National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) is only one month away. Will you be there or will you send someone to speak for you? You can participate virtually through the Virtual Library Legislative Day (VLLD). I deeply appreciate the American Library Association's Washington Office staff member training. These people know the facts, the climate, the approach and the people. By the time you finish the Briefing day on May 1st, you will be ready to make "THE BIG ASK."
Is actually going there important to our representatives? I decided to ask at the state level. Most states have similar events and I was fortunate enough to attend Tennessee's Library Legislative Day during February. Our big ask was for the state senators and representatives to put $1 million back in the Governor's budget for the Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL) as originally requested by our Secretary of State Riley Darnell.
By the way, I believe Tennessee is the only state to send their Secretary of State and the state librarian as part of the TN delegation every year to NLLD to speak on behalf of libraries!
State Senator Mae Beavers (pictured) found time that day to meet. After explaining TEL and making the big ask, I interviewed her with this question: "How do you prefer to hear from your constituents?"
Senator Beavers indicated that how you approach is key for her. She wants to be informed and not simply have someone be demanding. Flashy presentations take too much time. No matter where or how she is approached, she attempts to sincerely listen to each constituent.
Said Senator Beavers, "You've got to know how the money is being spent so you'll know whether it's needed and how it's being used effectively." She appreciates people who respect her limited time and values those who get to the point immediately, have the background information on hand if needed, and can concisely explain the impact of upcoming votes and issues.
State Representative Susan Lynn emphasized how much she appreciated constituents who were willing to travel to her office to meet. She appreciates the effort people put into presentations, CD's, brochures, and pamphlets but honestly admitted that there is seldom time for the representatives to review the materials after the office visit. She prefers visits that are short, succinct, and to the point. Photos and artifacts from children are sweet but present storage problems.
As I visited with many staff members and representatives throughout the capital, I witnessed materials being put in File 13 as the door was closing on the previous visitor. In fact, I saw one visitor suddenly return and the staff member had to pull out the material from the trash to review an item. I asked what it would take to make sure that my business card and information stayed in their files. We agreed that the staff members and/or the representatives had to hear a reason why they might need to contact me in the future or to be able to recall who I was when I followed up.
State Senator Joe Haynes represents my school and has come to read to first and to third graders. Many classes of first graders have enjoyed his reading Dr. Seuss' titles on Read Across America Day. The third graders study state government and the balance of powers so they are always ready with questions. Senator Haynes will never forget coming to our school because last year a parent backed into his car. That's not my favorite recommendation for making an impression.
Because Senator Haynes was called away to his law office during TN Legislative Day, his wonderful assistant, Jan Markum (pictured right), found time during my Spring Break when I could return to explain the importance of our state electronic databases for our students and citizens. (My husband was able to attend the second meeting with me and spoke on alternative education issues.)
I asked Senator Haynes about his communication preferences. He too prefers visits in his office because his time is too scheduled to allow numerous school visits. He told us that he is willing to listen anywhere and is often approached on street corners, in the grocery store, and other public places. The most important factor was for the person approaching him to begin on common grounds, explaining what issue and legislation they were concerned with, and why it was important.
Staff members are key to getting access and being remembered. Jan Markum in state Senator Joe Haynes office not only schedules his appointments, she shops for the books he will read and donate to classrooms during school visits. Jan usually works through lunch daily but enjoys dessert. It helps to remember these things when you are asking favors.
Knowing your representatives is important. Senator Haynes indicated that his favorite visitor that day had been the UT lobbyist who was also able to advise him which fishing boat to consider purchasing. While I was trying to relate to fishing through my sons' fishing experiences, Senator Haynes looked up and said to my husband, "I bet she doesn't even clean her own fish." They had a moment of male bonding while I contemplated vegetarianism again. I much prefer taking a book along to read while my guys fish.
I do know that if an issue involving school libraries in Tennessee surfaces, there are staff members and representatives who will be able to fish my card out of their files.