Advocacy is one of those terms we throw around in school librarianship, assuming everyone in the room knows exactly what we are talking about. Most of us can probably point to examples: promotional videos, events and programs such as School Library Month, Family Fun Night, Read Day etc. However, it can be easy to confuse advocacy with marketing. While the examples I just listed are extremely important, I believe these are only a slice of advocacy – not the entire cake.
Advocacy is typically defined as the act of speaking or writing in support of someone or something. MW defines it as “the act or process of supporting a cause.” I like the use of the word “process“. To me, this word reminds us that advocacy is comprised of daily actions, communication, instructional decisions, relationships nurtured, even budgetary choices. Advocacy is a daily attitude.
If this way of thinking about advocacy seems foreign, do not be surprised. Most school librarians come from content areas that did not expose them to the need for advocacy. How often have you heard an educator say: “I’m afraid they are going to cut the math program for lack of funding” or “The science teacher was so unpopular. None of the students enjoyed her class. Maybe we should get rid of the science program all together. We can simply replace it with class science experiment kits or videos.” What we DO hear are comments like: “Why do we need a library when we have Google?” or “That librarian is very unfriendly. None of the children or teachers enjoy going to the library. I am not even sure what he does in there all day!”
This is where I am going to bring up my pesky musical past again. Music educators and programs know that advocacy is a crucial component of their daily professional lives. In fact, read how the National Association for Music Educators discusses advocacy:
“One of the best forms of preventative advocacy is a strong, vital, quality music education program. Music educators become advocates for their programs at concerts and public performances by relating to the audience the musical content of the music being performed and the musical challenges students have met and mastered. This informal form of advocacy can yield significant benefits by building support for the program and demonstrating in a very real way the unique educational value of a music education to students. Inviting an administrator into the music classroom or rehearsal to see students engaged in active learning is another of many informal forms of advocacy that can build beneficial and even essential support when a crisis situation arises.”
Here is another, especially meaningful section:
“What prompts any advocacy efforts are the welfare and education of the students and the right of every student to a quality music education. Although developing and maintaining a career is important, as a music educator you are advocating for a higher cause than continued employment—you are advocating for a quality music education for every child.”
Re-read those statements and replace the words music program with school library program. Aren’t the efforts the same? The purpose equal? Are we not advocating for a quality “school library education for every child”?
I encourage you to read through the rest of NAfME’s advocacy statement – it lists concrete examples of advocacy that foster a daily attitude of support and program promotion (including good ideas for dealing with potential program cuts). Of course, AASL and ALA have wonderful advocacy kits and resources, as well as a treasure trove of articles and columns on the subject. However, I find that exploring issues from a different profession’s perspective sometimes helps to clarify our own, introducing us to a new way of considering our existing challenges.
I also encourage you to think through your daily professional practice in light of that list. What are ways that you can advocate for your program locally, throughout the day? Do you make a point of sharing curated resources with teachers, parents and administrators? Do you actively pursue relationships with parents, administrators, board members, and the community, always sharing how the school library academically benefits students? Is your school library an open and welcoming place? Do teachers perceive you to be open and supportive of their classroom goals? As you celebrate School Library Month, remember that the process of advocacy is a daily one.
Green, L. (2014). School librarians and music educators: A concert for student success. Library Media Connection, 33(3), 20-23.