Time To Talk Library With Your Officials
For almost 20 years Kate Robinson has been a lobbyist for Connecticut nonprofits.
“I represent an army of people in every community in the state,” Robinson said.
Now “we’re in the worst economic situation we’ve ever been in in my career” with a budget deficit forecast at $1.5 billion. It’s a very stressful time for all, she said.
In 2017 the state government will set a budget for the next two years. In 2016 the General Assembly had to revise budgets down because of the economy. The state had asked every agency to cut its budget request by 10 percent.
This is how it works: In mid-fall agencies submit budget requests to the Office of Policy and management. In late fall the governor and that office devise a budget request to submit to the General Assembly on Feb. 8.
The appropriations committee hears testimony for agencies Feb. 13-24. Then the finance and appropriations committees have to reconcile what agencies want with the money available.
That’s the “room where it happens,” Robinson said, referring to a song from the popular Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
Spring is the crucial time for Friends to speak up for their libraries. “Everyone is going to be fighting for survival,” she said.
The Connecticut Library Association will be organizing people to testify before the appropriations committee. But even if you aren’t the one addressing the committee, you can support libraries by just going to the hearing when the issue of libraries comes up. If everyone dresses in the same color — in 2015 time red was chosen — it shows a visual presence.
You can also call or meet your local legislators and advocate for libraries. Friends could organize a meeting at their library with a group of patrons to discuss funding.
In this past election, 33 new people were elected.
“It’s important that you reach out to these freshmen,” Robinson said. Get to know them and their priorities.
“Don’t get nervous about meeting with them,” she said. “Legislators are people, too!”
Congratulate them for winning their election. Follow up by meeting with them in their district or at the State Capitol. Introduce yourself and wear a nametag.
Find out what you have in common with your legislator — sports team you both follow, a school you both attended, a book you both like. These elected officials represent you so you need to build a relationship with them.
Make sure they know that libraries provide core services to their communities and help solve local problems. Quote facts — the number of items borrowed, the number of computer hours, the programs for the elderly, for children. If they ask you a question that you can’t answer, tell them you can get that for them later.
If you can’t talk with your elected official, speak to her aide. If you call and get a recording, leave a nice message and ask for them to call back, Robinson said. Expect them to do so.
In addition to the Friends, ask any community groups that use your library to speak with an elected official on your behalf. Write letters to newspapers because that’s what your local legislators are reading.
Friend your legislators on Facebook. If they are featured in a news story, cut it out and send it to them with a note because personal notes matter.
“Just because we’re good at what we can do doesn’t mean we’re going to get all that we need,” she said.
One Friend from Granby, Jane Reardon, said she also talks with legislators on behalf of the American Lung Association.
“One thing they coach us on is to present only one fact (per meeting),” she said, “but also tell a personal story.”
Don’t forget your local elected officials, said Frank Ridley, president of FOCL and the Meriden Friends group.
“Once you develop that relationship you can build on it,” he said. “I meet regularly for coffee with local and state legislators.”