This week I attended the ne plus ultra of librarianship on the local level: the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got to:
a) Meet, hug and fawn over my favorite author Jennifer Weiner (I asked her to inscribe my book, “To Bonnie, my best friend”)
b) Win an iPod, even though I told the vendors repeatedly that I don’t know how to use the one I have (don’t judge me)
c) Be surrounded by the greatest collection of sensible shoes the world has seen since the 1876 American Library Association Conference in Philadelphia
d) Fuss over the Encore vendors and declare my undying affection for Encore
e) Take photos of important colleagues posing à la America’s Next Top Model on the front steps of the Capitol building
At the conference, I attended sessions on effective organizational communication within libraries, marketing library programs, awesome/useful web tools, creating effective partnerships with other organizations, and so on. One experience especially made an impression, and that was visiting the capitol building. We met with Representative Steve Samuelson, who is a great advocate for libraries in our state. He gave us advice for meeting with elected officials that I would like to pass on to you:
• Get lawmakers on your side. Invite them to the library and share with them the important services your library provides to the community.
• Tell your lawmaker what they are doing right–and wrong.
• Probe them—find out where they stand on the issue of libraries—don’t let them off the hook. This can sometimes be surmised with a handshake: “So we have your support for libraries?” Then send a thank you note thanking them for their support.
• It’s not inappropriate to convey our disappointment about how they have voted. They need to know how their constituents feel and how their actions affect libraries and communities.
• The Pennsylvania Senate voted THREE TIMES to pass a budget that cut library funding by 51%. Because of your letters, in the last three weeks before the budget passed, the cut decreased from 51% to 34% to 21%! Because of your letters, the senators compromised. They listened to YOU.
• Pennsylvania makes $79 million annually in taxes from the sale of books and magazines. If that money were earmarked for public library funding, our beloved libraries wouldn’t be on the chopping block year in and year out when the officials convene annually to pass the state’s budget.
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is slated to close several communities’ cherished libraries and lay off many treasured librarians and library staff that change lives every day. Don’t let this happen. Put pressure on our mayor, the mayoral and gubernatorial candidates, as well as our city and state’s elected officials. They decide how your tax dollars are spent.
Don’t let them off the hook. Our libraries are in their hands.