The Montana delegation to National Library Legislative day was faced with preparing for an interesting mix of meetings: a staffer for a vacant House seat, staffers for our staunchly Republican Senator Steve Daines, and an appointment with Senator Tester himself, who demonstrates faithful library support. State Librarian Jennie Stapp prepared our delegation with facts, figures, and solid strategy. We needed something else, though. Something personal: a story.
Our advocacy training on May 1, hosted by ALA’s Washington Office, focused on how to leverage the personal story to demonstrate funding impacts and make our “ask” more personal. Our trainers and speakers suggested aligning the work we do with the areas our elected officials focus on for the most impact.
As I walked from our training to the reception at the Hart Senate building, parts and pieces of the examples I’d been mulling over all day finally coalesced in my head: I’d tell the story of twin sisters, Bridget and Fiona, who discovered robotics at the library as high school freshmen when they used Montana State Library Maker materials, purchased with LSTA/IMLS funds. Now, as juniors, they’re competing in national robotics competitions. Fiona and Bridget will graduate in 2018 and plan to stay in state for college and study engineering. I knew this story would have maximum impact for us because our hardest to reach officials are deadly interested in STEM and economic growth through tech-based industries in the state of Montana.
I put together a simple one page document outlining key points in this story, and illustrated it with “then” and “now” photographs of these diehard library users. (I asked permission first!) I kept my points digestible and related to our ask: Library uses LSTA/IMLS funds to purchase STEM materials; young people engage at local library; young people attend college in state and contribute to state economy.
In each office, I elaborated on my bullet points to talk about how Bridget and Fiona developed their interest in science, engineering, and high tech careers because of opportunities afforded them by LSTA funded library materials. I also emphasized that young people around our state use these exact same resources, demonstrating that LSTA funding has a HUGE impact on Montana’s many rural libraries, most of whom couldn’t afford to purchase these materials.
We’re in the business of connecting people and stories. Staying open to the beautiful moments that happen in our libraries – the moments that are valuable because they provide so much for our library users – gives us an opportunity to cache that story and share it at a moment in time when we can use it to illustrate our ask.
I encourage each of you to take a few moments to reflect and think about the challenges facing your library. Then, think about the wonderful things that happen in your library. You have stories to share that demonstrate your library’s impact on the lives of teens. Start making a list now! Ask your teens to start telling their stories, too. You can help them shape their stories into something that will catch the attention of policymakers. As you make your list, think about your example. Find the narrative arc. List out people who are affected by this story. Why are you sharing this example? Do you have an ask?
The next Congressional Recess is slated for the end of May. YALSA’s District Days wiki has great resources to help you connect with your elected officials and share your library stories. Your Representatives and Senators really do want to hear from you. Check out the wiki and decide what’s in your wheelhouse. Will you invite them to a program you already have planned? Will you schedule an appointment to take teens to visit their office? Will you write letters and provide information? The choice is yours. I hope you #actforteens and share the stories that matter!
Heather Dickerson is a Teen Services Librarian at the Lewis & Clark Library in Helena, Montana. She is also the Chair of the YALSA Legislation Committee.