How to Cultivate Powerful School Library Advocates

Cultivating Allies

Too often, educators–and school librarians in particular–are reactive in advocacy, rather than proactive. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Developing relationships with those within school districts who have both initial recommendations and ultimate say about personnel and programs is not as difficult as you think. 

The answer is surprisingly simple: Forge those relationships before the decision-makers are empowered. 

One way to do this is to reach out to the students in educational administration programs. We also need to encourage future school board members, or even become those board members.

This is a “primer” I created for New Jersey that highlights some of the ways school librarians improve schools, with links to relevant research. Go ahead and borrow it! Replace the NJ-specific information with information relevant to your state or locale. But with whom should you share it? 

An Untapped Resource–“Baby” Administrators

As the above primer shows, there are dozens of ways that school libraries improve schools. Administrators should be packing their schools with certified school librarians. The problem is, they may not realize what they’re missing out on.

I earned both an M.Ed. and an Ed.D. in educational administration and supervision before embarking on my school librarian certification. I spent (far too many) years working on those first degrees. Throughout those years, none of my classes ever touched on the importance of school librarians and their programs. This despite all of the research that demonstrates the connections between strong school library programs and improved student outcomes. 

School administrators often become district administrators. And both have a say in what kinds of personnel and programs their schools offer. 

Educating these “baby” administrators might be as simple as reaching out to friends and contacts at local graduate education programs. Professors and students in school administration programs have a high interest in getting the most “bang” for the buck. They would love learning about the most cost-effective, highest return-on-investment position and program available to a school.

Building Boards

Another set of key players involved in supporting programs within districts: school boards. Often, board members are parents who want to make sure their children are getting the best possible education. And they are rarely formally educated in the process, procedures, or pedagogy of schools. Undoubtedly, if they were aware of the massive benefits strong school library programs bestow on students, they would find it difficult to justify a lack of such programs or personnel. 

Many engaged, involved parents and community members don’t run for office. But if you identify individuals who are sympathetic to school library issues, you could suggest that your local education association encourage those folks to throw their hat in the ring. 

Whether you recruit new talent or approach sitting members, educating your board about the power of a certified school librarian could help drum up critical support. The primer above can serve as a guide for the type of information your board may not realize. 

“Be the Change You Want to See”

Even better: Why not run for a school board position yourself? Even if you’re not running in the district where you work, you can still be a force for positive school library support! 

In the most recent elections in New Jersey, teacher librarian Elissa Malespina ran for and was elected to her local school board

Who can better make the case for the importance of certified school librarians than those very same school librarians? 

Whether you run for a position, encourage others to take up roles, or seek out ways to help educate neophytes, it is vital to help those in positions of power understand the importance of strong school library programs.

Further Reading

Morris, Rebecca J. School Libraries and Student Learning : A Guide for School Leaders. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard Education Press, 2015.

Tetreault, Steve. “Save School Libraries: Target Advocacy Efforts at Ed Admin Degree Programs.” Schoollibraryconnection.com, School Library Connection, Nov. 2020, schoollibraryconnection.com/Content/Article/2256475?terms=tetreault&topicCenterId=1945913. (View as PDF)

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Author: Steve Tetreault

Steve has been teaching for over 20 years, mostly middle school English Language Arts. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!



Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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2 replies

  1. Thank you for your post, Steve. I agree with your proactive stance and your strategies for enlisting advocates.

    Years ago, Ross Todd reminded school librarians that the very first step in advocacy is to lead a dynamic, effective school library program that results in positive outcomes for all library stakeholders.

    I believe we must all heed his words to the wise. Our exemplary work must precede any request we make for advocates. Students, colleagues, and decision-makers notice what we actually do more than they care about what we say we do.

    Truly,

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Judi! Without a doubt, being able to showcase the impact school librarians have on students and faculty is incredibly important, particularly of late. Dr. Todd’s reminders are ever-timely, as is your thought that a well-functioning school library program is its own best PR campaign.

    Hopefully, my post can also offer some ideas not only to those who currently have a school library program, but also to those in places that do not. Certified school librarians can be an incredibly cost-effective resource, although many budget-creators and decision makers may not realize it. Being able to marshal research and allies to support the implementation or reintroduction of school library programs benefits not only school librarians, but schools and districts.

    Hopefully, the educational landscape will soon include a clearly-stated mandate for school librarians in all schools. In the meantime, we can all do our part to help raise awareness!

    With thanks,

    -Steve

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