When Suzanna Panter took the helm as library program manager at Tacoma Public Schools in Washington three years ago, she hit the ground running with plans to make her district’s advocacy efforts visible. During her first school year on the job, Panter worked with her team on the “Guiding Values and Principles for TPS Libraries,” which now feature prominently on the library’s recently redesigned website. “I think it’s really important for people to understand the why behind what we do,” she says, “because it’s not clearly evident to a lot of people outside of our profession.”
One of Panter’s next steps was to begin work on developing a series of videos that showcase the school library program and how it impacts students. The finished project debuted on the library’s site this past spring, fittingly in time for School Library Month in April. “It’s always something we’ve wanted to do,” she says, noting that the timing finally worked out.
Panter recruited her district’s web developer to help, and she also collaborated with one of the instructional technology facilitators, who “also happens to be a videographer on the side,” she says. “We got together and I developed talking points for each of the videos. My goal was to use the six shared foundations of the AASL framework to kind of loosely organize all the things that we are already doing.”
Panter believes that the videos can help demystify the AASL standards, which were unveiled with great fanfare in 2017. “I think there is some disconnect within the profession and within education with the new standards,” she says. “I was trying to help my librarians understand that these are things that we are already doing and use those shared foundations as loose categories to highlight the work that’s being done in the district.”
Washington State experienced a number of budget issues during the past school year, with cuts imposed on the Spokane district and cuts threatened in Seattle. “This project was happening all during that time,” Panter notes. “With us being the third-largest district in the state, we wanted to be proactive and show the work that we’ve been doing over the last three years that I’ve been here. It was part advocacy and part educating our internal staff, our administrators, but also our community.”
To create the video content, Panter notes, “I went through the AASL shared foundations and grouped them out by things we’re already doing and made talking points for my librarians who are featured in each video. And then my videographer friend went and asked them questions and cut the footage up beautifully so the videos could be interwoven and put into these loose categories. There are some pieces that you’ll see over and over again because they hit different parts.”
As an example, in a video segment for the “Curate” AASL foundation theme, librarians talk about providing students free access to ideas, information, and “current updated books that reflect them”; collaborating with classroom teachers to locate curated sets of resources about a topic; and the district’s partnership with the Tacoma Public Library, which allows access to what one librarian describes as additional “high-quality resources with credibility.” The other foundations addressed are “Collaborate,” “Engage,” “Include,” “Explore,” and “Inquire.”
Panter emphasizes that it was important to her to highlight different librarians from all the different types of schools in her system. “We have a wide variety of socioeconomic differences in our district, as well as really different ideas of programming, which is exciting,” she says. “You’ll see some that are really tech heavy, and you’ll see some that are more about the authors and the reading.” She points to the curation video as one that reminds people what’s at the heart of the library. “We’re still doing intellectual freedom work and we’re still doing information literacy work, it’s not all robots,” she says.
Once the videos came together, Panter approached the district’s “wonderful public information office,” pitching the video series as something to be shared on the district’s social media accounts. “To me, my ultimate goal was ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, don’t cut us,’ but I could use the guise of ‘It’s School Library Month, we need to celebrate! We should show our community all the things we’re doing.’ ”
The results were very positive. “After we all shared the videos on social media, we actually had some parents show up at the school board meeting and voice their happiness with our libraries and ask the board to try to keep cuts away from the libraries as much as possible,” Panter says. “So, it did get out into the community, and I’m hoping to continue that.”
But Panter has goals beyond local impact. “The second level of this project was to try and make an impact on the profession nationally,” she says. “I sent it to a couple of my friends in the universities because I’d love for universities to pick it up and use the videos in non-library schools, in education schools, or in administrator work, to try to help our administrators understand what a future-ready library looks like.”
Panter believes that these “nice and short” videos could be “a homework assignment that a professor could give to a pre-service principal and say, ‘Watch this, give us your feedback about how this would work in your school, or how you would make this happen.’ ” She says this approach greatly extends the influence of advocacy so that “it’s not just talking straight to the library community, but trying to break through those barriers and into the larger educational ecosystem.”