May 8, 2013

Goals and controversies on National Library Legislative Day


Today is National Library Legislative Day, when librarians will visit the 112th Congress to make the case for legislators to support libraries on a rage of issues, including ebooks, elementary and secondary education, school libraries, the “first sale” doctrine and internet access.

The American Library Association is hoping that visits from librarian constituents will have the power to influence congressional members to support library funding. With this goal in mind, they have recently held webinars and training sessions to encourage librarians to learn about the legislators, get in touch with them on social media, and review representatives’ voting histories on key library support measures.

The pressure for librarians to make their case is mounting, as funding has been slashed, and libraries are in need of support. But research used as advocacy points to make the case for the value of libraries for parents of young children has been a source of controversy among some librarians.

As part of the official schedule for National Library Legislative Day on Capital Hill, the director of the Pew Research Center, Lee Rainie, is presenting research that a majority of parents consider libraries to be important for their children because they spark a child’s love of reading, offer resources not found at home, and provide a safe place. These findings have caused some discussion about how the sample for this research is largely white and affluent.

According to an article in School Library Journal, Jeri Hurd, a high school library media specialist expressed concern in a school librarian listserv that the report is mostly an advocacy effort that reflects data based on limited demographics. In her post, she says:

I’ll go out on a limb here. Before we all start crowing in victory and using this report to self-vindicate, can we take a minute to examine it critically? This is sloppy research at best (as WE ought to know!); they are drawing sweeping conclusions based on limited demographics. Look at their sampling.

Over 26% of respondents are parents of school-age children, 61% are white, and 62% have degrees or some college. This is not a national data sample, and we need to be cautious in using these statistics and question the source.

Moreover, it has a rather limited focus on reading support, ignoring transliteracy and other services.

Look, I know we are all feeling the crunch and grasping for any positive support these days, but we need to be judicious. Frankly, I think Pew let us down on this one.

Lee Rainie, the Pew Research Director who will be presenting today, responded to this comment in the School Library Journal article, saying “It’s perfectly OK by us if librarians feel that some of our work is affirming of libraries and some of it is challenging. We reported what we found in a very well-constructed survey. But we’re not constituted to buck up librarians or ‘let them down'”



Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.