Every week, it seems, we hear about another school administrator or School Board making decisions about the staffing of their school libraries. Librarians have been on the radar of those decisions for far too many years. California, the bottom of the national heap in terms of strong school library staffing, has been without credentialed librarians in most of their schools for 30+ years. That means that generations of students have grown up without the presence of librarians – and the instruction, administration, and programming we give. This then translates to Administrators and other decision makers who do not necessarily understand the role a dynamic credentialed librarian can play in schools. While most Administrators do not want to cut these positions, and many decry the action, it’s still happening far too rapidly.
We understand that budgets are tight. Deciding how to frame the way money is spent in a school is a huge part of how the school and community perceive how to build school climate, deliver instruction, provide learning experiences, and create community for all our students and their families. School libraries are a huge part of that climate, instruction, and programming. Advocacy takes many forms, from those actions that we take every day, such as those Cathy Collins speaks of in her blog post, to working with others to create advocacy actions.
School librarian advocacy has had its ups and downs, wins and losses. I’ve been on the high and low end of all of these events within my own professional life and yet still believe that we can – and must – continue to advocate and re-shape the story so that fully staffed libraries begin to take their rightful place front and center in our schools.
But why does it seem that there is little success? Why is school library staffing being reduced all over the nation…and far too many school library doors being closed? Three things I have learned about advocacy in my years as a school library advocate:
- Advocacy is relentless
- Advocacy requires time
- Advocacy requires allies
Very few of us are willing to spend the long hours and relentless requirements to stay on top of the many actions that must be taken, and sustaining that energy is tiring over the long haul. This is why it’s important to join in with others so that the voices can be heard from many places and over time, and why it’s important to respond to the call when actions need to be taken.
ALA and AASL have advocacy programs and an incredible Washington Office where librarian advocates promote legislation and get the word out to allies and potential allies to speak with us on these important issues. But they cannot do it alone, just as we, in our individual libraries cannot do it alone. There have been many times where we in the field took up the challenge and telephoned, emailed, texted, tweeted and visited legislators and school boards…overwhelming them with messages when it was needed most. But these actions are only the beginning. It is important to continue going back and following up with the folks who need to know about us the most – those decision makers in our schools, communities, and legislature. National political actions come along only occasionally. Our local district actions are made far more often, which is why those everyday advocacy actions that Cathy Collins suggests are so important – working within [our own administrators, our own district] as well as building relationships with folks outside of our own world: presenting to others at their conferences: tech folks, Social Studies, Math, English, parents, and…well, everyone.
Successful campaigns [think: “save the whales,” any advertisement, successful memes such as the peace sign, fair trade, living wage, green jobs (Reinsborough, p.34)] require all three of the things noted above. They do take time, but over time they begin to take on a life of their own as others embrace the campaign and join in. When we embrace them and spread the word, then we can begin the dialog that leads toward good teaching and learning.
Strong school libraries build strong students. We know this, the research supports it, and now we have to make sure that our parents, administrators, school board members, and legislators know it, understand it, and become willing to support it with their votes and their funding.
Relentless action, over time, building allies. This is how we can advocate for our students.
These are excellent handbooks for community action:
1. Reinsborough, Patrick and Doyle Canning. Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-Based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010. Print.
2. Schuckett, Sandy. You Have the Power: Becoming a Successful Political Advocate
for School Libraries. Worthington, Ohio: Linworth, 2004. Print.
3. Vance, Stephanie D. The Influence Game: 50 Insider Tactics from the Washington,
D.C. Lobbying World That Will Get You to Yes. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2012. Print.
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!