When we talk about advocating for school libraries, what do we truly mean? Are school libraries an end or a means? Should schools have school libraries just to have a library? Should schools have library media specialists simply to have a media specialist?
Before answering these questions, put aside what you know about school libraries and how they support the educational goals of a school. Instead, think about these questions from administrative and budgetary viewpoints. School libraries are traditionally seen as rooms with resources, with school librarians viewed as keepers of materials. Under this pretense, it's no wonder that libraries and librarians are sometimes thought of as expendable.
If the mission of schools is to prepare students to live, work, and learn in the 21st century, many school administrators must be wondering how the school library fits in. Compounding this dilemma is the approach that school librarians have been taking to advocacy: merely stating that we need school libraries and librarians sounds self-serving and does nothing to align our work with educational goals. When we advocate for school libraries and librarians, we know the many ways our services, programs, and professionalism serve students, teachers, and schools. However, most of our listeners have tuned out.
One definition of advocacy is: informed stakeholders standing up for a cause, program, or idea. Under this definition, it is easy to understand why decision-makers view school librarians who stand up for libraries as whiners rather than advocates. That doesn't mean we should stop our efforts to build support. However, it is crucial that we change the nature of our messages while building stakeholder support for school library programs.
To become effective advocates, our profession must shift the focus of our messages from speaking out about school libraries to promoting and supporting student learning and achievement. Student success is the business of schools. Student learning is at the core of meaningful advocacy messages. To be effective school library advocates, we must advocate for students.
Building true advocacy
Since our advocacy mission and messages must be about serving students and must convey that school libraries are essential to meeting student needs, just who is going to come out and say we need strong school libraries and librarians? We need to have stakeholders advocate for them, and it is our job to build this stakeholder support.
Who are these stakeholders? Our best advocates are the members of our learning communities. When students, parents, teachers, and administrators know and experience the benefits of a strong school library program, they can be our most effective advocates. Stop and think about that. Which is more powerful: a librarian who says that libraries and librarians are necessary, or a group of community members fighting for school libraries and access to professional staffing?
How do we foster increased advocacy among our stakeholders? Answering that question necessitates the expansion of our definition of advocacy--but we must also note that good advocacy building is ubiquitous. Building advocacy should be embedded in the school librarians' daily practice.
Motivate stakeholders to advocate
Let's start with what we already know:
Wrapping school library advocacy efforts around students and learning is a natural connection. School librarians and libraries are both essential and effective means to helping schools meet their educational missions for students. Study after study shows that school libraries are the means to achieving educational goals common to good schools.
Just flipping through Scholastic's report on school libraries (School Libraries Work!) provides an overview of the educational benefits of school libraries and professional media specialists. …