Many of you are uncertain about advocacy, feeling you don’t have the time and/or it’s too big a job. But doing it in a grass roots way – person-to-person – is quick, easy, and you get better the more you do it. Advocacy is a responsibility of all of us. You don’t have to do it every day, but you do need to get it into the habit. The future of our students is at stake.
Administrators and many teachers often don’t realize what you do; the general public is even more clueless. You can begin to educate them.
Start with your friends. Do they know what you do? Yes, they are aware you are a school librarian, but do they have any idea what your job entails? Make a point of sharing a story about a student (not giving names) and how you made a difference for the child that day. Or a project in which minds were stretched, curiosity nurtured, and a more sophisticated approach to searching online was learned.
- Always be positive. Focus on what is great about your job and why you love it. If you mention job cuts discuss how that will impact students, not you.
- Don’t go on and on about your job. One story at a time is sufficient. You want to plant a seed and help it grow, not inundate and bore your listener.
- Do include the public library in your conversations. I was recently talking with a friend from another state and mentioned how all libraries are being affected by budget cuts. I pointed out the services the public library provided from free internet to help with finding jobs. My friend was stunned. She had no idea, and shared that her boyfriend was out of work and becoming frustrated. Now, she is sending him to the public library. The two of them are likely to become strong library advocates.
And then there’s your elevator speech. Always be prepared for a quick library promotion. I usually focus mine on school libraries. Someone mentions local budget cutbacks and I say something like, “The cost to students has been drastic and it is will have a negative impact on their success on high stakes tests as well as their readiness for college and careers.” With that bold statement, I usually get their attention and follow it up with, “Countless research studies have shown the relationship between student achievement and a school library with a certified school librarian.” These days I close with, “Eliminating a classroom teacher is bad enough since it increases class size, but getting rid of a librarian eliminates the entire library program.” When I still worked in a school I would also invite the person to come in and see a school library program in action.
One more way to build grassroots advocacy is by going to District Dispatch from ALA’s Washington Office. Sign up for their Legislative Alerts so you are aware of any pending legislation which will affect school and/or public libraries. You will be able to quickly contact your legislators to ask them to support important acts. It takes under a minute to complete. Your state association’s legislative chair will also send out messages about it on your association’s listserv. If you have parents or friends who have become library supporters, give them the link for when you want them to reach out to legislators. Legislators listen very closely to people who are not in the profession as they logically see us as having a vested (read: biased) interest.
One-on-one advocacy can be the most impactful, particularly if a relationship already exists between you and the other person, but even with a stranger it’s a great way to get the message out about libraries.