Library Advocacy Efforts Gain Steam

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(From Publisher’s Weekly, by Shannon Maughan)

A look at some ongoing federal, state, and local campaigns

The past decade has seen a distinct expansion of library advocacy across the country, largely in response to budget cuts. As a result, librarians at all levels have been organizing and raising their voices to demonstrate the value of their positions and their libraries in the community. In light of continued tightening of funding, including steep cuts proposed by a new president, the battle cry of librarians has become even louder. We checked in on a few of the most recent efforts.

Appropriations Push

May was a particularly busy month on the library advocacy front. To kick things off, on May 1–2 a record number of librarians—more than 500—took part in the American Library Association’s National Library Legislative Day (and double that number participated online). During their time in D.C., librarians discussed issues and legislation affecting them with ALA’s Washington Office and met with representatives on Capitol Hill. Copyright, net neutrality, and privacy were among other topics on the table. An early bright spot of the event was the May 1 announcement of the federal budget for fiscal year 2017 (ending September 30), which increased federal library funding by $1 million.

But the bigger budget debate at the event was President Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, announced March 16, in which he called for the elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the grant-making agency that serves as the primary source for federal funding to libraries. Ahead of the 2018 budget, the ALA had already drafted its annual “Dear Appropriator” letters urging Congress for full funding of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) at $186.6 million and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) at $27 million. In light of the newly proposed threat to funding, advocacy efforts shifted into a higher gear.

On May 10, the top brass from eight major companies providing services to libraries—Baker & Taylor, Follett, Gale, OverDrive, Peachtree Publishers, Penguin Random House, ProQuest, and Rosen Publishing—sent their own letter to members of the Senate, emphasizing the enormous impact and value of libraries and urging senators to sign the ALA’s “Dear Appropriator” letters by May 19. This corporate support expanded on May 17, when additional businesses and trade organizations teamed with the original eight companies to officially form the Corporate Committee for Library Investment (CCLI). Another letter, signed by 26 founding CCLI members, was delivered to the Senate, requesting that lawmakers sign the two letters to their colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, asking for the aforementioned amounts of funding for fiscal year 2018.

According to the ALA Washington Office, 45 senators (a new record) from both sides of the aisle signed the LSTA letter, besting last year’s support level by 33%, and a bipartisan group of 37 senators signed the IAL letter, up almost 20% from last year. Both letters were delivered to the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 25. Between the CCLI letter’s release on May 17 and the May 19 signing deadline, CCLI’s membership tripled, growing to more than 80 members, including Publishers Weekly. Membership now stands at more than 90 companies and organizations.

Additional appropriations-driven advocacy in March and April came from the ALA’s Fight for Libraries! and #saveIMLS campaigns. ALA reports more than 21,000 emails were sent to the Senate alone, and over 42,000 to Congress, while 26,000 #saveIMLS tweets were sent between mid-March and May 25.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) also reached out to Capitol Hill in March and April (April was School Library Month). Via the organization’s journal, Knowledge Quest, AASL president Audrey Church challenged members to invite a legislator to their libraries during the two-week congressional spring break. Church’s March 17 blog post on the topic echoed the popular picture book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond: “If you invite a legislator to the library… she will see an effective 21st-century school library program (perhaps very different from what she remembers from her K–12 years). If a legislator sees an effective 21st-century school library program… he will see a school librarian who is a master teacher, technology integrator, and collaborative instructional partner.”

Word of the effort was spread using the hashtag #Leg2SchLibrary. As of Church’s posted update on June 5, 45 AASL members in 18 states had extended invitations to their representatives or senators, and four members shared stories of lawmakers who accepted. Stacey Kern of Clark-Pleasant Middle School in Greenwood, Ind., received a visit from Rep. Trey Hollingsworth. “He was able to witness a library lesson in action, tour our fantastic learning commons, and engage in conversations with students and staff,” Kern said in Church’s update. In the same follow-up report, Kim Johnson, from South Carroll High School in Sykesville, Md., said of her visit from Rep. Jamie Raskin: “He got to experience an Hour of Code, see our #weneeddiversebooks March Madness display, and visit with lunch students. Then, we invited four government classes to come to the media center for a q&a with the congressman.”

(Read the rest of this article here!)