By Debbie Hall
School districts are governed by elected Boards. Seats on School Boards are generally occupied by parents and community members, not educators. As these volunteers sit on the board and attend educational conferences they learn about how education works and form opinions about the direction their district should be headed. You can inform them about libraries and librarians so that they will be able to make decisions that will improve library services to students of the district. Tell them yourself. You can remind them before every meeting that libraries and librarians are important to student success; remember that decisions to spend money on other things might mean there is none left when the library issues come up for vote. You can also warn them when decisions are being considered which may reduce the impact of a library program or when inequities exist. Our voice is essential in ensuring our boards know what they need to know about libraries and certified librarians.
Board members are very busy people so how you approach them, what you say or share, who you say it to, and when you say it is critical. Here are a few guidelines and suggestions:
1. How you approach them
- Demonstrate respect for their position
- Thank them for their work and especially any votes they have made that have a positive impact on libraries
- Keep it brief and to the point (remember they are busy)
- Personal library success story (try to say something positive every time especially if you are sharing concerns or criticism)
- Research about the importance of librarians and librarians or trends in library service. Keep the focus on student success, achievenment or test scores.
- Concerns about directions that the district is taking that affect libraries
- Comments on an upcoming board agenda items, especially if any items impact library service are critical. Board agendas may be published online prior to the meeting or may be requested. Make sure board members understand the ramifications of their decisions. Administrators may be prepping the board on agenda items but leaving out how this decision affects school libraries or librarians.
- Offer solutions or examples of ways library services can be improved
- Your board member if you live in the district (i.e. the one you can vote for)
- Your school’s board member (i.e. the one whose district your school sits in)
- Specific board members which you have identified as supportive library advocates
- All board members on voting issues that have an impact on the library program
- School board presidents control the meeting and in many cases should be included in all communication
4. When you communicate (perhaps the most important consideration)
- Within the week before the board meeting so it is fresh on their mind (most boards meet at least 8-10 times per year)
Look online at your district's website and see what information is posted about board meetings so you can send a timely email. My school district posts the dates of agenda review meetings (private), board agendas, and board meeting dates. Board members often only have a few days prior to the public board meeting to decide how they are going to vote on an issue that may be very complex.
Finally, amplify your advocacy by attending board meetings. The board will come to look for you and notice the fact that you are watching, recording, and observing what they say. Send a powerful message about the importance of libraries by being visible and timing your carefully crafted message.
An email before the board meeting takes only a few minutes to send – and it can make a huge difference. Attendance at a board meeting takes a bit more time, but has even stronger impact in the long haul. These are small things you can do in behalf of your students’ ongoing academic success.
Debbie is a retired HISD librarian and district supervisor now working with Students Need Libraries in HISD, a local Houston group.