Get the Word Out!
“They won’t know what you’re doing unless you make sure they know. And if you don’t, your job will eventually end up on the chopping block and no one will know why you’re worth fighting for.”
I was still in library school when one of my school librarian heroes, the late, great Marty Weaver (Lincolnville Central School, ME), shared this wisdom with me. Typical of Marty, this truth was delivered with passion and intensity, but not harshly. I took her words to heart, but it also seemed like common sense, particularly since I was employed at the time in a public library that worked hard to tell its story to the community. My library director generated monthly and annual town reports based on usage statistics (library usage, program attendance, circulation, etc.), and promoted events and programming via press releases in our local newspapers; library staff contributed to the monthly newsletter, designed displays in the library, and more. At the public library, nothing was taken for granted, and we knew the importance of connecting with our community; it could mean the difference of our library budget being passed or rejected.
Ummm… Five Schools, Four Administrators?
My first job as a school librarian was as the district elementary librarian for five schools. I only saw three of my smaller schools for a half day per week, and I had four administrators. I was not yet connected to a larger community of librarians (in Maine and beyond), and was so overwhelmed trying to wrap my mind around this new position that I barely even connected with the other librarians in my district.
But when the dust settled, I remembered Marty’s words. And they seemed to have even more significance in a role where I wasn’t even physically present in my libraries every day. How would my administrators know what was happening in their school libraries? I’d have to tell them. Fresh out of library school at San Jose State University, I was fortunate to have taken “Marketing of Information Products and Services.” This class covered marketing basics as applied to library settings (not specific to schools), but there was little mention of how library reports can be used as a tool for advocacy, to help get the word out. When I presented narrative, quarterly reports to my administrators, they were surprised but grateful. This was not something they had even known to ask me for.
According to the AASL Advocacy Toolkit (February 2018), advocacy is defined as an “ongoing process of building partnerships so that others will act for and with you, turning passive support into educated action for the library program.” This is just a fancier way of echoing the sentiment Marty expressed to me, but the message is the same.
“Library Reports: Your Secret Weapon!”
Flash forward to the 2018 Fall Forum at MASL (Maine Association of School Libraries), to a session called “Library Reports: Your Secret Weapon!” The session was facilitated by Cathy Potter, librarian at Falmouth (ME) Middle School, and the room was overflowing. Potter made the case for the importance of reports and how reports can tell the story of our busy libraries to staff, parents, community members, and taxpayers. Not only that, but these reports must be beautiful and visual; in our increasingly visual world, the way that information is presented matters (examples of creation tools are linked in the session notes). Author visits, events, classes taught, circulation, community events, and more (example: September 2016 Stats) give our communities a peek inside our library walls. Potter goes one step further in the Annual Library Report that she presents to administrators (building and district) by including her professional contributions and goals (example: Library Annual Report 2015-2016).
After Potter’s session, I was re-inspired and excited to make my library reports an informative thing of beauty! This coincided with the monthly reminder to submit something to our school newsletter — perfect timing. I already know and love the app Canva, which has a clean, modern look and many free templates, and found an infographic template to work with. I reflected on the highlights of the first quarter and what I wanted to focus readers’ attention on. Since our newsletter is mostly photos and text, I knew that a bold and colorful design would stand out. I also featured this report on the circulation desk in the Camden Hills Regional High School Library for students and staff to see. From there, I was hooked on visual reporting, and created a midyear report in a similar fashion.
Typically I do not receive any feedback about my contributions to the newsletter, so the fact that I received positive remarks about the visual reports from a building administrator, our superintendent, and a couple of parents, actually means a lot. With almost 400 followers on our CHRHS Library social media accounts (Instagram and Facebook), I plan to share my next visual report to those platforms as well for a broader impact.
Do you generate library reports? Who is your primary audience? What information do you include? How do your library reports help you “tell your library’s story?”
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).