My purpose of writing this blog post is to demonstrate that meeting with your member of Congress is easy and even a little fun! Why do this? Because this year is unlike any other in recent history: the White House is proposing to eliminate IMLS and with it all federal funds for libraries. We must convince our members of Congress now that this will have devastating effects, or libraries will lose the support and funding they need to help their communities. This is a do or die type of situation, and it calls for extraordinary measures. The Congressional Management Foundation says that in-person meetings with elected officials are the single most effective way to educate them about your cause and persuade them to support it. If all YALSA members met with their members of Congress, that would send a compelling message that they could not ignore!
So, last week I met with my Congressional Representative, Jan Schakowsky at her office in her home district. I contacted her office the end of March to try and schedule a meeting for when Congress was on recess in mid-April; however, she was unavailable until May, so I snapped up the first time slot I could get! I had not met with Congresswoman Schakowsky before, although I did meet with my state and Congressional elected officials on various occasions when I was living in West Virginia. I prepared for the meeting by reading the Congresswoman’s bio on her web site, paying particular attention to the issues she was most interested in, and what committees she served on in Congress. Then I rounded up YALSA materials that best illustrated how libraries serve teens, including this infographic and these talking points. I also included in the packet my business card, issue briefs from ALA’s National Library Legislative Day, and examples of how IMLS funds are used in my state, which COSLA is collecting for all states.
I made sure to allow plenty of time for travel to her office, in case something unexpected happened. When I arrived at the office, everyone was very welcoming, and I was escorted to a waiting area. A member of the Congresswoman’s staff came out to chat and told me the Congresswoman was running a little late. She also told me who else would be sitting in on the meeting, and the room in which the meeting would take place. Once the Congresswoman wrapped up her other meeting, I was escorted into the room and everyone introduced themselves. For the next 20 minutes we chatted about the value libraries give to their community and the need for federal funds to support their work. I pulled out a couple of documents from the packet I had assembled for her and highlighted some key points. As we talked, one of her staffers took notes. The Congresswoman was a very good listener and was engaged in the conversation. She asked a few questions and offered helpful advice about how YALSA might ramp up its advocacy efforts to #SaveIMLS.
The Congresswoman had another meeting to get to, so I thanked her for her time and asked for a photo, and she was happy to oblige. After the meeting I emailed her to thank her for her time and reiterate a few points about how libraries serve teens. I also emailed the staffer who sat in the room with us to thank her as well, and offer my services should she or the Congresswoman ever need anything in the future.
Summer is a critical time for us, as Congress is working on their version of next year’s budget from now through Aug. They could choose to put funding for libraries back in, but they will not do so if voters aren’t telling them how important libraries are. The next time Congress will be on recess is the week of Memorial Day, and after that the week of July 4th. Then, Congress goes on recess from July 29 – Sept. 5. Please set up a meeting with your member of Congress at their local office, or invite them to your library. YALSA has all sorts of tips and resources on the wiki to make meeting with your elected official easy and productive.
P.S. read this blog post for other ways that you can take action to #SaveIMLS and support libraries