On February 9th, I had the distinct honor to be in a room with some of the fiercest library workers I have gotten to spend time with. I say fierce, because these are folks who are not afraid to stand up and speak out for what they believe in: a teacher-librarian for every school in Washington state; more capital for improvements to existing facilities; broadband for everyone, especially in rural areas where accessibility remains an equity issue. I say fierce, because they made their voices heard to Washington’s Secretary of State, Steve Hobbs, who attended our event, along with his Director of Policy, Dave Elliott. I say fierce, because they made their libraries’ needs known to Senators Lisa Wellmann and Marko Liias. I say fierce, because they advocated directly with Sara Jones, our State Librarian. And, of course, our tremendous WLA Lobbyist Carolyn Logue, and the inimitable Abby Moore, Public Libraries of Washington Lobbyist, joined us for tips and support. More than 40 colleagues came to Olympia, and more than half were first-time attendees!
The library workers in attendance got up at five (or so) in the morning, and trekked to Olympia. It was a dry and sunny day, and barring some parking snafus, we all gathered in Room ABC of the Cherberg building, a building that flanks the Washington State Capitol. For anyone who has been curious to attend, but may have trepidation, I’d like to describe the energy and the community building and the feel of the room, in hopes of convincing you to join us next year.
The event feels like a reclamation of hope and power. We spoke of teacher-librarians fighting egregious attempts of censorship across the state and upholding intellectual freedom. We discussed the State Library’s continued advocacy for funding Digital Equity and Broadband access, an issue of equity and accessibility for rural communities in particular. We spoke of the need for full funding of library capital improvement projects. And we spent time with Senate Bill 5102/House Bill 1609, which would ensure a qualified teacher-librarian in every classroom.
Highlights from the speakers are too many to detail, but I was moved by Senator Liias getting “verklemmt”–in his own words–about the role of libraries for the future of the democracy of this nation, and their role for folks needing to access information: libraries might be, he said, the first place that a girl in a hijab might see herself represented and reflected. I deeply appreciated Sara Jones’ insight into the current attacks against intellectual freedom, and the renewed importance that we, at each of our institutions, have robust collection development policies in place. Senator Wellman talked about teacher-librarians as navigators, with the hope of libraries as exploratoriums for career pathways and beyond. And Secretary Hobbs talked about the need for creativity and inspiration for those incarcerated, the potential of role-playing games (RPGs) as therapeutic tools in prisons and beyond, and paths-to-jobs via prison librarians. Policy Director Elliott cited Mark Twain, noting that “nobody’s life, liberty or property is safe when legislature is in session,” but underscored that library workers, as people who stand for the truth, are exactly the folks who should be out there advocating for their communities and institutions.
It was a moving day. I deeply hope the attendees had a chance to connect with their representatives and feel the empowering impact of advocacy. The WLA office did a beautiful job organizing this important event; thank you.
I will end with a few other thoughts: This is a historic Alki issue, the first that is published via PubPub, the first with both a web editor and an editor-in-chief. What this means for our communities is a significant increase in accessibility and searchability/findability. We believe this is a tremendous step forward, and I want to thank the current and past Alki Editors, Bethany McKinley and Ray Zill, for their efforts in making this happen.
I’ll spend next article filling you in on the work I’ve been doing as Board President – so much of it feels like it happens behind the scenes, and transparency is something I’m committed to. Please reach out to me if you have any questions or comments between now and the summer issue, and I hope to see many of you in Wenatchee at our Annual Conference!