by Sarah Levin

It was with a lot of enthusiasm that I applied for the YALSA NLLD travel stipend in late January. I honestly didn’t know a lot about legislative issues, but I did have a nagging feeling that I should be advocating for libraries, and specifically for teens. As a librarian at an independent high school in San Francisco, I need to act on behalf of teens that need a place to study on the weekends, to get job skills and volunteer. A place where kids who go to public schools that are underfunded‘ can go and get both the help they need for school and books they want to read for fun.

I was eager to see what actually happens in DC and what kinds of people attend NLLD (all sorts of librarians and even trustees, as it turns out!). I also wanted to bring back advocacy issues to my community of teens, faculty, and other bay area librarians‘ . When I found out I had received the funding, I felt excited and grateful, but I have to admit I was also nervous.

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Me with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

As the date approached, I asked myself why I was going to NLLD. I am fortunate to be able to give my students the resources they need thanks to a supportive administration. Even though government funding doesn’t directly affect my library, I feel the need to act on behalf of those libraries that rely on it to survive. Still, I was a bit anxious about going. Would I be able to effectively advocate for teens?

Thankfully, our state coordinator called me about six weeks prior to NLLD and provided me with the necessary steps to get started. I made appointments with the offices of Nancy Pelosi (representing the district in which I teach) and Barbara Lee (representing the district in which I live). When I arrived in DC, ALA had planned a pre-conference for those of us who had little experience with the legislative process, as well as a briefing day to provide us with the information we’d need to advocate.

Here’s what I learned at NLLD:
• Advocating can be as simple as tweeting to your representative.
• Congress people are highly motivated by constituent communication, even more so than visits from lobbyists. Get in touch with them early and often!
• NLLD is not just one day. While it is an important day to reach out, you’ve got to maintain a relationship with your representative’s office and follow up throughout the year.
• NLLD is a great place to meet and connect with librarians who care a lot about libraries. California had over two-dozen librarians in DC, and I was honored to be a part of a group that included library directors, CLA Presidents (past and present), the interim State Librarian, and more.

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Tunnel beneath the Cannon House Office Building.

Seeking support for teen services should be a priority for all of us. If you are able, make plans to go to NLLD 2015. In January, keep an eye out for the YALSA stipend application and apply! Talk to your communities about legislative issues. And support Friends of YALSA, the group that funds this opportunity.

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