National Library Legislative Day 2015

When I first contacted YALSA about participating in NLLD 2015, I framed my interest as a novice, mentee and student wanting to learn more about advocacy and successful advocacy strategies for my specific community. I am a new school librarian and NLLD beamed opportunity, inspiration, information and networking, of course!

I was excited and anticipated experiencing the more political side of libraries, remember, I was a novice and prepared to act as a sponge, absorbing everything I heard and saw, taking cue from the leaders in my group, one of the flock. However, after contacting my local library association, Louisiana Library Association, I discovered that no representatives were attending this year. I wasn’t sure what that meant for me and figured everything would be taken care of, remember I was a mentee and prepared to be guided by much more experienced and confident librarians. But then my role swifty changed, I became the leader, charged with scheduling appointments with legislators and being prepared to represent, if not lead, the interests and voices of libraries, librarians and the people they serve in Louisiana. Inexperienced as I was, the thought of leading, was a harrowing, humbling (maybe a bit dramatic) but, nonetheless, exhilarating feeling.

photo 3 (4)On Friday May 1st, I left Louisiana to go to the capital. I knew where I was suppose to be and what time, appointments were scheduled and I had several extremely helpful guides along the way especially Beth Yoke assuring me that everything would be OK.

I was also lucky enough to have the weekend to explore the city. There was an overwhelming feeling of greatness, magnitude and it wasn’t in the larger than life buildings, statues or museums, it was just apparent walking the streets or taking the metro. Important things had happened here, important things continue to happen here and it felt good to be near that.

Monday, May 4th, the official NLLD, I entered the Liaison Hotel and was greeted as my state’s coordinator, meaning I was in charge of organizing my fellow Louisianians and holding my state sign. The Nebraskans took me under their wing and treated me as their own, a gesture I am very thankful for, I didn’t have to sit alone!

The day continued with several different issue sessions, my favorite and most notable being appropriations committee, USA Freedom Act, Taxable Research and the session dedicated to school library and education issues. The speakers were knowledgeable and gave tips and language to easily incorporate into our pitches. Walking away that evening, I felt more informed about US policy, than I have to admit, in my life and, not because I just hadn’t bothered with politics and policy in the past, but because the info. sessions and speakers made it easy to understand. I didn’t feel as if everything was over my head or too intricate to bother with, the information was clear about what these issues were and it was clear exactly how I could use this knowledge to relate to Louisiana interests and the legislators I would be meeting the following day.

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The day of, I was a bit frantic, I had spent the morning researching specific Louisiana numbers and data and I had left early because, even though I had been walking around the capital for 72 hours now, I still found myself circling around the same block once in awhile. My first appointment was with Kevin O’Keefe representing new House member, Garret Graves. As soon as I met Kevin, I felt at ease. Many people warned me that these meetings would be very one sided, you say what you need to and then that’s it! However, meeting with Kevin felt like a conversation, I hit all my points but he was very responsive and added to what I was saying, it helped we were both from Baton Rouge! He was also very keen on a visit from Garret Graves to either my school library or the public library. Once the meeting concluded, I practically skipped out of the Canon building with a toothy smile on my face.

It really felt exhilerating! I was no longer nervous for my next two meetings, I was now excitedly anticipating them. During these meetings it dawned on me that politicians and the people that work for them don’t necessarily know about every current issue, at least not in depth, they needed and wanted to be informed about the best way to continue forward on a specific issue. They also cared about what their constituents cared about. While visiting Senator Bill Cassidy’s office, I spoke with Pamela Davidson and she talked about how many calls their office had been getting about maintaining and increasing the library budget, the enthusiasm and relentlessness put that issue on the radar as something that could not be ignored.

After meeting my state’s representatives, I will be watching the Louisiana legislators closely, who knows if they will make the changes I suggested but at least they are now informed and that was my job, I did it!

However, it is inspiring to see positive changes being made such as the overwhelming approval for the USA Freedom Act. It shows that even through all the muck, at times, good changes squeeze through.

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While visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C., I came across this very well known quote from Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor during WWII:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Niemöller’s quote seemed particularly fitting because advocacy is a lot about just speaking up and taking the time and courage to do something so simple as raising our voices. We remind our students constantly at Baton Rouge International School that one person makes all the difference, everyone can make a change but sometimes we forget that the scariest part is just starting, putting yourself out there and wondering if people will like your message, like your voice. The biggest thing I took away from this experience was how EASY advocating for libraries was. How easy to talk to people about what you care about, how easy to be and stay informed and how easy it was to connect and how easy it is to continue advocating for more. It took a big moment for me to start advocating but now I know it can easily be a part of my life and work and that small actions such as a telephone call, an email or showing up at a local council or board meeting can make an impact and change the way people perceive libraries and the people who spend time and lives promoting them.

Jenna Jaureguy is starting her third year as school librarian at Baton Rouge International School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She studied school and teen library services at UCLA and graduated with her MLIS in 2013.

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