by Jenna Nemec-Loise

When I applied back in March for YALSA’s 2013 Advocacy Travel Stipend, I listed 19 reasons for wanting to attend my very first National Library Legislative Day (NLLD)— my rock-star teen volunteers.

NLLD 13 (I Love Libraries!)

But get this:

Just one short year ago, my 19 reasons freaked me out. And I don’t mean in a gee-I’m-a-little-bit-nervous-around-teens kind of way. I’m talking white-knuckle-deer-in-headlights terror here.

I mean, come on. I’m an early childhood specialist. My days are filled with Mother Goose on the Loose, phonological awareness, and three-dozen two-year-old “boyfriends,” all searching for that elusive Thomas the Tank Engine book. I love the little kids. I’m awesome with them. What was I going to do with teens?

It turns out I should have been asking, “What are teens going to do with me?”

Because at my first-ever teen volunteer orientation for SRP 2012, it took me less than five minutes to get out of my own way and let 19 incredible teens start changing me in all the ways that matter.

Tingling with confidence in my growing advocacy role, I hoped NLLD 2013 would help me kindle equal change for teens by prepping me to do three things:

  • Empower myself with the tools and techniques I need to advocate at local, state, and national levels for abundant, relevant, and essential library programs and services that enrich and transform the lives of teens.
  • Empower teens to become library advocates through meaningful volunteer experiences and intentional conversations with peers, library staff and administrators, school officials, and legislators in their communities.
  • Empower communities through partnerships and collaborations that champion programs and services for teens and foster dialogues with community leaders that ensure the future of teens in libraries.

I did way more than win the YALSA stipend (yay!) and meet my three goals. By attending NLLD 13, I struck pure advocacy gold.

During a daylong briefing event at the Liaison Hotel in Washington, D.C., I was swept up in the palpable enthusiasm of all the state delegations working to improve outcomes for libraries and those who love them. Between engaging presentations on key pieces of legislation affecting teens and libraries—specifically the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program—I enjoyed swapping advocacy stories with colleagues from my home state of Illinois.

The next day, however, was absolute magic.

When I arrived on Capitol Hill for my scheduled appointments, all my apprehensions quickly melted away. Did you know Congressional staff members are actual people with a sincere interest in helping us improve outcomes for teens and libraries? Awesome!

My proudest moment came when Illinois Library Association Immediate Past President Pamela Van Kirk invited me to speak on behalf of teens during meetings with staff members for U.S. Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin. I snapped up the opportunity to represent YALSA by talking about LSTA, IAL, and the myriad ways those programs help us make a difference in the everyday lives of teens.
NLLD 13 (Senator Durbin's Office)
As staff members took notes, asked questions, and listened attentively to our library stories, I kept thinking to myself, “I can totally do this whole advocacy thing!”

You can too, you know. And there’s never been a better time to start.

From now until September 6th, take advantage of District Days, a month-long window when state representatives are back in their home districts, eager to hear from their constituents about issues that matter to them. Why not invite your state representatives to see you in action during a library program or event? If they can’t come to you, schedule a meeting to go and see them at their offices.

I totally get how this sounds kind of scary, but trust me, your state representatives want and need to hear from you. If a recovering ephebiphobe (the actual word for someone who fears youth, including teens) like me can go to Capitol Hill, you can talk to your state representative about all the amazing things happening for teens at your local library.

And in case you haven’t heard, there’s a brand-new resource out there to help you do just that! Check out the updated YALSA Advocacy Toolkit, filled with everything you need to craft an advocacy message complementing Shannon Peterson’s presidential theme, Amplified: Speaking Up for Teens and Libraries.

You Rock!
You’re awesome. Teens are awesome. Libraries are awesome. Make advocacy awesome, too, by participating in District Days, now through September 6th!

Jenna Nemec-Loise is a relationship architect, a community builder, a teen advocate, and an early childhood specialist.

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