“Libraries Are Good for Maine!”
That was our collective message at Maine’s second Library Legislative Day on February 20, 2020. Librarians representing public, school, university, and special libraries turned out in the State House in Augusta for an exceptional day. As advocacy chair for the Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL), I served on the planning committee for the event, which was a collaboration between the Maine State Library, the Maine Library Association, and MASL. Our committee chair, Sonya Durney (University of New England), attended the National Library Legislative Day, so our day included some components inspired by what she experienced at that event.
Advocacy Begins and Ends with Connections
We began the day by greeting legislators as they arrived for work in the Hall of Flags. We had tables set up around the perimeter of the room with displays, slideshows on laptops, handouts, candy, and even a roving robot! And just like in our school libraries, we know that food always brings ‘em in, so light refreshments were available. There was a lively, positive atmosphere as legislators stopped by to check out our materials. This was the opportunity to engage with them — sharing short anecdotes about our priorities, asking about their districts and what they know about their school library programs, talking about the Maine Effective School Library Programming Standards, and more.
As the legislators went into session for the day, the librarians gathered in a meeting room for free advocacy training and lunch. James Ritter, Maine State Librarian, welcomed us. Our first speaker was Bob Howe, of Howe, Cahill and Company, a lobbyist for the Maine Library Association. His remarks oriented us to the legislative process, while also providing information about how to give testimony in person and virtually. Our next speaker, Megan Cusick, joined us virtually from ALA’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. Her message included information about the importance of how to craft a consistent message that aligns with specific priorities. Beyond simply a lot of data or statistics, she emphasized the impact of putting a “face” or more specific anecdote to the message. Both Howe and Cusick spoke to the importance of relationship-building with our legislators. (For ideas about what this looks like in action, see previous KQ post “Invite Your Legislator to School Day!”)
Promotion and Follow-Up
As part of the marketing and promotion for the day to Maine school library staff, I created a template invitation for customization that we shared with our e-mail list. Even if they were not able to attend the event, we encouraged school library staff to reach out to their legislators to let them know that Maine Library Legislative Day was happening. My own two legislators stopped by for a chat in the morning, I reconnected with the chair of the Joint Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, and introduced myself to the new representative who represents two of the five towns that our school serves. Additionally, I sent an invitation to our Commissioner of Education and personalized e-mails to members of the Department of Education that I have established relationships with.
In the follow-up e-mail that we sent to attendees, in addition to a link to a survey about their experience, we reminded librarians to follow-up with a thank-you note to the legislators they had spoken with. In my note, I took the opportunity to invite that new representative to come visit our school, and to save the date for a special spring event honoring the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1911 graduate of our high school).
Highlight and… Looking Ahead
A highlight of my day was attending a scheduled meeting with the Commissioner of Education, Pender Makin, with three other MASL board members, as well as the Elementary Digital Learning Specialist at the Department of Education. This was a huge win! The commissioner opened the meeting with: “What can the department do to help you?” And the meeting got even better from there! It was a tremendous opportunity to share our priorities and to hear the commissioner’s thinking. Our conversation affirmed that she sees the importance of school libraries and supports the ways that a strong school library adds value to our schools. This was a case of relationship-building and advocacy work going hand in hand.
There’s such exciting momentum when librarians come together to plan a special day like this. I can’t wait to volunteer to help with next year’s Maine Library Legislative Day!
Does your state sponsor a library legislative day? What does advocacy look like at the legislative level? Have you ever offered testimony for a proposed bill? Does your state school library association have formalized position statements or priorities? How do you communicate them to decision-makers and stakeholders?
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).