Joan Milligan, Legislative Day Award Recipient
When I read last winter that the ALAO was awarding a grant to a librarian interested in going to the ALA’s annual Legislative Day, I knew I had to apply. I was thrilled when I heard I had been awarded it. What an opportunity!
The ALA’s “Legislative Day” is actually a two-day event in May. On the first day we gathered at the Liason Hotel for several information sessions on particular bills and priority issues, plus we got some coaching on some basic lobbying do’s and don’ts.
On the second day we went to Capitol Hill. Lobbyists generally meet with representatives’ staff members, rather than with the representatives themselves. These are the people who have some expertise in the area and will know what particular points may interest their boss. These meetings are short, often no more than 10 to 15 minutes, so it is important to be organized, concise, and illustrative in a way that will catch the staffers’ attention. We were greeted with varying degrees of engagement and preparation. In fact, at my Congressional representative’s office my lobbying partner and I were passed off to a staff assistant’s assistant, a young man with just a few months’ experience.
However, we had a very positive experience at Sherrod Brown’s office, although the only place for us to gather was in the hallway. (We were told ahead of time this happens. Sometimes you’re asked to brief staffers on the go when they are on their way to their next meeting.) Brown’s staffer, Caroline Wells, was very interested in what we had to say and promised the senator would sign a letter in support of full funding for the LSTA program. She had his signature by the next day. That felt great.
Bill Morris, at the Ohio State Library, does an excellent job organizing almost everything for Ohio lobbyists and preparing the packets that are passed on to the representatives. Ann Watson, a multi-year “Leg Day” lobbyist, acted as my mentor, explaining the details and pointing me in the right direction. Ohio had 18 delegates this year, from the state library, public and academic libraries, and library organizations such as OPLIN, Ohio Library Council, and INFOhio. All of these were directors – except for me. I thought I was fitting in pretty well until the button popped off my suit right before our appointments. When I am cataloging books I can dress fairly casually, but my fellow lobbyist are people who are used to their suits!
For me, the best part of the experience was learning in detail about some of the key issues and requests our profession is seeking. Our central request was $300 million for LSTA grants and $100 million for school literacy programs—a drop in the budgetary bucket, I’d say. However, in May, when we were in Washington, the president’s proposed budget allowed only $217 million for LSTA. Some other issues:
· The excessive paperwork necessary for libraries to get special “E-rates,” which provide inexpensive broadband access, should be simplified so that more libraries can apply.
· A proposed bill that would stop the National Institute of Health’s current policy to post federally funded works online should be voted down. The fear is that if the NIH is stopped from doing this, other similar organizations won’t make their works available either, even though taxpayers are supporting the research.
· Access to federal reports should be made available to the public through a centralized electronic system.
· An exemption from the Consumer Production Safety Improvement act should be provided for children’s’ books. The regulation is about lead poisoning, a danger only if a child eats several old books in their entirety. New books don’t contain lead.
· Modifications of the Patriot Act should be made to protect readers’ privacy.