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.