Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Breakfast With Champions

Tuesday's preconference, 2009 MLA Advocacy Institute,  began with a Sample Legislative Breakfast at the bright and cheery hour of 8:30 a.m. First to be welcomed was State Senator Stephen J. Buoniconti of West Springfield.  The Senator told us that Springfield is a city of first - the first automobile was manufactured in Springfield.  

Senator Buoniconti echoed the voices of most of the legislators that met us during the Legislative Breakfast and Legislative Day in Boston. We are facing "tough times" and that "we are honest with each other."  April is usually the biggest revenue month and receipts came in $456M under the expected figures after two downward revisions earlier this fiscal year. The Commonwealth currently faces a $700-$1B deficit.  There WILL be more cuts and further use of federal stimulus money and the rainy day fund.  

Senator Buoniconti's wife is on the Board of Library Trustees of the West Springfield Public Library and he has good personal advice for us in our advocacy mission - get the spouses of our elected officials on the boards of our libraries. It makes the personal connection.  Buonoconti's further message: 'You must advocate.  Get political.   Get essential. Get out there and talk about libraries. In tough economies the demand increases for all public services. Libraries need to become essential and talk about their services.' We need to get aggressive and become essential. Focus on our personnel and the mission of the library.  Think outside of ourselves and out of the box. The senator even had an out-of-the-box message for us.  'Get a revenue stream this is direct to the library and become autonomous.'  The library is an institution that the town relates to - its enduring architecture serves as a inspiration.  We need to make sure that no one forgets about us.

Breakfast attendees asked several questions of the senator.  'How can we get our hands on some of the IT training budget that doesn't go to libraries? We are essential to training and teaching patrons of all ages.  Senator Buonocotti told us that when things get better in one, two, five years - go after a bigger piece of the pie.  In the meantime, 'become a face to the legislator - create a relationship' for that time when the money will be there. Make your message personal to our legislators. 

Second on the agenda was Executive Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, Rob Maier.  Rob reiterated what he and those involved with libraries have been saying for the past few years, libraries are being used more than ever.  Rob added, though, that 'we have been seeing an increase in public libraries for nine consecutive years' and it has been an ongoing trend.  It is not just circulation but attendance at programs across all ages. An especially critical core service is access to Internet and we need to talk to more people about that.  We need to talk about what we are doing and how we are reaching out and providing the services people need (doing it the way we do things - hands-on and direct.)  That's why our libraries are more relevant than ever.  

Should the MBLC present a more modest legislative agenda to our legislators?  No.  We need to keep those numbers we NEED in front of everyone.  Library services are 'core, essential state-funded programs.'  There is a pre-existing gap between 'real funding' and that which is needed.  We need to keep that gap critically exposed. Our current legislative agenda is 'a program of recovery for libraries - ready for two, three, five years from now and we need to be prepared to act.'  The Senate budget is being prepared as we speak ... we need to tell our stories about how we impact real people in the communities. 

Keith Fiels, Executive Director of the ALA, knows Massachusetts well.  He served as Executive Director of the MBLC until 2002 when he left for ALA.  We all know that Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as the beloved Dr. Seuss, was born in 1904 on Howard Street in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Keith suggested that our breakfast today might be nicknamed the "Green Eggs and Ham Legislative Breakfast." The first legislative breakfast was held in Springfield fifteen years ago.  Legislative breakfasts are so important because it is a chance for senators and representatives to meet librarians and constituents. Keith has two further messages for us and that is to make sure that our legislators and communities know that 'libraries change lives' and libraries build communities'.  He shared with us the name of a new book, Living Well in a Down Economy For Dummies.  One of the key messages in this book is to visit the library and use its services. It isn't a secret anymore!  He also proudly told us that Massachusetts libraries are the 'envy of the country' and we are doing things right. More advice for us? New and future technologies will change the way we work in our global society and we need to remember that "libraries are the window and the door to this future that lies ahead."

The last to speak at the breakfast was State Representative, Westfield resident Donald F. Humason, Jr.  Representative Humason is on the Board of Library Trustees of the Westfield Athenaeum Library.  His advice? Get your local officials on the Friends group or on the library board of directors.  

So just how do you lobby a legislator?  The representative adviced the all public officials like to have their pictures taken in front of shiny things - in short, invite them to your library.  The library is one service that everyone uses - all ages groups use the library.  This is a unique feature of the library that is unlike that of other town and city resources and departments.  As a Friend of the library, currently and in the past, he suggested having a tag sale with library discards ... or actually giving them away. Our patrons love to build their own libraries at a minimal cost. Make sure there is note on the book - 'courtesy of your library.'

While all of the speakers had different messages for us in today's economy ... the message is clear from all of them.  We need to speak up, speak out, stay relevant, and be prepared for better and happier days ahead.  It's simple.  Keep doing what we do well and make sure that our communities and our legislators know us and know what we have to offer. 

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