ON LIBRARIES: Advocacy – Results and Next Steps

signingOn December 10, President Obama signed the ESSA (Every Child Succeeds Act) into law. It was an historic moment, years in the making.  We have come close many times, with different variations but at the last moment Congress would keep the bill from coming to the floor.  It has finally happened and it took a lot of work to achieve.

A quick review is needed first so you can appreciate how we reached this stage.  You are probably familiar with previous laws such as ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) the first manifestation of which occurred in the early 1970s. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) which replaced the different version of ESEA soon was called No Child Left Untested, and most of you have been dealing with Common Core and the extreme testing which resulted.  We now move into a new phase.ala - ola

In addition to NEA working for a re-authorization of ESEA (which is what the first target was), ALA’s Washington Office, specifically its Office for Library Advocacy has been lobbying to get a bill through that would recognized the importance of school libraries and librarians, trying more than once to get what was then called the SKILLS Act Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) passed, without much success.

This was partly our own fault.  I kept hearing from people in the Washington Office that Congress pays little attention to our lobbyists unless the message is supported by a strong outpouring of support from voters –like us.  Unfortunately, despite sending delegates to Legislative Day in Washington, D.C. and some attending virtually, there really weren’t rousing responses to calls for action.

This time, working along with NEA, and many, many librarians on social networks exhorting others to make calls, and Tweet or email legislators, the message got heard.  I suspect in part this was due to the widespread frustrations with Common Core.  So, in addition to sending thanks to the Washington Office for a job well-done, and to your legislators if they support the bill, give yourself a pat on the back if you were among those who responded to the call to action.  This took more than a village.  It took a country.

advocacy heartAs with any bill, it isn’t perfect.  Compromise is part of the process so you never get everything you want. But we did get libraries written into it. As Washington Dispatch explains the bill includes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program allowing the Secretary of Education  “award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements, on a competitive basis” to promote literacy programs in low-income areas, including “developing and enhancing effective school library programs.”  The money can be used both for purchasing library materials and for giving school librarians PD.

Moreover, Title II funds can now be used for “supporting the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.”  The part I really like is that the bill “encourages local education agencies to assist schools in developing effective school library programs, in part to help students gain digital skills.”  In an Education Week article on the bill, AASL President Leslie Preddy noted that school libraries and librarians as “critical educational partners.”

In essence it means the ball is now in your court. It is now up to you do advocacy work on the building and district level to ensure you have an effective library program.  What do you need? Why? What will you be doing?  How can the change be measured?

So take time to celebrate an achievement ten years in the making.  Then get down to work.  If you need it, look to your colleagues in your state association or in your district.  Reach out to your PLM for ideas if you need them.  Don’t waste this great opportunity.  Your students need it.



ON LIBRARIES: Grassroots Advocacy

library_word_cloudYour biggest supporters are right in front of you.

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.busy library 4

Some recommendations:

  • 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.

Click for blog: Partnering for student success
Click for blog: Partnering for student success

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.

Reach Out – Find Your Larger Community

libraries transform learning
From ALA – click image for article

More and more of you recognize that no matter how busy you are in the library, the vital advocacy work that has administrators supporting your program happens outside it. While showing your own tech skills is a critical part of demonstrating how libraries have transformed over time, you still need to add a personal touch to make a true impact.

You know—or should know—your own town or city best.  Start thinking about ways you can reach beyond the educational community to send the message about how school librarians transform learning, boost student achievement, and prepare students for college, career, and lifelong learning in a constantly changing world.

In a world where so much communication is asynchronous, being with someone in person, in real-time adds much more meaning.  What this means, is that you have to get out of your library – and it’s on your own time. Up until now, your outreach for the most part is only directed to the school community including parents.  But you need to communicate with the much larger community.  They are voters and their attitudes toward school libraries is likely to be far more dated and entrenched than those of parents.facetime

Start by reaching out to your natural partners. Visit the public library. Introduce yourself to the children’s or YA librarian depending on the grade level of your school. Checking in advance with your principal to insure it is OK to do so, invite him or her to come to your library.  At the elementary level, you can work together on a story time with one or more classes.  At the middle and high school levels, you can get a cooperative English teacher to bring a class to the library and have your guest discuss upcoming programs at the public library.

Offer to promote public library programs in your library – and on your website.  See if the children’s or YA librarian is open to have you share student work in a display case or bulletin board at the public library.  This will reach community library users who don’t have children in the schools.

If you are a high school librarian, consider connecting with librarians in any college in your area.  An after school visit from a college librarian discussing college-level research with students (and possibly parents) will draw interest.  Try to get coverage from local press or cable TV station. High schools with TV stations can report on it as well.

special eventSome communities have a special day with various merchants contributing money and/or merchandise and food to bring out people.  The high school football field is often one of the venues for the day. Other places with a town green use that.  See if you can have a booth or table for the day.  Have flyers to hand out.  Display work by students and pictures you have taken showing library activity.  If possible, have students spend some time at the book talking with passers-by about what they love to do in the library.

Alternatively, or in addition, consider inviting community members into your library for special events.  Read Across America is a time when you can invite local officials to come and read to students. (Prepare them well –and prepare your students.)  Guests from Kiwanis or Rotary can talk to high school students about what they want to see and hear from those seeking part-time or summer work.

Your school library is part of a larger community that you need to be a part of. Get creative and have fun with these audiences you’ll find new resources and connections for your indispensable program.