I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend ALA’s National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) 2016 with a travel stipend from the Friends of YALSA. So I’d like to thank YALSA and the Friends for this wonderful opportunity. Here are a few of my thoughts on those days.
The week before NLLD I had a phone conversation with my state (CA) NLLD coordinator, Deborah Doyle. I like to be prepared so it was helpful to have an idea of what would be happening while I was in DC and what was expected of me. Deborah was great about outlining the main events – the Sunday training for newcomers, the Monday all day briefing with a succession of speakers, and then Tuesday, the actual day, where we would be visiting offices with folders and offering our own brief comments on the information we wanted to impart. As Deborah put it, Tuesday would be “off to the races,” where we would be seeing lots of people. She even gave me advice on what to wear, including checking the weather frequently in advance – advice I should have taken more seriously, because I ended up having to buy a warmer coat while I was there. Who knew it was going to be so cold in DC in May?
The Sunday newcomer training was useful, too, since I’m definitely a novice in this kind of advocacy. My only experience in the past was going to Legislative Day in California many years ago and so I wasn’t sure what to expect as I anticipated the long halls of these very official looking Washington DC buildings. The training was helpful and included how to make our points, how to present our “ask” – what we wanted from them – and the issues we needed to emphasize. We were encouraged to know their interests, use storytelling as a tool and follow up with them afterwards.
The Monday all-day briefing was fascinating. The room was full of library folks from all across the U.S., all there to advocate for critical issues, like confirming Dr. Carla Hayden as Librarian of Congress, funding for school libraries, the Freedom of Information Act Reform, the Email Privacy Act, support of the Lifeline Program and net neutrality rules, and ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, for those with print disabilities. An issue that had just arisen was the House bill that would prevent the Library of Congress from changing the LC term “illegal aliens” to less pejorative and biased language.
Keith Fiels, ALA Executive Director and Sari Feldman, ALA President, started the day off with comments about our roles. As Fiels said, “We speak for our constituents,” and Feldman talked about the “power of educating legislators.”
I wasn’t able to stay for the whole training because, like many others, the appointment that had been made for meeting with my state congresswoman’s aide was for that afternoon. So I – along with Susan Hildreth – headed off to Barbara Lee’s office, where the legislative assistant, Emma Mehrabi, was attentive and supportive and it didn’t hurt that her mother is a librarian. She took notes and asked good questions and, as I promised, I followed up with some information about youth experiencing homelessness and public libraries, my particular interest.
The next day I accompanied another attendee to her meeting with a congresswoman’s aide, dropped off informational folders at other offices, found an official badge on the floor of the cafeteria and when I tracked down which office it came from and returned it, I had a brief, but worthwhile, conversation about public libraries with an aide for a congressman from Oklahoma, one of only two Native American congress members.
All around us were other advocates, representing causes dear to them, and it was wonderful to be part of this concerted and heartfelt effort to play our parts in democracy. For example, I had an illuminating conversation with a woman who was there to talk about the importance of brain cancer research. Her personal family experience made her a passionate advocate and I wished her luck in her meetings.
I came away from NLLD for an appreciation for the work our ALA DC office is doing, an understanding of the power of simply showing up, and the satisfaction of having library-related conversations with a range of librarians, library staff, trustees, Friends, congressional aides and anyone else who crossed my path. The amount of information was overwhelming at times, educational and inspiring, and I’m glad I went.
The deadline is December 1, 2016, and I highly recommend applying!
Another way to be involved with your local officials is through District Days this August and Sept., and ideas for this are listed on the YALSA wiki.
And finally, if you’d like to help support the Friends of YALSA, check out this website.
Julie Winkelstein is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.