Hosting your elected officials for a tour of your library is a great way to educate legislators about the importance of law libraries, the work that you do, and the resources you provide to attorneys, judges, self-represented litigants, and members of the public. A tour can also provide an opportunity to advocate for greater financial support for libraries. Keep the following tips in mind when planning a tour of your library for your state legislators and members of Congress.
TIMING YOUR TOUR
The best time to invite a legislator to tour your library is when the legislature is out of session. Election season is a particularly good time as candidates will welcome the chance to meet with constituents, and the tour can provide them with desirable photos and news coverage.
Check Congress’ calendar and your state’s legislative calendar to determine the start and end dates of the session. If you plan to invite your member of Congress to tour your facility, do so when s/he is on recess and back in your district or state.
Begin by calling or visiting your state legislator’s office to ask for several possible dates when your legislator is available. Follow the call with a formal letter of invitation. Describe the facility, its operation, the number of employees, and its patrons. Provide your legislator with several dates and times and be prepared to answer questions from the legislator and his/her staff members. If more than one public official is invited for the same tour, be sure each knows in advance that the others will be included. Unless it is a major event such as an open house, plan
to invite one elected official at a time.
Prior to the event, consider sending a press advisory to local media announcing the tour. Coordinate with the legislator’s staff who will notify the media of dates and times. If you are handling press, send information to city desks at newspapers and assignment editors for local television and radio. You may also arrange for a photographer to be on hand to take photos of the event. Be sure to coordinate with your legislator’s office every step of the way.
There are many ways to conduct a tour of your library. You can show your legislator special exhibits, materials from where s/he grew up or the district they represent, or topics of interest to them. If you can, find out if your legislator has any special interest (e.g. are they a lawyer? doctor? hobby gardener?) and show materials that relate. It is useful to provide handouts for the legislator to take home from the tour. These could include information on the number and type of patrons served; services used (e.g. how many hours are the computers in the library used); who uses the meeting rooms, and for what (e.g., job searches, job interviews, research into starting a small business, etc.); and other basic information about your library.
Always send a thank you note to your legislator after a tour. Doing so helps to build a relationship—consistent communication is key. Be sure to also follow up on any media opportunities with your legislator’s office and provide any materials that were requested during the tour. As a library staff, you’ll want to debrief together following the tour.