Rising to the Occasion: Legislative Meet-Ups Move into Central Illinois
March 21, 2016
Susan R. Franzen, Milner Library, Illinois State University
When planning an inaugural event, one can feel some pressure. This is especially true when adding to a successful roster of events that have been taking place for years. The ILA Legislative Meet-Ups have been held for the last few years in the Chicago suburbs and Edwardsville with much success. Here’s how a team of librarians in central Illinois planned and held a first-time legislative luncheon in our part of the state.
As a new member of the ILA Advocacy Committee, I attended the Legislative Meet-Up in Oak Brook in 2014. As I talked to trustees and fellow librarians at my table, I was impressed by the number and variety of people who attended. These individuals were committed to building relationships with their local legislators to spread the word of the power of libraries. The legislators themselves made the greatest impression. They talked passionately about their support of libraries, and they clearly loved libraries since many spoke of the role books and librarians played in their lives and the lives of their children. When I left that event, my thoughts were focused on how to bring such an event to central Illinois where I live and work as a librarian. Prior efforts to host such an event had not gained momentum, but at a time when state funding was at an all-time low, a legislative meet-up for the central part of the state was crucial.
LEARN FROM THE PROS
At the July 2015 ILA Orientation Session, the Advocacy Committee made the decision to move forward with a central Illinois event. When it was decided to hold the meet-up in Bloomington-Normal as a central location, I was asked to coordinate with the assistance of fellow committee member Celeste Choate of the Urbana Free Library. Luckily, other members of the Advocacy Committee had strong experience coordinating events in the Chicago suburbs and Edwardsville; Betsy Adamowski, Jim Deiters, and Denise Raleigh graciously offered significant guidance and encouragement based on their experience. Their first words of advice? Put together a strong team of library and legislative recruiters.
IT’S ALL IN THE RECRUITING
Our goal was to have team members from all major towns in central Illinois, including Bloomington-Normal, Urbana-Champaign, Peoria, Springfield, and Decatur. We drew the legislative map for the event to extend over a large geographic area, and we needed individuals with local connections to their legislators and fellow librarians. One reason for the lack of a central Illinois event previously was the challenge of attracting attendees from such a sprawling geography; the metropolitan meet-ups had the advantage of more libraries and more legislators in greater concentrations.
Another goal was to create a team made up of public, academic, and school librarians. Even though we sometimes think of public libraries as the main beneficiaries of state-level library legislation, this year’s budget impasse has brought it home that all types of libraries are affected by actions of the Illinois General Assembly. In addition to public libraries, university budgets and local school districts are feeling the pinch as well, and it’s important to make legislators aware of all our issues. To that end, we recruited a variety of librarians including Jane Bradbury (Midstate College), Genna Buhr (Fondulac District Library), Jeanne Hamilton (Charleston Carnegie Public Library), Robin Helenthal (Peoria Public Library), Nicole Helregel (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Lou Ann Jacobs (retired, Pontiac Township High School), Don Pippin (Philo Public Library), and Rick Meyer (Decatur Public Library).
Over a two-month period, the group worked together to promote the event to librarians, library supporters, and legislators. As recruiters, we sent out listserv messages, e-mailed librarians and legislators, called legislative offices, and publicized the importance of the luncheon. Due to the tremendous efforts of the team, the number of registrants grew steadily. As the event approached, additional colleagues joined the team. Since Milner Library was the host institution, Illinois State University librarians Magdalena Casper-Shipp, Danielle Futoran, and Anne Shelley volunteered to assist in various ways, including local publicity, photography, setup, and registration.
NO EMPTY SEATS
When the day arrived, the room was filled to capacity with librarians, trustees, library supporters, and others eager to meet with their legislative representatives. We even had to move to a larger room than originally planned in order to accommodate everyone—an event planner’s dream! Many conversations could be heard throughout the room, especially related to the property tax freeze, FOIA requests, and the state budget impasse. Attendees were eager to find solutions and especially keen to hear from their legislators.
During a buffet meal, participants talked informally with colleagues and legislators. After lunch, the program began. ILA was well represented with a welcome and introduction by ILA President Betsy Adamowski as well as presentations by Derek Blaida, ILA’s legislative counsel and Robert P. Doyle, ILA executive director.
As happens with many first-time events, we were unable to meet every goal. Unfortunately only three state legislators were able to attend this year. However, when Sen. Scott Bennett (D-52nd District), Sen. David Koehler (D-46th District), and Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th District) stood to speak, all eyes were on them. Koehler in particular spoke forcefully about the budget standstill. All three spoke about the importance of libraries in their communities and the roles they personally play in supporting referendums, building projects, and serving as trustees in the past.
The event was a success—such a success that it will return on the docket of meet-ups for 2017. Next year’s event will be even more successful. And we’ve also learned that these are not one-day-only events. As the rest of this year’s legislative session unfolds, all of us who attended will follow the action—and inaction—with more attention than ever. If there’s a need to contact a legislator about a particular bill, or provide testimony before a committee, or explain an issue to one of our patrons, we’re all better prepared to do so. If your area of the state isn’t involved in one of the existing meet-ups, I encourage you to give it a try.
By the Numbers
Legislative Breakfast, South Suburban, Tinley Park, 12 Feb. 2016
2016 Attendees: 66 Legislators: 11 (8 elected and 3 staff) out of 40 or 28%
2015 Attendees: 48 Legislators: 7 (3 elected and 4 staff) out of 40 or 18%
2014 Attendees: 37 Legislators: 4 out of 42 or 9% (Lockport)
Legislative Lunch, West Suburban, Oak Brook, 12 Feb. 2016
2016 Attendees: 105 Legislators: 13 (11 elected and 2 staff) out of 29 or 45%
2015 Attendees: 76 Legislators: 17 (13 elected and 4 staff) out of 29 or 59%
2014 Attendees: 85 Legislators: 13 out of 29 or 45%
Legislative Breakfast, North Suburban, Buffalo Grove, 15 Feb. 2016
2016 Attendees: 138 Legislators: 10 (8 elected and 2 staff) out of 41 or 24%
2015 Attendees: 124 Legislators: 17 (13 elected and 4 staff) out of 41 or 41%
2014 Attendees: 156 Legislators: 13 out of 47 or 27%
2013 Attendees: 150 Legislators: 17 out of 50 or 34%
2012 Attendees: 145 Legislators: 20 out of 50 or 40%
2011 Attendees: 147 Legislators: 23 out of 50 or 46%
This was the 26th North Suburban Library Legislative Breakfast
Legislative Breakfast, Metro East, Edwardsville, 19 Feb. 2016
2016 Attendees: 58 Legislators: 5 (2 elected and 3 staff) out of 16 or 31%
2015 Attendees: 59 Legislators: 6 (3 elected and 3 staff) out of 16 or 38%
2014 Attendees: 54 Legislators: 5 out of 17 or 29%
Legislative Lunch, Central Illinois, Bloomington-Normal, 19 Feb. 2016
2016 Attendees: 51 Legislators: 4 (3 elected and 1 staff) out of 22 or 18%
This was the first meet-up at this location