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