A photo of Pat Howe.

It’s almost that time of year when librarians of all kinds from across the nation descend on Capitol Hill. The event is National Library Legislative Day. During this time, people who care about libraries participate in advocacy and issue training sessions, interact with Capitol Hill insiders, and visit congressional offices to ask Congress to pass legislation that supports libraries.

As I prepare for this event again, I’m reminded of my experiences last year when a delegation from VLA visited every Virginia congressional office and a senator’s office. Our delegation included academic, public, and school librarians and a library teen group. To prepare each of us for our visits, ALA’s Washington office provided us with background kits describing the key issues impacting libraries, such as LSTA funding, restoring funds for EPA libraries, E-Rate, Net Neutrality, the Improving Literacy through School Libraries program, and the “orphan works” copyright issue. We asked our representatives to support or cosponsor bills that would be beneficial to libraries. In addition, we spoke about the significant contributions libraries make in our communities. We shared stories of activities in our libraries and how legislative policies affect our libraries and the people who use them. We gave our congressional representatives ALA packets of information and handouts about our individual libraries. As a follow-up, we sent a thank you letter including a summary of requested legislative supports to the congressional offices.

We advocate because
we care about
intellectual freedom and
free and equal access
to information….

Some of the legislative issues for this year include:

  • The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurial (FAIR USE) Act of 2007, which would allow permanent exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibition on circumventing technological locks where use of a copyrighted work is noninfringing, e.g. educational use in a classroom. It would also enhance libraries’ preservation efforts.
  • Repeal of the Real ID Act of 2005, which creates a national ID card. This act increases the opportunity to access library use records and threatens an individual’s right to privacy and confidentiality.
  • Safe use of the Internet with regards to “Interactive Web Applications (IWAs), a term coined by ALA for those countless websites and applications that utilize the technology often referred to as “Web 2.0.”
  • Net Neutrality legislation that preserves the competitive online markets for content and services. Bandwidth and access should be offered on equal terms to all willing to pay.
  • Funding for the Improving Literacy through School Libraries (LSL) program, which is designed both to improve student literacy skills and academic achievement by providing schools with up-to-date library materials and to ensure that school library media centers are staffed by well-trained and professionally certified school library media specialists.
  • Funding for LSTA, which provides grants to state library agencies.

In addition to National Library Legislative Day, VLA representatives will be participating in ALA-sponsored advocacy training opportunities during the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The first is a preconference on “State Level Telecommunications Policy for Librarians.” Motivated by the desire to stimulate economic development and the conclusion that high-speed broadband connectivity is a key factor in such development, states are looking at legislative and regulatory approaches to the deployment of high-speed services to underserved areas. This can have potentially major implications for library Internet connectivity in the state.

The second opportunity is a session on federal advocacy and media training. Session leaders will deliver a multimedia training workshop tailored to library issues on federal library legislation and conduct a media skills workshop including library message development, the different types of media interviews, and tips on how to be effective advocates.

So far, I’ve written about advocacy efforts on the national level, but VLA is also very active on the state level. The efforts of VLA’s Legislative Committee began as early as the August 2006 meeting with state officials and legislators about VLA’s legislative agenda. Our legislative liaison, Phil Abraham, also met with legislators to discuss our priorities and testified before committees and subcommittees about our legislative agenda throughout the legislative session.

Why do we put this effort into advocating for libraries? The top priority of VLA’s designated agenda affirms VLA’s leadership role for legislative and advocacy activities that support libraries and library staff in the Commonwealth. We advocate because we care about intellectual freedom and free and equal access to information in all formats for all people in our communities. We believe in literacy and in helping people develop the skills they need to locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information. We believe that libraries serve the informational needs of all people in our communities without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, personal beliefs, physical disabilities, or economic status. We advocate because we want to ensure that libraries continue to be a primary force in our democratic society. So, in May, I will make my way, along with the VLA delegation and hundreds of other librarians, trustees, and friends, to Capitol Hill to speak on behalf of libraries and the communities they serve. VL

A Photograph of Jessica Schwab, Erin Haggerty, and Pat Hpwe.

During the February VLA Council meeting, a donation to the sponsorship of National Library Legislative Day was presented to Erin Haggerty, grassroots specialist at the ALA Washington Office of Government Relations. Pictured from left to right are Jessica Schwab, VLA co-coordinator for National Library Legislative Day; Erin Haggerty; and Pat Howe, president of VLA.