- District Dispatch
- National Library Legislative Day
- Annual Retreat
- Washington Office Resources
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.
- 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.)
COL consists of 15 members, appointed for staggered two-year terms, plus a Chair.
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 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
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.
- Washington Office Staff List (PDF, Last Updated 07/19/2016)
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.
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.
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.
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?
- Take no position
- Take active steps
- Go to the mat (either for or against)
- 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.
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/
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.
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.
Federal Legislation & Libraries