By Robin Fogle Kurz
Thanks to a grant from the Friends of YALSA, I was able to attend the American Library Association’s National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) for the first time this May. Rather than bore you all with a narrative of my four days in Washington, DC, I decided to highlight 10 things that stood out from the trip.
1. NLLD is more than just one day. For first time attendees, events actually take place from Sunday afternoon through Tuesday evening. On Sunday, the ALA Washington Office offers an orientation to help newbies like me learn the basics. While I initially thought this information could have been just as easily shared in a webinar, I am now glad for the experience. Jumping into Briefing Day on Monday (with a full crowd from across the country) would have been a bit overwhelming. The orientation allowed me to meet a few people from around the country in a smaller group.
2. Briefing Day is critical to the NLLD experience. Basically, one could arrive in DC with no knowledge of the key issues and learn enough on Briefing Day to talk with legislators and their staffers like an expert. I wouldn’t recommend this tactic, but the ALA Washington Office staff has done an excellent job of condensing the key issues down to their basics, which is important when time with the legislators is brief.
3. Briefing Day is empowering! Imagine a large conference room filled with library advocates from around the country, with large banners differentiating the delegations from each state. There were huge groups from some states and much smaller groups from others (I was the delegation from Louisiana), but the overall effect was powerful.
4. The ALA Washington Office arms delegates with powerful information. Each state gets a folder for each of its legislators. Inside each folder are condensed, bulleted pages, one on each of the key issues. Because you might not actually meet with every person on your list (more on that below), these folders allow you to get the information to your legislators regardless. Another important tidbit, you can hand-deliver these folders, but all other paper which enters these offices has been irradiated.
5. National Library Legislative Day itself was overwhelming but rewarding! Even though I â€˜only’ met with a few staffers, I felt like I really made a difference in advocating for libraries in Louisiana. Regardless of party affiliation, the staffers who I met with were kind and interested in what I had to say. I wasn’t able to get appointments with all of my legislators, but I still made sure I dropped off a folder and my card at every office. I also included YALSA’s The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action and spoke of how crucial libraries are in the lives of teens and their families in Louisiana.
6. NLLD is a great time for forging new collaborations and networks. Because everyone attending NLLD is committed to library advocacy, it is a wonderful place to introduce yourself to people from across the country. I made sure I met as many delegates as possible and now have colleagues from Georgia to California with whom I plan to stay in touch. I even ran into some old friends!
7. There are often other connected events happening at the same time that make the experience even more rewarding. For example, Beth Yoke let me know that ALA was holding a press conference at the National Press Club titled â€œResponding to the Second Wave of the Digital Divide.â€ Since I had some free time during NLLD, I was able to see Barbara Stripling and others talk about how libraries are trying to break down barriers through access and training. Plus, going to the National Press Club was pretty awe-inspiring!
8. Comfort really is key! Even though everyone tells you that there will be a lot of walking, I don’t think any of the first-time delegates were actually quite aware of how much walking there was. Comfortable shoes are a must and, if possible, try making your appointments and drop-offs in a linear fashion through the office buildings which make up the Capitol complex. Since it tends to be quite warm in May in DC, use the tunnels that connect the House office buildings to each other (the Senate office buildings have similar connections). There’s also a subway system under the Capitol that can get you from the Senate-side buildings to the House-side buildings, but you have to have a staffer take you all the way through to use that. Using this system not only saves some valuable steps on a day of many, many steps, but keeps you in out of the heat. If you are lucky enough to ride through the subway, leave your liquids in your hotel room, as the security won’t let them through. Plus, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If a staffer offers you water, you will never regret taking it, but you may regret not taking it.
9. DC is expensive, so look for a roommate and other ways to cut your costs. I found a roommate through a library Facebook group. Although we had never met, we hit it off and saved a great deal of money by splitting our rather pricey hotel costs. I also saved money by flying into Reagan National Airport and purchasing a SmarTrip card to use for my entire stay. I spent less using the Metro during my entire stay than the cost of a single cab ride from the airport to my hotel. Just remember to pack lightly if you’re dragging luggage through the Metro and use the accessible turnstiles when you enter and exit. Finally, while it does involve more walking, you can also save some money by going to Union Station for your meals. Other options around the Capitol area trend toward the higher end (although some do have fabulous food). Union Station has a wide variety of cuisine from around the country and the world, plus the station itself is interesting.
10. Enjoy the free museums, monuments, and memorials! Although I already knew that DC was full of culturally enriching and historically significant places, there was something special about being in the city for NLLD and taking a few hours on Sunday to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials. I even had time to spend a few minutes watching school groups mill around in front of the White House before heading to the National Press Club on Tuesday. At conferences and other professional events, I often get so wrapped up in meetings and sessions that I fail to enjoy the cities around me. DC offers too much to be missed (and most of it is free)!
So, there you have it! Thanks to the Friends of YALSA for giving me such a great experience. I encourage other YALSA members to attend National Library Legislative Day, even if you don’t know anyone else who is going. You will have a memorable experience, all the while advocating for libraries.