Talking ’bout a Revolution

Technology panel discusses new national policy

February 3, 2015

Office of Information Technology Policy

In November 2013, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) launched the Policy Revolution! initiative to advance national policy for libraries and their communities. The grant-funded effort focuses on establishing proactive policy priorities, engaging decision-makers and influencers, and upgrading ALA policy capacity. Speakers from the ALA Washington office, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and libraries across the country gathered at the 2015 Midwinter panel discussion, OITP Policy Revolution: What is a Policy Revolution! Anyway?, to review a report released January 26 about the initiative and the required steps needed to develop it further and to get feedback from conference attendees.

 Vailey OehlkeSpeakers included: Alan G. Fishel, partner, Arent Fox and senior counsel to ALA OITP; Alan S. Inouye, ALA OITP director and co-principal investigator of Policy Revolution! initiative; Chris Jowaisas, senior program officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Dan Lee, director of the Office of Copyright Management and Scholarly Communication at the University of Arizona and chair of the OITP Advisory Committee; Jim Neal, vice president for information services and university librarian at Columbia University and ALA Executive Board member; Vailey Oehlke, director of Multnomah County (Ore.) Library and president-elect of the Public Library Association; and Ken Wiggin, Connecticut State librarian.

Inouye laid out the need for the initiative at the outset. “We’re in the midst of a digital revolution. We’re evolving,” he said. “There are a myriad of ways that we help the community. Our role has increased in society. We still do all that we did in the analog world, but so much more.Alan S. Inouye

“Decision-makers in Washington don’t get it. They don’t know what’s going on in libraries. They don’t appreciate what libraries do for society, so they’re not as apt to help us. It’s a serious problem.”

Making those decision-makers — lawmakers, corporate entities, tech companies, and publishers — aware of libraries’ impact and important place in the fabric of society is the Policy Revolution! initiative’s goal, the speakers stressed through the panel.

Highlighting current trends affecting public policy and how libraries fit into the equation is key, Neal noted. “We’ve set a bold challenge for ourselves,” he said. “What are the priorities that we need to put before decision-makers?”

Neal outlined many: the implications of the new Republican-controlled Congress; income disparity; copyright issues; the failure to educate our country’s children and the role of technology in education; the changing workforce; immigration, veteran, and retiree issues; and the centrality of healthcare.

“What are the highest priorities?” Oehlke asked the panel and attendees. “Where can we have the greatest impact? A policy agenda will set that. It’s about focus and discipline. This is about putting a stake in the ground and saying, ‘This is where we’re going to be the next few years.’”

Wiggin agreed. “We need to find a common theme we can all agree on. The policy goals don’t address it all but what rises to the top.” He then outlined four areas detailed in the report that librarians feel will resonate with Congress: education and learning; employment and entrepreneurship; health and wellness; and government services.

Alan G. Fishel“Then what?” asked Fishel. “What happens after we set the agenda?” He described the process as the four M’s: messaging, marshalling facts, matching opportunities to partners’ needs, and moving the ball forward.

He said that translating the library profession’s worth depends on where libraries stand on the INO scale: Do decision-makers see your work as Indispensable, Nice to have, or Obsolete? There’s much debate where libraries fit on the scale today, he said, but libraries must be seen as indispensable in order to have an impact in Washington.

The panel took questions after the presentation. The queries revealed fears of Republican legislators gutting libraries and concerns about the policy initiative’s timeline. The answers encapsulated the session’s discussions.

“We have to face the challenges of offensive behavior and defensive behavior,” Neal said. “What offensive measures can we take and what defensive measures can we take? We need to be willing to file lawsuits, if necessary. We must be more aggressive.”

“We need to lead with our strengths,” Oehlke said. “Then tell legislators where we need help and who we can help. Libraries need to be on the top of their minds, not an afterthought.”