New Jersey is the first state in the nation to require K-12 instruction in information literacy. NJASL lobbied for the bill to specifically reference school librarians and the final version contains the following statement: “The school library media specialist shall be included in the development of curriculum concerning information literacy whenever possible” (Legiscan). The Information Literacy Standard bill (S588) was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy on January 4th, 2023.
S588 directs the New Jersey Department of Education to develop New Jersey Student Learning Standards in information literacy. Information literacy is defined as “a set of skills that enables an individual to recognize when information is needed and to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. Information literacy includes, but is not limited to, digital, visual, media, textual, and technological literacy.
The content of information literacy shall include, at a minimum:
(1) the research process and how information is created and produced;
(2) critical thinking and using information resources;
(3) research methods, including the difference between primary and secondary sources;
(4) the difference between facts, points of view, and opinions;
(5) accessing peer-reviewed print and digital library resources;
(6) the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information; and
(7) the ethical production of information” (LegiScan)
NJASL Lobbied and We Succeeded!
The passage of this bill was in the works for over five years. It was initially drafted by the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) after a joint survey was commissioned by NJLA and the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL). Responses to this survey confirmed that many districts had cut school librarian positions so a school librarian:student ratio bill was also drafted. During this time, NJASL hired a part-time legislative consultant, Mary Moyer-Stubbs, and eventually partnered with NJLA to form a task force of school, public, and academic librarians for bills introduced during the 2016-2017 legislative session. The NJLA/NJASL task force (July 2019-July 2020), composed of fourteen members who took on varying roles to promote legislation, wrote op-ed articles, supported websites that showcased our work, spoke at State Board of Education meetings in support of school libraries, and looked for avenues to reach more legislators to support the bills.
The bills were carried over to consecutive legislative sessions, but sponsorship was sparse and it was not bipartisan. With every new session, the slate would be cleared—the bill numbers would change and sponsors would have to be secured once again. There was no guarantee that sponsors from the previous session would continue to sponsor and if they were voted out of office sponsorship would be even more precarious. The bills were referred to the governing body’s education committees where they would languish.
Beth Thomas was installed as President in August of 2020 and she utilized EveryLibrary’s SaveSchoolLibrarians.org petitions to garner support for the two legislative bills. NJASL board members met with EveryLibrary and identified their values, vision, and mission as school librarians, and as stakeholders.
Early discussion focused on the ratio bill and the goal to ensure every student across the state had access to a certified school librarian. Yet, as discussions with stakeholders progressed, a significant barrier to support for the ratio bill became clear: it was considered an unfunded mandate. We were discouraged to learn securing stakeholder and legislator support for unfunded mandates is no easy feat.
Changing Course: Information Literacy (S588)
A few months into our work we were in the midst of the results of the 2020 presidential election, the fallout from COVID 19, and then the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. News reports and social media posts about all of these topics spread like wildfire and the amount of misinformation and disinformation being shared was unprecedented. Additionally, remote learning showcased the real need for information literacy instruction as students were delivered devices with little to no instruction. We recognized the immediacy in changing our focus from the ratio bill to the information literacy curriculum bill.
Building Our Advocacy Team: The Key Players
Knowing it takes a “village” to advance meaningful legislation, we set out to grow our team, enlisting additional expertise and support from industry experts across the state. Tricina Strong-Beebe, Advocacy Chair, developed an “Advocacy Team” which further amplified our mission and allowed tasks to be delegated, actionable and completed in a timely fashion.
Moyer-Stubbs reached out to the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and connected with NJEA’s Associate Director of Government Relations Fran Pfeffer (a former school librarian). NJASL worked to develop a strong partnership between the two organizations and took advantage of NJEA’s virtual training sessions on relevant topics in public education, including how to navigate policy and legislation.
NJASL decided to host legislators for virtual presentations during the summers of 2020 and 2021. The ability to meet with a large number of legislators at one time led to a successful outcome for NJASL as more connections meant more opportunities for sponsorship. Additionally, one large legislative meeting was easier for an organization composed primarily of volunteers to manage than many individual meetings.
Through these connections, NJASL recognized the need to create an informative “white paper” to have on hand for stakeholders and community members.
One meeting in particular was a “game-changer.” We shared our experience and our efforts with Politico reporter, Carly Sitrin who was also participating in the NJEA Zoom training session. Since that discussion, Ms. Sitrin has authored multiple articles on the challenges facing school libraries. In fact, it was a Zoom call with Ms. Sitrin that alerted us to Senator Testa’s introduction of the Senate version of the information literacy bill.
We were able to work with our Advocacy team and NJEA’s liaison, Angela Crockett Coxen, to “amp up” our message and publicize the work we do. NJEA’s PR team invited us to contribute articles for their monthly publication that reaches more than 200,000 members, The NJEA Review. Additionally, Coxen was able to connect our team with NJEA to film commercials and social media segments to celebrate New Jersey’s school librarians in 2019. NJASL expressed our appreciation of NJEA’s support by submitting an AASL commendation in 2020.
NJEA has continued to help NJASL shine a light on many different areas of concern: school library legislation, job cuts, and censorship attempts. NJASL continues to work with NJEA as some of our (NJASL) members have joined NJEA advocacy committees, such as the Center for Honesty in Education group that aims to combat disinformation and focuses on protecting public education. Members presented testimony at their Delegate Assembly meetings and this testimony has resulted in a social media campaign to support the need for certified school librarians and statements about book banning. Additionally, NJASL members have been invited to present at the NJEA Convention and NJEA’s current president, Sean Spiller, has since addressed members at the last two NJASL conferences in Atlantic City.
Moving Toward a Statewide Standard: Clarifying Our Focus
With NJEA’s guidance, we asked the prime sponsors to amend the original bill from an information literacy curriculum to an information literacy standard. The state of New Jersey does not set curriculum, it sets education standards. This seemingly small adjustment was the catalyst for significant progress. After this amendment, we secured support from prominent stakeholder groups such as the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the Garden State Coalition of Schools, and Save Our Schools.
Legislative outreach was integral in getting S588 to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk. Our next blog post will highlight the steps NJASL took to engage legislators and stakeholders.
Author: Beth Thomas & Tricina Strong-Beebe
Beth Thomas is a School Library Media Specialist at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School in Summit, NJ. She is a Past President of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians and is a member of the Advocacy Committee. Beth also serves on the AASL Practice Committee.
Tricina Strong-Beebe is a School Library Media Specialist at Hainesport Township Elementary School in Burlington County, New Jersey. Strong-Beebe has been working in the role of Advocacy Chair for New Jersey Association of School Librarians since 2018. Strong-Beebe is a member of NJASL’s EDI committee.
This is a great example of school librarians working together, organizing and activating other stakeholders across both the library and educational world, and leveraging political savvy and power to realize a beneficial outcome. I think the biggest takeaway for other states, beyond the obvious of school librarians engaging in great work, is the importance of making school library issues both library (NJLA) and education (NJEA) issues so that we can speak from a broader stance and with the greatly increased leverage that NEA/AFT can bring! Your state organizing, and our national organizing around issues like the Right to Read act, need to include our educational partners.