was now. It was time to take the plunge. Flash forward again to the end of Legislative Day and I am so happy that I went. As a first timer, I was nervous and unsure, but I got a lot out of the experience and I did what I know I should keep doing: speaking up for our libraries. So, here is the quick and dirty “What I Learned from my First (but not last) Legislative Day. Maybe it will help convince some of you other first timers to get involved in your Legislative Day, or maybe it will just be my own crazy musings, but here are my top 5 to consider. Special thanks to my fellow delegate Morgan for lending me some of her insights as well.
1. Yes, they do need you. When thinking of excuses for why I didn’t need to go, I kept thinking, “Oh, they’ll have plenty of folks. They won’t need me.” Yes, some delegations had twelve people, but the one I ended up in only had one other person. Due to my school schedule, I was not able to meet with the legislators in my district, but the organizers jumped at the chance to have me attend meetings with legislators in districts without many delegates. Since some of the districts further from our capital didn’t have the turnout that closer districts had, it was nevertheless important to have a strong showing of people fighting the cause. So, even if you think they’ll be lots of folks out there, there is always room for more people showing their support.
2. Don’t worry if you haven’t memorized all the talking points. Some of the things that will make the most impact are the personal stories. The delegate leader I was with shared stories of his own library and how it makes a difference in his (and the senator’s!) community. I could tell that this was what was getting across to the senator — real stories of the impact of libraries and library programs on his constituents. So you don’t remember al the statistics and talking points you were briefed on — it doesn’t matter. Know the basics and relate the real life experiences you have that will really speak to the issues.
3. Remember that the legislators and aids that you talk to will not know as much about the library world that you do. Some might even be under the crazy misconception some seem to have about the library’s obsolescence in the digital age. One legislator we talked to had the “brilliant idea” for a library program that I know tons of libraries already have. A fellow delegate relayed to me that halfway through one of her meetings, she realized the legislative aide they were talking to had no idea what the program they discussing even was. Don’t get wrapped up in the jargon that legislators might not know. Remember that these legislators listen to people from all sorts of different organizations and causes all day long. Get your point across in simple terms and describe everything you are advocating for.
4. Don’t get discouraged if the person you are talking to is a 23-year-old legislative aide. While people may expect quality “senator time”, that just might not be a reality. But, this doesn’t have to be a bad things. These aides often specialize in certain issues, so making an impact on them, might be a fast way to get your message across to the senator. And, if you show your disappointment to the aide, they might not be as likely to relate your cause to the senator. Be passionate no matter whom you speak to.
5. It’s not nearly as scary as you might think. In fact, it’s kind of fun. It’s the State Capitol — this is where all the wheeling and dealing happens and it’s exciting to be in the middle of it all. And, if you’re reluctant to speak, don’t sweat it. I let my delegate leader know that it was my first time and that I was a little bit nervous, and he put me right at ease. He took the reins on the whole meeting, but made sure to introduce me and engage me in the conversation. The legislators for most of the delegations were sympathetic to libraries, so it’s not as if the legislators will laugh in your face and throw you out. These are professionals who listen to people’s pleas all day. They will listen to what you have to say and speak to you appropriately.
So, get out there! If a newbie like me can do it, so can you. Reading over all the 28 Days of Advocacy blogs this past month, has really been an inspiration to me to get involved and be an advocate for YA services. Realizing how easy it was to be involved in Legislative Day makes me realize how easy it would be to try out some of the other advocacy methods listed in these blog entries. As I embark on my career as a young adult librarian, I plan to take these entries to heart and to continue to speak up for libraries.