Recently, a colleague and friend reminded me that sometimes the louder we get the less people listen. As librarians we know the importance of advocating for our profession. It is our responsibility to share with others what we do to help students and how this looks different from librarians of the past. Since we are often the only person in our building who does our job we have to be careful how loud we get. If we push too hard, sometimes all we get is those who push back against us. Do not take this the wrong way, there is always a time and place to share what needs to be said. Yet, sometimes a subtle approach can be just as effective as screaming from the roof tops. Here are five ways to advocate without being in your face.
This is probably the most important thing you can do! Keep the focus on your students, because that is who it is about. There are so many options to share: websites, blogs, newsletters, conferences, webinars, and a variety of social media. Choose one, two, or more and let others know what your students are up to.
The importance of sharing was solidified when I started in my current position five years ago. Since my approach to the library was a bit different then my predecessor, I needed to explain to parents what their children were working on when they were in the library. I started a monthly newsletter. It was nothing fancy, but what I did not realize was just that small bit of sharing went a long way. I had parents asking more questions about what was happening. They were beginning to look at the space differently and my administrator was taking note. Over time, I began to share in other ways too.
It was not just about sharing with parents. I needed my colleagues to understand everything the library could do for them. I often start the school year with a letter to my colleagues. This is a bit more direct in its message than other things I share, but since it is in a different format it seems to open up conversations about what we can do together to improve student learning.
Data is powerful! I keep data that includes check-out information and class usage, but also information related to collaboration between classroom teachers as well as student projects and outcomes. When I started doing this, I did not realize the power it would have when advocating for the library. It is difficult for anyone to argue with the numbers. Data is very objective, when often in education things are subjective. It makes it simple for my administration to agree to try something new, if the information I have backs up the idea. The results can also be very eye-opening when it does not come out as expected. Data allows for support, reflection, and improvement.
Some of the best advocates of the library are teachers. Of course getting them to buy into what I am selling took time. One way, I have found successful is to invite them in. One of the programs that is hosted in the library is a Sweet Library Resources Party. (Food is a very effective way of getting people to listen!) After hosting a program like this, teachers want to know more. They start sharing the information with others too. It is no longer just my voice people are listening too, but many. More voices mean more people to share why the library is so important.
Displays are, in my mind, one of the most valuable parts of the library. You can draw a person in or have them keep walking just by what is displayed. The more interesting, student friendly, and interactive a display is the more it is discussed. More discussion leads to positive things. Displays are viewed by all stakeholders, which maximizes the impact in the world of a busy librarian.
Anticipate What’s Coming
Anticipating what is coming next can be hard! Time is often consumed and curriculum is ever-changing, but it can also be very helpful when trying to improve teacher buy-in. Knowing the units that are covered allows for suggestions to be given ahead of time. Providing a few books related to the topic or suggesting a project can often lead to more when working with teachers. Grade-level calendars allow me to anticipate what units are approaching. That way I can mention resources and project ideas in a timely manner leading to other opportunities to work together. If teachers are supportive they will advocate for you just as much as you could for yourself.
Being subtle is not always easy. Patience and positivity are something that every good advocate needs regardless what they are working for. We often have to wait and see how our actions will impact our profession, but know that, loud or quiet, we all have to make others see the value in our work.
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).