On May 4-5, 2015, more than 400 library advocates from all walks of life gathered in Washington D.C. to speak with federal legislators about the continued importance of libraries. Whether they knew it or not, each “National Library Legislative Day” participant’s voice carried immense weight that week. On any given day, 4,000,000 Americans make use of a local library. In effect, then, each and every NLLD attendee stood in for nearly 10,000 library lovers.
Carol Walsh, a communications professional and a former member of the MALF Board of Directors, attended this year’s slate of events. She is pleased to share her recollections of and thoughts on the experience, for anyone interested but on the fence about making the trek in May 2016.
Is it possible to advocate for our state’s libraries, but on the national stage? It is, and you should!
The American Library Association (ALA) maintains a Washington office, which is responsible for advocating federal legislation that preserves and promotes library values and funding. Each year, the office must continually lobby Congress and its partners while simultaneously stoking grassroots support for libraries.
Needless to say, this is a tough task. Your voice, whether in person or “virtually,” is a huge help. ALA’s so-called National Library Legislation Day (NLLD), held every May, is your best opportunity all year to get involved.
This year – my fifth attending NLLD – I joined three other representatives from Minnesota in Washington D.C.: Jim Weikum, executive director of the Arrowhead Library System; Pat Conley, retiring director of the Washington Co. Library; and Melinda Ludwiczak, project manager for MELSA.
Here’s a summary of what went on, for anyone interested in attending in the future.
NLLD takes place over two days. On Day 1, advocates from across the country gather to hear subject matter experts brief them on the important issues of the day – in this case, appropriations, privacy matters, and school libraries. This is in preparation for Day 2, when the Minnesota attendees visited with members of our state’s congressional delegation.
In most cases, we actually met with knowledgeable staff, rather than the representatives and senators themselves. For instance, we met with Landon Zinda, legislative counsel for U.S. Representative Tom Emmer, because Rep. Emmer himself could not attend.
Everyone, I felt, was very receptive to our messages. Because I’m a resident of St. Paul and a member of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, I shared information particular to the St. Paul Public Library. My message was simple: public libraries are essential players in the community’s job search and workforce development network.
Here, and elsewhere, public libraries are integral to ensuring that all adults have jobs and basic workforce skills. As just one example, St. Paul libraries offer 3,000 classes each year in basic computer skills (in six languages!) – and help countless people every day with job searches.
Understandably, delegates are especially interested in fresh or innovative programs and initiatives. I talked at length about recent, close collaborations between the libraries and allied organizations, including the Minnesota WorkForce Center and St. Paul Adult Basic Education. A new initiative currently underway will explore the potential of e-training – and in particular, of a learning platform called Metrix Learning. Metrix Learning seamlessly integrates information on the local job market, job pathways, online learning, and industry-recognized certifications.
Other attendees pursued different angles and shared different stories, but everything confirmed the same basic point: libraries are indispensable community resources.
Fellow Minnesotans and Friends of the Library, I strongly encourage you to consider being a part of next year’s NLLD cycle, already scheduled for May 2-3, 2016.