The American Library Association (ALA) has always viewed advocating for libraries—both in the national legislative and legal arenas—as fundamental to our ability to serve our communities and to extend equity of access to information. We are now facing political challenges on numerous fronts: to the core policy and funding priorities that define our work and in areas such as research and education funding, social justice, and civil rights.
The current and prospectively annual battles over funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Innovative Approaches to Literacy have dominated our advocacy work. We have sustained and even expanded funding for IMLS in FY2018, but we are already pushing for support for FY2019 appropriations.
At the same time, other important aspects of our policy agenda demand attention. These include:
- internet development and telecommunications policy, such as E-Rate and net neutrality
- civil liberties and intellectual freedom, especially in the face of heightened national security provisions
copyright and intellectual property, defending fair use, supporting the Marrakesh Treaty (which allows for making documents and books accessible for people with print disabilities), and preserving the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress
- government information, including revisions to the Federal Depository Library Program
ALA and its members also care deeply about a wide range of social and economic issues, such as immigration, gun violence, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and economic equity. In these cases, we often rely on coalitions with other national organizations that take the advocacy lead in these critical policy areas.
In addition, we find many of the policy priorities have strong ties to state and local developments, thus emphasizing how critical it will be for ALA to work effectively through its chapters and its members. The global context for many policy issues requires that we build strong partnerships with colleagues and organizations around the world.
What are our responsibilities as individual library workers and library supporters? We should be knowledgeable policy resources for our communities. We should be effective political and legislative advocates for the interests of our communities. We should educate our communities on priority policy issues. We should document the impact of legal and legislative actions on our ability to serve our communities. We should promote community political coalitions. We should enable successful models and programs that support our political agenda. And we should be in constant communication with our local and national political leaders, showing them the outstanding work libraries are accomplishing.
To this end, the ALA Policy Corps—with its first class of 12 library and information professionals—will work in 2018 to develop deep and sustained knowledge of national public policies and will receive training in such areas as public speaking and media engagement. The next priority is to build a national network of advocates, eventually with at least one individual in each of the 435 congressional districts, working closely with ALA staff and with state chapters and library networks.
It is imperative that library workers have a voice, not only in defending but also in shaping national policies that are critical to our communities, our profession, and our nation. We achieve hope, power, and action through collaboration.