School Librarian: Advocacy Leader

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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?

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*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.

7 comments

    1. Me too, Carlie! It’s an easy and effective way to talk through a newly formed assessment plan–and, it’s not bad for re-assessing an ongoing assessment plan either. If you’ve set up substantive goals to begin with, the “so what” leads you nicely to those goals, or at least reveals where your assessment plan needs strengthening. If you haven’t thought your goals through, the “so what” leads you to a blank stare kind of dead end, which means you can adjust to better articulate the impact you want to make and how you intend to make it.

      The awesome flip side of the “so what” line of questioning is that it also reveals when and where you are wasting resources to collect data or usage information that you don’t need, want, or intend to use.

  1. First, I LOVE that you not only included a video with another school’s video to support the library, but that you have, and shared, your Pinterest board with so much relevant information. That alone proves your point about getting out of the library. I know a lot of libraries that have already taken to Facebook and Twitter, realizing their importance, but I don’t think very many have thought about the benefit of a tool such as Pinterest.

    Second, the point that I mentioned — getting out the library — was the one that got to me the most. I think that’s something that a lot of public librarians know how to do, but a lot of school librarians struggle with (finding and meeting the needs of the community.) Definitely not all of them, though!! Don’t want to upset anyone!

    But seriously, a lot of school librarians consider their “community” to be limited to their students and teachers and how they can best improve lessons and learning etc. And that’s great!! But I don’t think many school librarians consider what they can be doing outside of school, or what people outside of the academic building can do for them.

    It’s really important to make connections with all types of people. Community members could be extremely useful references for events such as career day or similar events that show students who’s who in the community. (We called these village field trips where we got to know the people we would interact with as adults — people at the post office, the VFW, the volunteer firefighters, etc.)

    Great post, Kate (as usual!) Definitely a lot of food for thought here!

    1. Emerald,
      I am inspired by librarians like Sue Kowalski at Pine Grove Middle School, and the many librarians like her who lead beyond the boarders of their school libraries to engage the entire community. I do agree with you, though, that many school librarians should look to our public librarian colleagues as shining examples of getting out of the library to offer services, to engage the community, and to advocate for our library members.

      I remember how hectic my first year of teaching was, and I can understand how very easy it is to focus just on what is happening in your classroom, or library, environment. I sympathize with newly minted school librarians who may have read this post, gotten to “Get out of the library,” and silently cursed me, thinking I didn’t understand how busy they are. I understand. But, I can also tell them from experience that their lives (in both the short and long term), their libraries, and their students will benefit when they get out of the library to make connections with the community. Scheduling time to attend just one building meeting or one town council or school board meeting a month will help a school librarian make connections that will have a powerful impact on advocacy efforts, and that will help lighten their load because they won’t feel like they are doing everything on their own.

      Thank you for sharing your ideas–you’ve obviously inspired me to inquire even deeper!

  2. Really like the “so what”. The library space existing in a school makes a difference by itself. Books on the shelf will always make a difference. We school media specialists will be the ones to make a difference by going the extra mile and really selling what the library can offer the school community.

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