“Librarians Everywhere”: A student’s view of WLA’s Library Legislative Day
By Bo Kinney
On February 15, the Washington Library Association held its annual lobbying extravaganza, Library Legislative Day. A dozen iSchoolers, organized by SALA, headed down to Olympia to observe the political process and advocate for libraries.
We were guided throughout the day by two local library directors, Mike Wirt (of Spokane County Library District) and Bill Ptacek (of King County Library System). Each of these directors led a group of us through the process. There were a multitude of issues on the agenda for the day, but two were of particular import: increased funding for school libraries and for the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library.
The first issue was the famous “three moms” grassroots effort (http://www.fundourfuturewashington.org/) to provide funding for certified teacher-librarians in Washington Schools. At the time we were there, a bill in support of this had passed (unanimously) in the Senate, but its companion bill was still in committee in the House. The WLA was lobbying for not only support, but for funding. Since our visit, $4 million was allocated for school libraries in the state budget, and legislators have affirmed their commitment to revisit the issue in future years.
Also on the agenda was the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library (http://www.wtbbl.org/), which is facing budget uncertainties as a result of its recent administrative transition from Seattle Public Library to the Washington State Library. For the past few years, many of its vital functions—including local audio recording and Brailling, and the Evergreen Radio Reading Service, which broadcasts audio recordings of newspapers and magazines—have been supported by gift funds and volunteers. In order to ensure that service stay at current levels, WLA was advocating for a small addition to the program’s annual budget.
After our briefings on these and a number of other issues, we got an introduction to the legislative process from Steve Hunter, WLA’s legislative consultant (read: lobbyist). Legislators, Hunter said, are extremely busy, and going as an organized group helps to “create buzz.” However, he said that what really matters in the long run is ongoing relationship between citizens and their legislators. When speaking to your legislator, Hunter advised, “offer yourself as a personal resource to them.” Tell them you’d like to answer any questions they may have, and give them your contact information. And remember: they represent you.
After this, we made our way over to the Capitol campus for our first stop: the legislators’ offices. The legislators themselves were “on the floor,” so we stopped to chat with their aides and drop off packets of information about all of the issues we wanted them to support. Then we were off to the legislative building to see if we could call the legislators off the floor to speak with them.
Hunter was definitely right about “buzz.” Several legislators came out from off the floor to speak with us, and most of them knew about the library lobbying and were familiar with the bills we were advocating. One senator, who knew Bill, came up to speak with our group and give us a little background on how the legislative process works. (A bill never comes to the floor for a vote, she said, unless they already know that it’s going to pass—or if they want to force dissenters to take a public stand by voting no.) While we were standing talking to her, another senator walked by and caught on to who we were. He shook his head and chuckled: “There’s librarians everywhere!”
The most important things I learned from the whole process were that it is actually much easier to meet with my representatives than I expected, and that knowledge of politics is an ongoing and super-important challenge for libraries. So, for your benefit, here are a few tips for getting—and staying—involved with local politics:
Ultimately, libraries—and not just public libraries, but academic, school, and special libraries—are political entities, and if you want to have an impact it’s vital to understand and get involved with the political process. For me, Library Legislative Day was a first step (I hope!) toward more active political advocacy.
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