Reaching out to politicians about LIS issues

I’m sure many of you saw the distressing news last week: the budget resolution for 2016 released by the U.S. House Budget Committee and then passed by the House of Representatives proposes (among many things) to eliminate federal funding for the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS). While this budget is by no means set in stone (the Senate passed a similar budget and the two groups will have to work together to pass a collaborative combination), it is still quite upsetting.

ALA President Courtney Young released a statement on March 25th, expressing her shock and dismay at the U.S. House Budget Committee’s actions. After reading her statement, I honestly felt extremely distressed. For the federal government to express their lack of financial support for our cultural heritage, information, and learning institutions in this way is very upsetting. I consider myself a moderately politically active person – I vote regularly and advocate for issues I care about – but I don’t usually feel the need to express my opinions directly to politicians. However, as I said in one of my very first Hack Library School posts, sometimes you need to get political, especially when it comes to important LIS issues.

(Photo source: Elliot P., Flickr

Washington needs to know that LIS professionals will not stand for a lack of federal support. (Photo source: CC BY-SA 2.0Elliot P., Flickr)

So I decided to contact the politicians for my state to express my opinions about the House budget resolution. Below are some tips and advice that came out of that process:

  1. Research the situation. We are LIS students and professionals; information is our *deal*. So research the issue, the bill, the resolution, the discussion. Read the *actual text* of what you’re going to be talking about – in this case I had to hunt at length to find the actual text of the budget resolution report (as the House Budget Committee website is not very user-friendly) and then find the section on IMLS (for those interested, IMLS is mentioned on page 89). The key thing here is to not rely too heavily on news articles. They’re great to get started on a bigger picture view, but you want to hone in on the actual sources so that you can speak with some clarity and authority on the issue.
  2. Find out what other LIS professionals have said. If it is a situation that is affecting LIS professionals (especially on a national scale), there is probably already a press release from ALA, SAA, or some other professional organization. In this case I used Courtney Young’s statement as a starting place. Sometimes ALA will issue a more general press release, depending on the issue. It’s a good idea to see what the “party line” is and can be helpful when crafting your own message.
  3. Use ALA resources. ALA has a Washington Office whose specific focus is LIS issues and politics. They have issue guides for big topics like privacy and copyright, as well as briefings on legislation that affects LIS institutions. And they even have a “take action” section with tips, resources, and a module that helps you look up who your congressional representative and senators are (and includes their contact information).
  4. Craft your message. Using the source material you found in step one, the messages that have already been released you found in step two, and the resources in step three, craft a concise and direct message that you can use for whichever politicians you choose to contact. It should be relatively short (my example piece below is under 250 words); you want to include your name and where you’re from (so it is obvious you are their constituent), your key message (e.g. “I support/do not support ____”), and a few (2-3) reasons for your position.
  5. Call the politician (also consider writing, but only as a supplementary option). I’m of the fairly strong opinion that calling is the best way to reach out to a politician. No matter what you are not going to be speaking to the politician directly. They have staff members who take constituent calls and who file away constituent letters/emails. But those staff members do brief the politician on what constituents are writing/emailing/calling in about. And a phone call is much harder to skim and file away. I do think there is something to be said for getting your remarks down on paper and officially received by a political office. So, write if you must. But always call too! Calls are hard to ignore, my friends. On that note, try to be nice to the staffer you’re talking too, even if you feel very passionate about the subject; it is by no means their fault that their boss supports an issue you oppose (or vice versa).
  6. Encourage others to act on the issue as well. If this is an issue that means a lot to you, consider a short but direct post on social media. Explain what the situation is (in a sentence or two), what is means for you specifically (in a sentence), and what people can do to act (perhaps with links to contact pages for the appropriate politicians). I know not everyone likes to get political via social media and I respect that. But consider at least spreading awareness for an issue if you are passionate about it.

I hope these tips help you in your library advocacy efforts. And I hope the federal government realizes what a big mistake de-funding IMLS would be…

What are your library advocacy tips? Ever reached out to a politician? How did it go? Was the staffer receptive? Did you get any follow-up messages or see any results?

For those interested, here is the text of the message I conveyed in a phone call to my congressional representative (and then modified slightly when I contacted my senators):

Hello, my name is Nicole Helregel, I am an Illinois resident, and I would like to leave a message for Representative Davis:

I do not support the budget resolution released by the US House Budget Committee, as it proposes to *eliminate* federal funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which is the agency that administers federal funding support for more than 120,000 libraries in communities across the nation.

The support of libraries and an educated citizenry are democratic ideals that this country strives for. Our commitment to lifelong education, information and digital literacy, and access to information resources are distinguishing features of our nation.

IMLS plays a large role in the continued effectiveness of libraries and other information institutions in this country. Without federal support, many libraries would have no choice but to deliver sub-standard service, or even close their doors. The leadership of IMLS is invaluable for institutions across the country, as they provide training, resources, and expertise to thousands of librarians and cultural heritage professionals.

I understand the need to make tough cuts, but de-funding IMLS will be a blow to the educational, societal, and democratic well-being and global standing of this country. I hope that our country’s leaders, including Representative Davis, will support the important role that IMLS plays in sustaining and enhancing American communities by ensuring its continued support.

6 replies

  1. Thanks for this great post. We do indeed need to make our voices heard. I just had a colleague ask me in Facebook yesterday what we can do about this in our state. I tapped into our state library agency and our state professional association. Hope Washington hears from lots of us on this issue.


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