What is advocacy? As the new Chair of MSLA (Massachusetts School Library Association), I have been asking myself how best to define it. Being a librarian and lover of language, poetry is always my first reference source of choice.
Not only does poetry open us to emotional depths, it also connects us to others. Both poets and advocates use persuasive speech to influence minds and hearts.
What poem, then, might serve to represent our work as advocates of strong school library programs and as caring educators committed to instilling in children and young adults a passion for inquiry and lifelong learning that will benefit our entire planet? Surely, the poem must speak in large and ambitious terms about what is possible.
Rilke’s “I Live My Life” comes to my mind as bold enough to encompass the broad scope of advocacy work in a way that is inclusive of the entire world and that even moves beyond it. After all, why not think big?
“I Live My Life”
I live my life in growing orbits,
which move out over the things of the world.
perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.
Rainer Maria Rilke
For our song to be heard, we are meant to live life widely. As school library advocates, then, we must move out beyond our local districts to collaborate, to garner support through organizational allies, and to promote our work and celebrate our collective song.
Strong school library media programs focus on partnerships, “turning passive support into educated action for the library program. It begins with a vision and a plan for the library program that is then matched to the agenda and priorities of stakeholders.” (AASL Advocacy Statement)
Advocacy is the term used to describe what it takes to influence policy changes, at any level. At the most basic level, it requires a combination of grassroots efforts as well as ongoing communication of data and research to lawmakers, organizational allies and the public.
In a nation of all too often shrinking budgets and shifting educational priorities, how do we train ourselves to be warriors of words and action in order to empower ourselves as professionals to fight the good fight and champion our cause?
First and foremost, we must believe in the impact of the work we do, share our success stories and collect, analyze and disseminate documentation and research, backing our impact through both professional literature and more informal means including social media.
Secondly, we must be highly visible, both in our local schools, wider districts, regional, state and national professional associations: teaching, collaborating, networking and presenting. This is no time to “sleep at the wheel.” There is much work to be done and we need to collectively mobilize forces to make our voices heard.
As an example of advocacy in action, members of NESLA (New England School Library Association) and NEISTE (New England International Society of Technology in Education) will be collaborating to discuss upcoming revisions to NEASC Standards and to hold conversations with those in the process of drafting revisions that may well impact school library program services.
Advocacy means staying visible at local, state and national levels by writing, presenting and networking as widely as possible, to use Rilke’s poetry, “moving out over the things of the world” in order to ensure that our school library song is collectively hummed by as many and as far across the air waves as possible.
Author: Cathy Collins
Ms. Collins has worked as a Media Specialist/Librarian for 14 years. She is currently a library media specialist at Sharon High School, where she has worked for the past four years. She began her career as a reporter who covered business, arts and education-related issues. While interviewing the headmaster at a private school, she realized that she wanted to combine her love of research and writing with a career in education. At that point, she returned to school for a Masters in Library Science and further graduate studies in educational leadership. Ms. Collins has published her writing in various journals including “Library Media Connection,” “NEA Today,” education-related blogs and websites including AASL’s “Knowledge Quest.” She is a 2012 Reynolds High School Journalism Institute Fellow and project consultant for the E-Book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Journalism in the Digital Age.” She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s Intellectual Freedom Award (2014) as well as a “Super Librarian” award bestowed by MSLA (Massachusetts School Library Association). She is a Massachusetts Library System Executive Board Member and has served on the MassCUE Board as PD Chair since 2013 along with the NEISTE Board. She earned National Board Certification as a Library/Media Teacher in 2009. In her spare time, she enjoys nature walks, reading, travel and yoga.