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.
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
- For what specific support, project, resources, or tools would you launch an advocacy appeal today?
- How would you frame that appeal in terms of benefits to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and/or administrators?
Moreillon, Judi. 2015. “Quick Remedies Column: Collaborative Library Stories.” School Library Monthly 31 (8): 25-26.