When it comes to advocating for your school library, the work you do every day matters. As the Advocacy Chair for the Tennessee Association of School Librarians, I spend a lot of time talking with political leaders about school libraries, making asks that relate to needs on a larger scale. But every single day, I show up to my school library, and it’s every day that I consider what I’m doing to make the library the heart of the school, how I’m contributing to the value of school libraries, and how I’m working to expand and change the narrative of the way school libraries are viewed in my community and beyond. Creating value for your library and value for your role at your school impacts our profession as a whole and the future of school libraries. Here are some essentials to everyday advocacy for your school library.
- Put your students first.
Do your best for students every day. Do you have books and resources to support all of your student populations? Do you have spaces that invite students and welcome all students? What changes need to be made to give students greater access? Examine your space, examine your programming, examine your collections. Ask students. Regularly seek their input. The library is there for them. You are there to support and to guide them. Make sure the needs of your students are at the heart of any ask you make.
- Grow professionally.
Students deserve to attend schools with a certified school librarian on staff. I’d like to take that one step further- an awesome certified school librarian on staff! Grow your personal learning network through joining your state librarians’ organization, national organizations like AASL, and connect with librarians and educators in your district, at conferences, and on social media. Grow your network, which will not only encourage your professional growth, but connect with those who inspire and challenge you. Your professional growth directly impacts the health and strength of your library programming. Support, volunteer, participate in organizations that are positively furthering school libraries.
- Be a go-to person in your building
Part of positioning your library as the heart of the school is being someone at your school that people can count on. They seek your input because it’s thoughtful, helpful, encouraging. You have the capacity to listen, to brainstorm solutions, to support the goals and initiatives of your school, to participate in a positive way. You’re willing to collaborate, support, to go the extra mile, and sometimes, that means offering to do the task that no one else wants to do. You’re contributing to the positive culture in the building and beyond.
- Don’t major in the minors
Help create and contribute to a positive school library culture. What rules do we create for our libraries that prevent access that discourage usage that create barriers, that ultimately impede growth? Library fines? Limits on book checkouts? Examine your rules and policies and make sure they support full access by all students. Also, avoid getting bogged down with the negative attitudes that so easily spring up in school culture. It’s easy to gripe about too much testing, value added scores, observations, changes in leadership, and district policies. Block that out and think about the kids who have to show up every day to your school. Focus on creating a welcoming, loving, exciting space for them. Focus on the bigger picture.
- Be visible.
Take part in your school community. You make a point to show up to support your students at games, performances. Rave to the kids about their extra-curricular activities. Celebrate them! You say yes to the library being used as an event space. Attend events out in the community and connect with local businesses and community leaders. Make connections at your local bookstore by attending their events, reach out to your local public librarians and invite them to your school. Be a librarian who participates in the world going on outside the library.
- Tell your library’s story
If you don’t narrate the story, who is? What avenues do you have to share what’s happening in the library? Get the message out via any means possible. There’s a story happening every single day at your library. What avenues of sharing information are available to you that reach students, parents, community members, faculty, admin, district staff, etc? From newsletters, intercom announcements, pto meetings, and social media, get the word out. The library’s story matters.
- Invite and welcome decision makers to your library.
Open your doors to your administration, district leaders, local and state government leaders. What ways do you have for them to participate in your library? You don’t have to wait until School Library Month in April! You have exciting things going on all year, like read alouds, book clubs, makerspace, 3D printing. Invite them to see what’s happening on a regular basis. When they are asked about school libraries in their district or in their community, let yours be the one they know.
- Create a growth plan
What will your library look like in the next 5 years? Develop a collections plan that helps you prioritize sections of the library that are in need of updating and expansion. Is the curriculum changing for a subject area? Is your collection ready to handle those changes? Is your population changing? Does your collection reflect the needs of the student population? Consider not only print and digital resources, but programming, your professional development, and space needs.
- Create a snapshot
Do you have something at the ready to show a new principal? A new pto president? Newly elected local and state leaders? Create an infographic about your library that reflects the most recent school year that can easily be shared in your community as to the state of your library. Show your print and digital checkouts, number of books per student, student involvement in book clubs, most popular sections, number of classes taught, budget, book drive results, number of special events, like author visits, number of 3D prints, etc. Provide the data that best shows the value and your needs.
- Be prepared to make your ask
There’s never enough money, the schedule is never ideal, the library is yet again under-staffed. Where do you start? This is where you reach out to the decision makers, those you’ve invited in, those you’ve shared your story with, those you’ve taken the time to estable positive relationships with, and you make them aware of the challenges that prevent you from offering the best services for students and providing the best resources. Offer your research based ideas and solutions, and resist offering complaints. You ask for their involvement in problem solving and their support in reaching the best, student centered outcomes. You seek assistance and guidance from your PLN. You stay the course, and no matter what happens, at the end of the day, you do the best you can, with everything that’s in your power and within your control, to make your school library the best it can be for your students.
What you do each and every day matters. Let’s do what’s in our power to create student centered, strong school library programs that are valued by our communities. The stronger we are individually, the greater impact we have as a whole. We raise awareness, add value to our profession, and we impact future generations of leaders, decision makers, and citizens, which ultimately impacts the future of school libraries in our world.