Advocating for Libraries from Peoria to Washington, D.C.

March 20, 2024

Advocating for Libraries from Peoria to Washington, D.C. 

Veronica De Fazio, Deputy Director of Peoria Public Library and Past ILA President

Advocacy has never come naturally to me. The thought of calling a legislator’s office or even sending an email was often intimidating. But once I became a librarian, advocacy became a little easier. ALA and ILA do everything they can to alert us to the issues that are affecting libraries and assist us in contacting our legislators in order to get our message out. Through my time as a member of the ILA Advocacy Committee and serving as Ex Officio to that committee, as well as the Public Policy Committee, I learned the intricacies of bills and budgets, both on the state and national level. Then ILA’s “Ready, Set, Advocate” gave me tools to be a successful advocate. This month I had the incredible opportunity to put all of this into practice.

Each year, ALA hosts a “Fly-In Day.” This is a day when librarians from across the country visit their legislators on Capitol Hill with the same goals in mind. This year, ALA was looking for someone from Representative Darin LaHood’s district. I was asked to attend as one of his constituents (I live and work in his district), and as a former ILA President. Our small but mighty two-person Illinois delegation was rounded out by my longtime colleague Joslyn Bowling Dixon.

Fly-In day is really Fly-In days. Most of us arrived in Washington, D.C. late Tuesday afternoon. This was followed by a full-day briefing on Wednesday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library where all attendees learned about the issues libraries would be speaking to their legislators about, as well as training on what to expect at our legislative meetings, and how to conduct the “ask,” a request to fully fund the Library Services and Technology Act at $232 million.

The next morning Joslyn and I hit the ground running. An advocacy app kept us on track with up-to-the-minute information on where we were meeting and who from the staff we were meeting with. At Representative LaHood’s office I was able to speak to how the Project Next Generation grant funds were used by our Lincoln branch on the South Side of Peoria, and bond with the Legislative Correspondent who is from Peoria and used our North Branch growing up. Joslyn took the lead at our meeting with Senator Duckworth’s Legislative Assistant, who it turns out was familiar with ILA after having attended the virtual Legislative Meetups. Both of these meetings lasted 10-15 minutes.

Our meeting with the Legislative Assistant for Senator Durbin was the most unique, lasting 30 minutes and providing time for a conversation where we shared information back and forth about what libraries are doing, legislation that the Senator is working on and how libraries can be a part of that. At each meeting, we were able to leave behind information from ILA about how federal funds to Illinois libraries are used. Here is the link to the information we shared, which you can use when communicating with your legislators.

While my time in Washington was exhausting, it was also exhilarating. I really felt like we were a part of the process and that we were being heard. I’m still far from an advocacy expert, but this experience has left me feeling prepared to “Ready Set Advocate!”

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