Advocacy: Contacting Elected Officials

Over the course of the past year, library workers and supporters engaged in a massive effort to save funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which provides every state with funds for their library, and was threatened with elimination in the president’s proposed budget. This effort saw progress last month when the House of Representatives approved a funding measure that would actually increase IMLS funding. There is little doubt that the organized work of library advocates influenced this decision. However, IMLS funding will not be totally secure until Congress approves the FY18 budget, hopefully later this fall

For many library workers, however, there remains a fundamental dilemma regarding  contact with elected officials. It’s definitely a powerful strategy in advocacy work. But where does advocacy cross the line and become lobbying, an activity that is restricted – but not prohibited – for nonprofit organizations? The YALSA Advocacy Toolkit offers a handy way to think about the distinction, stating that, “…advocacy is about providing information, especially information that emphasizes value; lobbying is about trying to influence a vote.”

Thus, contacting an elected official to inform them of the good work done in your library is not considered lobbying. In an excellent blog post on the topic, Linda Braun elucidates further:

You can advocate by speaking up and out to educate legislative officials about the value of teen services in the community. You can speak up and out to educate about the need for teen space in libraries. You can speak up and out to educate about the role that technology plays in teen lives. You can speak up and out to educate. You just can’t exert influence in order to have a legislator vote a particular way on a particular piece of legislation.

Of course, there are times when library workers do want their legislators to vote in a particular way, as evidenced by the drive to save IMLS funding. This is why we are urged to contact our legislators rather than elected officials serving on the most influential committees. As private citizens and constituents, we have the right to inform those persons elected to represent us of our opinions and desires.

Those of us who work with teens have a particularly compelling  message for elected officials. After all, these teens may be casting their own votes the next time that official is up for re-election. When you communicate with your representatives in office, you are educating them about the mindset of the next generation of voters. For additional advocacy resources, visit www.ala.org/yalsa/advocacy and to help YALSA advance its advocacy work, please consider volunteering for the District Days Taskforce!

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