Note: We know the positive impact that Illinois libraries have in this state. Please visit this blog regularly as we post more about sharing these positive impacts in a meaningful way. Thank you to the Marketing Forum for enabling us to use this space.
In May of 2017, 40 Illinois library supporters traveled to Washington, DC, for National Legislative Day on May 2. Necessities for this trip include comfortable walking shoes and effective deodorant. The legislative campus is huge and DC is still hot in May!
As many of you know, the Capital can be overwhelming. People from across the country are there for business and pleasure. End-of-the-year school field trips bring in busloads of students and teachers. And everybody is on their way to a meeting, monument, or office building. When you strip away the imposingness of Washington, DC and think about why you are there, advocacy remains the same— wherever it takes place. It is all about making person-to-person connections.
With federal funding for Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) not included in the first budget, it was wonderful to see the overflow crowd for National Legislative Day. The first day is normally comprised of education about the issues followed by a day of advocacy in legislators’ offices. There were so many attendees this year that the Illinois
delegation had to move to the overflow room for the opening session.
From morning through afternoon, a number of experts provided insights to many of the issues such as support for LSTA funding, net neutrality, public access to government data, surveillance law reform, and support for high-speed broadband at every library. Participants learned about the Washington Post’s great slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
For advocates, the 3:30 pm session by Brian Jones and Tina Pelkey of the Black Rock Group was particularly compelling for their simple advice on talking with legislators. They said that it starts with preparation by asking, “What is that legislator’s passion?” Jones and Pelkey explained that how you frame the issue is important. They indicated that you should use the legislator’s terms. Push your issues through their filters. They recommended that advocates not to get caught up in the “curse of knowledge” (“curse” needs explanation). They advised that people, “Take the time to economize the point.” Break-down complicated topics into a media narrative. Make it into a storytelling arc. Start with contextualizing the issue. This approach consists of observing these elements:
1. Why is it important to that legislator? Try framing it into something that the legislator values.
2. Explain the problem and suggest a solution.
3. Make sure you have done these things before presenting facts and figures.
4. Speak economically – remark, make an observation, conclude, stop.
5. Make sure that you conclude with, “This is what I would like you to take
Here is an illustration with a real world example.
Before the trip to DC, the ILA Advocacy Committee collected stories from Illinois libraries that received recent LSTA funding. One success story came from the Aurora Public Library.
LSTA funds helped Aurora Public Library support World Relief Literacy programs for non-native English speakers like Maria Gutierrez. People who participated in these programs improved their communication and social skills and came to love the library and reading. In 2013, 30 percent of the adult refugees resettled in Aurora had no literacy skills in any language. Their children frequently begin kindergarten with little to no English language skills. This program has served to improve literacy for over 700 parents and children.
Let’s set-up a hypothetical with a legislator who is passionate about improving local education. With that in mind, one would talk about Maria in terms of newfound literacy skills helping students academically. One would suggest that the LSTA funded World Relief Literacy programs that helped Maria and her children could help others. One would emphasize that we want the legislator to take away from this meeting that LSTA funding is important to his/her constituents. Then, one would provide a written-copy of Maria’s story proving that LSTA funding increased the reading ability of his or her youngest constituents.
The Advocacy Committee thanks the Aurora Public Library for sharing a powerful example about how libraries impact communities. We would like to continue to collect these types of stories from Illinois’ libraries. Please send them to Co-Chairs Denise Raleigh at firstname.lastname@example.org and Celeste Choate at email@example.com. Thank you. by Jim Deiters and Denise Raleigh, 16-17 Advocacy Co-Chairs