Library advocates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia converged on Capitol Hill for more than 325 congressional visits in support of America’s libraries during the American Library Association’s (ALA) 44th annual National Library Legislative Day, May 7–8. Participants asked members of Congress to fully fund federal library programs; reauthorize the Museum and Library Services Act; and visit a library to see broadband access in action.
In addition to the participants in Washington, D.C, hundreds of library supporters also registered to participate virtually by connecting with legislators via phone calls, emails, and social media this week.
In opening remarks on May 7, ALA President Jim Neal introduced a recurrent theme throughout the livestreamed event: “The thing about advocacy is that it’s year-round. It’s about cultivating a relationship that earns the trust of lawmakers and wins victories, step by step over time.”
About half of the nearly 500 participants were new to National Library Legislative Day, so the briefing focused heavily on training to enable advocates to make the most of congressional meetings in D.C. and to apply advocacy strategies at home. The program included mock meetings, state delegation caucusing, and panels of seasoned advocates from ALA’s Committee on Legislation and across the ALA community. Colleagues in ALA’s Washington Office staff briefed attendees on current issues.
In his presentation “How to Hug a Porcupine,” Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, focused on building long-term relationships with elected leaders and their staff members. “If you do this as a once-a-year, one-and-done thing, I promise you will not be as effective in competing for attention from your lawmakers,” he said.
The briefing day ended with a reception in Hart Senate Office Building, which included remarks by four student ambassadors whose winning essays on the meaning of libraries earned them full scholarships from the North Carolina Library Association to attend the two-day event.
The reception also included a presentation recognizing the lifetime advocacy work of library supporter and advocacy mentor Joan Ress Reeves, emeritus member of the Library Board of Rhode Island. Neal praised her dedication and passion for libraries, saying she has “cultivated genuine long-term relationships with her members of Congress. In many ways, it is thanks to Joan’s model as a year-round advocate that ALA’s Rhode Island delegation has been able to sustain such a strong relationship with Sen. Jack Reed.” Reed himself made an appearance at the reception to honor Reeves for her tireless advocacy for libraries.
“National Library Legislative Day,” said Neal, “is one exciting highlight of a year-round advocacy strategy. Our face-to-face meetings on Capitol Hill will not be the final word. We will engage our elected leaders and their staff during district work periods. We will invite them to our libraries during the summer. And we will extend our input on other issues we care about when we can be the most effective and make the most impact.”
For another highlight of National Library Legislative Day, listen to D.C. Public Library’s Full Service Radio interview with ALA Executive Director Mary Ghikas on the changing information field, libraries and advocacy.