Advocating for School Libraries – a Primer

“What?  I need to do what?  But what does that mean?”  These are exactly the words that flashed through my mind when I attended my first annual conference and heard a keynote speaker say,  “It is our responsibility to advocate for our students, our programs and our profession.”  After what I consider a compulsory moment of internal panic, [inside voice:  I have a new responsibility.  No one told me about it.  I don’t even know how!  This did not happen in library school. What?]  I began to calm myself.  [It is a brand new day and I can do this, I think.  Ok, but first, I will read the new Neal Shusterman book.]

Now, several years later, as I stare at the four stools behind my circulation desk and feel their lonely state, I now understand that is is my responsibility to advocate for my students, my program, and my profession.

AASL provides the best definition:

Advocacy is the ongoing process of building partnerships so that others will act for and with you, turning passive support into educated action for the library program.

WHY ADVOCATE

When we advocate, we are building partnerships and educating others to act on behalf of our students and programs.  I don’t know about you, but I can always use the extra help. Part of being effective is seeking the resources needed for your program.  If you want help, you must ask.  (It is not WWII, the volunteer generation has left the building.)  Trust me, relying on the collective memories of library experiences from your stakeholders to drive them to act is a bad idea.  You must share your vision in order to offer opportunities for investment.  Get some great advocacy resources from YALSA at ala.org/yalsa/advocacy

WHAT I CAN DO NOW

  1. STAY POSITIVE.  No one likes to hear about the downfall of the library or your fear about losing your job or your program.  This is negative branding and you let them know you are expendable.  Worse, no one is comfortable, so they avoid the media center.  Post your positive message where you can see it every day, the message you will share when others ask how are things are going.

Exa.  “Hey, did you know the new Florida Teens Read List was just announced.  So many of the books look so good!  I can’t wait to read them.”

Exa.  “I am just arranging the new college and career section!  Isn’t it great!”

Exa.  “Oh, these kids are keeping me busy, busy, busy!”

  1. COLLABORATE.  Stop acting like it is somebody else’s job to come find you to seek your collaboration.  Email, visit, call.  What they get comfortable with, they will seek out.  Make teachers comfortable with your assistance.  Check out AASL, ALSC & YALSA’s e-resources on school and public library collaboration.

Exa.  “Oh, Mrs. Teacher, what are you working on now with your students?  I would love to share some ideas with you.”

  1. SHARE.  With students and staff–Use a bulletin board in the media center to share information and another one on campus.  With parents–Place information from your program in the school’s newsletter.  If you don’t have a page on your school’s website, ask for one.  With the entire community–Make your own media center website.  Develop your use of Twitter and use a unique hashtag for messages from your program.
  2. GIVE GOOD PROGRAMS.  Good library programs grow programs.    Good programs encourage us all to be excited about visiting the library or media center.  Check out YALSA’s free Teen Programming Guidelines for help.
  3. LEARN.  Participate in webinars.  Attend conference.  Learn from more experienced professionals about their successful library efforts.  Check out this free self-paced e-course from PLA.  Also, all YALSA members get free access to live monthly webinars, plus the full webinar archive.

WHAT I CAN DO SIX MONTHS FROM NOW

  1. TAKE YOUR POSITIVITY TO THE NEXT LEVEL.  Share it with others.  Join a professional association (like YALSA!) and find ways to connect with other media specialist and librarians.
  2. PLAN NEW COLLABORATIONS.  Find ways that your programs can add value to what is already happening in your school or community.  Exa.  Blood drive and book fair or blood drive and fine forgiveness program.
  3. SHARE MORE.  Shout out to your helpers, mentors, sponsors, and contributors in your email, your newsletter, your local newspaper, on your website, and on Twitter and Facebook.
  4. PLAN AND GIVE ONE OR TWO EPIC PROGRAMS PER YEAR.  Author visit, a local elected official acts as librarian for a day, career fairs, comic con, Dia de los Muertos, etc.  Let your community interests be your guide.
  5. LEARN WHAT WORKS.  Track your attendance, usage and learning outcomes connected with programs.  Do more of what works in your community.

WHAT I CAN DO A YEAR FROM NOW

  1. POSITIVITY FOR ALL.  Write an article about something you do. Present at a conference or meeting.  Speak with lawmakers about your programs and what they do for the community.
  2. FIND COMMUNITY PARTNERS.  From ladies club to sewing club to car club, there is a club out there that wants to be involved with your patrons.  Find them and let them in. Check out YALSA’s wiki resources on this topic.
  3. SHARE THE RESULTS.  Pictures are the only evidence that matters in the community.  Make picture taking a part of every program, activity, and event.
  4. LEARN FROM YOUR PROGRAMMING.  What doesn’t work does not often have to be tossed.  Survey your patrons. Maybe your just missing one small element that can change the focus.
  5. LEARN something new that inspires you!  Only the inspired continue to be creative and we are in the business of creativity.  You don’t have to jump on every band wagon, but an occasional “ride around the park” can add a fresh perspective.

BONUS ROUND

  1. Share what you do and how it affects your community by advocating for libraries and the profession on National Legislative Library Days in Washington or Legislative Days in your state.

“Oh, the things that you can do…”
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Vandy Pacetti-Donelson is a Library Media Specialist. She is a library advocate and board member for the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME). Find her online at www.eliterateandlevelingup.com or follow her on Twitter @VandyPD.

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