Advocacy. It is the job that is not officially part of my job as a high school librarian. It’s a mindset for me. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m “doing” advocacy because it informs so many aspects of my work. I’m passionate about school libraries, of course, but I am also an advocate for all libraries. I believe wholeheartedly that public libraries are a manifestation of our best democratic ideals. If I am doing my job well, my students will seek out other libraries, to expect friendly customer service, to find support for their queries, and resources that meet their needs and interests. These are the taxpayers and decision-makers of the future. Every day, we provide our students with personal service, resources that are relevant, intriguing displays and invitations for users to make the library “theirs.” It’s also about respecting the importance of a research question and a book recommendation as much as admiring the pictures of a new puppy. In these moments, my secret agenda is revealed: to create future library advocates!
Recently our superintendent was working at a mobile desk in the front atrium of our school. She had her laptop out, but was happy to chat with any student or staff member who happened by. This was the week before winter break, so I popped by to ask if she was well-stocked with a good supply of books for the break. She asked if I could recommend a book that is popular with our students. Ummm, yes, I can! I promised I would return with one or two books before she left our building to return to her office.
This is exactly why my to-do list often gets tossed out the window. A public librarian mentor once told me that “the person in front of you is always more important than anything else you’re doing or think you should be doing.” In that moment, there was nothing more important than the opportunity to personally curate some reading selections for this reader! I returned to the library on a mission, zipping around, pulling books out of displays, off the shelves, and off the cart. With some help from the assistant librarian, we were able to narrow the sizable stack down to six titles, carefully selected to be representative of some of our students’ favorite formats and genres. I wrote a brief sticky note to accompany each title, and included a couple of print-outs of recent KQ blog posts. When I handed her the to-go bag, her face lit up with excitement, anticipating her reading adventures!
This is an advocacy moment with a district leader that could easily have been missed. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stopped by to chat with the superintendent, or asked the question I’d been asking all of my colleagues and students (“Got books for break?”). I could have just given her one book like she asked for. It seemed natural to offer her a selection, and I explained that I usually suggest that readers take a couple, or even a stack of books to try, to see what’s a good fit. My annotations on the sticky notes also mimicked what I would have done with a student, by giving a bit of background or information on a title in a kind of written, mini-booktalk. And, though she didn’t ask for bonus blog posts, the KQ posts were about providing my superintendent with some of the philosophy that guides my work in the library, as well as demonstrating my connection to my wider professional community.
Some of our recent graduates have started sending me photos of the new libraries they’re meeting, out in the world (see here and here). I love seeing these and, with their permission, have been posting their photos on our social media pages. The message to our social media followers is that our students’ high school library is just a launching pad to the academic and public libraries in their future. This is how we secure a future for libraries — by taking every opportunity to be passionate about our work, by providing exceptional service, and by connecting with individuals. Every day. All day long.
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).