Libraries of all types are essential partners in building strong communities, and library advocates regularly engage with local, state, and federal elected officials who understand the role of the library and work with advocates for the betterment of libraries and the communities they serve.
Legislative advocacy encompasses many facets--collecting and sharing stories with decision makers through multiple channels; hosting site visits; meeting with lawmakers; attending events; and contributing subject area expertise to community conversations, as well as agency or legislative hearings.
Lobbying is more strictly defined and governed by state law, aims to advance a specific policy, and is only a small fraction of an overall advocacy program. Lobbying efforts are usually coordinated through a key point person (lobbyist, consultant, advocacy director, government relations manager) who relies on the groundwork being laid by many advocates, and who is your organization's expert on navigating state government.
For state organizations that do not retain a professional lobbyist, it is critical to have a succession plan in place for volunteer legislative committees so that member leaders have time to familiarize themselves with the organization’s policy priorities, the state’s legislative landscape, and state lobbying laws. For those organizations that do have a professional lobbyist, there is still an advocacy foundation that must undergird the association’s legislative work.
Every member of the library ecosystem is an advocate who contributes to how decision makers at all levels of government perceive their libraries, even when they are not actively participating in legislative advocacy. For this reason, coordinated, year-round advocacy is an organization’s best foundation for successful legislative advocacy. Preparation is essential. ALA provides training, information, direct support, and resources to help library advocates and organizations prepare for successful legislative advocacy, whether advancing bills that will strengthen libraries or defeating proposals that will harm libraries’ ability to serve their communities.
Legislative planning is generally cyclical but there are exceptions. Some state legislatures continue to meet in special sessions well past their regular calendar; others hold subject hearings outside of regular session.
It is important for your legislative committee to know your state’s legislative calendar and procedures for introducing, moving, and enacting legislation. Use this checklist to plan.
Ongoing advocacy is critical to establishing a climate of support for libraries. Incorporate general advocacy training and discussions about legislative priorities into regularly scheduled events so that library workers and volunteers are already creating a climate of support within their institutions and are ready to take constructive action when called upon. Visit ALA’s Advocacy Academy web page to view advocacy fundamentals and, where needed, to request training for your state organization.
Advocates must cultivate relationships with elected officials. Provide training specific to working with legislators prior to each legislative session, before legislative meetings, or in coordination with capital visits. Advocates need to understand the legislative process specific to your state, the committees and agencies that govern library-related policy, and the implications of specific bills.
- Develop an advocacy and/or legislative committee with staggered terms and a succession plan.
- Update your membership database and communications lists regularly.
- Identify your legislative team, including an administrator for your state's advocacy software (Engage) account.
- Connect with your state library and other organizations within the state to discuss and, to the extent possible, align advocacy and legislative priorities. Visit ALA's ecosystem web page for tools that help states engage in cooperative legislative planning.
Know what conversations are happening in your state legislature (as well as city councils, county commissions, school districts, or campuses) through regular engagement with stakeholders and though media and legislative tracking. If your organization does not have a media tracking service, use a free tool like Google alerts to monitor news. While there are plenty of fee-based tools that can help with these efforts, there are also free tracking tools including:
ALA tracks legislation and may contact state association leadership when a library-related bill is introduced. Tracking legislation at the national level allows ALA to better understand and respond to trends and improve support for all states.
Follow elected officials and policy influencers on social media. Facebook and Twitter are still the most widely used social media tools but do your own homework to find out what your lawmakers use. Look for strategic opportunities to repost relevant information from them, tag them with relevant library news, and thank them when their efforts help libraries better serve their constituents.
Partnerships are relationships between two or more organizations, often for a specific project. Many libraries and library organizations already work in partnership with other institutions, agencies, or organizations that share a similar mission or whose priorities intersect with the work of libraries. Those partners can be a valuable source of strength and support for library advocacy. Ensure that partners are equipped with the talking points and stories that will enable them to advocate on your behalf.
Coalitions are organized around an issue and bring different groups together to achieve
a common goal. Coalition work can be particularly important in advancing or defeating legislation because each member of a coalition brings different relationships to the table and, therefore, the coalition can have greater reach than a single organization. Use this
tip sheet to facilitate successful coalition building.
It is always best for lawmakers to hear from constituents before a legislative ask is necessary. Grasstops advocates or individual members can reach out to lawmakers prior to each session and introduce themselves, their library or institution in the lawmaker’s district, and the shared legislative priorities for the association. Invite legislators to tour a library in their district or attend an event. Get to know their staff and make the library a resource for them.
Connecting your organization's messaging with stories from grasstops or grassroots advocates in a legislator's district is important to helping them understand the real-world impact of legislation on their constituents. Leverage those stories strategically to increase visibility of libraries among elected officials at all levels, to advance or defeat legislation, and to thank legislators for support of prior legislation.
Identify library advocates who can serve as regular contacts for legislators in leadership or key committees. When mobilizing advocates on a specific bill or policy proposal, it is critical that messaging is unified, constructive, and accurate. How that messaging is delivered will depend on the bill, the composition of the legislature, and other legislative priorities. Know which legislators are most able to help the association achieve its desired outcome, as well as which legislators are your greatest champions. Use the issue mapping tool to prioritize your outreach.
Make your organization's expertise available to legislative leaders and be prepared to work with them to draft or provide feedback on legislation, amendments, or compromise legislation, when necessary. Ensure that your interactions are cultivating a relationship that will outlast one particular issue or piece of legislation, whether supported or opposed by the organization.
Sometimes, library advocates find themselves in the unexpected position of responding to negative perceptions, misinformation, or even well-intentioned but misguided ideas from decision makers whose policy or legislative proposals will harm libraries and/or library workers and impair libraries' ability to fulfill their missions and serve communities. It is equally important to be prepared for those instances, and ALA has created a resource to help state organizations respond to adverse legislation.
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 is available to consult with state organizations seeking assistance with legislative planning, priorities development, training, or guidance regarding specific legislation. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.