Library Issues in Elections
It's important that candidates know that the library is at the center of many important public policy debates—and that when they get elected, they'll be able to influence library funding and other important issues impacting our nation's libraries. Here's what you can do:
Highlight library issues
- Contact the sponsors of any candidate debates in your area —local, state or national—and ask if you can get one or two library/ information questions on the debate agenda.
- Invite the cable TV franchise in your community to join with you to sponsor and broadcast a candidate forum. Focus on library, technology and information policy issues.
- Develop two or three questions on library and information issues and send them to each candidate for office. Even if they don 't all respond, they will have a new awareness that libraries are important to voters. Publicly thank those who respond and publicize the most favorable responses widely —on flyers, in news releases, etc
Sample candidate questions
(For local candidates—city council, county commission)
Our library is largely funded through local tax dollars. Nationally, most people believe that the library is one of the most valuable public services and would support an increase in local taxes to strengthen library services. Can you comment on library funding?
(For national candidates)
The Library Services and Technology Act provides a small amount of federal funding for libraries, allocated mostly on a per capita basis to the states. Last year, our state received $ (amount available at www.imls.gov). Will you support increased funding in the coming year for LSTA and a reauthorization of the act when it comes up in 2002?
Good school libraries improve student performance. Yet, the last time there was dedicated federal funding for school libraries was during the 1960 's and 1970 's with the first Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Since then, school libraries have not had a consistent source of funding. What will you do to ensure that school libraries continue to get the support they desperately need to improve student learning in the 21st century?
(For state candidates)
Our state government allocates $ per capita per year (check with your state library agency; listing available at www.cosla.org, for amounts) to our public libraries. While this state aid is a small fraction of our total operating expenses, it is crucial to our operations. Will you support continued (increased) funding for public libraries from the state treasury?
(For all candidates)
Libraries are shown to be key community-building institutions, the one place that people of all opinions and backgrounds can gather, learn and discover. Please tell us a little about your own beliefs on government support for libraries as community centers.
Libraries are one of the most important institutions educating our youngsters. Research shows that time spent with books in library programs helps children succeed in school and in life. Would you support an increase in funding for youth services and school libraries?
The development of new information technologies has complicated many issues that our public policymakers face every day. Can you share with us your thinking on some of these issues? (Look at ALA 's Washington Office Web page for synopses of current key issues.)
Influence the process
- Host an "Information Issues Night "at your public, school or college/ university library. Invite candidates, as well as panelists such as lawyers, scholars, telecommunications/ computer professionals, reporters and community leaders, to join a state or national library leader to discuss issues. Ask a locally known journalist to moderate the discussion.
- Issue a press release to local media that expresses your library 's commitment to educating voters.
- Take your board chair, key member of your Friends group, a member of the PTA, students or college administrators to a meeting with the local or campus newspaper 's editorial board. Discuss library issues and ask for editorial support for any library issues that are coming up in the election. Let the editors know the candidates 'stands on library issues.
- Encourage students, staff, your board and Friends to get involved in the political process —volunteering at the polls, helping with voter registration drives, distributing information about the election.
- Have fact sheets or bookmarks available for the public to show the total percentage or per capita amount of local, state and federal funds that come to your public, school or college/ university library. Also list key library policy matters that elected officials influence.
- Develop a list of local library facts and figures that are influenced by government decisions (funding, number of people who attend your library 's programs, number of library visits and the impact of federal, state or locally funded programs on students and/ or families). Print the list as a flyer or post on your library 's Web site. Make sure your staff, board and Friends have the information so they can talk about the library 's needs and its contributions to the community.
- Keep a list of all the candidates and their biographies and positions handy for your board, staff, Friends, teachers and colleagues so that they have information at their fingertips to share with library users and the media.
- Work with local community organizations that are involved in getting voters to register and vote —such as the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Urban League, student groups and the local election commission —and be sure they are aware of library issues.
- Share information about your election season activities on your state or regional library e-lists. Solicit ideas and reports from colleagues and adapt them for your library for future election seasons. Sponsor programs on libraries and the electoral process at upcoming library-related conferences.