This week in my Information Technologies in Educational Organizations course, we’ve been learning and talking about leadership, advocacy, and evidence-based practice. As future school librarians and engaged members of society, my classmates and I know that many of our country’s school and public libraries are in trouble. We know that user-centered, evidence-based practice and an effective advocacy plan will ensure that we survive and thrive. We know that we should be leaders who advocate for our library members, our resources, and ourselves. Sometimes, though, our advocacy messages get muddled. By acting as leaders in our schools and communities, we can ensure that we send an advocacy message that is strong and clear, and that allows others to easily join us as library advocates.
The following video is a charming library advocacy video from the Shady Spring Library Media Center. The message of this video is clearly on the library’s value to the students of Shady Spring, and it demonstrates to me the importance of a student-centered approach to school library advocacy.
This week, I’ve collected and read a number of advocacy articles and resources (available through my School Library Advocacy Pinterest Board for you to check out) and I’ve come up with a synthesis of advocacy advice that I find practical and that my life experience leads me to believe will be effective. (Particularly, my life experience as a teacher who fought successfully to keep her small cooperative preschool alive.*)
Here is that synthesis–my plain language version of School Librarian Advocacy Advice:
Get over yourself. You love your job, you want to pay off your student loans, and you are a damn good librarian. None of that matters right now. Think about your library community–your students, their parents and teachers, the community around you. Focus your advocacy on your library members. Send the message that you care about your library community and that you want to keep the library’s services and collection available to them.
Get out of the library. Connect, collaborate, and communicate every chance you get. Get out of the library both literally and figuratively. Use Twitter to connect with other school librarians, Facebook to connect with the community, Pinterest to share boards with educators and librarians near and far, Google Calendar to collaborate and communicate with administrators and teachers. You get the idea. And, show up to planning meetings when you can, roam the halls to pop in and offer a book or resource guide that may interest a teacher or two. Get teachers to visit you by getting out of the library to invite them to a new materials preview breakfast once a month. Whether your library community is in the library or you are out of the library, they should think of you as the literary center of their educational environment. That won’t happen if you are hidden in the stacks somewhere.
Get a clear plan, stick to it, then change it when you need to. Spell out your goals for the library. Know what difference you want the library to make and then think of ways to make that happen. Plan for ongoing, effective data collection that will prove that you made “that” happen. Will you use spreadsheets, rubrics, checklists, student portfolios, collaboration and event logs, surveys, suggestion boxes, or circulation statistics to provide evidence that the library makes a difference (that you make a difference)? Incorporating regular assessment tools like these in your daily, or weekly, library practice will provide you the evidence you may need to effectively advocate for your library. And, these tools give you the added benefit of showing what is working well in your library and what you may need to tweak to make better.
Know the “So What?” This is a big one for me. It was one of those blazing light-bulb-over-your-head sort of moments that happened to me while doing a Planning, Marketing, and Assessment course project for a middle school learning program in a public library. My goals for the project were lofty, my objectives solid, and my assessment benchmarks seemed fine. The librarians on the implementation end of the project were satisfied, but my professor asked a question that has guided me through a number of assessment decisions since. The question was “so what?” As in, “so what if you have thirty people attend the program and they all say they want to come back if you have another similar program? What substantive difference does that make?” Don’t be satisfied with numbers and statistics. Dig deeper to prove real results. Were attendees more confident in school? Did their grades improve as a result of their attendance at this public library learning program? Were they more likely to join academic clubs? Graduate with honors? Engage in more personal research activities? Dig for the “so what” and you will be able to demonstrate the very real impact your library has on its community.
You and your library have an impact on the community. It is important that you use your voice to share what that impact is, and what your vision for that impact is for the future. If you don’t tell your library’s story, who will tell it for you?
*The preschool is still going strong, for anyone wondering. I had to leave because we moved away from the area (the inconvenient side of my family’s Vagabond habits!), but I was able to pass the reigns to an innovative new teacher and a parent board who has become expert advocates for the school.