We need to celebrate school libraries all year long.
School Library Month should not be the only time school libraries and school librarians are celebrated. School libraries and school librarians take center stage in April, but we should celebrate and acknowledge the vital work we do all year long.
Advocacy is important so we can break down misconceptions.
We know that the information being shared about school libraries and school librarians right now is not accurate. A false narrative fueled by hate and fear is being weaponized for political gain. But, even before this latest assault on school libraries, misconceptions abounded. Popular media still portrays school librarians as someone who is camped out behind a circulation desk waiting expectantly to check out a book or shush a student. Many of our community members still do not realize that certified school librarians hold teaching certificates and have also earned graduate degrees or certifications.
What we do each day is second nature for us, and it can feel odd to brag about simply doing your job. But, I would say it isn’t bragging, it’s advocating, if you are informing people about what they are not aware of. Providing access to information is, after all, sort of our thing. We need to celebrate the amazing work we do. We need to highlight the deficiencies and needs so they can be addressed. We are really good at doing our jobs well. But, nothing will change if our vital work is hidden and especially if others spread misinformation about what we do.
Do not rely on others to tell your story. Instead, encourage others to help tell your story.
If you don’t tell your story, chances are no one else will. We have amazing partners and collaborators in our school communities, but they may not realize how important it is for them to talk to others about the fabulous school library and school librarian they have. If we want accurate information about our school libraries to be part of the conversation, we need to provide that accurate information. No one knows the extent of what you do besides you. I guarantee that, not even your para or assistant if you are lucky enough to have one, knows everything you do to support your school community on any given day let alone the entire school year and beyond.
We need to encourage those other voices to help us get the word out. Us saying how wonderful we are is sometimes not as powerful as when it comes from students, teachers, administrators, or parents.
Advocacy is never ending.
No matter how long you have been in your school or district, there will always be someone new joining your team. Obviously we always have new students in our school communities that will need to know how their school library can support their academic and personal needs and interests. But, we have other new folks each year as well. New teachers, new administrators at the building and district level, new school board members, and new parents that should also learn about the school library.
We also know that we need to hear/see something more than once for it to become part of our long term memory. The people we serve have so many other things going on in their lives that the school library may not be at the forefront of their thinking. It’s ok if people we’ve worked with for years hear the same message multiple times, sometimes the fifth time’s the charm.
Advocacy is not a one and done thing. Victories now may not last forever. It is exhausting and disappointing, but we are never truly safe to step off of the school library soapbox. At least, we are not until every learner in every school is guaranteed an appropriately staffed and adequately funded school library.
Advocacy burnout is real.
Take care of yourself. The burnout from constantly having to justify your existence and correct false assumptions is real. I’ve been working for over a year with our state association to address misconceptions about staffing needs and problematic legislation. I get tired. I get worn down. I get frustrated. There are times I need to step away for a little bit to recharge my batteries, because I know this fight isn’t over and that we will continue to need our hearts and minds ready to address the next crisis.
If you are someone who is deeply involved in advocacy at your local or state level, remember to take care of yourself. It’s that old oxygen mask on first analogy. I’m not always great about this, so I need the reminder that you cannot help others if you don’t look after yourself as well. AND, if you are not or are not able to be involved, reach out and ask how you might be able to help OR let the folks who are leading the charge know that you appreciate the time they are putting in on behalf of you and all of your learners. Those messages are so very appreciated and help front line advocates keep going.
Connect with fellow school librarians. You are not alone.
One of the ways to mitigate advocacy burnout is to connect with others. If you are not a member of your state or national school librarian associations, I highly recommend joining. I am uplifted by the board members I have had the pleasure to serve with in my state. I have learned so much from them and from folks across the country who are serving on their state boards. These folks are typically volunteers who are also full-time school library professionals, so they understand the difficulties you are facing and are always so excited to share in celebrating your successes. Social media is also a great way to develop your own PLN. I’m always amazed by the friendships I have been able to develop with people across the country simply by following and connecting with them on Twitter. There are some fabulous humans out there who generously share their experiences, ideas, and questions with others. Not ready to directly connect? That’s ok. I low key lurked for a good year before diving into interacting regularly on Twitter.
If you need help or advice, reach out to your PLN. Ask for assistance. Chances are others would gratefully welcome the chance to connect with other school librarians since we are typically the only person with our job in our school or possibly even our district. Using the collective knowledge and experience of those around us makes us stronger as we truly are better together. But, it also just really nice to hear sometimes that we are not alone in our struggles.
Advocacy Lifts Us Up
Not only does advocacy put a spotlight on the incredibly important and vital work you do every single day to support every member of your school community, but it reminds us of the joyful parts of our job. It is easy to feel down or frustrated at times with everything happening in the world around us and in our own states or towns. I try to find one good thing every day that I can post that showcases my work and/or our profession as a sort of virtual gratitude journal to this profession that has given me so much. It lifts my spirits and gives me energy, courage, and the gumption to keep going.
A few ways to advocate. Ideas on how to share your story.
Share what you do with your staff, students, administrators, and parents.
Presentations at local or national professional learning events
Invite folks into your library
Talk to the people in your personal life
I asked teachers to share what they loved about the North Star Library as part of School Library Month. Then, I shared what they had to say!
(Pentland, Courtney. “Advocacy Begins at Home.” School Library Connection, July 2019. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/content/article/2187126.)
Author: Courtney Pentland
Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She has been elected to be the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary