I was recently at the School Library Journal’s Leadership Summit 2019. I was very excited to check out the many amazing learning opportunities over the course of a weekend. As the weekend
rolled along, I was surprised to realize that there were a few themes that seemed to emerge, organically and repeatedly, across all of the events and speakers. One of the primary themes was the overwhelming importance of advocacy. Although I’ve written about the importance of advocating for ourselves before, it’s still an important need.
Most school librarians I know–and, in fact, most human beings I know–avoid advocacy. Most of my colleagues are content to sit back and let someone else take the reins. For years, things have turned out well enough under this strategy. But education is changing. And school libraries, in particular, are facing a literally existential threat across the nation. Roughly 15% of the total number of school librarian positions in the U.S. were eliminated between 2009 and 2016 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The “sit back and hope for the best” strategy is failing. It’s (past) time for school librarians to step up if there is any hope of having school librarians in the future.
Insight from Superintendents
While at the SLJ Summit, a panel of school library-sympathetic superintendents shared their thoughts in a moderated discussion. Toward the end, the panel was asked how school librarians can best promote their thoughts and concerns about their programs. Here are some of the suggestions they shared:
- Engage with administrators and superintendents about the importance and value of school library positions and spaces. Provide proof.
- Package your advocacy to highlight the relevance and real outcomes of a school library’s programs.
- Emphasize that libraries are a long-term investment. They may not show immediate results, but they are incredibly important results!
- Ask to be involved in school and district planning sessions.
- Know your school and district goals. When promoting or pitching your programs and positions to decision makers, frame them in terms that support those goals.
- Educate your school board about the importance of school library positions and spaces. Help them see the value of what you do for students, staff, and administrators.
- Apply to speak at administrator conferences. If the people running the show don’t know how important you are, they can’t justify keeping you around. Ask your administrators–especially superintendents–to bring you to their conferences.
- Unite with special education groups, who often need more and better literacy support.
- Engage with state departments of education.
- Be in regular contact with local legislators, who often legislate educational issues without educator input. Bring those local legislators into your school. Tell them your story. Make it an event–legislators love to be photographed at events!
Not Easy, But Vital
Most people run from, not toward, difficult situations. It’s a natural and understandable instinct. But humans haven’t gotten where they are today by simply relying on instinct. School librarians need to use our intellect. We must face facts. If we don’t take proactive steps to repel these threats to school librarianship, they will continue and grow worse.
Advocating for things we believe in can be incredibly uncomfortable. This is especially true if we’ve never done something of this sort before. We’re human beings. We HATE doing things that make us uncomfortable. Believe me, I know. But as author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo put it in a Nerdy Book Club post, “There is a negative connotation often associated with the idea of being uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable is not necessarily a bad thing. Rarely, do we grow from a place of comfort.”
If we don’t step up, step out, and take steps, we may be ensuring our own demise. Look to teenager Greta Thunberg as inspiration. She harnessed her outrage about the lack of action on climate change to speak before the U.N. If she can do that, you can speak up to promote and preserve an important educational resource–you!
Charlton-Trujillo, e.E. 2019. “The Art of Being Uncomfortable and Still Inspiring Hope in YA & Middle Grade Lit by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo.” Nerdy Book Club (Mar. 14). nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2019/03/14/the-art-of-being-uncomfortable-and-still-inspiring-hope-in-ya-middle-grade-lit-by-e-e-charlton-trujillo/ (accessed Sept. 24, 2019).
Golden, Hallie. 2019. “Whither the School Librarian?” CityLab (Sept. 4). www.citylab.com/life/2019/09/school-libraries-books-literacy-librarian-jobs-education/597316/ (accessed Sept. 24, 2019).
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!