Even with thoughtful and continual preparation, adverse legislation will sometimes be proposed in your state. Advanced planning can alleviate some of the stress on organizational leadership and individual members, and support from others can be critical to a strategic and successful response.
The work of preparing to address adverse legislation is closely related to the proactive advocacy work in which many library organizations are already deeply engaged. Libraries and library associations operate as non-partisan entities in diverse communities across varied political contexts. Library advocates must engage with a broad range of decision makers as reliable and trusted experts in advancing community priorities and meeting the information needs of stakeholders through a broad range of programs, services, and resources.
There are steps that your own organization can take that will enable a measured and thoughtful response that leverages the groundwork your organization has already laid, and that will not jeopardize the association’s relationships with legislators or hinder its ability to advance other legislative priorities. In addition, state organizations can work with local libraries to ensure that policies are in place that reflect federal and state law and safeguard access and intellectual freedom.
ALA tracks legislation and may reach out to you; it is important to be in communication when adverse legislation is proposed in your state. Even if your organization does not require assistance, ALA monitors legislative activity to identify both positive and negative trends across the country. In addition, ALA can provide specific information regarding related legislation and possible legal implications, as well as offer strategy assistance and talking points on a specific issue. Contact Advocacy@ALA.org.
- What is the proposed bill/policy?
- In plain language, how will the bill impact libraries, library workers, or library resources and services to the community?
- What are the legal standards/implications of the bill?
- Who has introduced it? Why have they introduced it?
- Who supports it? Why do they support it?
- What is the political landscape and will that impact whether or not this bill gains traction?
- Where in process is the bill and what needs to happen immediately?
- Will the library association take the lead on legislative advocacy or work in a coalition led by others? For bills that are primarily library related, the association is likely the lead organization on the bill.
- What work will be done quietly or behind the scenes?
- When is it time to mobilize grassroots action?
- Can the bill be defeated outright, or will amendments need to be proposed?
- What is the next stop for the bill? Does it go to committee, or a hearing?
- What relationships can be leveraged to address the bill in committee?
- Who needs to be contacted immediately?
- If the library association is taking the lead, who are potential coalition partners?
- What tools has the legislative team provided to grasstops advocates who can engage with lawmakers and influencers on the organization's behalf?
- Is the organization in contact with other library organizations in the state or region to align messaging?
- If the library association is not taking the lead, how actively will they participate in efforts to defeat an adverse bill? File a statement in opposition? Testify at a hearing? Sign onto a coalition letter? Mobilize advocates? Formally join a coalition?
Ideally, your organization will have a crisis communications plan in already in place. ALA offers this Crisis Communications Guide as a member resource (use your ALA login to access); use the plan to facilitate deliberation and strategic action. Some key points:
- Coordinate with your organization's leadership and communications teams so that they are prepared to respond to member or external inquiries. Develop talking points together.
- If the proposed legislation has garnered public attention, ensure that member leaders are prepared with talking points.
- Share updates with members and let them know if action is requested.
- Prepare your spokesperson(s).
- Keep your messaging consistent and, where possible, unified with other library organizations in your state.
- What is the best timing to engage which lawmakers? (Committee members, leadership, key champions, all lawmakers.)
- Who should engage with those lawmakers—a lobbyist? One or two key legislative team members? Grasstops advocates? Grassroots advocates?
- What should that engagement look like? One-on-one meetings? Committee testimony? Larger group events?
- Develop talking points. Briefly and clearly explain your position based on the bill’s potential impact on library services, library workers, and patrons’ ability to access library resources and services.
- Correct misinformation or false information.
- Use data or research to support your talking points and reinforce potential impact of the proposed legislation.
- Consider what channels are best to reach lawmakers, stakeholders, members, and key partners.
- Track support for your organization's position and mobilize constituents and influencers to persuade potential supporters.
- Follow-up meetings with calls and emails that reinforce key talking points.
- Thank legislators for meeting with you, even when they disagree with your organization's position, and never burn bridges.
Legislative processes can be unpredictable and the status of a bill can change quickly. Be prepared to adapt or mobilize as necessary and ensure frequent communication with members and key stakeholders.
Adverse Library Legislation in the States (ALA member resource, access with member login)
Legislation and Legal Information (ALA member resource, access with member login)
Libraries, the First Amendment, and Censorship (ALA member resource, access with member login)
ALA's Public Policy and Advocacy Office is available to consult on specific adverse legislation, in coordination with subject matter experts in other ALA offices and divisions. Contact: email@example.com.