You want to attend a conference or workshop, or you want to purchase something for the library that isn’t in the budget. Spring and fall are the most common times for state library associations to have their conferences. These are always excellent sources of Professional Development (PD), but many librarians don’t attend because they aren’t given the time and/or the money.
What do you do? Do you ask anyway? Many choose not to if past experience has led to your administrator turning you down. But we know – if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.” Even when you are all but certain you know the answer, you can get heard and receive a different result if you frame your request differently.
The first thing to do is look at how you ask now. Do you send an email with the information or ask in person? It’s far too easy for an administrator to send a quick refusal via e-mail. You need to meet in person, and you need to plan your campaign in advance.
Before your meeting go to your association’s website and carefully review the programs at the conference. Which ones are you likely choose? Invariably it’s those that have bearing on what you do with teachers and students. Make a note of which ones you plan to attend along with how you hope to implement what you learn.
Check the keynote and luncheon speakers. What topics will they be covering? Do these have any relevant connection to what you are doing in your school? Or a connection to a goal of your administrator? Knowing these things and being able to speak to the benefits will support your cause for funding. If you also need to be looking at new purchases for the library, try to find out which vendors will be there. You can assume that automation systems, some publishers, and database companies will be in attendance.
Prepare a bulleted list, divided by categories such as technology, literature, STEM, and critical thinking. Your list should be in order of what you principal most values. Armed with your information schedule a meeting with your principal. Studies show that Friday at the end of the day is the best time. Your principal is least harried then.
You don’t want to take more than ten minutes or your principal is likely to start checking his/her watch. Plan your presentation carefully. Lead with the needs of the students and/or teachers. For example, you might say, “Our students are having difficulty finding valid pro/con sources for their papers. To deal with the problem, I want to investigate the best and most reasonably priced databases to help them.” Then mention the conference.
Continue with one or two more items and give your principal the list you prepared. State that the conference is PD directed towards school library programs, will be of benefit to the whole school. Then ask for the professional day(s). If you get it, also try for reimbursement. Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.”
Is this guaranteed to work? Of course not, but it will certainly improve your chances. Having this meeting shows you are interested in improving the library program and your skills for the school, and when you come back next year and ask again (which you should no matter the answer!!) you very well might get a different answer.
If you are willing, let the principal know this is so important you will take a personal day. After the conference write up a brief report (no more than one page) of what you learned and how you plan to use it. If you were given the time or funding, make sure to offer your thanks. When you have a lesson that incorporates something you got from the conference, invite the principal and/or video the highlights so he/she can see the benefits in action.
Asking for something larger (read: more expensive) requires even more planning. Way back in the early 1990s, CDs were the emerging technology. Encyclopedias and some databases were available in this form. In order to easily access them, you could get a CD tower that enabled the switching to occur seamlessly to the user. Unfortunately, the towers were expensive. (I really think they may have been $20,000 since computers were costing about $9,000.)
I was working in a district that voted down the budget twenty times in my twenty-two years there. I scheduled a meeting with my Superintendent, knowing even my principal couldn’t authorize that much money without doing some begging for me which wasn’t going to happen. I met with her during the summer. And I heartily recommend you do this every summer – normally with your principal. This is the best time to negotiate for anything including getting professional days and reimbursement for conferences in anticipation of the upcoming budget preparation in the fall.
As I anticipated, my superintendent was somewhat taken aback by the price tag. I agreed but reviewed why we need it. She said I had to cut my existing budget someplace. After looking at the possibilities that would least impact the program, we ended up cutting some book money, some A-V purchases, and a few other places.
When fall came and I had to submit my budget for the next year, the CD tower was on it. I made sure my principal knew it was “pre-approved,” explaining that because the cost was so high I wanted to be sure we would all be on the same page.
I didn’t always get what I wanted. Sometimes I had to modify my requests or recognize it was a lost cause. But I did get a high percentage because I was prepared, persistent, and flexible. Asking for what I wanted took work and planning, but it was always worth it – no matter the answer. I showed I was a leader and that I was always working to improve the library program to benefit students and teachers.
It pays to ask, otherwise… they are going to say “yes” to someone else.