The Life of a Library Lobbyist

Library advocacy and marketing are clearly closely related.  Successful advocacy depends on effective marketing.  Funders, whether at the federal, state or municipal level, will regard libraries and the services they provide with greater respect if the importance of libraries to the community has already been demonstrated to them. 

Because of the close relationship between marketing and advocacy at all levels of government, the Marketing Committee thought it appropriate to ask Kip Kolkmeier, legislative liaison in Springfield for the Illinois Library Association, to write about his work for our readers.

I am often asked “what does the ILA Legislative Consultant actually do”. My first response megaphoneis that a Legislative Consultant is just a fancy word for lobbyist.  That rarely adds much to their understanding.  A lobbyist is someone who protects and advocates for a particular group.  A lobbyist watches the legislative process, alerts the group when relevant bills are filed, helps develop a strategy for supporting or opposing bills, researches, drafts and seeks sponsorship of the group’s own legislative initiatives, and directly communicates to public officials the group’s positions.

Like any job, there are a lot of routine tasks.  I read every bill (about 7000 a year), and every amendment (about a 1000 a year).  There are usually several hundred bills and amendments that directly affect the library community which I review in depth.  I report on these bills to the ILA Public Policy Committee and to the ILA Executive Board.  I recommend positions on those bills such as support, oppose, amend, monitor, etc.  When bills are presented in legislative committees, I testify and explain our position.  Often, we prepare fact sheets that detail the important points and provide support for our position.  When a bill “hits the floor” and will be debated by the House and Senate, I speak personally to legislators in advance and ask for their vote on our behalf.  I of course work with officials from the executive branch as well.

The most interesting part of the job is negotiating actual legislative language that will be filed as a new bill, or suggested as an amendment to a bill already filed. The legislative process brings every conceivable interest group to the table.  We often literally sit around a table and negotiate what the law will say.  Finding a way to bridge gaps between interested parties in trust, understanding, and objectives is always a challenge

The most satisfying part of the job is when you see the light bulb go on over a public official’s head.  That’s when they really get it; they understand that you are credible, that you bring them real information, and that your argument is persuasive.  It doesn’t happen as often as it should, but when it does, it feels like the process is really working.

All lobbyists are First Amendment advocates, because our job is to express the views of the people we represent.  As ILA’s lobbyist, I also get the opportunity to protect the First Amendment itself.  The Library Community is a staunch defender of intellectual freedom and many of our most bruising legislative battles are in protecting access to information and the right of free expression.

ILA has had many legislative successes.  Despite nearly annual attempts to mandate Internet filtering, ILA has succeeded in maintaining local control so that local Trustees and library professionals make all decisions concerning collections and access to the Internet.  ILA has fought to protect the Library Confidentiality Act, which remains one the broadest in the nation.  A specific achievement this year was securing library, school, and higher education specific exemptions from the proposed firearm concealed carry legislation.  A focus on State funding for libraries has resulted in fewer cuts to library grants than the budget generally, and full restoration of public library grants this last session.

As a kid, I didn’t dream of becoming a lobbyist.  As a college student, I didn’t know there was an occupation called lobbying.  As a law student, I didn’t know that a lobbyist was basically an advocate.  Now as a lobbyist for the last 25 years, I am proud to be an advocate for libraries and this occupation has become my dream job.

Kiplund Kolkmeier is a Legislative Consultant for the Illinois Library Association.



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2 Responses to The Life of a Library Lobbyist

  1. elizabethsneill says:

    I hope everyone who reads this post will share it with colleagues and friends. The work that Kip does — and ILA funds — is vitally important to libraries. The news I come across, from time to time, on how public libraries are being dismantled in the UK reminds me how lucky we are that despite the fact that it is true that some people really do not like libraries, and that not everyone is served by a library, libraries are viewed postively by many in our communities and we have organizations like ILA and individuals like Kip who are actively working to support and protect our libraries.

  2. Susan Dennison says:

    I worked in DC for about a year and half advocating for the humanities and Kiplund is right, all the work feels worthwhile when the congressman/woman has his/her lightbulb moment. I loved meeting with senators and representatives and their staffers, who are the unsung heroes of any legislative process. I also found that advocacy and marketing are intertwined. There were always intense discussions about the “leave behind”- that succinct piece of information that summed up key points and justification for funding in a way that was interesting and easily remembered.

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