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Practice Makes Pretty Awesome: National Library Legislative Day 2014

by on May 29, 2014

From May 5th-6th, library advocates from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 40th annual National Library Legislative Day (NLLD). The key take-away from this year’s event? Practice makes pretty awesome for the libraries and communities we serve.

In her opening remarks at The Liaison hotel, ALA President Barbara Stripling asserted, “Library advocacy is an activity that must be practiced all the time in every community at every level.” Don’t you just love that? It’s exactly the way I feel about holidays like Valentine’s Day. Why wait for one day out of the year to say, “I love you!” when you can show it in big and small ways all year long?

That said, those who attended NLLD 14 were indeed in the nation’s capitol for one amazing day of advocacy (two, actually, if you count the briefing day, which I do). However, many of us arrived at the event with stories of the previous weeks, months, and years we’ve spent speaking and acting on behalf of libraries. Even first-time NLLD attendees quickly picked up Barb’s idea that advocacy isn’t a once-a-year thing or someone else’s job. Each one of us is an advocate, and the onus to practice this critical activity all the time is ours.

Here’s a taste of how library staff members, trustees, and other stakeholders practiced their advocacy skills at the federal level during NLLD 14:

Monday, May 5th: NLLD 14 Briefing & Capitol Hill Reception
If I could bottle and sell the energy generated at The Liaison hotel on any NLLD briefing day, I could donate some pretty serious coin to libraries. The buzz of excitement in the air as friends and colleagues talked passionately about taking action together was unparalleled by any other conference or event I’ve ever attended.

The NLLD 14 briefing day agenda didn’t disappoint. Many engaging speakers provided participants with relevant background and details on these key legislative issues affecting libraries: appropriations, early learning, network neutrality, open access, privacy and surveillance, school libraries, and workforce investment.

The power of story was a common theme throughout the briefing day, with ALA Executive Director Keith Fiels summing up the idea perfectly: “We’re the ones who tell the stories of how federal funds are used to provide library services.” Keith’s empowering message set the tone, framing our efforts for NLLD 14 and beyond. Jazzy Wright, Press Officer for the ALA Washington Office, further emphasized how good library stories can be instrumental to hooking the media with our advocacy messages.

That evening, NLLD 14 participants gathered in the Hart Senate building on Capitol Hill for a reception, where United for Libraries honored Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy with the 2014 Public Service Award. (I’ll bet you didn’t know Batman is his favorite superhero. Awesome, right?)

Tuesday, May 6th: Congressional Appointments
Poised and prepared, NLLD 14 participants returned to Capitol Hill the following morning for Congressional appointments arranged by state legislative coordinators. As part of the Illinois delegation, I had the privilege of meeting with U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis and a staff member for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

Was I nervous? Not even a little bit. I entered both meetings confident in my ability to speak knowledgeably about the role of libraries in early childhood education, the topic about which I’m most passionate. Representative Davis greeted me and two other advocates like guests visiting his home, and an enthusiastic staffer for Senator Durbin welcomed the entire Illinois delegation for a friendly conversation about the transformative power of libraries in communities across the nation.

I left Washington, D.C., that afternoon feeling pride and elation about the difference we make every day in the lives of those we serve. Barb was right—practice does make pretty awesome. Do your part today!

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