A Tribute to Emily Sheketoff

April 12, 2017

Emily Sheketoff in her Washington, D.C., office.
Emily Sheketoff in her Washington, D.C., office.

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington Office, will be retiring May 2 after 17 years of service. We look back at her career with the Association and her contributions to the success of our profession’s legislative agenda.

We invite you to share your memories of working with her in the comments section. These comments will be compiled into a special booklet for Sheketoff, to be presented at National Library Legislative Day. To have your remarks considered for inclusion, please post them by noon on April 23.

Here are some of her accomplishments:

Lobbying for legislative victories

Immediately following September 11, 2001, ALA’s Washington Office, under Sheketoff’s leadership, was among the earliest groups fighting against provisions in the USA Patriot Act that compromised the privacy of library patrons.

  • The Washington Office held the first in a series of briefing sessions for librarians to give them advice on protecting their patrons while complying with the Patriot Act. Passage of the USA Freedom Act in 2015 ended NSA’s bulk collection of library, phone, and other personal records.
  • In 2003, she was instrumental in securing an agreement among representatives from every library organization to back a major change in the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), doubling the amount of the base funding for state grants and appreciably increasing the amount of federal funds flowing to smaller states.
  • Sheketoff worked to help change the Higher Education Act, passed in 2008, so that librarians were made eligible for the student loan forgiveness programs.
  • Working with Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Sheketoff and the Washington Office were instrumental in the 2010 passage of H.R. 13, the Reauthorization of the Museum and Library Services Act. Included in this legislation was the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, which established within the Institute of Museum and Library Services support for professional development, graduate education, and continuing education for librarians.
  • Sheketoff worked for 11 years to statutorily define libraries as authorized beneficiaries of federal workforce funding through passage in 2014 of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA), and that legislative victory caused the US Department of Labor to send out a Notice of Employment Training to every state’s Department of Labor, instructing them to reach out to local public libraries and include them in the delivery of services. The passage of WIOA opened workforce investment funds to public and community college libraries.
  • Sheketoff worked for more than a decade to include language for school libraries in an amendment for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and, working with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), to establish the Improving Literacy through School Libraries and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) programs.
  • Through her tireless efforts, a significant legislative victory was achieved in 2015 with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): legislation that includes new provisions authorizing school districts to include in their local plans how they will assist schools in developing effective school library programs to provide students an opportunity to develop digital literacy skills and improve academic achievement.
  • Under Sheketoff’s direction, the Washington Office was recognized in both 2015 and 2016 among a handful of public sector organizations for securing a “Top Lobbying Victory” in each of those years according to The Hill.

Advocacy for libraries and librarians

In addition to her work around specific legislation, Sheketoff advocated for libraries through other channels.

  • With the support of ALA President John Berry in 2002, she created the Library Business Alliance to increase engagement of businesses with advocacy for libraries in federal legislation.
  • With the National Education Association Foundation and the Dollar General Foundation, she helped create the Dollar General Beyond Words School Library Relief Fund to benefit school libraries affected by natural disasters.
  • She increased participation in National Library Legislative Day to more than 400 people each year by introducing “newbie training” to raise the comfort level of new participants and working with the leadership of ALA’s many divisions to tailor schedules to meet each of their unique needs and address their specific policy issues.
  • With Sheketoff’s participation and vocal support, the Federal Communications Commission increased E-Rate funding, which supports internet access for libraries and schools nationwide.
  • In 2016 Sheketoff worked with the Office of Presidential Personnel to nominate a qualified librarian to serve as the next Librarian of Congress and, once Carla Hayden was nominated, to help secure her confirmation.

Washington Office leadership

The Washington Office under the leadership of Sheketoff has advocated effectively for libraries on copyright, net neutrality, expanded broadband access, and other technology topics.

  • With Sheketoff at the helm, Washington Office staffers have consistently leveraged the valuable grassroots support of ALA members and other library supporters to greatly expand federal library funding through the E-Rate and Broadband Technology Opportunities programs, which have dramatically expanded internet connectivity for libraries and their millions of patrons nationwide.
  • Sheketoff and the Washington Office advanced such significant ALA initiatives as library access to ebooks via the Digital Content Working Group and the development and implementation of the National Policy Agenda for Libraries.
  • Her leadership and vision have greatly contributed to the success of ALA’s efforts to increase digital literacy, digital inclusion, and the Core Values and Programmatic Priorities of the Association.
  • Sheketoff has trained hundreds of library advocates and mentored scores of Committee on Legislation committee members, thus making our Association stronger and providing all ALA members and leaders with a deeper understanding of the complexities of federal legislation now ingrained in the organization.

Help us thank Sheketoff for her years of service to ALA and the library profession. Please leave your comments for her below.