Our Shared Responsibility

Working together for advocacy

September 1, 2017

ALA President Jim Neal

There is a provocative saying attributed to the 20th-century Polish writer Stanisław Lec: Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty. Library workers share the advocacy responsibility to strengthen libraries and to advance information policies that enable those we serve to be successful.

The 120,000 libraries of all types across the US—public, school, academic, government, special—are an essential component of the national information infrastructure, and library workers are critical leaders in their communities. We stand for individual rights, democracy, diversity, intellectual freedom, and social responsibility. We are trusted, helping to address community concerns and needs, and championing our core values. We are safe spaces. We are exciting places.

Libraries support literacy in all its elements. They bring access to basic and emerging technologies and the education for their effective use; provide a wide range of information resources, community knowledge, and expert information professionals; convene people around ideas and creative experiences; serve the homeless, veterans, immigrants, prisoners, and the many individuals seeking to improve their lives. And by doing all of this, 21st-century libraries transform communities, promote economic development, facilitate learning and personal growth, and bridge the digital divide in this country, remaining committed to equity of access.

We must maintain and expand federal investment in our nation’s libraries, including funding for literacy programs and universal broadband and wireless service and deployment in libraries and schools, with a special focus on underserved communities in our cities and rural areas. Libraries must look beyond the programs and the funding, forging radical new partnerships with the First Amendment, civil rights, and technology communities to advance our information policy interests and our commitment to freedom, diversity, and social justice. We must prepare for the hardball funding battles and policy wars locally and nationally. We must fight for net neutrality, balanced copyright and fair use, and privacy and confidentiality in the face of expanded national security surveillance. We must fight for intellectual freedom and First Amendment principles, voting rights, the transition of immigrants to citizenship, and the dignity of all individuals. We must fight against hate in all of its bigoted manifestations.

The American Library Association (ALA) has significantly expanded its advocacy work and its political activism, building a network of library workers, trustees, corporate partners, and friends who are influencing legislative action and government policy. Therefore, my presidential initiative calls for a national public policy advocates program to identify and develop an expanding group of practitioners and trustees who have deep and sustained knowledge of key policy issues and program areas of importance to the library community. These individuals will understand how the legislative and policy processes work and will be able to participate and intervene in targeted advocacy work. This may include testifying before congressional committees, meeting with legislative leaders and their staff members, being interviewed by national media, participating in national forums, and working with policy partners.

Libraries are about education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment, and engagement. But we are also about the imperatives of individual rights and freedoms, and about helping and supporting the people in our communities.

Libraries are a smart investment.