In a profession filled with acronyms and specialized taxonomy, sometimes it’s easy to forget that not everyone knows what we mean.

Just one example: When a couple of my colleagues thought I should write a post for 28 Days of Advocacy, my first response was, “Um, I don’t think I know anything about advocacy.”

They laughed.

The reality, of course, is that I advocate every day–but I never would have called it that. I may have thought of it more as outreach, or communicating, or maybe doing my job.

In a school library, just as in a public library, outreach and and communication are at the heart of young adult services. And it’s not all the Big A Advocacy, as I like to call it–things like reaching out to community organizations, supporting legislation, pushing for funding or space or resources. Those are all crucial, of course. But we can’t forget little a advocacy: reaching out to the folks you see every day.

Administrators. Whether your boss is in the district offices or the room next door, it’s important to let that person know what you do and how you do it. There are formal channels for this–like program proposals, progress reports, purchase orders–and there are informal channels.

Just the other day I kept the library open late as students feverishly put their finishing touches on science fair displays, and the headmaster was one of the other adults staying late in the building as we tried to shoo the kids out at 5:30. Seeing me in the halls told her that the library responds to the needs of the students, and that I was putting in the extra time.

Teachers. Some teachers will be in the library every day, and some would go all year without introducing themselves if you let them. You don’t have to harangue the ones who tend to stay in their classrooms, but do keep them on your email list whenever you’re letting the faculty know about programs and resources. Go to meetings. Get coffee in the teachers’ lounge. Eavesdrop on conversations and mention that you’ve got a really great book if that’s what it takes–but make sure every teacher in that building knows your name.

It’s also important to not take those Every Day Teachers for granted. They may know you can put together book carts and give library lessons, but do they know you hand-deliver magazines and professional journals to faculty boxes? Do they know you can troubleshoot the sound quality on a laptop hooked up to the library’s projector? Have they seen your mad Guitar Hero skills? Every positive interaction with a teacher is improving your reputation–and the chances that the hermit teachers might just hear how great you are.

Students. We tend to think of reaching out for teens, but we can’t forget how important it is to reach out to teens. Students who don’t know what the library has to offer, have had bad experiences with other librarians, or just don’t think the library is the place for them won’t come to you. And if you only ever interact with them when they’re forced to be in the library with a class, they have no reason to come on their own.

I try to connect with my students in as many ways as possible. I run regular gaming events, I’ve been to basketball games, I’ll give lessons in classrooms if the library is booked–you name it, I’ll try to be there. And, of course, I try to have one-on-one conversations. Whether it’s getting a book from another library, futzing around with the color printer, or chatting about topics from manga to hurricane relief, I want my students to know that I’m always there for them.

So, what’s your favorite form of little a advocacy?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

4 Thoughts on “28 Days of Advocacy #14 – Advocacy by Any Other Name

  1. Great examples of everyday advocacy! I hadn’t thought about it quite that way until I read your post. My advocacy is to be present at as many Open House/Parents Night/school tour events as possible throughout the year. While evening events make for a very long work day (since I get to school before 7am), it’s really important that the library is OPEN and the librarian is there smiling and greeting visitors. I want everyone to know the library is an important part of the school.

    It also gives me a huge boost when, every now and then, a parent stops to tell me, “My son/daughter loves coming to the library.” And sometimes to check a book out to a parent who says, “My kids never goes to the library and I wish they would.”

  2. It’s great to hear you keep the library open for parent events! One category I could have added might have been “accidental” or “last-minute” advocacy–the school often sends tours and visitors through the library without much advanced notice, so it’s important for us to think on our feet.

  3. Paula Griffith on February 15, 2009 at 9:29 pm said:

    I love this idea of little “a” advocacy. It IS rather like breathing isn’t it? I’ve talked to parents about the book club. I took the Scholastic publication, “School Libraries Work,” to the Curriculum Director (he is now running it off for all the district administrators). I passed out the activity/program calendars for the public library to students and parents. I emailed my state Rep today about the state database program–we really need it. None of these activities took much time or effort, but I know that it all adds up to the “big A.” …but it really is like breathing.

  4. I love “School Libraries Work!” I hope we can get an update to that one soon, though. So good to hear from folks doing parent outreach–I sometimes feel isolated from the families of my students, because I’m still sort of a “temporary” person at my school. I was pretty excited to meet my first dad at a recent basketball game.

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