Across our nation, American state legislatures are convening for their 2013 sessions. A host of policy issues will face this diverse group of elected officials, offering challenges for advocates on both sides of such contentious topics like gun control, state tax policies, and economic development/job creation. Beyond these discussions, legislators will also have to tackle the yearly process of developing the annual budgets for their respective states.
State chapters of the American Library Association (ALA) currently employ a wide array of robust advocacy programs. These techniques range from approaches that use compelling written materials to identify specific reasons why libraries warrant sufficient public-sector support, to numerous programs and events that allow for direct lobbying of the state officials who actually make budget decisions. I have selected the following examples to illustrate how local communities throughout the United States can develop similar initiatives.
Individual public libraries typically never have difficulty in sharing heartfelt stories of how much children and families love their local library branch. However, many state legislators remain focused on the “bottom-line” and want to gather hard facts about libraries, and not just hear the touching stories. In the State of Florida, library supporters have done just that by preparing an informative brochure, which highlights a study that quantifies “Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries.” Even the most fiscally conservative Florida budget committee member has to be impressed by the fact that, for every tax dollar received in the study year (2008), state public libraries provided $8.32 in value. The Ohio Library Council employs a similar approach with a study of its own.
My home state of Maryland is quite unique in that we actually have two statewide library advocacy groups. Of course, the Maryland Library Association (MLA) functions as our state’s chapter of ALA. However, we also have the Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML), which serves specifically to “promote greater public awareness of services of libraries and to promote greater support of libraries of all kinds.” This group goes beyond just library staff, and consists of interested citizens and non-profit organizations, libraries, library trustees, and professionals from throughout the state. Annually, MLA/CML co-sponsor “Maryland Library Day.” This event takes place in Maryland’s State House, and consists of both organized group advocacy discussions and direct lobbying of individual members of the legislature. The day concludes with a reception that allows library advocates and state leaders to interact in a more informal setting (see photo). Similar “lobby days” are utilized in a host of other states.
The Massachusetts Library Association also hosts a “Library Legislative Day” in their state capital. What I found to be really interesting was that this association also employs a series of similar “meet and greet events,” but with an interesting twist. In partnership with individual local library systems, sixteen legislative breakfasts will be held in 2013 at individual branch libraries, with each event targeted to a specific member of either the Massachusetts Senate or House of Representatives. Clearly, these sessions will have a great deal of value in that the elected officials themselves get to see first-hand all of the wonderful services that are offered in these libraries. More importantly, members of the public at-large – all avid library users, of course – are able to directly lobby these decision-makers.
Sadly, many individuals are turned-off by the very notion of lobbying or lobbyists. However, I am convinced that our founding fathers wanted each and every one of us to be passionate advocates for issues and causes that we happen to believe in. Given this, now is the time for library supporters to gather together and make our voices heard.
- Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services, “Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries,” 2010.
- “Value for Money: Southwestern Ohio’s Return from Investment in Public Libraries,” prepared by Levin, Driscoll, and Fleeter, June 2006.