Advocacy in Practice: An Interview with Melanie Knapp

This is the third and final piece in a series of interviews with the 2012-2013 chairs of AALL’s three policy committees: the Copyright Committee, Digital Access to Legal Information Committee, and Government Relations Committee.

Melanie Knapp is the Instructional Services Librarian at George Mason University Law Library in Arlington, VA and chair of the Government Relations Committee (GRC). The Government Relations Office recently sent Melanie a number of questions about the status of her committee’s work. Here’s what she had to say:

The Government Relations Committee works closely with the Government Relations Office to advocate for the information policy interests of the Association. What are some of the recent initiatives of the committee?

In recent months, the GRC has worked with Emily and Elizabeth in the GRO on new government initiatives that affect the work of AALL members. Members of the GRC analyzed and submitted comments to the Library of Congress on, the replacement for THOMAS that is in its Beta version, and on the second U.S. Code Beta site being developed by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel. We worked with the GRO in its preparation of a letter to the Administrative Office of the Courts in support of the expansion of a program to provide public access to authenticated lower federal court opinions on FDsys. And we worked with the GRO on comments to the Bulk Data Task Force to include disclaimer language directing users of bulk data to official, authenticated sources of government information available on FDSys.

GRC members have been the driving force in developing advocacy one-pagers. These one-page issue briefs are posted on the GRO website and can be used by AALL members and others to understand and advocate for AALL’s position on particular policy issues. They are particularly good for leaving behind if you visit legislative staff. In January, we will re-invigorate our efforts to populate the collection and update existing one-pagers to reflect AALL’s priority issues in the new Congress. Some topics of the existing one-pagers are Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act; Faster FOIA Act; USA Patriot Act, Section 215; and Whistleblower protections. We’ve heard that the one-pagers have been incredibly helpful to advocates and legislative aids already.

GRC members also reach out to SISs and Chapters to promote action alerts and other items of interest coming from the GRO.

Your committee recently had several programs accepted to the 2013 Annual Meeting in Seattle. Can you tell us about the programs?

Three programs that the GRC worked on were accepted for the Seattle meeting. First, the AALL Public Policy Update. This program brings together representatives from each of AALL’s three policy committees (Copyright, Digital Access to Legal Information, and Government Relations) and AALL members who are interested in Association policy to highlight the highest priority policy issues and encourage members to get active in the upcoming year. This year’s program is designed to be very interactive – with breakout discussions on three separate policy issues for the upcoming year. We also award the prestigious PAGI and Oakley awards at this session.

Second, State Open Records Laws and Libraries: Can We Value Openness and Privacy at the Same Time? This program will be very interesting, looking at the tension between access to records of public institutions, including public academic law libraries, and patron privacy. In this program, Amanda Martin of the North Carolina Press Association will speak about a North Carolina case involving the press’s right to higher education records, and Anne Klinefelter (who delivered our Distinguished Lectureship Address in Boston) will speak more broadly about privacy issues in libraries.

Third, State-Based Advocacy: Tales from the Trenches & Tips for Success in Your State. The GRC worked jointly with the DALI Committee on this proposal. One focus of this program will be on advocating for the passage of UELMA (Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act) in your state. AALL and many members of the GRC have been active on promoting UELMA. We are delighted that it has been enacted in California and Colorado. Adoption marks a major policy achievement for our Association. This program will focus on other state issues like funding for libraries, and will feature a helpful role-play exercise to practice advocacy skills.

What advice do you have for members interested in becoming involved in AALL’s advocacy program?

There a many ways to get involved in AALL’s advocacy programs. First, join the Advocacy listserv. You will receive specific, targeted emails from the GRO about policy issues affecting AALL and action you can immediately take to help. Second, take the GRO’s Advocacy Team survey. This short questionnaire is helping Emily and Elizabeth coordinate effective advocacy efforts, like matching members with their Congressional districts. Third, read the AALL Washington Blawg and the E-Bulletin to know what the GRO is working on and what issues are hot at any given moment. Things move fast in the legislative world! Fourth, participate in any of the upcoming free, monthly advocacy trainings that the GRO has planned for 2013. The first training, “New Year, New Congress: A Month-by-Month Guide to the 113th”, will take place on January 16, so sign up today. Fifth, stay in contact with Emily and Elizabeth in the GRO. If there is in issue in your state or chapter, contact them. If you can be of help because one of your senators or representatives in Congress is on a committee or may be receptive to AALL’s policy position, offer to meet with that person and talk to Emily and Elizabeth for advice. Sixth, follow the agenda of the Executive Board throughout the year, and come to the AALL Public Policy update at the annual meeting.

What else can we expect to see from the GRC this year?

The GRC works with the Nominations Committee each year to award the PAGI and Oakley awards. These are two prestigious awards that AALL offers to people or groups who either contribute to promoting greater public access to government information (PAGI) or substantially further the policy efforts of the AALL (Oakley). Any AALL member can submit a nomination. Nominations are due by February 1, 2013. See more at the AALL Awards page.

GRC members will continue to monitor public policy issues, work with the GRO, write advocacy one-pagers, and meet with our local (state or federal) representatives. In addition, we are in the process of evaluating how the GRC members can be good liaisons to the Chapters, SISs, and all AALL members to ensure that interested members can stay abreast of AALL policy and participate in developing the AALL policy agenda over time. We hope to come up with goals and a vision for how the GRC members can be most accessible, helpful, and effective as liaisons in years to come. As many of our AALL presidents have said, AALL is its members, and we want to make sure that members feel they can and are contributing to the important policy and advocacy work of the Association.

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