I was honored to represent librarians, educators, South Carolina, and my state organization, SCASL, at National Library Legislative Day in Washington, DC. According to ALA there were 361 in attendance. There was a delegation from SC of nine librarians representing public, academic, and school libraries.
On Monday the ALA staff presented briefings on recent library legislation and informed us of what bills we should try to address with our representatives. Of main concern for school librarians is the Library and Technology Services Act (LSTA), the Improving Literacy through School Libraries (ILSL), E-Rate funding and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, formerly NCLB). Monday evening I chatted with three staff members from Senator Jim Demint's office at a reception hosted by ALA.
On Tuesday we stormed the Capitol to meet with our legislators. I was prepared for these meetings. At the advice of the wonderful Fran Bullington, I created a cheat sheet of our SC legislators that included a photo, title, district served, committees, and any other pertinent information that would help us tailor our message to their goals and priorities. For example one of our representatives is married to a retired librarian, while another boasted a 100% voting record on social issues. This information helped me to prepare and our delegation leader even had copies made for entire delegation. Next year I want to add information from the ALA scorecard webpage and a district map of our state. The sheet also had statistics that I could use in the meetings.
For our meetings we came bearing gifts. I brought notes from my students and elementary students from West Pelzer Elementary. Thanks to the awesome Carla Nash for getting those! Our students wrote notes about why libraries were important to them on little dollar bill notes. I wanted to make the point that these funding decisions are about our students and their votes impact SC children. This was another great idea from Fran. I also found a statistic that states "Americans spend more than two and a half times on salty snacks than they do on libraries." I printed this on address labels and stuck it to little packs of peanuts. I found more statistics about the cost effectiveness of libraries on the ALA Advocacy page and printed those on a notecard that I attached to a little bag of "gold" gum.
My first meeting was with the office of Representative Jeff Duncan and my fellow school librarian, Kathy Sutusky, went to Representative Tim Scott's office. The student notes were a big hit with the staff and I hope that it helped us make our point. I can't say that we had any major revelations about libraries or concrete assurances regarding funding, but I do feel good knowing that we voiced our concerns for libraries. Unfortunately due to travel arrangements I could not visit more offices, but the delegation took the notes and gifts with them to share. They reported to me later that they were a great tool as the visits continued. One of the public librarians said he was inspired by our visual aids and had ideas for next year.
One of the major issues that has haunted me since I left is that we are not doing enough to show the non-librarian community what we do. We must do a better job showing the impact we have on student achievement.
What can you do?
Write your legislators requesting that they fund LSTA, ILSL, E-rate and that they vote to include school librarians in the reauthorization of ESEA.
Create a monthly report to share with your principal.
Create an annual report to share with teachers, administrators, district personnel, school board, local government and community.
Use assessments like TRAILS to show your impact.
Participate in Snapshot Day and use that data to highlight our services and impact.
What other ideas do you have?