Recently I made my way up to New York’s Capitol Building in Albany to “storm the castle” if you will with my fellow New York Library advocates. Every year, library workers and supporters travel caravan style from all over the state to share why libraries are important. We are at the ready with stats, numbers, stories, and anything else that can show our local representatives why we are essential to our communities and how we need them to stick up for our budget. Of course this is New York budget and only one day a year. While it is indeed powerful to see a building full of library supporters chanting “We! Love! Libraries!” in matching hats and hearing stories from representatives about how libraries have changed their lives this is only one rally in one state on one day, what can we do the other 364 days of the year?
The proposed White House budget for FY19 that was released February 12, 2018 calls for eliminating federal funds for libraries and the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS), the only federal agency charged with providing support to the nation’s hundreds of thousands of libraries and museums. Now it’s up to Congress to decide whether or not they want to change that. ALA and YALSA need your help to ensure that IMLS and federal funds for libraries are saved, because without libraries teens will not have the resources and support they need to succeed in school and prepare for college, careers, and life. Here’s what you can do right now:
- Send an email or Tweet to your members of Congress. ALA has ready-to-use messages waiting for you in their Action Center.
- Sign up via the ALA site to receive action alerts so you can easily email or call the offices of your Congress members at critical times during the budget process between now and Sept.
- Read and subscribe to District Dispatch, the ALA Washington Office’s blog, to stay up to date on the issues.
- Encourage your library users to share their stories about what their local library means to them. ALA will use these with their advocacy efforts. Direct patrons to this quick and easy form.
- Brush up on your advocacy knowledge and skills by checking out the resources on ALA’s shiny, new ala.org/fund-libraries site and YALSA’s web site.
- Sign up to participate in National Library Legislative Day on May 8, online, at your library, or in Washington DC, and check out YALSA’s NLLD resources.
- Connect with your members of Congress when they’re in their home districts to keep them informed about the many ways the library helps community members. Congress is typically not in session the week of a national holiday, like Presidents’ Day. Schedule a meeting at their local office, and/or invite them to your library. YALSA has free resources and tips to make this an easy task!
- Join YALSA, or make a donation, because together we’re stronger. YALSA’s the only national organization that focuses its support and advocacy on teen library services. Dues start at $63 per year. Your support will build our capacity to advocate for teens and libraries.
- Encourage your patrons, advocates groups, friends, family, and colleagues to do the above as well.
Don’t know much about IMLS? Here’s a quick overview: through IMLS, every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. territories receive funding to support their state or territory’s libraries and museums. In FY17 the total funding IMLS distributed to states and territories was $156,103,000. In addition, IMLS offers competitive grant opportunities that individual libraries and museums can apply for. In FY17 they awarded competitive grants to libraries and library-supporting institutions totaling more than $27,469,000. Visit the IMLS site to see how much funding your state receives from them.
Want to take further action to support teens and libraries? We salute you! Check out the free online resources we have to make speaking up for teens and libraries easy.
Each year the federal budgeting process kicks off when the White House releases a draft budget. This will happen sometime in February, and there’s talk that the FY19 draft budget may be released on February 12, 2018. If you recall last year, the White House’s draft budget called for the elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as well as all of the federally earmarked funds that the nation’s libraries depend on to provide critical services to their community. However, a grassroots advocacy effort led Congress to keep funding for IMLS and libraries for FY18.
Recently there was a discussion on the listserv for the Association of Rural and Small Libraries about what activities are good to undertake at the end of the year. It seemed like a good topic for the YALSAblog, too, so I’ve adapted my answers to make them more focused on serving youth:
Reflecting on this year
- Send thank you notes to volunteers, supporters, and anyone who gave a helping hand or moral support.
- Do a post-mortem of your overall efforts to serve teens in 2017. What was successful? What failed and why? What will you do differently next year? For more about taking the time to reflect, read this article, Time to Reflect: why does it matter in the workplace?
- Conduct a review library policies and procedures to see if they need updating. Some useful information is on the ALA site and YALSA’s wiki.
- Conduct a review the teen pages on your school or library’s web site and social media sites to see what needs updating or improving. Check out ASCLA’s web accessibility resources. Review content and style for inclusive language, professional content versus personal beliefs, and potential sexist, discriminatory, or similarly insensitive language or images. Ensure graphics do not show people in stereotypical roles.
Right now is your opportunity to advocate for federal library funding (#saveIMLS) and speak up for teens! These “District Days” [the weeks when Congresspersons are home in their districts] are a unique opportunity to use summer programs and back to school efforts as a way for local representatives to see firsthand how libraries prepare teens for college, careers, and life.
What can you do over the next five weeks?
- Invite your local representative to your library and show them how you are serving teens. Adapt this sample invitation (.docx) from YALSA. Make sure to incorporate teen voices in the visit.
- Schedule a meeting with your representative and/or their staff in their local office. This is a great alternative for you, if you don’t work in a library (like me), if your summer programs have already wound down, or if your school library isn’t open yet. You can read on the YALSAblog about YALSA Executive Director Beth Yoke’s meeting with her representative and get tips for your own meeting. You can get additional ideas for preparing for your own meeting with your representative by also exploring the resources on the District Days page on YALSA’s wiki.
- Write a letter to the editor for your local newspaper urging your members of Congress to support library funding. Even better, encourage teens to write letters or op-ed pieces about their experiences with libraries.
- Invite friends to sign up for alerts and join the fight.
While we have made progress in the fight to save federal funding for libraries, the fight is far from over. As teen advocates we must continue to engage with our elected officials and remind them why federal funding is important to libraries and the teens they serve.
Make sure to share your District Days successes and challenges on Twitter with the #act4teens hashtag. Together, we can show Congress the power of libraries to create bright futures for all teens!
Sandra Hughes-Hassell, YALSA President
Washington, D.C. is a dream location for librarians: books, libraries, galleries, museums, history, monuments, culture, and food. At the beginning of May, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in National Library Legislative Day along with over 500 other librarians. My trip was funded by a generous travel stipend from the Young Adult Library Services Association. Although I have been a librarian for 23 years and have advocated for libraries in my school district and community, this was my first opportunity to advocate on the national level. I am hopeful that my experience will encourage you to become a national advocate as well.
Alex Simons, Liaison Librarian at the University of Houston, is the Texas coordinator for NLLD. She and Letitia Smith from YALSA prepared me for the visits on Capitol Hill by sending information about library advocacy and about how to conduct successful meetings with Members of Congress. In addition to Alex Simons, the other members of the Texas delegation were Jeanne Standley, Executive Director of Libraries at the University of Texas at Tyler, and Carlyn Gray, retired Director of Library Services at Round Rock ISD and currently Librarian at Austin Community College. Gloria Meraz, Assistant State Librarian at Texas State Library and Archives, attended as a resource person and was instrumental in providing information on the impact of federal funds for Texas libraries and the Texas State Library.
This event is exceptionally well-planned and organized. ALA hosts NLLD events and training for registered participants at a local hotel on Monday and plans office visits on Tuesday. Folders with information about important library issues are prepared for each of the 435 Representative’s offices and 100 Senator’s offices. The Texas delegation generally meets on Sunday night to divide up visits, and Monday they arrive early at the House office buildings. With current threats to eliminate funding for critical federal library programs, the folders were filled with data showing how libraries truly do change lives. Alex Simons suggested that we focus on a maximum of three issues to clarify at each office to get the most out of our time during visits. Armed with our data and our stories, we hit the halls.
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!
On Monday, May 1st and 2nd 2017, National Library Legislative Day took place in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of librarians and library workers from all over the country represented their state’s delegation at this event. Thanks to YALSA, I was one of the lucky librarians able to attend.
I grew up with my local public library being a very big part of my life. My mother took me to storytimes as a child, I volunteered there during my summer breaks in high school and college, and I was even employed there right after I graduated college. I know first-hand the importance of public libraries. With the recent threats to library funding, it is now crucial for library workers and library-users to show their support for libraries.
Several months ago I read about an award available to first-time NLLD attendees on YALSA’s website. I knew immediately that I wanted to apply for this award. I currently am employed as the Teen Librarian at William Jeanes Memorial Library, a public library outside of Philadelphia in Montgomery County. I work with teens on a daily basis, and I see how public libraries have impacted them. From providing books, programming, and a place to hang out after school, public libraries can have an incredible influence on teens. I was ecstatic when I got the email telling me that I had been one of the few selected to receive the award to attend National Library Legislative Day in our nation’s capital.
The Montana delegation to National Library Legislative day was faced with preparing for an interesting mix of meetings: a staffer for a vacant House seat, staffers for our staunchly Republican Senator Steve Daines, and an appointment with Senator Tester himself, who demonstrates faithful library support. State Librarian Jennie Stapp prepared our delegation with facts, figures, and solid strategy. We needed something else, though. Something personal: a story.
Our advocacy training on May 1, hosted by ALA’s Washington Office, focused on how to leverage the personal story to demonstrate funding impacts and make our “ask” more personal. Our trainers and speakers suggested aligning the work we do with the areas our elected officials focus on for the most impact.
As I walked from our training to the reception at the Hart Senate building, parts and pieces of the examples I’d been mulling over all day finally coalesced in my head: I’d tell the story of twin sisters, Bridget and Fiona, who discovered robotics at the library as high school freshmen when they used Montana State Library Maker materials, purchased with LSTA/IMLS funds. Now, as juniors, they’re competing in national robotics competitions. Fiona and Bridget will graduate in 2018 and plan to stay in state for college and study engineering. I knew this story would have maximum impact for us because our hardest to reach officials are deadly interested in STEM and economic growth through tech-based industries in the state of Montana.
On May 1-2, a generous travel grant from YALSA allowed me to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend National Library Legislative Day and meet with congressional staff from my home state of Vermont.
When preparing for the event, I tried to imagine a world where public, academic, and school librarians engage each other more often in order to create a more unified voice in our advocacy efforts. The Vermont Department of Libraries has had to weather funding and personnel cuts over the last several years, and school districts (like the one I work in) have libraries and library staff at the top of their cut lists every budget season. My library staff was reduced from four to three at the beginning of this school year, and you can imagine how difficult it is to serve the same patron community with 25% of our team missing. Two other schools in my district made similar choices, and we are one of the highest funded school library systems in the state. While there has been some notable advocacy successes like adding language that specifically mentions certified school librarians in our state’s education quality standards and ESSA implementation plan, the losses of jobs and funding clearly mean we aren’t completely succeeding in our silos.
But attending NLLD made me realize that our disparate libraries and systems are more connected than I ever realized.