In 2017, I applied to be part of ALA’s inaugural Policy Corps, and honestly, I didn’t think I’d get selected. Although I’d been involved in advocacy locally and had made some fledgling attempts at the state level, I had very little success. I applied for the Policy Corps because I hoped they would provide me with the training and connections necessary to begin to make a real difference. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. In the past year, I’ve made in-roads toward change in my own state, I’ve met with both my US Senators, I’ve been on a podcast, and most importantly, I’ve become a stronger voice for school libraries and the students we serve.
The purpose of ALA Policy Corps is to develop the ability to advocate on key policy issues on behalf of the library community by providing thorough training on library policy issues so that participants can be prepared to advance ALA policy goals and library values among policymakers.
The first thing I learned is how crucial it is for each type of library to be represented at the table. The inaugural Policy Corps included public, academic, and school librarians; but more than that, it included diversity in the types of positions held, from the school librarian in a small school who is running the show on their own, to the public library director for a large institution, and everyone in between. Being able to discuss issues like e-rate, network neutrality, and workforce innovation and their impact on all types of libraries was informative and necessary as we developed personalized advocacy plans and became more familiar with the legislative and regulatory history of each issue.
The importance of having all these voices at the table cannot be undervalued. As 2017-2018 ALA President Jim Neal said: “We must all fight the closing of school libraries, the reductions in professional staffing, the erosion of budgets for resources and technology, and the consequent weakening of the librarian–teacher partnership in the classroom. We must advocate for the federal funding that supports network access in schools. We must continue to document and demonstrate the powerful link between student success, educational enrichment, and well-supported school libraries.”
To accomplish this mission, we must be at the table with policymakers and with each other. The Policy Corps is working to achieve this goal by providing participants with intensive training on messaging, public speaking, the policymaking process, and coalition building. In addition to training opportunities, each member participated in National Library Legislative Day. For me, this experience cemented the idea that being a librarian and having first-hand, on-the-ground experience is critical when speaking to our lawmakers and decision makers. When we can share stories that we have personally experienced and relate these to national policy priorities–such as workforce readiness and digital inclusion–we are able to communicate in a way that facts and figures alone will not.
Of course, it’s not a one-and-done situation. One year of training and a few days in Washington, DC, are just the beginning of forming relationships with policymakers, developing successful coalitions, and becoming lifelong advocates. The training and connections that I gained through the Policy Corps opened my eyes to the interconnected nature of policies that impact library services, and how we can support each other to be effective advocates and better librarians. We must take every opportunity we can to persistently demonstrate how we advance shared goals with policymakers, and work to develop them as partners and champions for improving educational outcomes.
If you’ve been active in the school library community and feel like now’s the time to step up your advocacy game, consider applying for the 2019 ALA Policy Corps. I think you’ll be glad you did.