ON LIBRARIES – Community Outreach

So you’ve have been working hard to be a leader in your building.  The teachers have come to rely on you and, hopefully, you have made your administrator aware of what you have been doing to improve student achievement, guiding them to being critical thinkers and lifelong learners. That is wonderful!

And it’s not enough.

Budget shortfalls can have a devastating effect. You need community support behind you and your library program.  The time to begin is now, not when the crisis hits. Remember, advocacy is not about you advocating for your program. It’s about getting others to advocate for it.  To recognize your value and that of your program.

You need to reach an audience beyond your school to build advocates who have discovered what a school library program means to students, teachers, and the community as a whole. Remember, in many places the whole town votes on the budget.  Some won’t want to support your program, particularly if they don’t have children in the schools. In addition, when most people think of school libraries, they picture the one they had when they were in school.  To their mind, it seems rather dated.  What can you do to change the picture – change the story about school libraries they have in their head?

Slowly become a presence in your community.  Start with the public library.  You can build a collaborative/cooperative program with them. See if they will allow you to showcase student learning happening in your library. Display student-produced work. You can return the support by posting information about the public library in your school showing the students how this additional resource can help them.

Next, consider the many groups in your town.  Is there a Historical Society? A garden club?  Perhaps they would like to do a display in your library – and you can augment it with material from your collection.  Get your local news outlet – newspaper or cable – to cover it.

Are there local businesses who might be able to contribute to your Makerspaces?  Either supplies or leading a session or both?  If you are in a high school, could they do a special program talking about what they want from interns or employees? Consider holding the event in the evening so that parents can come as well.

Just don’t tackle everything at once.  That will overwhelm you which leads to giving up, and you don’t want that. Have a goal then consider slow steps to achieve it.  To help you be more successful in your community outreach, ALA has to the School Library Health and Wellness Toolkit.  After an excellent explanation of advocacy and how it must be approached, it provides a systematic 5-step way to build support, including helpful resources.

In Step 1, you are directed to identify your stakeholders. The list starts with students and continues with parents, teachers, and administrators, ending with community members and legislators. For each stakeholder, the toolkit offers “sample issues, concerns, priorities, and needs.”

Step 2 has you think about ways to solve stakeholder problems and concerns through library programming. It reminds you when considering stakeholder priorities that your efforts need to be about their priorities, not the “library needs and wants.” Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them.

Step 3 briefly points to the need to market to your stakeholders and “educate” them about the library program.  Once again you need to consider to whom you are sending the message and what is the best way to deliver it.

Step 4 focuses on evaluation and evidence.  You need to measure how successful you are being so you can make adjustments.  And you need evidence to show what libraries do. Focus “on data that shows contributions to educational goals.  In particular, have data showing contributions to student achievement and the development of 21st Century work and learning skills”

The final step is sharing your findings. Don’t wait to be asked. “Sharing positive data and evidence before a situation is critical is key to preventing cuts. Make positive messages and proof of student learning part of the culture of the library program.”

A list of “Quick Tips” follows along with links to a number of resources including a Sample Library PowerPoint Presentation “Powerful Library School Program.”  And don’t forget the ALA initiative Libraries Transform. Scroll down to the colored boxes with their powerful slogans.  Clicking on each gives you more information to back up the statement.

Like Leadership, Community Outreach is not an option. It must be included in your strategic advocacy planning.  Again – start small, use the online resources as your PLN (including our Facebook page) and don’t stop.

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ON LIBRARIES: Regarding Guarding Privacy

With the recent uproar over privacy on Facebook and so many other breaches of privacy, including a password breach last week at Twitter, it sometimes feels as though privacy no longer exists. Certainly, it’s much harder to protect.  And yet, as educators we need to do all that is possible to protect our students’ privacy and to teach them what they can do to guard it. Today, I’d like to discuss the former.

ALA through its Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is a resource you can turn to for help. Choose Privacy Week is held annually on May 1-7 (yes, today’s the last day).  The OIF “works with other privacy advocates to highlight current privacy practices and guidelines”. ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, Privacy Subcommittee, is one of the sponsors of the week and helps in creating and providing resources.   But how does this play out in your library and school? In too many places, there isn’t a Privacy Policy or even guidelines to raise awareness and take the precautions needed to protect students. To get an overview of what is needed, I recommend reviewing the Library Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools.

Most school libraries have set their automation system to not keep records of what students have borrowed (it usually is the default setting.) which is an extremely important part of guarding student privacy.  Yet there are other practices that erode that privacy. For example, notifying students of overdue books is invariably done through the classroom or homeroom teacher depending on grade level. If the teacher receives a list of the outstanding loans/books for each student that’s a violation of the student’s privacy. It’s not the teacher’s business what the students are reading. What should be done, is to create individual notes for each student. Staple the notices closed and put the student’s name on the outside.  This can then be sent to the teachers.

I have no solution for the common practice of generating a list of overdues (and fines) at the end of the year.  In these situations, it may be the school’s policy that students do not get their report card or next year’s schedule until the books are returned and any fines paid.  What should never be done, and I have seen it, is to post the list on the windowed walls of the office, allowing anyone passing by to see who had taken out what book.

Gossip is another issue that infringes on student privacy.  There are still a number of you who have volunteers in your library.  I have often said they are your program’s eyes and ears to the community. They can be your biggest supporters and spread the good word about you and your program. The problem is they are also the mouths.  They see different students whom they know from other settings.  Without guidelines to inform the volunteers, or, better yet, a Board approved Privacy Policy, they may share their opinion of the behavior of different students and what books they have checked out.

If a parent group runs the book fair and it is held in the library, the same thing has a tendency to happen.  You have a responsibility to do your best to eliminate or minimize these violations of student privacy.  With your volunteers, share a written privacy policy, including the Library Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools. Explain to them why it’s important.

When parents are in the library to run a book fair, you won’t be able to go into detail, but you might want to try a quick rundown of your guidelines.  You cannot guarantee it will help, but you will know you have made every effort.  We know when students are concerned that people are “watching” what they read, it has an inhibiting effect.  And that is counter to the Open Access and Freedom to Read values so important to most of us. Safeguarding our students’ privacy is a part of making and keeping the library a safe place for all.

Don’t worry that the first week in May is up. It’s never a bad time to look at what you are doing to safeguard your students’ privacy and helping them to understand the value that privacy has for us all.