Our Work in Washington

June 29, 2014

Advocacy and lobbying in the nation’s capital on behalf of libraries and the library profession was the focus of “Washington Update–2014 Congressional Election and Its Impact on Libraries,” an event held Saturday morning at ALA’s 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas. Strides in the right direction are being made, but the work is far from over.

Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of ALA’s Washington Office, kicked off the event by relating a string of recent legislative victories that will impact libraries: the June 25 Senate ratification of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which will positively affect public library staffing, training, oversight, and more if passed by the House of Representatives; and the Supreme Court’s June 25 decisions in Riley v. California and United States v. Brima Wurie. Quoting from an ALA amicus brief in the unanimous decisions, the court ruled cellphones cannot be searched without a warrant except in rare circumstances.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, who addressed the audience in a prerecorded video, piggybacked Sheketoff’s news with promising details on a new draft order on e-rate reform that he has circulated. The draft order cites ALA 40 times. “We discussed the crucial roles that connected libraries play in the lives of the community and students,” Wheeler said. “And e-rate programs are currently not set up to meet the mission. I, and the dedicated staff of the FCC, believe that we must do more to modernize the programs.”

According to Wheeler, the draft order adopts robust broadband goals based on library recommendations; reduces application burdens to make it easier for libraries to get broadband; simplifies and speeds up the consortia process; and increases price transparency. More input is needed from the profession, however. He mentioned that ALA is releasing a survey to librarians to determine what they need moving forward.  “Let’s work together to get this process in motion,” he said. “Starting now.”

The event’s main speaker, former Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), detailed his life before, during, and after his time in office—the bulk of which is detailed in his new book, I Heard My Country Calling—and gave thoughts on the current state of American politics.

Webb began by recounting his discovery of James Michener at an early age. The author’s works produced wanderlust in Webb, building a desire to explore foreign lands and cultures that would eventually lead Webb to a life in the military. “It’s incredible how magical good writing can be in opening imagination,” he said. “Public libraries are important for [facilitating] this.”

Webb stressed the fractured state of contemporary American politics, stating that a breakdown in bipartisanship is sinking both the political system and the American public’s trust in it. “A tremendous percentage of people are disgusted,” he said. “If I were an incumbent, I would be scared. Both Republican and Democrat. People want to see leadership; they want to see something get done.”

During a post-talk Q&A, audience members asked Webb questions dealing with veteran’s affairs, racism in America, and youth engagement. When asked if he thought that Edward Snowden, the former NSA staffer who leaked classified documents, was a hero or a traitor, Webb was noncommittal but direct. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to offer an uniformed opinion on him,” he said. “It’s a troubling issue—a consolidated portion of government coming into our lives. They can’t collect and store this data. We have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Webb was also asked about speculation that he might be a potential candidate for US president in 2016. The senator laughed at the question, but didn’t answer it.

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