How far does your reach extend beyond your school library? I know you’re likely thinking – I have enough of a challenge getting my reach to extend where it needs to within the school – but it’s something librarians have to consider. I wrote about this several years ago, and while there are new methods for outreach, the reason for it is the same – if you ignore your community, your community will ignore you. Here’s where leaders recognize opportunity and look for ways to show why libraries and librarians are indispensable.
For years, librarians did their jobs exclusively within their four walls. Elementary librarians usually had a fixed schedule (and most still do) with teachers dropping off and picking up their students at assigned times. At middle and high school levels they waited for teachers to approach them about bringing their classes in throughout the year to do research.
This pattern created a library program seemingly unconnected with the rest of the school which led to the widespread elimination of librarians as tight budgets forced tough decisions. Since few administrators knew what value the librarian and library program brought to students and staff, it was a “logical” place to cut. Although many librarians were developing inquiry-based projects in collaboration or collaboration with teachers, great numbers of them were also swept away in the carnage.
The good news is we are coming back. A combination of factors including advocacy initiatives from ALA/AASL, the concern over fake news, and a growing awareness that there is a place for librarians is reversing the trend. However, the change is happening slowly and there is always the danger of the pendulum going back if we don’t widen the base of our advocates to prevent that from happening.
A reminder about what advocacy means. It is not about you campaigning to keep your job and program. As defined by AASL, it is an “On-going process of building partnerships so that others will act for and with you, turning passive support into educated action for the library program.” And why do they support you? They support you because you consistently supply something of value to them. You and your program help them reach their goals.
You can see it clearly when you collaborate and cooperate with the teachers. Your assistance makes their jobs easier and their students more successful. That’s what teachers need, and you provide it. But other stakeholders have different needs you should be aware of.
For example, the public library has also been hit with cuts in staff and budgets. You are natural partners. Reach out to the children’s or young adult librarian and talk about how you can help each other. For example, September is Library Card Sign-Up Month. You can promote it on your website and in the library. At the beginning of the year, hand out and collect registration cards along with any promos the public library has created.
In return, have the public library publicize what is happening in your library. See if you can do a bulletin board every so often with pictures of the kids at work. Whether it’s Makerspaces or research, let the community know and see what goes on in school libraries. Maybe some of the students or teachers will join you to set up the bulletin board.
You can also “exchange” space on your websites. You can link to the public library’s site while they can link to yours. Include it in a paragraph that will pique the community’s interest in going to your website. This can be a place to use your Mission and/or Vision. Or you may want to say something like, “See how tomorrow’s citizens are preparing today.”
Consider going even bigger by inviting community groups into the library. Have the historical society do a display and use library resources to complement it. Do the same with the garden club and any group that may be able to do something in the library. They will appreciate having the additional forum to promote what they do for the community. You might have the local cable station or newspaper cover it, especially if this becomes something you do regularly. Of course, put links to the groups you feature on your website.
The biggest reach is to the business community. The Career counselor in my last school was a member of Rotary. My principal was in Kiwanis. Through them, and always with the permission of the administration, I was able to give a brief talk at one of their lunch meetings. Today, I would also be showing them my website and other online features. If you are in the high school, this is a great way to find out if these local businesses use interns. Working with the guidance department, you can promote the possibilities to your students, who are likely to let their parents know how they heard about it – thus reaching another group. It may even be possible to get some of these people help out in your Makerspace or other initiatives.
Think big. Think bigger than your school library. As you build relationships with the larger community, they will come to see how libraries have changed, what you bring to students and the school community and by extension the whole town (or neighborhood if you are in a more urban area). Remember, the community votes on school budgets. You want them to value the school library and support it.