Having been a lifelong reader and library user, I had all sorts of assumptions about school libraries in general. First, I thought that stakeholders would instinctively know the value of an effective school library. Secondly, I had always been under the impression that school libraries in general were adequately funded and that budgets were never in question. Third, I never thought I would see the day that school libraries would be considered dispensable. Boy, was I wrong.
Recently, I have learned about some alarming trends in school libraries in my state and across the nation:
- In a neighboring county to mine, not only were a number of school librarian positions cut, but one school closed the dedicated school library space and moved shelves into the corner of the cafeteria so students can check out books during lunch. (Shinn, 2018)
- I recently visited another neighboring county that had 5 school libraries, and only 1 staffed by a credentialed school librarian. The other 4 were staffed with technology facilitators.
- Up until the late nineties, the state of California used to allot $28 per student per year for school libraries. Since then, the budgets have dried up and less than 10% of public schools that still have a dedicated space for a school library employ a credentialed school librarian. (MacMillan)
- According to Forbes magazine, U.S. schools have lost nearly 20% of their school librarians since the year 2000. (Rowe, 2018)
What has happened in the situations above is that the decision makers did not inherently see the value of school libraries, so they were able to systematically defund and/or deconstruct these programs in such a way that school libraries in these areas will eventually cease to exist. The articles and situations above aren’t isolated. In fact, school libraries are in peril in districts all across this nation.
Does this shock you? Well, it should. I don’t mean to spread doom and gloom, but the time to advocate for your school library is now….and tomorrow, and the next day, and so on. No one knows your school library better than you, so you are the perfect person to tell your story. If you don’t advocate for your program, chances are no one else will.
But don’t despair. There are tons of great ways to advocate for your school library such as elevator speeches, monthly or annual reports, or sharing on social media. But for a more comprehensive approach to school library advocacy, check out ALA’s Frontline Advocacy for School Libraries Toolkit. In this toolkit, you will find a number of guides, PDFs, and planning tools to help mobilize your efforts. One of the tools in this toolkit that I found quite helpful was a list of 10 action steps that is easy to follow that is summarized here:
- Involve – Form an advocacy team to help you develop an action plan.
- Teach – Teach your team how to easily and effectively deliver a simple, compelling, and convincing message. Learn about elevator speeches here.
- Inform – Use your creativity to design bookmarks, stickers, cards, and other items to share your school library message.
- Illustrate – Design a badge or button for stakeholders to wear that shares your message. Create social media banners and/or screensavers that highlight your school library.
- Encourage – Challenge staff and stakeholders to share your message.
- Enlist – Get staff and stakeholders to help nurture relationships with community partners, district administrators, and other schools.
- Listen – Encourage stakeholders to share their stories. Use these stories to communicate to decision makers at strategic times.
- Brainstorm – Constantly brainstorm new ways to offer innovative programming. Be positive and offer solutions to problems. Finally, be creative with funding and spending.
- Welcome – Is your school library a space that is clean, uncluttered, welcoming, and helpful? See how to freshen up your library on a budget here.
- Thank, thank, thank! – Acknowledge those that help you….over and over again. Showing appreciation helps motivate your stakeholders to continue sharing your message.
Finally, advocacy isn’t just a one time thing…it’s an ongoing process. Students, teachers, and admins are constantly changing, therefore it’s important to stay positive and share your message so everyone knows how important and indispensable school libraries are.
Do you have other ideas for advocacy? If so, share in the comments below.
MacMillan, Kate. “Revisiting Collection Development in a Digital Age.” Knowledge Quest, 9 Nov. 2018, knowledgequest.aasl.org/revisiting-collection-development-in-a-digital-age/.
Post Letters Email the author Published 12:00 am Monday, May 14, 2018. “Letter: Save Our School Libraries.” Salisbury Post, 14 May 2018, m.salisburypost.com/2018/05/14/letter-save-our-school-libraries/.
Rowe, Adam. “U.S. Public Schools Have Lost Nearly 20% Of Their Librarians Since 2000.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 23 May 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/adamrowe1/2018/05/21/u-s-public-schools-have-lost-20-of-their-librarians-since-2000/?fbclid=IwAR2gSOEzfEK9cWAIQMblPPnijY7Rr9SqPJ9tYfAZaBl5nm42wuIEVT6RJg8#1c7d30315ce5.
“Frontline Advocacy for School Libraries Toolkit”, American Library Association, August 26, 2018. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/frontline-advocacy-school-libraries-toolkit (accessed November 20, 2018) Document ID: cbdc3513-a478-4785-aabd-2988760034c6
Author: Sedley Abercrombie
Sedley Abercrombie is the current past president for the North Carolina School Library Media Association. She is also the lead library media coordinator for 32 school libraries in Davidson County, NC as well as an adjunct instructor at East Carolina University.