Underappreciated and Vulnerable
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” This line from the 1976 movie Network is spoken by a character who is losing his sanity. And yet, it is a line that continues to resonate. Indeed, I find it resonating within me to an ever-greater degree.
I’m mad as hell that the profession is not recognized for the school-changing work it performs. I’m mad as hell that so few of those with control over the purse strings recognize the importance of school libraries for students.
School libraries support EVERY aspect of education. They provide students, teachers, and administrators with valuable resources and materials. They provide information and support for every program, curricula, and interest.
School librarians are some of the only educators currently being specifically trained to deal with information literacy. In the digital age, this may be the single most important set of skills students will need.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. It may feel like the wrong time to bring attention to what some might say is a trivial problem in the face of so many issues. But we are at an important point in education. COVID-19 is going to have far-reaching economic effects. We know that school libraries tend to be the first programs cut when money gets tight. And school libraries have the potential to help deal with the institutional racism and lack of information literacy that plague many of our schools, and certainly our society.
None of us are alone. School librarians are a vast and clever community. And we touch the lives of so many. If we each take some action, we can achieve great things.
Get up, stand up!
This is not the first time I’ve written about the importance of school librarian advocacy. Or the second. It’s not even the third. And it probably won’t be the last. But it’s imperative that we all keep raising the call and rising to the task. If you haven’t yet, maybe it’s time to get outside your comfort zone. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” It is long past time for all of us to raise our voices and boost each others’ signals. It’s time to make everyone aware of the profound impact school libraries have on schools. It’s time to get engaged and involved.
Be an advocate for your program
Make people aware of how you are improving the school and the students’ experiences. What’s a program you recently completed? Have you shared pictures of your latest book display? What kind of positive feedback have students and teachers left for you? What are some recent titles that are flying off the shelves? Some pictures and some social media posts can elevate the community’s understanding of what you’re doing.
In this way you become an example for what school libraries can do. You also make it harder for someone to cut your program!
Raise the profile of school librarians
Once you’re discussing how great you are, share the love. Find those folks you think are doing a great job, and let others know! Share what they’re doing that has you so jazzed. Let the administrators, teachers, and parents in your school hear about how you got that great idea from a colleague. Go on your favorite form of social media and direct your friends and followers to those folks who you think are setting a good example for what school librarianship should be.
I LOVE to share the great ideas and efforts of school librarians on Twitter. There are so many amazing practitioners who regularly post there. Best of all is when I can help someone new to education connect with one of those all-stars!
This builds and enhances the school librarian community. It also raises the general public’s level of knowledge about what school librarians do, and how well they do it.
There are many, many ways you can do something to help school libraries. Maybe that means joining your local or state associations for school librarians, librarians, and/or educators. If you’re a member, maybe it’s time to take an active role. My state associations have dozens of positions and committees–there’s something to suit every interest. Personally, I have become a member at large for my state school library organization and have joined a task force, in addition to taking an active support role for several conferences and EdCamps. I also am an active participant in the editorial committee of my state education association.
Maybe you’d prefer to call or send letters to state education organizations or legislators. Getting the message to those who make the decisions–and repeating that message until it sinks in–can be a powerful way to engage. It can also be a very low-conflict interaction, if you’re not ready to barbarically yawp just yet.
Maybe you want to talk to people in your community, or beyond it. I’m pretty introverted, but I know plenty of school librarians who are social butterflies. If that’s you, utilize your skill! Talk to the parents and people in your town. Have your say at school board and town committee meetings. While you can be aggressive about it, even sharing the amazing work students are doing with your assistance makes people aware that the school librarian is not a “throw-away” position. That kind of message spreads.
Find the way that works for you. Be part of the solution!
Author: Steve Tetreault
Steve has been teaching middle school English for 20 years, has several degrees in education, and recently finished his last semester as a school library media specialist student. He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!