For someone who went to a small liberal arts college for undergrad (where the campus culture was fairly politicized), I never considered myself a particularly politically active person. I vote regularly and will discuss political issues with friends and peers, but I never spent a great deal of time engaging in political advocacy groups or efforts. But library school signaled a slow but steady change. In the second of my library school’s two required courses, Libraries, Information, & Society, we were introduced to the long developing relationship between librarianship and activism. By the following year I started to recognize how many political issues affect libraries and librarianship: privacy, copyright, censorship, equal access, education, communications, technology. I also started to encounter the stereotype of the mild/meek librarian that is always trotted out by journalists when librarians are advocating for something. This stereotype flew in the face of what I actually witnessed in practice – many librarians are very consistently politically active around LIS (and non-LIS) issues.
I ended up writing multiple pieces about librarianship and political action during my time at Hack Library School (“Getting Political,” “Librarians & Academic Freedom,” and “Reaching out to politicians about LIS issues”). It was also interesting to watch the actions of my peers and colleagues as I spent years working in a large library system during graduate school. Librarians are by no means a homogeneous group – political opinions definitely vary. But there are a core group of LIS-related issues that many agree on: more access is better; privacy should be protected; censorship is bad (mmk?); copyright needs to evolve; funding for education should be a priority; and policy on communications and technology needs to evolve with the times.
Recently, I’ve been able to cultivate my growing political LIS consciousness into some very practical roles. In July 2015 I became the chair of the Health Science Librarians of Illinois (HSLI) Legislative Committee. My role mostly consists of keeping the membership up to date on policies that affect health science libraries and librarians in Illinois; I do so by sending out legislative updates via listserv and blog post every other week. I am also a member of the HSLI board and attend conferences when I can. When this role was offered to me I was initially hesitant – did I have time for this kind of commitment? But then I realized it would be a great way to codify what I already regularly do – read news about LIS-related policy and legislation and then spread it to those who can affect change with their collective voice.
Additionally, I’m part of a planning team for a Central Illinois Legislative Event that is being planned by the Illinois Library Association for February 2016. Our team is recruiting legislators and library leaders to come together for a lunch and discuss LIS issues. The agenda includes a presentation by Kip Kolkmeier, ILA’s legislative lobbyist in Springfield, and Bob Doyle, ILA Executive Director. Legislators are also invited to briefly present to the group.
Both of these roles have bolstered my LIS political awareness. Though, to be honest, the news isn’t always encouraging (I’m pretty sure every single HSLI legislative update I’ve written has featured the Illinois state budget impasse). But I feel like I’m contributing in meaningful ways to library advocacy efforts. And hopefully my actions will inspire others to act as well.
One last bit of encouraging library advocacy news: the Library Freedom Project is wonderful and gives my heart life. If you haven’t already heard of them, please go check out their website and consider donating. I had the pleasure of meeting Alison Macrina, the founder and director, while at ALA Annual 2015 in San Francisco. She and her team are *doing the work* and deserve all of the praise, money, and cookies.