Timing is everything - - - bringing an increased Library Awareness to Boards of Education

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) 
2.   What you say or share

  • 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
3.  Who you contact (choose your options)

  • 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.





5 Minutes of Advocacy Every Day – Don’t Skip

By Dorcas Hand

I was speaking to a school library friend from another state, an outstanding leader who thought he was doing what needed to be done in terms of campus advocacy – but he has just been informed they couldn’t justify him over reading specialists for next year’s budget. The specific person and state don’t matter – the lesson does.

Every day, we all need to be sure campus colleagues have noticed us as strong contributors to their classroom success. Being indispensable is certainly part of that effort, but reminding them how the things we do directly impact test scores and academic achievement is essential.

That we help students choose books they will enjoy gives them ownership of the love of reading and learning, a feel-good experience that will encourage persistence in academic challenges. But our colleagues don't always see the transfer from feel-good to academic success. Administration and parent groups need to know the data from the Colorado Study and its many derivatives, how this data demonstrates that libraries strongly support test score improvement in schools with strong libraries staffed by certified librarians. Perhaps an infographic will be the most concise and memorable method.

Consider our efforts to support students and teachers with information technology – both digital resources and hardware access points for students without any at home. How can you keep those efforts in the limelight every day? Your students need your library.

Compare schools in your own district that have certified library staff with those that don’t to show what you do. Hopefully, the publically posted test scores will help you. Do these campuses have reading specialists instead – what have they lost? Does that approach just support test scores rather than learning. Does the tutoring effect carry over year to year, or are you better bang for the buck because you see every student in every discipline all year, impacting many aspects of their learning? What information will have the most effect in YOUR district.

Share Nancy Everhart poster 100 Things Kids Will Miss If They Don’t Have aLibrarian in Their School (available for download).

Have your elevator speeches ready – and yes, I meant the plural. You need one for parents, one for teachers, and one for campus administration. You will want one that focuses on free reading, reading comprehension, love of reading and another that focuses on information retrieval, evaluation, comprehension and the writing process. These all clearly overlap, but targeted comments for each audience are essential to success. The core question is why libraries and librarians matter to student success – but there are hundreds of campus specific examples you can use to illustrate the facts.

5 minutes, 5 fingers. 5 minutes of advocacy EVERY DAY to someone who matters in the continuation of your program. Your 5 fingers can remind you of the 5 points you want to make.

Keep the focus on student success and improvement. You are the caring person who provides many of the tools that support their success. Be sure the world you work in knows. Time spent on Advocacy is time well spent – don’t decide that time on circulation management or clerical details is more important. Stakeholders, allies and opponents need concrete information that focuses on student achievement – make that info easily available, all the time. 5 minutes every day. Don’t miss.


Spring Break: 168 hours (or so) to recharge your batteries

By Naomi Bates

There’s a special time during the school year that educators, administrators and librarians look forward to with joy, happiness, and longing.  No, it’s not bad weather days (although those are nice too) but the week of, “I’m need this or I’m going to die!” affectionately known as spring break.  It’s around the corner for most of us and although it is a time to relax, it can also be a time to advocate for school libraries without being at school.  Virtual media and collaboration are ways you can take a tiny amount of time during the week to make a huge difference.  

Advocacy isn’t just about deluging people information about the importance of school libraries and librarians (although we need do this to key decision makers ANY TIME the topic of school libraries/librarians is on the table in Austin).  Advocacy can also happen through creating/updating quality virtual presence.  Here are a few ways advocacy can be done in a short amount of time while enjoying those days off:
  • Advocate via online sources (blogs, listservs, curation sites):  If you have a blog, update it to give back to your virtual community about what librarians do above and beyond what most people stereotypically think we do.  Librarians have excellent creativity, so show this by sharing through online sites like Pinterest or even staying active on listservs. Not everyone has the same spring break, and they can still learn with those that are.
  • Advocate via online PLCs (Personal Learning Community): a lot of librarians connect with not only each other but teachers and administrators in the state and national through Twitter and Facebook.  Stay connected through Twitterchats and Facebook updates. If you know the topic beforehand, take time to get prepared and share important lesson ideas, tools, and the importance of school libraries/librarians with everyone out there.
  • Advocate via virtual bookshelves:  If you have a Shelfari or Goodreads, take time to update it not only with titles, but also with short reviews to help guide readers in and out of your campus through your virtual presence.  There will be readers out there who are looking for something great to read during the week and you may be that tipping point directing them to the next great book!  Look at book trailers and reviews online yourself and make comments and share them with students, teachers, colleagues.
  • Advocate through future planning: If you’re in a Texas library, you know that TLA conference is coming up!  Take some time to download the TLA 2015 app to get ready for all the great presentations/workshops that go along with the conference.  Also look at what else is going on during the summer like the ALA conference, TLA Annual Assembly, summer staff developments and edcamps you can not only attend but advocate through presenting and teaching. 
  • Advocate locally via email: While the legislature considers Texas State Library Budget Request funding THIS WEEK, it’s never too late to let state representatives know the importance of school library funding.  Take time and do this online quickly and easily.  One voice may not stand out, but thousands will make a difference, so be a part of it.  Link to the TXLA Support Learning and Economic Development page and voice your support for school librarians.
Enjoy those days off!  Travel, sleep late, stay up late, watch movies, play with family and friends.  Spring break is a time to recharge.  But think about taking 15-20 minutes out of the 168 hours you have to do some advocating about how important we are, and above all, be safe!  See you in April for TLA!  

Naomi is Librarian at Northwest High School in Northwest ISD. She is a Past Chair of TASL.