Advocating for the Library You Want to Become

Three years ago I enrolled in the University of Toronto’s Library Advocacy Unshushed MOOC. The online course description was a simple premise or perhaps a call to arms of “How can we strengthen libraries and librarians in the advancement of knowledge, creativity, and literacy in the 21st century? Though libraries have been loved for over 3,600 years, their relevance in the digital age is being questioned, and their economic and social impacts are poorly understood. What is really essential about libraries and librarians, today and tomorrow?” School and public librarians deal with these over-riding questions every day. When magazine articles like the recent one suggesting that Amazon stores replace libraries come out, we all cringe. We know how important we are to our shared communities, but somehow our voices are not heard

The Great Recession brought devastating budget cuts that affected classroom and library funding. During this last year, classroom teacher strikes have spread across the country, demanding better pay and pupil spending. But somehow our collective library voice has rarely been heard. Those of us who have been on the front lines of California’s lengthy educational funding battles can easily identify and sympathize. And like the striking teachers, we understand the importance of advocacy. Advocacy has become a daily part of our jobs and a very important part. We know we have to constantly tell our story, but sometimes, it seems as though we have become the proverbial broken record falling on deaf ears.

The six-week course Library Unshushed rejuvenated me.  It gave me new twists on my existing advocacy tools and confirmed that I had been doing a credible job… even though at times with a discouraged attitude. The videos, discussions, and posts were interesting and thought-provoking. Some will always stand out as more than memorable. Talks from Arch Lustburg, Ken Haycock, Wendy Newman, and Joseph Janes made me re-examine my attitudes and goals. I still remember Arch Lustburg reminding us to keep the message simple… like my first supervisor who believed in the KISS model.

Ken Haycock’s comments on the importance of relationships defining advocacy struck an immediate chord. I have always known that without established relationships, I would have been another face asking for funding in an environment of limited resources. When Wendy Newman so aptly pointed out that requesting increased staffing in this type of environment may not be the best choice, I knew instinctively that she was right. Their comments on advocacy in a resource-limited environment made me look closely at annual budgets. I finally realized that understanding the LCAP (Local Control Authority Plan) was worthwhile. Even though budgeting and accounting is not something I enjoy, I mastered the district’s zero-based budgeting model…and it became an excellent tool to prioritize library needs and projections.

Of all the guest speakers, Joseph Janes made me feel like jumping up and pumping my fist into the air. His simple statement to advocate “for the library you are and the one you want to become” immediately resonated with me. It is such a powerful statement and one that strips advocacy down to its core principles. Using his motto, we need to remember to engage administrations and school boards by advocating for libraries that can be, ought to be, could be, and should be the very best. Using these techniques, advocacy will fit into the vision for the entire school district, and, once in that vision, advocacy becomes easier and easier. After three years, my proposed district library budget made it into the LCAP and in a big way. In a way it’s like winning the lottery, but with a great deal of advocacy and hard work behind it! I just wish that there would be a Library Advocacy Unshushed: Part II. Hopefully the University of Toronto will hear this!


Author: Kate MacMillan

18 years as Coordinator of Library Services for Napa Valley USD and Napa Valley School Library Consortium; 2010-current CDE Recommended Literature Committee member; 8 years as an outside library consultant for Follett Library Resources; 6 years as a Napa County Library Commissioner; Current member of California Dept of Education’s Literature Committee; Napa TV Public Access board member; ALA, AASL, CLA (Californiia Library Association), CSLA (California School Library Association) and CUE (Computer Using Educators). Conference presentations include: United We Stand; School and Public Libraries Working Together (CLA 2016, CSLA 2017), It’s Not Your Mother’s Library 2012 and 2013 (CUE); Enhancing Online Resources through Library Partnerships (CUE 2010); Implementing School Library Consortium (CSLA 2008); Athletes as Readers and Leaders (2008 Association of American Publishers & CSLA Project). Contributor to School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come!

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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1 reply

  1. Thank you for spotlighting this PD experience, Kate. I participated in the “Library Advocacy Unshushed MOOC” in spring 2015. I had so many take-aways that have influenced my advocacy work since that time.

    The “Partnerships and Coalitions” week was especially powerful for me. These were two of the concepts that hit home for me.

    Partnerships: “One of the biggest benefits for the library’s advocacy is that partner organizations get to know the library better and understand the impact and the potential of libraries and librarians.”

    Coalitions: “Libraries also advocate for their communities through coalitions. In fact, we need coalitions because we are such a small community on our own – think of issues such as copyright, or intellectual /freedom. If we work as part of a coalition, we will be able to punch above our weight.”

    Yes, University of Toronto! Librarians, and school librarians in particular, are ready for Part II!

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