The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) will immediately begin work on a national public policy agenda and action plan for U.S. libraries with support from a new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nearly $1 million in funding over three years will enable the ALA to increase library visibility and build capacity for sustained action on the national level.
“In a time of dramatic technological advances and increasing competition for federal resources, the U.S. library community needs more aggressive policy engagement at the national level,” said ALA President Barbara Stripling. “This strategic funding support will enable the ALA Washington Office to expand engagement with key decision makers around a targeted set of policy priorities.”
The telecommunications, information technology, and content industry interest groups in Washington, D.C., are large and influential in federal policymaking. Advancing library and information policy objectives in this crowded and competitive field has been the founding purpose and driving force behind OITP. In recent years, ALA OITP has led library efforts to sustain and expand federal E-rate support for libraries, coordinated successful engagement with publishing stakeholders to expand library e-book lending, advocated for fair use, coordinated national digital literacy efforts with federal agencies, and worked to maximize library participation in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.
The three-year initiative includes three major components: establishing policy priorities, engaging decision makers and influencers to advance policy goals, and upgrading ALA policy advocacy practice and capabilities for long-term sustainability. An important activity under this capacity-building umbrella is training a cadre of library policy advocates to supplement ALA staff capacity.
“Library roles and demands are evolving, so our national policy needs also require critical review and realignment so that libraries may continue to provide effective public access to information for all,” said OITP Director Alan S. Inouye.
A public policy advisory council will provide advice and reach into the diverse communities of interest inside the Washington Beltway. “Developing our collaborations with other policy players is critical for increasing our ability to advance library interests. The library world is changing, and library interests are everywhere—more than ever!” Inouye added.
Alan Fishel, a partner at the D.C.-based law firm Arent Fox, and others at the firm, will provide strategic advice and capacity, along with other policy and communications consultants.
ALA will coordinate closely on all of the major activities with the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), which includes seeking federal-state policy linkages. An advisory committee will provide advice from the library community broadly. Close communication and collaboration will be a priority to ensure that the U.S. library community speaks with a unified voice as much as possible.
“The speed of change related to technology and related policy dimensions is breathtaking,” said COSLA President Ann Joslin. “Libraries—and the communities that depend on us—need to be proactive and strategic in advocating for equitable access to electronic resources. I thank the Gates Foundation for supporting libraries in moving swiftly and boldly to meet this challenge.”