I want all school librarians to be advocates for school libraries. It’s not just during budget season, and it’s not just when your job is on the line. That’s too little, too late. It’s not “just one more thing” to add to your already-full plate. It’s not optional. Advocacy is something that we should share, something we can each carry a small part of, collectively. I wrote about this in a previous post, and I’m focusing my passion for advocacy in my new role as the advocacy chair for the Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL). Our committee is focusing on three strands this year from individual to organizational to legislative level.
But how do you start building your own personal advocacy toolkit?
Start Small: Growing Your Advocacy Practice
What kinds of small acts of advocacy could you do this week? What does building- and district-level advocacy look like?
- Colleagues. Your colleagues need to know what you do. It sounds silly, but do your colleagues and building principal actually know what you do on teacher preparation days at the beginning and end of your school year? It occurred to me that my colleagues might have no idea–or perhaps they imagined me sitting back and reading all of those wonderful new books! Email staff (with photos!) to help them understand the responsibilities you have that are unique, especially the ones that they don’t see or may not be aware of.
- Staff Meetings. Ask your principal if you can give a few booktalks to open a staff meeting. Share a great new technology app or highlight a database resource. You could bring in a stack of new acquisitions or a themed collection of resources of interest.
- School Newsletter. Share upcoming events and programs, a recent summary of classes taught, units, projects, or collaborations, statistics about library and collection usage, or a list of new acquisitions. What are your most popular titles? Do you have an eye-catching display of books on a theme?
- Social Media, Share the story of your school library on social media platforms for your community to follow, as the action unfolds in real time. More current than the monthly newsletter, a few posts per week raise my community’s awareness of what’s going on in the library. The CHRHS Library’s Instagram page is linked to our Facebook page, and I always share CHRHS Library posts to my personal Facebook page as well. Your community is on social media already, so meet them on the platforms they use.
- Professional Development. Offer to present or co-present a session in your building or at the district-level for a professional development day. What’s hot in your school or district? Differentiation? Inquiry projects? STEAM integration? Make your session practical and relevant to your adult professional learning community. Share a session that highlights your collaboration with a colleague. This is a simple way to showcase your collaboration practice by showing other teachers the ways that your expertise adds value to classroom instruction. Orient your teachers to the resources your state-wide database collection offers.
- Committee Work. Consider participating on a school or district committee. What’s your passion and where can you have the most impact? As an educator who serves all students, you have a unique perspective. Do you serve on your school’s leadership team? If not, ask for a seat at the table! Other options might be participation on a curriculum committee, professional development committee, recertification committee, wellness committee, or the committee for at-risk students.
- School Board Meetings. Your school board needs to hear from you! Many school boards are comprised of community members who are not educators. They might have (or have had) children go through your school, or perhaps they were students in your school. We need to help them understand what a 21st-century school library looks like, what we do, and how we engage with and serve our learning communities. Make sure you have photos to show them the story of your library. If you’re nervous, bring students with you! When I have attended school board meetings in the past, I remind myself that my presentation is probably the most exciting part of their evening ahead. And, because I have established a relationship with my school board, I always bring some of our old and outdated, discarded books, and pass them out as party favors at the conclusion of my presentation. My selection of the “best of the worst” always brings a laugh, while raising their awareness about why we weed the library and need a healthy budget for new books!
Of the list above, what’s something you could do this week to promote your school library? There is no time like the present to start building your personal advocacy toolkit! Start with the resources listed below, or browse this collection that I curated in Wakelet. Comment with any of your advocacy tips and tricks, or any advocacy actions you can share with our readership!
AASL’s Advocacy Toolkits–Don’t miss the Research and Statistics page, including the Working Together is Working Smarter infographic; and the Tools page, including the Strong School Libraries Build Strong Students infographic. There is much more to explore here!
Maine State Library’s School Library Value Calculator–An interactive calculator to determine the estimated out-of-pocket value of the services you provide in your school library.
“Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us” (Lance and Kachel, 2018)–Outlining research and impact studies, this comprehensive, current article is helpful to keep handy in your files, and to share with stakeholders, including your school and district leaders.
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).