Advocacy: A Long-term, On-going Process

Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy Podcast: Virtual Interview with Dr. Ann Ewbank

When advocacy becomes a regular part of a school librarian’s daily practice, then the long-term, on-going nature this work becomes clear. School librarians must always serve stakeholders in such a way as to engender their support for the professional work and leadership of the school librarian and the role of the library program in student learning. The history of school librarianship is clear. School librarians can never rest on their laurels and assume that their positions, library budgets, and programs are safe from cuts when budgets get tight, district deficits loom, or national trends in education shift.

Readers of Ann Dutton Ewbank’s book Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence (2019) can find additional support for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and developing persuasive messages. School librarians can also use the American Library Association’s Library Advocate’s Handbook (2008), which includes guidelines for telling the library story, successful speaking tips, including a speaker’s checklist, and tips for talking with the media and dealing with tough questions.

Advocating for the Program
When school librarians have formed a solid base of support for the contributions of the library program to the school community, they are able to mobilize support from stakeholders when the need arises. Keeping the library program in the spotlight through consistent services and public relations are essential. The school or library website and social media, the school or library newsletter, principals’ communications to families, and local broadcast media outlets are all venues to share the library story.

In her article “Tales of the Crypt,” elementary and middle school librarian Kelly Klober from Danville (AR) shares an exciting Living History project and event that involved students in researching the lives of people buried in the town cemetery. Adult participants in the project included classroom teachers, family members, and other volunteers from the community. Kelly included this as one of her tips for success: “Make friends with the press. We always have incredible coverage from our local newspaper, and our high school’s senior seminar class has always been kind enough to video the event” (Klober 2019, 20).

Advocating for the Position
While some argue that school librarians should not advocate for their own positions, I whole-heartedly disagree. If there were a proposal on the table in your district to eliminate all kindergarten teachers, you can bet that kinder teachers (and their first-grade colleagues, families, and more) would be frontline advocates who could clearly state the need to retain these positions. State-certified school librarian positions are no different. There is research-based evidence that supports the value of having a state-certified school librarian on every school faculty. School librarians should know this research. The following examples are from an article published in Phi Delta Kappan Online by Keith Curry Lance and Debra Kachel (2018).

Given the emphasis on literacy and reading in many schools and districts, it makes intuitive sense that students’ reading and writing scores would be better in schools with a strong library program. In a Washington state study, graduation rates and test scores in reading and math were significantly higher in schools with high-quality libraries and certified librarians, even after controlling for school size and poverty (Coker 2015). Reading and writing scores tend to be higher for all students who have a full-time certified librarian. The Pennsylvania study (2012) found that reading scores for Black students (5.5%), Latino students (5.2%), and students with disabilities (4.6%) where higher when the school had a full-time librarian. Even higher academic gains were evident among student subgroups if their schools had more library staff, larger library collections, and greater access to technology, databases, and the library itself. The 4th-grade NAEP reading data supported the Pennsylvania findings. In states that gained librarians between 2004-05 and 2008-09, average reading scores for poor students, Black students, and Latino students improved more than in states that lost librarians. In states that lost librarians, English language learners’ scores dropped by almost 3% (Lance and Schwartz 2012).

School librarians must advocate for their own positions based on research, on their own practice, and on locally collected student learning data.

Advocacy-at-Large
Inviting print and broadcast media to library program events and writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces for local newspapers are ways to take the school library story out into the community. School librarians and their advocates can keep school libraries in the minds of the general public as preparation for advocacy appeals and initiatives that will require the support of school boards, families, and voters.

Here are two recently published op-eds that I wrote on behalf of Tucson’s school librarians, libraries, students, educators, administrators, and families.

Missing School Librarians Means Lost Literacy Learning,” Arizona Daily Star, November 3, 2017.

Literacy Matters Every Day,” Arizona Daily Star, March 6, 2019.

And as part of a School Librarian Restoration Project in Tucson Unified School District, TUSD board liaison Kristen Bury of the School Community Partnership Council and I were briefly interviewed by a local news station KGUN9.

Restoration Project Aims to Employ More Librarians for TUSD,” KGUN9 video interview and article.

This letter to the editor was published on April 18, 2019 during School Library Month. “The Library Ecosystem.”

Strategic school librarians engage and enlist others in long-term, on-going advocacy efforts to ensure that school library stakeholders will have equitable access to the resources, instructional and other services, professional expertise, and leadership school librarians and libraries provide. Keeping the public informed is essential when the time comes to seek their support for specific advocacy appeals.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How are you engaged in long-term, on-going advocacy?
  2. Who do you need to ask to join you in this effort?

Works Cited

American Library Association. 2008. Library Advocate’s Handbook. 3rd ed. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advocacy-university/library-advocates-handbook

Coker, Elizabeth. 2015. The Washington State School Library Study: Certified Teacher-librarians, Library Quality and Student Achievement in Washington State Public Schools. Seattle: Washington Library Media Association.

Ewbank, Ann. 2019. Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Klober, Kelly. 2019. “Tales from the Crypt.” Knowledge Quest 47 (4): 16-20.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Bill Schwarz. 2012. How Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in Student Achievement and Academic Standards. PA School Library Project. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED543418.pdf

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/

Advocacy: An Essential Component of Daily Practice

Every time school librarians greet a student, family member, classroom teacher or specialist, administrator, prospective student/family, or visiting dignitary in the school library, they show the learning community that the library is a welcoming environment. Following up a warm smile with an offer of help is the first step in establishing the library as a place where a friendly staff helps others solve their problems or get their needs met. Through signage, book and resource displays, technology access and tools, the physical space of the library communicates a great deal about the values and quality of the program—and by extension the work of the school librarian.

“Our” Library
One of the most important messages the physical (and virtual) space of the library must communicate is this: the school library is an “our” place. The resources of the library and the activities that occur via the library program belong to the entire learning community. In addition to always referring to the library as “our library” and its resources as “our resources,” school librarians make a concerted effort to involve students, families, classroom teachers and specialists, and administrators in guiding the library program. The “our” should be understood by all.

Student work is an essential feature of the physical as well as the virtual library. Evidence of student learning should be front and center and obvious to anyone visiting the library or accessing the library’s website. Spotlighting and curating learning outcomes shows how the librarian contributes to the academic program of the school. In addition, the contributions of library student aides should also be evident in physical and virtual spaces.

When library stakeholders know they have ownership of the library, they are more likely to understand what makes the library program successful. As contributors to the library’s success, they have a vested interest in its smooth and effective functioning. As beneficiaries of the quality of the program, it is in their self-interest to help the librarian lead in an exciting learning environment. Involved stakeholders are more likely to support an advocacy appeal—whether it is launched by the librarian or another member of the learning community—because they have a stake in the outcome.

The Library Fishbowl
The school library is a fishbowl. Anyone in the school or community (with proper credentials) can walk into the library at any time and observe the work of the school librarian. For librarians who began their careers as classroom teachers, this can be a bit unnerving at first. A classroom teacher who appears at the library to check out some resources may sit down and watch her colleagues (a school librarian and another classroom teacher) coteach. Administrators who conduct classroom walk-throughs will also observe in the library and will often bring district-level administrators, prospective parents, and community members along with them, particularly in a state-of-the-art library.

Adult volunteers in the library have a bird’s eye view of students’ and classroom teachers’ interactions with the librarian and the library assistant. Volunteers are often students’ family members who share their observations at the Friday night football game or the Little League game on Saturday. Involving adult volunteers in the Library Advisory Committee increases their ownership in the program and will likely lead to positive public relations for the librarian and the program.

Advocacy as a Story
Advocacy is a story that is created, developed, and told in the everyday practices of the school librarian and the library staff. Involving others stakeholders as co-authors of the library story is an essential and strategic component of effective advocacy. By building connections and through collaborative partnerships, school librarians lay the foundation on which the learning community can and will come together to advocate for the library when there is a need. Every member of the community will be able to tell and retell an authentic and convincing story that illustrates the values, practices, and needs of the school library program.

The library advocacy story is not only important for an individual school community. An authentic and effective story reaches out to other schools, across districts, and out into the greater community. It can also reach across the state and around the country or the world. Together, all of our individual advocacy stories can change hearts and minds and make a difference for school librarianship as a profession. “Developing excellence in school library programs and a credible collective advocacy story is a path to sustaining the vitality, integrity, and the future of our profession” (Moreillon 2015, 26).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. For what specific support, project, resources, or tools would you launch an advocacy appeal today?
  2. How would you frame that appeal in terms of benefits to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and/or administrators?

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2015. “Quick Remedies Column: Collaborative Library Stories.” School Library Monthly 31 (8): 25-26.

Leading Successful Advocacy Appeals

April is School Library Month: Everyone Belongs @Your School Library

When you read Chapter 8 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership, you will clearly make the connection between leadership and advocacy. Effective school librarians lead advocacy initiatives in order to spotlight the needs of students, classroom teachers, and administrators in relationship to the library program. Such advocacy efforts are made in light of the positive impact the program and school librarians’ teaching/coteaching have on student learning and classroom teachers’ teaching as well as in support of administrators reaching school goals.

School librarians’ own advocacy efforts can lead to increasing all library stakeholders understanding of the critical role libraries and librarians play in future ready education. In a study of school library advocacy literature published between 2001 and 2011, researchers Ann Dutton Ewbank and Ja Youn Kwon found that 83% of advocacy activities were initiated by school librarians themselves or by an individual in the school library field (2015, 240). Only 5% of the advocates mentioned in the literature were parents and just 3% were school administrators.

Advocacy Appeals Supported by Stakeholders
The “Spokane Moms” are one of the shining examples of parent advocates who have spoken up for school librarians and libraries. In 2008, they launched a website, maintained a blog, cited research and testimonials, and provided advocates with ways to support their cause. Working together, they effectively advocated to save professional school librarian positions first in their own city and then throughout the state of Washington.

Each year during April, School Library Month, the American Association of School Librarians seeks an advocate who will record a public service announcement (PSA) to promote the importance of school libraries and librarians. Author and illustrator Dav Pilkey provided this year’s PSA. His heartfelt personal story of being a child with learning challenges and parents who encouraged him to read whatever he wanted provides a powerful testimonial for librarians and librarians. School librarians and school library advocates are encouraged to download it and share it widely in their learning communities and online.

Advocacy Appeals Launched by School Librarians
We all wish our communities had the advantages of a dedicated group of advocates such as the Spokane Moms. While we can count on support from our national association and authors who are generous in making appeals for our profession, school librarians must face the reality of everyday advocacy. School librarians themselves must speak out and be their own first advocates.

Chapter 8 includes an example of a school librarian-led advocacy appeal to hire library assistants in every school—assistants who make it possible for school librarians and the program to reach their capacity to lead, teach, and provide professional development. The example guides readers through a step-by-step process that can be applied to other types librarian-led advocacy efforts.

Advocacy Goal
School librarians may launch an advocacy appeal, but our ultimate goal is for stakeholders to become knowledgeable, vocal spokespersons for the program. When stakeholders speak up on behalf of school librarians and libraries, many policy- and decision-makers will sit up and listen. And when the initiative takes on a life of its own, school librarians can help ensure the success of such efforts by leading from behind the scenes to keep the messaging strong, clear, and productive in reaching the intended outcomes.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. For what specific support, project, resources, or tools would you launch an advocacy appeal today?
  2. How would you frame that appeal in terms of benefits to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and/or administrators?

Work Cited

Ewbank, Ann Dutton, and Ja Youn Kwon. 2015. “School Library Advocacy Literature in the United States: An Exploratory Content Analysis.” Library & Information Science Research 37: 236-243.