Why Should I Get Involved in Public Policy? (Policy Notes)

By Theiler, Tamara | Information Outlook, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Why Should I Get Involved in Public Policy? (Policy Notes)


Theiler, Tamara, Information Outlook


For many people the phrase "public policy" is synonymous with the word "politics" and "politics" is a four-letter word. But each of us experiences the results of public policy decisions on a daily basis. Sometimes it is through the fallout of laws such a UCITA. Other times it is through a ruling by the Librarian of Congress.

Often we allow the opportunity to influence public policy pass us by because proposed legislation and regulations are frequently so detailed and contain so much jargon that they are difficult to understand. This causes us to feel overwhelmed. So we leave legislating and rule making to "policy wonks," but it does not have to be this way.

Generally, it is not necessary to understand all the nuances of a piece of legislation or regulation. A solid overview is often enough to convey the purpose of the legislation or rule and its potential affect. Web sites such as Thomas (http://thomas.loc.gov), which is operated by the U.S. Library of Congress, are excellent sources for this kind of information.

You may still be wondering why you should get involved in public policy debates. There are several good reasons for becoming involved. One reason is that it gives you a chance to shape the scope of a final draft of a law or rule. You may even be able to help determine how a law or rule is made. Getting involved in public policy provides a chance to participate in the evolution of your profession, your community, and society as a whole. In a nutshell, being involved in public policy is an opportunity to have your voice heard.

However, making your voice heard sometimes seems like an impossible task. Often people feel alone in their efforts to address a policy issue. Even when a group of people band together they may feel that their elected and appointed officials are only interested in hearing from lobbyists representing organizations that have massive amounts of money and power. They believe that these officials are not interested in hearing the common person's point of view.

That is why headquarters staff has spent the past several months revamping the SLA public policy department. Our main goal is to provide information professionals throughout the world with a voice in the legislative and regulatory process. We are here to help you convey to lawmakers the professional issues that you confront. But to effectively represent information professionals we need everyone's input. We cannot accurately convey your position unless we hear from you.

You, SLA members, are our best source of information because you have firsthand knowledge of how a law or regulation will affect information professionals. For example, will a particular law make your job more difficult? Are you able to implement it? Will it work in practice or is it just a theory that looks good on paper? You can help us provide lawmakers with anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the realities of the laws and rules they make.

You also have a better understanding of what is happening in your geographic area or area of specialization or interest. Often the momentum for a new law or regulation starts at the state or local level. When action is taken at these levels, federal governments and the international community take notice. Then they decide to either take action to counter what the state or local government has done, implement the state or local action at the federal or international level, or allow the state or local government to deal with the issue themselves. By letting us know what is happening in your city, state, or specialty area, you can point us in directions that we may not have thought of. …

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