Friday, February 8, 2013

Student-Centered Library Advocacy

Advocacy is about making the value of a library program to its community so obvious that the Teacher Librarian never has to advocate on her own. Ideally, everyone would walk around town joyfully exclaiming that the school library helped such and such child do this such and such amazing thing, and wow, I can’t believe anyone would ever think that a school library isn’t absolutely necessary for a successful student!

But... until we get there, we Teacher Librarians have to do a bit of advocating for ourselves. We can’t rely on those joyous exclamations out in the streets. We can’t rely on that one wonderful administrator who “gets it” to explain library programs to their skeptical colleagues. We need to be more proactive.

Doug Johnson’s Rule #3 for Library Advocacy (found here on his Blue Skunk Blog) reminds us that we should never advocate for the librarian or the library program, but rather for our students. We know that the library is vital to our school communities, but we need to be able to express WHY the library is vital to student learning. He suggests re-framing common “advocacy” requests for a bigger budget or more clerical staffing as student needs. For example, “Without an adequate budget, students will not have access to the newest children's choice award titles and reading interest will decline." or "If the clerical position is reduced, I will not have as much time to work with teachers on collaborative units."

By taking the program need and structuring it as a student-learning need, we not only demonstrate that the library is a vital student-focused program, but reinforce that we are in fact teachers with instructional goals. Our request won’t come off as self-serving, but rather as concerned about the success of our students and how we and our programs can best provide resources, support, and collaborative learning opportunities to our school community.

The same concept applies to more than just requests to the building administration. When communicating with parents - whether in a newsletter, on Twitter, or in person- don’t mention all of the great things the library has been doing - talk about all of the great things students have done with the help of the library.

For example, instead of saying “I just taught this great lesson on finding articles using an online subscription database,” say “4th graders were so excited to learn about finding current events that relate to what they are learning in social studies. They were surprised that we have a way to search a ton of magazines and newspapers all at once!”

Instead of “I just purchased 35 new titles to add to our nonfiction collection,” say “students doing research for science now have access to up-to-date information at their reading level.”

Instead of “we hosted a great read and feed program this month,” say “students relaxed and enjoyed some great literature (and snacks) this month at a school reading event celebrating how fun it is to read!”

What other tips do you have for making our advocacy student-centered?