PSLA Legislators@your Library Campaign

By Kachel, Debra | Teacher Librarian, December 2008 | Go to article overview
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PSLA Legislators@your Library Campaign


Kachel, Debra, Teacher Librarian


TEACHER-LIBRARIANS NEED TO INFORM LEGISLATORS ABOUT THE CRITICAL INSTRUCTIONAL ROLE SCHOOL LIBRARY PROGRAMS PLAY IN EDUCATING STUDENTS. THEY SHOULD WANT TO ELIMINATE THE STEREOTYPICAL "KEEPER OF THE BOOKS" IMAGE. EVERYONE KNOWS LEGISLATORS WANT TO INCREASE THEIR VISIBILITY AMONG THEIR CONSTITUENTS AND APPRECIATE EVENTS THAT GUARANTEE A PHOTO OP AND MAYBE AN ARTICLE IN THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER, WHAT BETTER WAY TO ACHIEVE BOTH GOALS THAN TO ORGANIZE LEGISLATOR VISITS TO YOUR LIBRARY? MAKING THE LEGISLATOR AWARE OF OUR ISSUES GOES A LONG WAY TO PRESERVE TEACHER-LIBRARIAN JOBS.

During spring 2008, members or the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA) Legislation Committee had historic success in getting language in two educational funding acts that specifically allow funds to be used for school library resources, staffing, and extended hours. (1)

Knowing that most legislators were engaged in reelection campaigns or helping their party ramp up for the November 2008 Presidential election, PSLA's Legislation Committee strategized "what's next?" We knew that legislators maintain busy schedules but the high priority was getting their "face out there" to constantly remind the public who they were and that it was election time. We had made the sad discovery that legislators had no idea school libraries in Pennsylvania were not required. When told, they were also appalled at the recent reductions in staffing and at the many school library closures. only approximately 60% of Pennsylvania public schools have a library with any type of staffing. Conflicting feelings about state versus local control erupted when we informed legislators that although a recent study determining the cost to educate one student in Pennsylvania included good quality school library services, local school boards were still allowed to decide whether their students had access to a school library program or not. (2)

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The PSLA Legislation Committee also knew how stressed teacher-librarians are in trying to meet demanding schedules with little resources as they help large numbers of students become 21st-century learners capable of managing information. "Time" is the four-letter word among teacher-librarians. It is the response heard when they are asked to engage in legislative and advocacy activities. Our state, one of the oldest in the nation, however, has an untapped resource in our growing number of retirees still quite active in our school library organization. Therefore, with this challenge, we designed the program, PSLA Legislators@Your Library, to train retirees as "event planners" to assist our working colleagues in organizing and conducting legislator visits.

Responsibilities of the event planner and the teacher-librarian were developed first. Beginning with five enthusiastic retirees who were located throughout the state, a conference call was set to train the event planners. Although the event planners are not present on the day of the visit, "behind-the-scenes" they:

* Communicate with the local legislator's office to arrange the details of the visit.

* Advise teacher-librarian on visitation activities, using checklists.

* Arrange for media coverage, contact media, and prepare press releases.

* Confirm sending thank-you notes and copies of published articles and photos to the legislator.

* Submit evaluations to the Legislation Committee.

Event planners are trained to research and target state legislators with the most influence on education and finance committees, if possible. In this organized fashion, the event planners report to the Legislation Committee Chairperson so the same legislators are not always selected and all regions of the state are represented. Event planners are encouraged to attend local library meetings and pitch the campaign to boost the numbers of visits.

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