Monday, April 23, 2012 was National Library Legislative Day for the American Library Association and DCLA welcomed librarians to DC that morning to lobby their Congressional leaders to support libraries. The event is supported annually by DCLA, coordinated by our own Barbara Follensbee-Moore. DCLA President Megan Shiels was there to welcome the group in the morning. That afternoon, Shiels, Past-President Richard Huffine, and President-Elect Jacqueline Protka, had the opportunity to speak to a DC lawmaker about the challenges librarians are facing right here in the District of Columbia.Our DCLA contingent met with Councilmember Tommy Wells from Ward 6. Councilmember Wells serves as the Chair of the DC Council's Committee on Library and Recreation. Since taking charge of the Committee, he has worked hard to understand the budget of the DC Public Library and he has forged a good working relationship with the Library Administration, the Friends of the Library, and the Library Board of Trustees.
We were there to speak to the Councilmember on two topics: the situation for school libraries and the Public Library in the proposed 2013 DC Budget. DC Public Schools has drafted their 2013 budget to remove requirements that schools have librarians on staff and the Public Library budget fails to adequately fund collections and training.
Public School Libraries
We were able to share research with the Councilmember that supports the positive impact school libraries have on student achievement as well as the role school librarians play in supporting teachers with curriculum development. He shared his concerns about establishing mandates for public schools when there are Charter school alternatives without similar requirements. The Councilmember was hesitant to use the legislature to manage the school system and encouraged DCLA to reach out directly to the Chancellor of the DC Public Schools as well as the Deputy Mayor for Education and the State Superintendent of Education. We expressed our concern about addressing a financial model of school autonomy without understanding the impact that changes will have on the ability of schools to meet their educational goals. We encouraged the Councilmember to ask our educational leaders in DC to consider the long-term impacts of cutting school librarians on student achievement.
We acknowledged the $5 million increase in public library funding proposed by the Mayor for FY2013 and expressed our support for the increased staffing that is planned to provide support for new branch libraries opening over the next several months. We explained, however, that not funding collections adequately will create challenges for the Public Library as they try and meet the growing demand for their services. We talked about the value that professional development and training brings to public library users and how DCPL has trained new librarians for years through subsidized funding of Masters programs for library staff. We also talked about the need to expand library hours and the Councilmember told us about his commitment to studying the main library and options for the building downtown. The Councilmember said he is looking for funds to increase training and that funding for collections will be considered from surplus funds if they become available.
Visiting with the Councilmember was a learning experience for each of us. We had to do our homework so that we could speak with confidence about the challenges facing our members. We also had to consider what role we should play as representatives of librarians in the District of Columbia whether they are members of DCLA or not.
Library Associations all over the country do this every year although they have both municipal and state governments to work with. Here in DC, our advocacy is concentrated and focused on the DC Council. We have no representation in Congress and our state and municipal governments are combined in one body.
We don't know if this first step will change the current realities for public and school librarians, but your DCLA leadership is committed to education of our elected officials and to representing our community when they need us to. If you would like to work on advocacy issues, let us know and we would be glad to include others in our next steps.