On June 4, the American Library Association’s Public Policy and Advocacy (PPA) Office hosted a forum on Capitol Hill called “Slide into Learning: Libraries Advance Literacy and Prevent the Summer Slide” with support from Texas librarians and Representatives Will Hurd (D-Tex.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.).
PPA organized the discussion to educate congressional staff about libraries’ role in developing literacy, especially during the summer months, and to encourage members of Congress to look to libraries as leading partners in education. PPA staff worked with the American Association of School Librarians and the Texas Library Association (TLA) to identify librarians in the two districts to participate in the event.
Before the event, Elizabeth Rush, library specialist at Northside Independent School District in Leon Valley, Texas, and Dallas Director of Libraries Jo Giudice presented Hurd with a resolution passed by TLA praising his advocacy for literacy and support for libraries. They also met with Johnson, who expressed her appreciation for the work that libraries do for constituencies across the country.
The panel of education experts included Rush; Giudice; Nawaid Ladak, legislative assistant to Johnson; and moderator Liana Heitin Loewus, Education Week assistant managing editor. The discussion covered an array of library programming that supplements school curriculum both in and out of the classroom. Rush described a history project in one of the schools she oversees, in which the librarian reinforced a lesson on famous inventions by asking students to adapt the historical invention using modern tools found in the library’s makerspace. “The tools excited the students,” she said. “When they were done with their projects, they were eager to do their writing assignment about what they learned.”
Giudice highlighted the relationship between education in libraries during school hours and education for the whole family after hours, noting that two public libraries in Dallas are co-located with school libraries. She described the popularity of her library system’s summer science, math, art, reading, and technology (SMART) programs, which help kids and teens maintain their skills during the break and perform better throughout the school year.
Noting the critical role of libraries in promoting digital citizenship, both Rush and Giudice underscored the importance of federal funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The databases they use to train students and older adults to identify credible information sources are provided by Library Services and Technology Act funding, matched by states. The funding for those databases, they said, provides the tools to help students differentiate between truth and misinformation.
Ladak emphasized the importance of the Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant program—the only federal funding dedicated to supporting school libraries—and discussed the need for increased congressional support. He called on the audience to visit their local library, learn about the services it provides, and spread the word about libraries’ work.
As libraries across the country gear up for their summer programming, and members of Congress prepare for their approaching summer recess, it’s the perfect time for advocates to tell their library stories. A one-page brief from PPA describes how to invite an elected leader to visit your library, and a new video features Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s (D-Va.) tour of Sterling (Va.) Public Library. For more information about ALA advocacy, visit ala.org/advocacy.