Picture me walking from my townhouse on Capitol Hill to downtown. It is July 24, 2009, 7:45 a.m. and 78+ degrees. I am dressed in a suit, tie and dress shoes. The nation’s Capitol is busting with hot, steaming pavement. Come walk and perspire with me. Feel the full effect of letting your footsies do the walking to AALL-DC.
After weeks of 80+ degree temperatures and really low humidity, the AALL conference dropped into Washington, DC on July 23rd and the weather reversed itself. I am not trying to imply AALL brought the heat and humidity. But it seems a little more than coincidental that AALL, 87+ degree temperatures and more than 78% humidity arrived in town simultaneously.
Weather notwithstanding, this “Innovation” themed conference provided practical and useful information. It helped inform me, within and without limits as a law librarian. My connection with the samples and goodies in the exhibition hall or the homework associated with the legislative foray was all relevant and useful.
This particualar adventure began very innocently at the VALL Winter Meeting at George Mason University Law Library when Mary Alice Baish and Emily Feldman asked for volunteers to meet with congressional representatives from their states. Volunteers were needed to express and promote support for AALL positions. I presumed this would be similar to what some of us did with VALL in Richmond 10-15 years ago. What I did not count on was the homework I received. Come on! Except for presenters and committee chairs, who gets homework before a conference? Whatever happened to just showing up and schmoozing? Well, those of us who volunteered got homework! We were asked to e-mail and set up meeting times with our congressional representative(s) for the afternoon of July 24th.
I am a DC resident and chose to meet with Delegate Eleanor Norton but that fell through. Ultimately, I joined the Fab-4 Virginia delegation of Heather Buchanan, Fred Dingledy, Tom Pulver, and Roger Skalbeck. After training and getting very helpful tips from expert Stephanie Vance at a Legislative Workshop that morning, we proceeded with our mission.
Before speaking of our walking tour I want to take this opportunity to thank Mary Alice Baish for the homework. Simply put, it was all about relationships. It is establishing that connection with colleagues, partners, public and community. Constantly and consistently following through with that connection and seeing where it can be taken is what it is all about. This process reminds me of a courtship -- a pre-marriage of ideas which coalesce, reform, reshape and meet over time into a meeting of minds
This homework and relationship helped me realize first and foremost that people in Congress and their staff are people seeking practical connections to their constituencies. It is the common elements that connect us.
It is estimated that more than 10 thousand approaches are made to Congress via bills. Only 4% proceed to committee and action. Generally, 7.5 minutes are allotted by congressional staff for impromptu meetings with constituents. As such, connections can be very tenuous. Very much in the way we form personal friendships and associations that we value, we must gift members of Congress with the belief that associating with AALL ideals and goals hold value as well.
Heather, Fred, Roger, Thom and I visited the legislative aides for Senators Warner and Webb, as well as with the delegate from Fred’s jurisdiction. Each of us shared stories in association with our plea for the representatives to support Access to CRS reports, Public Access to Court Electronic Systems (PACER), and Authentication, and Funding for the Law Library of Congress. We were well-received. I believe, however, without constantly reinforcing the connections we made by letter, e-mail, fax and/or phone on a constant and consistent basis no relationship will really be formed.
The walking tour was a rewarding experience for it helped me realize that without constant lobbying for library issues, none will advance. Lobbying, at best, must be left to those with the expertise and connections established from years of working with congressional aides. This experience also dissolved my fantasy of believing my congressman or delegate has the warm-fuzzies for law libraries simply because they are in his or her district. This was reinforced in two workshops.
“Building a Coalition of County Law Libraries: A Place to Begin” and “Law Libraries & the Access to Justice Revolution” are two workshops I attended. In the first, Angela Baldree, Head of the Ohio Coalition of County Law Libraries, and other presenters, emphasized making law libraries an “in my backyard” issue for the politicians representing. This has to be done in tandem and not individually. In the second workshop, Richard Zora, of the Self Represented Litigation Network, said the political and social landscape is changing in favor of law libraries. We, as librarians, must get the attention of policy makers and as a unified association, support that shift politically, socially and economically to keep it moving.
These workshops showed the need for persistence and “playing” the political game to move law library issues forward. That was a valuable lesson I gained from AALL 2009.
The other lesson I gained was the generosity of VALL and the value of asking for what I need. Please see post below.
Despite the heat and humidity I had a wonderful time at AALL 2009. It enabled me to reconnect with colleagues and gain new ideas and perspectives on how to approach the work of being a law librarian. For that I am most appreciative.