Emily Sheketoff from the ALA Washington Office was a highlight of this year’s Iowa Library Association conference. Her knowledgeable, straight-from-the shoulder approach to the role of library as government agency and equalizer was just what Iowa’s librarians need.
Sheketoff doesn’t pass the buck on library advocacy. She lays it at the feet of the librarians. Emily states that we are responsible for informing, assisting and sponsoring life-long learning for Iowans. She reminds us this does not exclude the political process.
Half of our job consists of the very thing Congress in crying about right now: access and info tech facilitation. The headache that is the digital execution of the Affordable Healthcare Plan is what we call a regular day.
Explaining information, helping folks fill forms and create email accounts for information access, as well as instruction on navigation, language and searching are activities librarians do every minute of the work day. This half of our job will never be appreciated in it fullest influence, but we rock at it and it is essential to democracy. Case in point, Healthcare.gov.
Let’s not forget customer service, reader’s advisory, job searching, life-long learning, local history, ancestry and reference, ad infinitum either…
The other half our job is making services available to those who depend on us. This doesn’t mean more money or lack of stupid legislation, but rather having a governing body that won’t stop permitting services to those that need them.
Quick, let’s define what an American governing body is: of the people, by the people, for the people… This means Johnny and Jane Voter are the lynchpins of our great political enterprise.
For librarians, this means educating people who depend on our institutions. The most influential voice is the voice of the people. At best, we are all considered crazy cat ladies (librarian boys too!) begging for more dusty books by our Congressional Reps. We are a nagging voice distracting from the real issues.
At best we are considered at all…
Professional voices from the library field are not enough. Storytime parents, board members, job seekers, library users of public computers, databases, local collections, meeting room spaces, music, video and reference are needed for our leaders to see the issues.
Librarians are obliged to assist this process, not only in the name of self-preservation but because no less should be expected by their tax base. Even if you don’t use your library, you live in a town of students, voters, and employers that do…libraries leave their mark on all aspects of civic interaction.
Iowa is unique because we are the first in Presidential sweepstakes. We always have our own game going in civil rights, marriage equality, and protection of our Amendments and are typically first in the nation. A nation which is still quite influential around the globe.
Iowa librarians need to share our importance and what we need for our citizens. We need to communicate with our users and legislators and we need to communicate with them all the time. Librarians have the right and the responsibility to talk about what is happening in their community. (In my example, we are the 19th largest city in the state, but have the 13th largest checkout rate. We clearly need a library which has advocates from state and local government.)
We are obliged to ask for what is needed for the people of your community. So let’s drop some information on our library users.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin strongly supports education and health. He is a chairman on several committees that could influence a national library culture. If anyone could lead the way, surely it would be Iowa’s Tom Harkin. http://www.harkin.senate.gov/
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley holds the record for the longest streak of not missing a vote in the United States Senate. Senator Grassley is a legislative leader with senior positions on key Senate committees including the Budget and Finance.
He has the experience and the Iowan know-how to see the financial benefits of libraries to communities during the good times and the hard. (In my example, we conducted a study that showed our library’s 572% return on investment which is quite the accomplishment for any government institution.) http://www.grassley.senate.gov/
U.S. Congressman, Dave Loebsack, endorses education, health and a reduction to the barriers of learning. I would share a brief history of our amazing High School wrestling team and remind him how a public/school library eliminates many socio-economic obstacles presence in education. I would tell him what we need from him to continue to raise our graduation and retention rates in my area. http://loebsack.house.gov/
Give your library users a cheat sheet:
*Learn about your legislators and relate to them on a personal level to support your interests and needs as a citizen.
*Subscribe to your District Dispatch http://www.districtdispatch.org/
*When you can, personally visit your Reps. (It’s one of the greatest things citizens can do to forward the process.)
*Talk to libraries about lobby days for your needs, we’ll hook you up where we can.
*Always be respectful and appreciative but don’t get stuck with an intern. (Citizens are not check marks on a chart. You are valuable, your library is vital, and your community is important enough to have conversations and build relationships about them.)
*Know your community stats and refer to the actual number of specific bills. (Need help with community stats? I think your friendly librarian could help you out.)
*Share the local impact of the Legislator’s decisions to them.
*Email your legislators on a regular basis and invite them to your library.
*Iowa Nice! Be brief, grateful for time, informative and courteous, be flexible and adaptable. Like librarians, Congress members are busy, their work is taken for granted and much of it is completed seamlessly behind the scenes.
*Enlist the community voices of your friends, neighbors and civic groups.
We live in a day where saying you love the library and your librarian sounds like bullshit. If you love your library, adequately fund it. If you love your librarian, allow them to work outside the constant fear of layoffs. Librarians, this goes for you too!
Be active. Tell your story. Library advocacy may be your greatest crusade as it impacts many more people than can be easily quantified.
Remember, librarians are first responders for people that need an education. They are first responders to every citizen in their service community at any given moment. (It’s true, we suggest books at the doctor’s office and give reference assistance in the grocery line. We love learning and our community, and have become 24/7 proponents of information access.)
However, we cannot be prepared as a nation by permitting information tech and literacy to take a back seat. Now that we know how government works, let us teach them how libraries work.