Actionable Advice From Library Legislative Day 2016


Hundreds of library advocates from all walks of life converged on the U.S. Capitol in May for National Library Legislative Day (NLLD). Organized each year by the Washington office of the American Library Association, NLLD is one of the nation’s premier library advocacy opportunities. MALF president Judy Schotzko made the trek this year as a member of Minnesota’s “delegation.” She came away impressed with the advocacy event – and even more impressed with NLLD as an advocacy education opportunity.

“Meeting with congressional representatives and their aides is the highlight, but the organizers prepare you well on the Sunday before – and that training included replicable advice that anyone can use at home,” Schotzko explained. Among other speakers, ALA’s briefing and training session featured a keynote by former Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ). 

Here is a list of NLLD “best practices” you should keep in mind, when meeting with public officials and advocating for libraries at the local, county and state levels. 

1. Champion specific bills, actions, and priorities. Voicing general support for libraries is not typically effective. Most governmental officials support the continued existence of public libraries, and very few have a negative view of the institution. Championing specific priorities (e.g. allocation of funds to purchase and maintain more computer consoles) is far more likely to be heard and heeded. 

2. Research the person you are speaking with. Do not go blind into any meeting with elected officials. Your time with them is almost definitely going to be limited. In order to maximize that time and leave the best possible impression, research that person beforehand. Find out how he or she has voted in the past, and what their funding priorities appear to be. As best you can, tailor your pitch accordingly.

3. Leave something behind. (No, don’t go forgetting your hat or coat.) If you can spare the time, draw up a one-page summary of your key talking points. Going this extra mile affirms your seriousness, serves as insurance if you forget something, and saves your audience from having to take many notes. Print and bring several copies; one or more aides may be in attendance. At a minimum, be prepared to leave a business card.

4. Don’t underestimate aides and other assistants. If you set up a meeting with the office of a state or federal official, do not be surprised if you do not get to meet the congressman or woman in person. Their time and attention are at a premium, and this sort of work is often delegated to trusted aides. Do not feel cheated, or give your meeting anything less than your best effort. Aides are influential, and their bosses respect their opinions. Having an aide paraphrase your key points can be a powerful thing indeed.

5. Don’t feel self-conscious about what you don’t know. As a Friend, you likely do not know the ins and outs of the library world as well as library staff. Think of this as an advantage. When librarians approach elected officials about library priorities, many assume they are speaking primarily out of self-interest. When a Friend makes the same pitch, however, their motives will not be questioned.

If anything, this last point is most important, according to Schotzko. “In my experience over the years, whenever staff lobbies for something, it is presumed they are lobbying for their job. Volunteers ask only because they care. These are the people that can have a huge impact.”