29 August 2022
Image credit: Unsplash.com.

I recently met with my state senator to talk about support for libraries. It was an interesting conversation and at the very least, I hope I made her think differently about what is happening in libraries. My own journey to this meeting was a bit odd, but I wanted to share it with you in case you might want to go on your own advocacy journey.

Reaching Out

National Library Week and School Library Month both fall in April every year. This year, I decided I would write letters to most of my elected officials to tell them about the challenges facing libraries or thank them for their support. In most cases, I wrote letters and followed up by email:

I wrote to the following:

  • Alderperson
  • State Senator
  • State Assembly Representative
  • Mayor
  • School Board President
  • Senators (2)
  • Congressional Representative
  • Governor

I tried to tailor these letters to each office with specific messages. For example, I pleaded with my local alderperson and mayor for more support for local school libraries. I thanked my congressional representatives for supporting libraries at the federal level.

Very few responded. One or two responded by thanking me for my message. Only one responded with specific information about what they were doing for libraries.

Booking a Meeting

In my letter to my state senator, Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas (Chicago), I asked her how she thought the state could better support school librarians. Her staff responded with helpful information and some data they had received from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). I followed up and requested a one-on-one meeting to talk more about the situation.

A few weeks later, her staff set up a Zoom meeting for us. Before the meeting, I sent some pertinent information including:

I’ve linked all of those documents so that you might see them.

We had a very productive meeting. The senator was very open to the idea of the statewide online resource proposal and gave me tips on other groups to contact. She asked me questions like “who might oppose this” and “have you talked to x.” These were great questions and showed how engaged she was in the conversation.

We also talked about the situation with unstaffed school libraries.  She indicated that school librarians might want to connect with other educational support entities like school nurses and school counselors to maximize their lobbying power.

In the end, we didn’t solve all of the problems I introduced, but she asked me to keep her in the loop, especially on the statewide online resources proposal. It felt good to talk about these issues and I know that I will keep at it.

Your Turn

So, this is my challenge to you: if I can meet with my state representative, anyone can! Here are some tips that I would suggest:

  • Follow your legislators on social media
  • Sign up for the email newsletters
  • Know their background and priorities
  • Send them many different forms of communication (emails, phone calls, letters, feedback forms); you never know their preferred way of communicating
  • Be persistent! If you don’t hear from them right away, keep trying
  • Be respectful; these are very busy professionals, but they are very interested in hearing from their constituents.
  • Save them time by sending them documents in advance
  • Have “an ask” or something that you can concretely ask them for

I can’t guarantee you’ll get a meeting with your legislator if you do these things, but it’s worth trying. Good luck!