September 30, 2014

Election 2014: Getting Candidates on the Record Regarding Libraries | Advocate’s Corner

JeffreyWSmith200 Election 2014: Getting Candidates on the Record Regarding Libraries | Advocate’s Corner

Jeffrey W. Smith

While it may feel like the 2012 Presidential election cycle was not that long ago, we are already getting into the thick of the 2014 election cycle. In the November general elections, all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. Many of these races are quite competitive, and could ultimately be decided by the slimmest margin of votes. Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs, a total of 16 seats are considered extremely competitive.

In addition to federal offices, 38 state and territorial governorships, 46 state legislatures (all except Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia), four territorial legislatures, and numerous other state and local races will take place. Regardless of whether the decision-makers are at the federal, state, or local levels, they will be in a position to impact libraries. Thus, the questions for library supporters must be “which candidates actually care about libraries, and which are willing to put forward a plan of action to improve library services?”

In my home state, one organization has initiated a program to seek answers to these relevant questions. The Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML), is an organization that essentially functions as a statewide library friends group. Its mission is to “to serve as a positive force for the promotion of enhanced library services for all Marylanders.” CML is made up of interested citizens and non-profit organizations, libraries, library trustees, and professionals from throughout the state, and I am honored to serve as a member of the Board of Directors.

Here in Maryland, current Governor Martin O’Malley (D) is completing the last year of his second and final four year term. A total of 12 tickets (seven Democratic, four Republican, and one Libertarian) are running to become the next serving governor and lieutenant governor of our state. Of these, three Democrats and three Republicans are viewed as the strongest candidates within their respective parties.

In assessing our mission, the CML Board felt that we could make a positive impact on the future of Maryland libraries by getting the candidates for governor/lieutenant governor on the record with regard to their views about libraries. We created the following three questions to get candidates to offer specific feedback that potential voters could evaluate as they consider their options once they get to the voting booth:

  1. How will you support the dynamic education mission of public libraries as you promote educational success for all Marylanders?
  2. How will you incorporate libraries in your educational goals for the state?
  3. As our state moves to the new Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards (Common Core), public librarians and school librarians/library media specialists are working with teachers as they develop new lesson plans and make curriculum changes. How will you foster and recognize the roles of public libraries and school librarians/library media specialists as you advance the MCC-RS?

As of the publication of this article, five candidates had responded to the survey, and all of their responses were published on the CML website exactly as they were submitted to us. I wanted to share with Library Journal readers a sampling of some of those responses.

The ticket consisting of current Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (D) and current Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) began their comments by noting that:

“Libraries play a fundamental role in the vitality of our communities. They are where people learn to read and also where they explore the world of literature, art, science, history, math and much more. They feed our desire for knowledge and our thirst for adventure. Increasingly, our libraries are becoming much more than just a place to borrow books. They are community centers, meeting places, and information and technology hubs.”

The ticket of current member of the Maryland House of Delegates Heather Mizeur (D) and Rev. Delman Coates (D) spoke of the partnership they envision for the delivery of library services. Specifically, Delegate Mizeur noted that:

“I envision the partnership between libraries and public education beginning at the county level. I will encourage counties to create partnerships with their libraries to expand opportunities and enhance academic achievement. County school systems should implement a library card enrollment program with incoming elementary school and new students. Libraries should also work hand-in-hand with school systems to craft co-dependent goals and plan activities.”

The ticket of current Harford County Executive David Craig (R) and current State Delegate Jeannie Haddaway (R) referenced past experience in supporting local library system. Executive Craig pointed out that:

“I have a record of county executive in providing new and upgraded libraries to the citizens of Harford County. We completed the Jarettsville Branch, expanded the Whiteford Branch, developed the mobile branch, and are getting ready to break ground for a new Havre de Grace Branch – a $7.3 Million project – this came about through proper planning and funding.”

In each of these instances, Marylanders who value libraries will have added information to consider as they evaluate all of the contenders for the offices of governor and lieutenant governor. CML also widely disseminated our survey template, and encouraged local library friends groups to use it to ask candidates for local offices (such as county executive, county commissioner, or county council), where they stand with regard to libraries.

The best way to ensure a strong future for all of our public libraries is to make sure that elected officials that truly understand the value of libraries to the public-at-large are in office. What better way to find this out then by asking clear, direct questions of those who seek to represent us?

Jeffrey Smith About Jeffrey Smith

Jeffrey Smith is President of the Foundation for the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL), as well as a member of the BCPL Board of Library Trustees, and board member of Citizens for Maryland Libraries. As a professional lobbyist for both public and private sector organizations, Smith has conducted successful legislative advocacy efforts through direct interaction with government officials at the federal, state, and local levels.

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