November 17, 2017

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What Professional Lobbying Looks Like

ChristineRichieKidsOCPL

Onondaga Country Library’s Christine Richie and young friends convey the message in Albany.

What does it look like when librarians organize and lobby at the state capitol for more funding? In New York State, it looks something like this.

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Nassau County Community College’s Art Friedman with sandwich board.

The New York Library Association’s Library Advocacy Day on February 25 brought hundreds of librarians, trustees, and library supporters of all ages from across the state to Albany to meet with their legislators and hold a rally in the Well of the Legislative Office Building (LOB).

To prepare, NYLA members led workshops the night before on member engagement and advancing excellence as part of our strategic plan. There was an NYLA legislative reception, with speeches by the chairs of the Senate an Assembly committees on libraries, Sen. Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Thomas Abinati. We capped the evening with the New Yorkers for Better Libraries political action committee’s fundraising dinner. During that, public radio’s WAMC commentator Joe Donahue and Jim Vielkind from Capitol News talked about the current Albany political scene, giving us lobbyists much to think about before we traveled the halls of the LOB early the next morning.

The ask for library aid increasse is1_10 of 1_ of the state budget

The “ask” for library aid increase is one tenth of one percent of the state budget.

To arm our lobbyists on-site, we set up an NYLA Base Camp in room 120 of the Legislative Office Building with packets listing the 2015 legislative priorities. We also had supporting information for them to bring to their legislators’ appointments in groups of five to fifty constituents, all asking for increased state aid for public libraries.

After thanking legislators for adding back $5 million dollars in aid that had cut by the governor in 2014, we asked them to restore the $16 million dollars in library aid to the current $86.5 million, bringing libraries back to the state-approved $102.6 million. This would represent one-tenth of one percent of the state budget.

We requested that library aid should be directly tied to increases in education aid. To support this, we cited a January 2015 Siena College poll showing that 94 percent of New Yorkers say that their local library is an important part of the educational system—and nearly half say library aid should increase in proportion to increases in educational aid.

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Senator Farley addresses the rally.

Another NYLA legislative priority is expanding the current regulation for school library staffing to include access for students to certified school librarians in every school—including elementary schools.

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages.

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages.

Currently in New York State, all schools are required to have libraries, but only secondary schools are required to have certified school librarians. With the connection to the inquiry research required by the Common Core standards and the studies showing the impact of school librarians on student achievement, there is some interest in changing the regulations.

This bill was introduced at the end of the last legislative session. It needs updated language to be reintroduced in this session, though the expectation is that this effort will take several years. The information sheet on the school library bill included the eye-catching and American Association of School Librarians (AASL) “Strong School Libraries Build Strong Students” infographic.
All legislators were encouraged to sign up to have an ALA READ poster created with photos taken by a professional photographer on site, and many took advantage of that. My state senator, Betty Little, was one of the first to give me a chance for a 20-minute hallway conversation. She gladly wore a NYLA sticker all day. Legislators got one READ poster free from NYLA, but many purchase more, some even one for each library in their district.

Hall visit with my own Senaor, Betty Little

Sara Kelly Johns (right) with New York State Senator Betty Little.

At noon, all gathered for a crowded rally in the Well of the LOB with speeches by legislators who support libraries, including Farley and Abinati. The atmosphere was festive, full of excitement and hope for a strong legislative session for 2015.

We’ll see what our lobbying  yields when the budget is finalized, most likely on April 1, since Governor Andrew Cuomo makes it a point of pride to make that date.


Sara Kelly Johns is immediate past president of NYLA, past president of AASL (2007-8), and instructor at Mansfield University School Library & Information Technologies Program.

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Comments

  1. well done, it was an exciting day.