I became a certified school librarian in 2006. I spent my early years teaching in school libraries learning the job, honing my craft, attending professional development and reading copious amounts of children’s and young adult literature. The ongoing pursuit of these efforts was to improve my instructional practice, to get better and to grow as a librarian.
I spent countless hours reviewing journal articles about literacy, reading comprehension and instructional strategies. I read online posts from other librarians, reading teachers and classroom teachers. I studied best practices around research and inquiry. I pored over information literacy standards, reading standards and technology standards. I lurked on Twitter and compiled lists of relevant educational and library hashtags. I began posting some of my own educational content. I began teaching professional development coursework and presenting to my peers in-district and at conferences.
After several years of reflective teaching and librarianship, I finally feel confident and comfortable in my skin as a school librarian and professional. What’s next on the horizon? What next steps make the most career sense? What will allow me to continue this valuable work? Some of these bigger picture questions were answered after I decided after many years to become a member of the New York Library Association (NYLA) in 2015. I waited too long to become a member. This was a mistake.
NYLA is our statewide library association dedicated to advocating on behalf of all libraries in the state directly to our state legislature. This organization is doing the hard work of library advocacy full-time, every day, year after year for all types of libraries: school, public, academic, etc. I was so busy doing the intense work of school librarianship that I left library advocacy to others. This was a another mistake.
A recent article in Education Week indicates that, “The nation’s public school districts have lost 20 percent of their librarians and media specialists since 2000, from more than 54,000 to less than 44,000 in 2015.” While I was too busy doing this important library work, school libraries were on the chopping block and I didn’t know. This ignorance was another mistake.
Abandoning library advocacy ‘to others’ is a bad idea. Waiting to join the New York Library Association so late in my career was a bad idea. For more time than I care to admit, I was unclear about NYLA’s role. I wasn’t sure what NYLA actually did or why. I am now attempting to make up for lost time by engaging in vital library advocacy efforts.
My first event was to attend Library Advocacy Day as part of NYLA’s local Albany delegation. I chaperoned a field trip with a dozen high school students from Albany High to the state capitol in Albany, NY. Students attending this trip were members of Albany High School’s Book Lovers’ Club. Several appointments were made with local elected officials in advance to discuss library funding in our state.
Our elected officials listened intently to their teenage constituents as students shared meaningful dialogue about the value of libraries in their schools and communities. It was a powerful lesson in civic participation and engagement for both students and adults. This will be an annual field trip moving forward for Albany High School students. This positive experience encouraged me to apply for the YALSA travel stipend to attend National Library Legislative Day in our nation’s capital.