District Days (August 9-September 12, 2010) is a window of opportunity to get your elected officials who may be home from Washington DC to come to your library and see firsthand how busy, productive, valuable and life-changing the school or public library is.
Although August seems far away, chances are that your late summer/early fall calendar is in final planning stages, if not already complete, and VIPs who are in demand need a long lead time. So how do you get started in contacting elected officials to invite them to your library for a site visit? Some tips on contacting legislators--or any VIPs--to invite them to the library, follow.
- First, use CAPWIZ (http://capwiz.com/ala/home/) to find out who your local representatives are.
- Then, determine whom the best person to invite might be. Do your research! What are their interests? What committees are your representatives on? What are their political position on education, health care, technology? Find a way to make the event (and your invitation) relevant to their particular interests.
- Send your written invitation on library letterhead, and address your representative formerly: use "The Honorable" in the "to" address, and their position (Mayor, Governor, Representative, or Senator, as appropriate) in your salutation.
- Be concise. State the purpose of your note up front: "I'm writing to invite you to attend [library event] taking place during District Days this year." Include details such as the date, time and location.
- Personalize your note by briefly describing the event in terms of what it will do for your representative ("You'll have a chance to talk with constituents" or "Come see how IMLS funding is being used in your district").
- Outline what to expect ("I know your time is valuable, we'd like you to be there for a photo op and to say a few words at the start of the program" or "I know your time is valuable but we'd love to invite you to stay for the duration and be a part of the judging panel - in your role as a contest judge, you'd be expected to... ") so your representative will have an idea of how much time this will take.
- Express your deadline - how long do they have to think about it? Set a date for your followup by phone.
- In closing, thank them for their time, for considering your request, and/or for they work they do.
Once you have begun to establish a relationship through letter writing or email, a phone invitation (still with plenty of lead time!) is acceptable, but follow up by sending the details in writing.
Not sure what event to invite an elected official or VIP to? At the recent YALSA webinar, Teen Librarian Karen Keys from Queens Public Library in NY suggested looking for ways to integrate advocacy into day to day work. Look at your events calendar - what existing events can you invite a legislator to? Consider a TAG meeting, a computer class, a book discussion, a book drive, a ceremony to thank your teen library volunteers, an open house, a contest like an open mic night, avatar design contest, photography contest - inviting the representative to be a judge at a contest is a smooth move.
A sample letter to send to your elected official (or other VIP) follows.
Sample Event Invitation
The Honorable Jane Doe
United States Senate
Dear Senator Doe:
On behalf of the [name] Library, I am writing to invite you to attend our [Library Open House] during District Days on [date] at [time] at [location].
The Open House includes live music, refreshments, and a brief ceremony where we'll be giving certificates of achievement to [our teen volunteers, top summer reading achievers]. We'd love for you to say a few words about [youth volunteerism, literacy, the start of the school year] before the certificates are handed out.
In addition to seeing the impact of the meaningful programs and services that our library is able to implement thanks to your funding support, it's also an opportunity for you to visit with [teens, librarians, parents, future voters].
I will follow up with a call to your office next week to learn of your availability. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your consideration of this invitation.