National Library Legislative Day, May 13 and 14, 2008 - Wisconsin delegation
Why is it important to visit Washington and tell our federal elected officials about libraries? Because we are the ones with the information they need to make informed choices about upcoming legislation. Librarians, trustees, and Friends are not paid commercial lobbyists. We are not making money by “walking the halls of Congress” and speaking up for libraries. We represent satisfied patrons who also don’t benefit monetarily from libraries. We represent patrons who vote, and who want their Congressperson and Senator to vote in favor of library legislation. We are passionate about the importance of libraries. By making a trip to visit our elected officials on their home turf we underscore that importance to a high degree.
The American Library Association does a terrific job of preparing the delegation. A briefing was held on Monday for all the first-timers. On Tuesday, all-day briefings were held. We heard from Emily Sheketoff, ALA Washington office Executive Director, on the hot topics. This talk was especially timely, including up-to-the-minute updates on library issues. We heard from Congressional staffers, lobbyists, and the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters before lunch. The delegation met together at lunch to discuss the issues and plan our Congressional visits.
After lunch, we heard from Lisa Graves, the Deputy Director for the Center for National Security Studies, on National Security Letters and FISA reform. Two breakout sessions came next: either John Windhausen Jr., Esq. Telepoly Consulting, on Internet & Telecommunications, or Nathan Brown, Esq., Ropes & Gray, on E-Government, along with ALA staff. After a break, we heard from Jonathan Band, Esq., on copyright. ALA always does a great job of bringing in the movers and shakers, the folks who created the legislation and have testified before Congress.
We received handouts on all the topics. ALA prepares packets for all the delegates and their federal legislators, and the Department of Public Instruction prepares packets also, including state information such as E-rate discounts and LSTA grants received, by Congressional district. This year DPI included the report just released on the Economic Benefits of Public Libraries. ALA’s packets contained issue papers on all the topics important to libraries: FY2009 Appropriations; a sheet on Wisconsin’s LSTA funding; School Libraries (No Child Left Behind/the SKILLS Act); the 3rd edition of the Research Foundation Paper, “School Libraries Work!”; E-Government, Open Government, and Federal Depository Library Issues; Telecommunications and Broadband; E-rate and Universal Service Fund; Copyright; Privacy, National Security Letters & FISA Reform; a page on Economic Benefits of Libraries; and a sheet on Library Facts for Legislators. Find these handouts on ALA’s NLLD website here:
Bob Hafeman begins his four-year term next year as the Wisconsin Federal Relations Advocate so attended his first FLAN meeting – ALA’s Federal Library Advocacy Network. Each state has a FLAN coordinator who helps establish a network of library advocates. I work with WLA and WEMTA, as well as posting ALA’s legislative alerts to the statewide listservs.
The delegation met for dinner at Jaleo’s, a Spanish tapas restaurant within walking distance of the hotel, and everyone sampled several different delicious dishes.
Wednesday was the day of the visits. Bob Hafeman had contacted the legislators to set up the appointments, informing them of which members of the delegation were from their home districts. Sometimes there is nobody from the home district, but we visit anyway. We wear comfortable shoes and clothing, prepared for rain, heat, cold, and the security measures to enter the federal buildings. This year was the longest line I could remember. None of our delegation was stopped except for those with replaced knees.
A quick lunch was eaten in the basement of the Longworth Building, in a cafeteria with insufficient seating for the numbers of people trying to eat.
We continued our visits in the afternoon, personalizing library issues with our own stories as we met with knowledgeable legislative aides. We saw Congresswoman Gwen Moore in the hallway outside her office, and one of our delegation got to sit in her Congressman’s office at his own desk!
Finding the correct location of the Congressperson’s office often meant we walked past familiar Committees (Dennis Quaid was testifying at one hearing) and world-renowned office-holders, including all the Senators now running for the Presidency. It is truly a humbling experience, knowing that we citizens have open access to all those elected officials who are answerable to us voters.
During our visits, one of us filled out an evaluation form on each legislator for the top library issues. These evaluations are turned into ALA for their followup.
ALA holds a reception for the attendees with terrific food and wine after the visits; several of us were able to attend, although some of us had early flights home.
I have uploaded pictures onto Flickr (search under National Library Legislative Day 2008).
Start thinking now about visiting your Congressperson and Senators next year; NLLD 2009 will be held Monday and Tuesday May 11th and 12th, 2009. The American Library Association’s Washington office starts sending messages to the Wisconsin Federal Relations Advocate in the late fall. Book your hotel room and flight by January for the best price. You’ll be glad you did!
Jessica MacPhail, WLA Federal Relations Advocate