Finally, after years of struggle, ESSA was passed–and it includes school libraries! I was so excited and almost astounded that it really, really happened. I know it has been a long time coming, and so I was pumped to go to the session “Unpacking ESSA for the School Library” at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando.
The room was packed and the information was thorough. Title I, Title IV, dates when things were happening–it all left me spinning a little. Then I realized that knowing those specifics, in detail, wasn’t what was critical for me as a building-level librarian. Sure, I need to know enough about it to be able to respond to questions from administrators. I need to have that timeline on my calendar just to be aware that things are moving. But what I really need to know is what comes next.
What came next was the encouragement to build coalitions. One of the hardest parts about being a school librarian is that very few people outside our field really know what we do. Most of us work by ourselves in the school. If we are lucky, we have other librarians in our school system to rely on. If we are smart, we are a part of our state and national library associations. As a profession (making a broad general statement here) we are not braggarts. This may be a great thing, socially, but we need to begin to brag about what we do for students to anyone who will listen. It makes it easier to talk about our role if we talk about what our students have learned, rather than focusing on our part in it.
AASL President Leslie Preddy encouraged attendees to think about stakeholders from the school to the state level. This isn’t new, but it is hard to do. Message cards were handed out to help us develop a message about the different parts of ESSA. You can find this on the AASL website. What I need to do now is look at those messages and find specific stories that illustrate what I do that makes that a story, not a statement.
Here’s one example:
The message: School librarians and access to effective school library programs impact student achievement, digital literacy skills, and school climate/culture.
My message: Freshmen at my school learned how to analyze information today when I worked with the government class. We looked at the election, and they dug deep to get past the candidates’ sound bites. They figured out what each party’s platform and basic beliefs were. It was really exciting to see them figure this out!
This conversation might happen at a cocktail party if the election comes up as a topic of discussion. We have to be ready to talk to everyone about what we do for KIDS. And we have to brag a little about our role in their achievement. We know we are the ones who provide access to information and resources for all students in the school. We share everything and the school library is the most important place in the school because all students are equal. I worry about children in poverty who don’t have a school library with a school librarian and up-to-date resources supporting the curriculum and who don’t have access to a public library. Libraries make a difference and we have to be willing to tell that to everyone we meet.
The session ended with the presenters asking us to connect the dots. I know we can do it. Practice with those who you know are friendly to your work and then be ready to talk to administrators, board members, and legislators. This is the time to invite those people to your library. This is the time to send tweets and use Instagram to show what goes on in a 21st-century library. We can do this!