Here I am once again with my
At the fountain of thistles
Preparing to sing.
-W. S. Merwin
So far as legislative and advocacy issues, the months since Carolyn Barkley handed me the VLA gavel have been a good example of those "interesting times" we have been warned against.
After a series of near misses and tie votes in the Joint Committee on Science and Technology, we were disappointed at the difficulties we had in negotiating an appropriate amendment to the UCITA statute. Preparing to take the fight to the legislative session, we were quite pleased at a last-minute proposal from UCITA advocates to exempt librarians from the law as it concerned tangible items such as CD ROMs and DVDs. We made the most of this opportunity and worked with our opponents to craft language that suited both sides, while issuing a statement agreeing not to propose any amendments not approved by the legislature's Joint Committee on Science and Technology. Our statement also indicated that VLA did not intend the exemption for Virginia libraries and library staff to be a national model.
In the excitement of this resolution of a two-year problem, we were deeply disappointed to hear from American Library Association representatives that they thought we were selling out in the national battle against UCITA. We made our case with the ALA Washington Office, reworded our statement to emphasize that VLA did not endorse UCITA, and reminded anyone who would listen that UCITA was already law in Virginia, and that VLA's mission to serve the state's library community would best be fulfilled by an exemption if the law could not be repealed.
Just as all this was being resolved, VLA members, led by our Legislative Committee, descended on the state capitol with irrepressible energy to advocate for State Aid, Infopowering, and other issues as directed by VLA Council. I cannot recall ever being more impressed with a group of librarians than I have been through this legislative session. Seeing is believing, and I saw public library directors received as influential old friends by legislators and their aides. Our message was attended to with much more than token politeness, and we got numerous commitments, including signatures on key amendments.
After a very successful Legislative Day we stayed in touch constantly with key legislators and with Phil Abraham, our exceptional legislative liaison, making sure delegates and senators knew how the library community felt about issues that concern us. But our work did not end with the legislative session. The budget deadlock of '01 has forced us to turn our attention to Governor Gilmore and the secretary of education. Even now, with the governor's budget distributed and appearing to protect State Aid to Public Libraries, we have to be prepared to work with a special legislative session if one is called. That work would be essential because the governor's budget now leaves out Infopowering and cuts the Library of Virginia budget as well as local public library construction funds.
As if this were not enough, ALA decided to go to court to fight the Children's Internet Protection Act, and asked state associations to help. VLA Council agreed on a statement that has been posted on ALA's CIPA page (http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/virginiaresolution.html), and the VLA Executive Committee agreed to contribute financially, as well. We were one of the first states to respond on this issue because an individual VLA member made the effort to bring it to the attention of the VLA Council without delay.
The astute reader will notice far too many uses of the first person plural pronoun in the preceding paragraphs. The "we" could easily be detailed with an honor roll of VLA members who invest heavily in the future of libraries, but I am honestly afraid of leaving out someone who deserves mention. I hope it will be sufficient to thank all of our advocates as a group. They know very well who they are, and they know the importance of "being there." Showing up may not be a full eighty percent of success, but it certainly beats staying away.
If you are interested in making a difference in library funding, policies, and laws in Virginia, opportunities are always available through VLA. The Legislative Action section of the VLA web page is easy to use and is constantly updated on state and national issues. You can e-mail the governor or any other official in a matter of minutes, expressing your opinion and showing solidarity with VLA members.
If you really want to make a difference, be there. Be there in person, by e-mail, phone, or fax, but be there. Even when it is not easy and you feel less than eloquent, your voice matters.