School Librarians are often told to promote their school library program, to push its visibility within the school and out into the community. There are many materials available for library advocacy—from simple activities or events to entire “programming kits.”
However, after 13+ years as a middle school librarian, I find what is most effective are those informal ways we advocate for our school library program, so when a grad student in a library program asked about library advocacy a few years ago, I gave these responses to the 10 questions:
1. What challenges do you face regarding your role as a school librarian?
The biggest challenge is getting teachers & administrators to realize that, as a librarian, I am supposed to teach students those information literacy skills so necessary for school, college, and our global digital society. It is especially difficult if library skills are embedded into course curricula without specifying them as library skills. When there is no written library curriculum, we must create one. Why? It promotes more relevant lesson planning, and it shows our colleagues that we are a true education professional.
2. What are the biggest barriers you face when advocating for your library?
I believe there are two major barriers: a lack of understanding about what a school librarian is trained to do; and that easy access to information through the Internet increases the need for a school librarian. We have the training for refining information overload and it’s our responsibility to show teachers and students how to legally and ethically use information.
3. What is the best way for parents to support you and become library advocates?
Getting parental support at the start of the school year is essential. In our school students took a packet of paperwork home on the first day of school. I included a sheet in this packet—one side with a short introduction to the school library and the other with an annotated list of online resources available to students from home. Later this was replaced by a brochure about library services and a bookmark listing online resources with IDs & PWs that was provided by our district library coordinator.
A couple times a year I created a Library Newsletter that was copied on the back of student report cards to tell parents about library activities and resources. Intermittently I make phone calls to parents giving feedback about a particularly memorable thing their student did in the library, especially those students who often get negative calls home. This helps me be a visible and valuable member of the school faculty, these positive contacts make a world of difference when it’s time to get overdue books returned at the end of each semester!
4. What is your best advice concerning advocacy and school library stakeholders?
My best advice is to become indispensable in ways beyond the library so folks realize you do more than checkout & shelve books. Be a technology troubleshooter and trainer for any technology used in the classroom, volunteer to take photos or videotape student presentation activities in the classroom, make the library website a valuable part of the school’s web presence, and become good friends with, and do favors for, the ladies who run the school’s PTA! In other words, don’t advocate with speeches about the importance of a school library; advocate with actions to show the importance of having a certified school librarian!
5. Who, if any, are your greatest advocates in your community?
In the school community it is definitely the principal and the PTA who can be our best advocates, and at the district level, the library coordinator and the curriculum coordinator have a huge impact on how libraries and librarians are viewed. I’ve learned that the greatest advocate is the district Public Relations department—they control the public’s perception of the school district and if they are on your side, you are gold! They’ll post pictures of library activities, promote reading programs, and make sure everyone in the community, from parents to businesses, and administration to support staff, is aware of your importance. They can also be instrumental in publicizing fund-raising efforts!
6. How do you get administration to see you as a vital part of education?
Become part of the decision-making team at your school. Volunteer for any committee that will even remotely impact the library program, or you, the school librarian. Become close to your subject department heads so any curriculum-planning activity includes you. Become best friends with your school secretaries & custodians so they view you as an essential member of their team, too. It’s amazing how often the phrase, “Let’s see what the school librarian has to say about this!” can direct your administration’s attention to how vital you are to the school and its mission.
7. What are you doing to get students into your library?
Make the library the place students need to go to get things done! I always have art materials available, like markers, poster board, scissors, tape, glue, etc, in convenient totes so students can come in before or after school to work on projects. I have a variety of games that are fun and yet also reinforce learning, such as Scrabble, Monopoly ($$ & math), and Trivial Pursuit. The current catch-phrase is “makerspace,” but my students have always associated the library with “making” what they need!
I’ve created reading alcoves for those who want a quiet place to read when others are working at tables or on computers. (Students can converse as long as they used their 2-foot voices–a completely silent library is not conducive to student collaboration.) I always have computers turned on, ready for students to use any time of day. To be always inviting, I create a personalized laminated pass for each teacher/classroom to fill out with a dry-erase marker allowing students to come to the library during class-time if they need a book, computer, whatever.
Always let students help out. I let kids shelve books whenever they ask—the shelves might not be perfect, but it gets books back on the shelves and they feel good about helping. I ask for student input/help creating displays, whether on the bulletin boards or the shelves. Regarding bulletin boards, I have three 4’x4′ bulletin boards, one outside every doorway into the library and eye-catching displays inspire kids to come inside. I offer a “Tech Morning” once a week for kids to learn about a new app or online service. Believe me, kids love to learn new technology, and when teachers see students asking about using an app for a project, they become more interested too!
8. How do you promote collaboration with the classroom teachers in your school?
Teachers have enough on their plate without adding our stuff, so I don’t email lists of books or online resources to “add” to their lessons. Rather, I approach teachers with a written lesson plan that uses quality resources to enhance their classroom activities. This lets teachers see us providing service and assistance, and shows them how easy it is to include us in the lesson planning experience. Make it a professional goal to be familiar with all subject curricula and determine how the library’s collection & online resources can be used. Thus we are the curriculum expert in the building and people begin to come to us for advice!
(Download my specialized Library Lesson Plan template from the ‘FREE Librarian Resources’ page)
9. In what ways are you a leader within your school?
One year we got a new principal, and he set up interviews with staff members during the summer to get a feel for everything. One of the questions he asked each person was, “If the principal was suddenly gone for some reason, who are 3 people in the school who you could rely on to keep things running smoothly?” I was flattered that quite a few folks mentioned me, so I made it my goal that everyone would mention the school librarian in answer to that question! By keeping that broad concept in mind I was able to see more possibilities for involvement, rather than just listing disparate things I wanted to accomplish.
10. What are some of the ways you raise money and/or resources for your library?
I’m fortunate that my district supports the library program with substantial funds for books and online resources, so I don’t have to, as so many do, weasel money from a principal or try to raise funds on my own. I am adamant, however, about one way a librarian NOT raise money: with fines for overdue books. Fines don’t work. Kids who are well-off don’t care about the paltry amount and poorer kids are stressed out trying to pay a fine and still have money for lunch (or dinner on their way home), and basically it just makes a lot more work for the librarian, especially if there’s a whole class trying to check out books in the last 10 minutes of the period! I mean really, it’s just a darn book and there’s plenty more on the shelves—a child and their feelings are a lot more important than a fine (or even a lost $15 book)! There are much more effective ways to tease kids into getting overdue books back.
The library student appreciated my input, as did others who read my comment on the listserv, so I hope some of you out there also find these ideas helpful. Happy advocating!