Why do we need librarians if students have access to the Internet and their phones? I find my first answer to this question includes the dubious term fake news. Dubious because fake news is rare; biased or misleading news is where the problems are for today’s inundated readers. But fake news is catchy, the kind of buzzword people know with an instant “a-ha” moment of recognition to employ another overused term–sorry! The response I get when I note the role school librarians play in teaching students to determine real from fake news is: “Yeah, kids today need to know how to spot what’s fake,” as if that sums up the work we do. I want to shout out all the beautiful and vital things school librarians accomplish: giving students a safe, third place for creativity and collaboration; matching the right book with the right kid; developing robust problem solvers and savvy critical thinkers; and offering vital programs and events around college readiness, literacy, and leadership. In addition, we offer leadership opportunities for students such as student councils. No, not the student councils of movies galore and memories of elections and bad speeches; student councils as in student advisory councils to give them a voice and role in public policies affecting their daily lives.
Borough Student Advisory Councils
The New York City School Library System (NYCSLS) partnered with the Coro New York Leadership Center this summer. The Coro New York Leadership Center is the “premier leadership training organization that delivers the skills, knowledge, and network to lead change.” Their Youth Leadership Academy sponsors Borough Student Advisory Councils (BSAC). Any student interested in making an impact on educational and public policy, working closely with adults in their school, and developing “the skills to engage their peers and other community members in decision-making processes” is free to join. NYCSLS plans to partner with Coro to present the BSAC program to interested school librarians at the citywide 2018 Fall Conference and our Campus Librarian Network, a professional group of secondary librarians who work in buildings that serve multiple schools. Student advisory councils are a natural way for librarians to work with students from multiple grades, schools, and backgrounds. The impact of the work is clear as the surveys from the Youth Leadership Academy indicate:
- 87% of participants feel strong in their ability to build relationships with adults.
- 90% of participants felt they are strongly able to identify inequities in the community, and 81% felt they are strong in coming up with ideas and solutions to advance equity.
Student Councils for the Twenty-First Century
“I want everyone to know about the magic of libraries,” a new school librarian said to me this summer. He is an educator with 20+ years in the classroom and as a literacy director, but he always felt the library was the place of student self-discovery and exploration. So how do we get people to know this? We have to show and tell. Then show and tell again. Education — especially in a ginormous district like New York City with its 1.1 million students — is a place of constant turnover and movement. Educators come and go. Schools come and go. Our commitment to students does not. Student advisory councils present a programming opportunity for us to collaborate with teachers to mentor students in building their networking, public speaking, problem-solving, and research skills. Events like college fairs and SAT/ACT prep are essential but one-shot programs. Student advisory councils allow us to work one-on-one with educators and students on a sustained project with real-world implications and power. Students acquire the skills and relationships to make a difference in their professional and personal lives. They form a bond with the library as a place to master and apply their critical thinking skills as they research government documents, primary sources, and databases to design solutions to the policy issue they take on. In turn, we create partnerships with teachers and community-based organizations to develop additional projects, events, and funding opportunities.
The Role of Social Media
Best of all, we can work with social media student devotees to showcase what we do to create lasting change. Present at conferences, write for publications and join professional organizations to spread the work. Partner with institutions, network with the politicians and high-powered educators to spread the message and document our impact. Most of all, start small. Talk to that one teacher or community partner by mentioning how would they like to work with students through an advisory council and wouldn’t they love to be a part of a fun, hands-on experiential learning project?
Don’t we all?
 “YOUTH LEADERSHIP ACADEMY • Coro New York.” Coro New York, Coro New York, coronewyork.org/coro-programs/youth-leadership-academy/.