Blog Entry 4: Meeting with Politicians

At some point in your career, you may be asked to sit down with a legislator to discuss your institution or an institution in your area. Where do you start?

First, get to know your legislators. Make sure you know who represents the district in which the institution is located. It’s also important to know on which committees he or she sits and which legislators sit on key committees like budget, appropriations and education committees. Find a way to link the institution with the lawmaker. For example, if the institution is a part of a college or university, figure out which legislators attended that school and target them first. Or find a way to link the archives to one of the official’s causes.

After figuring out who you need to talk to, pick a single, key issue to bring to the attention of your elected officials.  We all have a laundry list of things that need to be funded, changed or upgraded, but no one wants the hear a lengthy list of complaints. Having a key issue allows you to present your case with plenty of statistics, facts and a solution that the lawmaker can sink his or her teeth into. When you meet with legislators, take fact sheets or FAQ sheets, use visual aids on the handouts and try to avoid too much text. Lawmakers usually have very busy schedules and if they can glance at a chart and immediately understand the issue, all the better.

When you meet with the legislators, have a one to two minute summary ready. In sitting down with your elected official and possibly his staff, expect not to have more than 30 minutes of his time. Be charming, but clear in describing the issue and what you want. If you are asked a question that you do not have an answer for, do not give misinformation, check your facts and get back to official or staff member that asked. Remember that the meeting is a starting point (or a middle point) for a relationship with the legislator and his or her staff. Keep them abreast of what is happening with the archives and/or legislation you met about. Staff can be wonderful allies if you can bring them to your side of the issue.

What you say is important, but who says it is just as important. Start building a team of their constituents, businessmen, and news media. Assemble a list of those in the community who have some influence and recruit them to be on your team. If possible, take some of the team members with you to meet with the legislators; it never hurts to have back up.

American Library Association has a handbook for advocacy, which has wonderful tips for dealing with legislators as well as forms to help with learning about legislator and “shaping your message.” The handbook can be found at Library Advocate's Handbook.