ALA Committee on Legislation Orientation Handbook

About COL

Office of Government Relations

Process

Subcommittees

Legislation Assembly


About COL

The Committee on Legislation (COL) was established by the ALA Council as a standing committee in 1961. It is important to understand COL’s mission and how it works within ALA and with staff in the ALA Office of Government Relations (OGR).

The ALA Council has the ultimate responsibility for establishing policies for the association. To support its work, Council has established a number of “Council committees” whose missions are to conduct research, analyze options and policy positions, and promote dialogue and discussions among ALA members and units. COL is one of these Council committees and reports to Council, often with proposed resolutions that Council can discuss and act upon.

Charge to Committee on Legislation:

Established by the Council as a standing ALA Committee, July 1961, and designated as a Committee of the Council, June 1971. 

Mission:

  • To consist of 15 members having staggered terms.
  • Chairpersons are appointed annually by the president-elect. 
  • To have full responsibility for the Association’s total legislative program on all levels:  Federal, State, and Local.
  • To recommend legislative policy and programs for Council approval and to take the necessary steps for implementation. 
  • To protest any legislative or executive branch policy adversely affecting libraries.
  • To seek rulings and interpretations of laws and regulations affecting the welfare and development of libraries. 
  • To represent the ALA before the executive and legislative branches of government as required at all levels. 
  • To provide a forum within ALA to gather information about needed legislation and to keep all units of the Association informed of the ALA legislative programs.
  • To direct the activities of all of the Association in matters relating to legislation.

(Revised statement adopted by Council, June 17, 1969; number of members expanded by Council in 2010.)

Membership

COL consists of 15 members, appointed for staggered two-year terms, plus a Chair.

Member Responsibilities

Participation on the COL is a heavy service commitment. In addition to attendance at three committee meetings at both the Annual Conference and the Midwinter Meeting, members will be appointed to at least one subcommittee by the COL Chair.  Members are also expected to attend the Legislation Assembly and the joint meeting of COL and the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee. Attendance at ALA Council, Council Forum, and Washington Office Update sessions is highly encouraged. A retreat may be held annually (in DC when budgets allow, or in connection with the Midwinter Meeting). National Library Legislative Day, held in Washington, DC, annually, usually in the first week of May, is another event that COL members are highly encouraged to attend. All COL members are asked to subscribe to District Dispatch, the Washington Office blog that reports on current issues and action alerts, and to participate in COL’s activities on ALA Connect.  

Members are also expected to participate in quarterly conference calls (or as scheduled) for both COL and the subcommittee(s) to which they are appointed. Sample schedules for both Midwinter and Annual are shown here.

Between conferences there are periodic emails, ALA Connect messages and monthly conference calls to provide updated information on key issues.  COL members are encouraged to forward to their own networks information about ALA’s legislative activities and to encourage their peers and ALA units to become involved with grassroots lobbying.

Office of Government Relations

Washington Office Overview

The American Library Association's Washington Office was established in 1945 to represent libraries on Capitol Hill, and now consists of the Office of Government Relations (OGR) and the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP).

The ALA Washington Office provides executive leadership and administrative support to OGR and OITP, in addition to conducting media outreach and public relations efforts. The Washington Office also builds coalitions and partnerships with Washington-based representatives of other groups with interests similar to the library community.

Office of Government Relations

As part of the ALA Washington Office, the Office of Government Relations (OGR) is charged with following and influencing legislation, policy and regulatory issues important to the library field and its publics and to work and support the Committee on Legislation. In coordination with its sister office, the Office of  Information Technology Policy (OITP), OGR works to insure that libraries are consistently involved in the legislative and policy decision-making processes in many ways, including:

1. Informing and lobbying government about the needs and concerns of the library community;

2. Providing library supporters with up-to-date information on government actions or proposals;

3. Building and participating in coalitions with Washington-based representatives of other groups with similar concerns; and,

4. Developing grassroots networks to lobby legislators and other stakeholders about further library interests.

With guidance and policy direction from the ALA Committee on Legislation, OGR addresses a broad range of issues including, but not limited to: copyright, appropriations, library programs, government information, privacy and telecommunications.  The best work is done when there is true collaboration between COL, other ALA members and staff.

OGR Organizational Chart

List of OGR Staff and Focus Areas

Contact information for OGR staff and the primary issues and matters in each of their portfolios, along with links to background on each issue, is provided here.

Role of OGR Staff

COL and other ALA bodies draft resolutions that are sent to and voted on by ALA Council.  OGR staff may assist with factual information included in the resolution, but should not be responsible for authoring a resolution. Utilizing ALA policy and COL resolutions OGR staff work to further the interests of the Association.  This includes meetings with congressional and agency staff, participating in coalitions, signing onto / sending letters, etc. OGR staff work to keep COL members informed about these activities.

Process

Resolutions

One of COL’s primary responsibilities is writing resolutions on legislative matters for consideration by ALA Council.

By passing resolutions and making other decisions, the ALA Council has developed an extensive set of official policies and statements of principle. COL uses this body of statements located in the ALA Policy Manual to guide its discussions about legislative priorities and positions. Coupled with ALA’s core values and key principles, COL has a strong basis upon which to assess positions on new legislative and public policy issues. 

The ALA Federal Legislative Policy Manual, ALA Council resolutions and other policy statements in the ALA Handbook are the official statements of ALA’s policies. The latest version of the ALA Legislative Policy Manual is online at: http://www.ala.org/aboutala/governance/policymanual. In addition to compiling historic ALA policies and resolutions, this document includes more recent legislative agendas that have been developed by COL. 

New issues and updates to existing policies are referred to the ALA Council for their consideration. There are various ways in which legislative issues come before COL: 

  • Legislation Assembly and the units represented in LA;
  • Recommendations from COL members;
  • Recommendations from individual ALA members and units;
  • Opportunities identified by OGR staff;
  • “Hot issues” from larger public debate;
  • Referrals from ALA Council, Executive Board or other parts of ALA and the library community

Many issues evolve frequently and require regular review and assessment. Each legislative and policy issue has a different combination of political and policy considerations. Issues require regular consideration of new circumstances and review of the current political environment. COL oversees ALA’s legislative agenda in conjunction with staff of the Office of Government Relations (OGR), the Legislation Assembly, COL subcommittees and other ALA units. 

There are three types of documents that COL refers to ALA Council. They are resolutions, honors (honorariums are amounts of money), and memorials. There are particular rules and guidelines for preparing each type of document.

COL considers a number of questions in its discussions – such as:

  • If and how does the issue have an impact on libraries and library users?
  • How does an issue relate to existing ALA policies or does it require new policy decisions and/or resources?
  • What other organizations and coalitions, inside as well as outside of ALA, are concerned about and/or working on the issue?
  • What are some of the options for action?
    1. Take no position
    2. Take active steps
    3. Go to the mat (either for or against)
    4. Wait and see
  • What are ALA’s capacities and resources to affect  the issue? In Congress? In the Executive Branch?  Elsewhere?
  • What is the time frame for action?
  • How will ALA mobilize advocates and grassroots networks, especially relative to the time frame of the political environment?
  • What will success look like?

The level of effort ranges from a full-out “go-to-the-mat” project, such as is used on LSTA reauthorization, to “merely” signing on to letters or other statements with coalitions and allies whom we trust. Again,  OGR regularly reassesses and adjusts its activities on any particular issue after consulting ALA’s policy statements and discussing options with COL as well as with consultants and other experts. 

ALA strives to be active on issues and to anticipate any potential crisis.  This includes assessing, as best as possible, what the political environment will be like and how ALA can take the initiative in pushing its agenda. Of course, unexpected events, opportunities and problems arise regularly that require ongoing reassessment and realigning of COL’s and OGR’s collaborative work.

District Dispatch

All COL members should subscribe to District Dispatch, the Washington Office blog that reports on current issues and action alerts. To sign up, please go to http://www.districtdispatch.org/

Relationship with Committees and Roundtables

COL has asked all ALA units to participate in its Legislation Assembly including membership divisions and roundtables as well as Council committees. Units that choose to participate designate their own representatives. Often the representatives are the chairs of the legislation committee of a unit or members active on policy and advocacy issues and activities. See Legislation Assembly for more information.

National Library Legislative Day

COL members are highly encouraged to attend National Library Legislative Day, held annually in Washington, DC, usually in the first week of May.

Annual Retreat

When budgets allow, COL holds an orientation retreat. The retreat includes briefings about major library issues and the current legislative and political environments.  It may feature a speaker who is an expert on an issue. COL makes no decisions at retreats – only at official public meetings.

Washington Office Resources

Federal Legislation & Libraries

District Dispatch

ALA Washington Office

ALA Office of Government Relations

ALA Office for Information Technology Policy

Subcommittees

COL has established a set of subcommittees that meet at Annual Conference and the Midwinter Meeting, and have monthly conference calls on particular projects or positions. Subcommittees often sponsor programs at Annual and Midwinter.

These subcommittees are:

  • LSTA

The Committee on Legislation re-establishes this subcommittee approximately every five years to prepare for the congressional LSTA reauthorization process.

Charge: This subcommittee works to develop a consensus approach for ALA and other stakeholders involved with the reauthorization of LSTA. Representatives are sought from all interested ALA groups as well as other library organizations.

Legislation Assembly

http://www.ala.org/groups/legislation-assembly

Mission of Legislation Assembly: To act in an advisory and resource capacity to the ALA Committee on Legislation (COL).  The individual members, named to the Assembly by the divisions and other units as determined by COL, shall serve as liaison to their divisions or units in matters relative to legislation. (revised statement adopted by Council January 22, 1996)

Since the federal legislative and policy work of ALA is so important, the ALA Committee on Legislation (COL) works closely with its Legislation Assembly (L.A.) The L.A. serves an important communications function between ALA units and COL  to facilitate an exchange of information on legislative and policy issues and to ensure that COL receives policy input from all parts of the association.

The assembly meets during ALA Midwinter and Annual Conferences and conducts periodic conference calls between conferences. Staff from ALA’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) support this assembly and make regular reports and updates to its members. All representatives to the L.A. are asked to subscribe to ALA’s policy and advocacy blog, the District Dispatch, for regular updates from OGR.

Through these updates and discussions, L.A. representatives are tasked with keeping leadership and members of their respective units informed about key issues. L.A. representatives are also encouraged to use the assembly as a key mechanism to bring feedback and perspectives on federal legislative and policy issues from their units back to COL.  Often at conferences, units can express their position on COL-related resolutions being considered in several ways, such as by offering alternative language, making endorsements or proposing new resolutions.

L.A. representatives are also asked to encourage grassroots support for legislative issues from their units’ members.

Before Annual Conference, OGR staff contact ALA units to request the names of their respective representatives for the coming year. As noted in the mission statement, each unit is responsible for appointing its representative. This appointment is most often made by the incoming president or chair of divisions and roundtables. Several ALA-wide committees are asked to have representation on L.A. as well. The chair of L.A. is appointed by the Chair of COL and members of COL typically attend the L.A. meeting at each conference.

Through these activities COL can learn much about the units’ perspectives, while ALA units will have the opportunity to learn about key legislative issues.

Legislation Assembly member responsibilities include:

1. Attend ALA Annual and Midwinter Conferences and the Legislation Assembly meeting at each conference;

2. Participate in conference calls or virtual meetings as scheduled;

3. Review and monitor legislative updates from COL and the ALA Office of Government Relations, through District Dispatch and ALA Connect, on legislative issues and action alerts;

4. Forward information and action alerts to members of their respective ALA units through appropriate electronic lists, websites, ALA Connect, emails, etc., especially to unit legislation committees and executive boards;

5. Report on unit legislative and advocacy activities and positions to the Assembly and COL; and

6. Report units’ legislative and policy positions and recommendations to COL, including feedback and/or endorsements of resolutions and other statements.