Stephanie Ham
Director of Library Services Metro Nashville Public Schools
Nashville, Tenn.

In Nashville, we have found that the greatest way to be an advocate for school librarians is telling our story—before someone else does. This is done in a variety of manners, including encouraging school-based librarians to have conversations with their administration teams; so much advocacy is done by educating them and building those relationships.

Our department has started a podcast to encourage librarians and provide them with the skills to be their own advocates for their program and students. We have a variety of guests, including librarians, authors, and administrators. Each episode ends with asking the guests what librarians can do to grow and advocate. The answers and advice are varied but provide librarians with great resources to advocate for the school library and tell their story.

Cathi Fuhrman
Library Department Supervisor
Hempfield School District
Landisville, Pa.

There are many things that I do to advocate for our library department and for library services for our students. It’s easy to create a list of needs to talk with administrators and stakeholders about—whether it’s resources, staffing, scheduling, etc. However, I feel the more I can showcase the positive and show what we are doing with the resources we have access to, the more I am able to be “at the table” in our school district, and the more that stakeholders and administrators listen to what I have to say.

The best advice that I ever received, during the Lilead Fellows Program, was to analyze the stakeholder and figure out what keeps them up at night. What are their priorities, targets, or goals? Then I tailor the advocacy just for them. For example, for a legislator who is interested in workforce development and STEM, I invite them to see how our makerspaces in our school libraries are helping students achieve those goals.

For an administrator who wants to implement inquiry and project-based learning, I suggest times and locations for them to see the school librarians in the trenches for great lessons that show how we are leaders in those initiatives. Included with those visits, I periodically, but not overwhelmingly, send articles or literature that reinforce and support the school librarian role.

I do try to stay on top of professional journals, social media, publications, and current trends. When I engage with all of these, I certainly do it for my own growth, but I constantly ask myself, “Who else might want to read or see this? What stakeholder would connect with this and needs to see the connection to school libraries?” I do this strategically and always follow up later and ask for feedback. The goal is that school libraries are never in the shadows.

The bottom line is that there is no one solution for advocacy. Everyone that I advocate to, I create a different strategy for—from the administrator to the department leader to the parent group, legislator, community, or the classroom teachers. As school librarians, we really are the ones who impact so many in the school community in so many different ways, and we need to make sure our advocacy plans are differentiated.

Amanda Kuznia
K-12 District Instructional Technology Specialist
Boise School District
Boise, Idaho

I advocate for teachers in my district by helping to elevate their voices. Teachers are humble people by nature and don’t brag about the great job they are doing. I find teachers who are rocking super-awesome, innovative lessons and connect them with other teachers as a mentor, bring them in to lead at a PLC or leadership event, and also showcase their work on social media.

Maria Petropulos
District Library Media Coordinator
Selma Unified School District
Selma, Calif.

We have a public Facebook group for the Selma Libraries that many parents and teachers have joined. We also use Twitter a lot to showcase what’s going on in our libraries in real time. Using social media has been a huge success in advocating and educating people on what really goes on in our libraries; they’re not just a place to check out books.

We hold Family Literacy Night at least once a year for parents. During these events, we show parents how all the library resources can benefit their children, and we talk about literacy and what our library programs are doing to create lifelong readers. We also partner with the public library and advocate for their programs as well.

The district library coordinator always attends community forum meetings; it’s a chance to talk one-on-one with parents and explain the work of a teacher-librarian and showcase some of the activities and lessons being taught. We have conversations about the importance of continued funding for our libraries and the importance of having a full-time library technician to run the library and a credentialed librarian to collaborate with teachers. These conversations had parents asking why their school doesn’t have a credentialed librarian and complaining that the situation isn’t equitable. We now have certified teacher-librarians at all of our schools.

Mary Keeling
AASL President
Library Services Supervisor
Newport News Public Schools
Newport News, Va.

I did a project here in Newport News from 2014–2016 coaching teachers on how to use inquiry strategies in their classrooms. I did a monthly newsletter about it, which I sent by email to all the principals and other educational leaders at the district level. I featured lots of photos of kids engaged in work and paragraphs of bullet points, not dense text. It was very easy to read, and I really think that made a difference.

I would say that, as a result of that project, money started to flow toward our libraries. We’ve renovated three elementary school libraries, and we’re working on the fourth one this summer. I’m just putting in a purchase order of books for libraries that came out of year-end money from last year that is greater than my annual budget for library materials. I was able to return to full staffing of my library assistants after losing half of our elementary school library assistants during the recession. I was able to infer a decline in reading scores connected to a loss of access to library resources, and by golly I got all my library assistants back.

Mary Morgan Ryan
Chief Technology, Communications, and Data Services Official
Northern Suburban Special Education District
Highland Park, Ill.

A number of years ago, I was the advocacy coordinator for the Illinois state association of school librarians, now called AISLE [Association of Illinois School Library Educators]. I couldn’t implement this idea then, because I got sick—I’m fine now. But this is what I think would be so cool: I had started discussions with two other states to do an advocacy challenge. What we were going to do was send out monthly challenges to school librarians and see how many Illinois people would do it vs. how many Iowa people would do it, for example. It was going to consist of simple things like inviting a school board member to come see your library. You didn’t have to get them to come, all you had to do was issue the invitation—that’s advocacy. We were going to do a tally of very simple advocacy tasks, but motivated by competition, hoping people would say, “If 50 other people can do it, I can do it.” I was really excited about that idea and unfortunately never got it off the ground.

People will do things if you give them the framework and the structure, if it’s organized for them. In my opinion, as a librarian you feel overwhelmed because you’re the only one of you in the building and you don’t really know how to start. That was my idea—to give people an easy path to do it and have them feel successful.

Paige Somoza
History Teacher
Boise School District
Boise, Idaho

Branding yourself as a teacher and showing people—using social media platforms, or going out and teaching your craft to other people, saying, “This is what I do”—I think that’s really important. You need to let the people in your community know the things you are doing to help the community large-scale and down to the microcosm of your classroom. Because of the relationship I developed with the National WWII Museum in New Orleans for our virtual field trip project, PBS contacted me and encouraged me to apply for their innovator program. And when I was chosen for the PBS Digital Innovator All-Star program, it led to me working with Idaho Public Television. All of that has really elevated my voice as a teacher for the Boise School District.

Sherry Gick
Director of Innovative Learning
Five-Star Technology Solutions
Frankfort, Ind.

One of the biggest things about advocacy is that you don’t really have a choice. A lot of people want to tell you that advocating shouldn’t be a part of being a librarian, but it has to be. First of all, you have to be an advocate for every student in your building, so you are advocating that you are providing for every student in that building collection development–wise; with access to internet, even at home; and in terms of equity issues, for example. Then, unfortunately, you have to advocate for your position. You have to show the importance of a certified librarian being in schools now, which seems ridiculous that we’ve reached the point where we have to say it’s important to have a certified person to run a library. There’s never been a question about classroom teachers. You’d never just hire an assistant to run a classroom all day long. You need experts.

It’s really important for school librarians, especially, to be sharing their story, always. You need to make sure that it’s not a mystery what’s happening inside the walls of the library, that it’s being broadcast on social media, that you’re broadcasting it to your school board, that your principal knows what’s happening, and that the community knows, because they will be the ones who support you. It seems like something extra, but I don’t think you can afford not to be an advocate.

See more of our Fall 2019 School & Library Spotlight here.