TASL can Learn from ALSC: Advocacy for Youth Services

By Jenna Nemec-Loise (and Dorcas Hand, Editor, TASLTalks)

Jenna Nemec-Loise is one of my library rock stars. She is the Advocacy Queen for ALSC – I share her ideas often on TASLTalks. ALSC may be the Association for Library Service to Children which focuses on public libraries, but youth librarians are youth librarians no matter what kind of library. We work together because it best serves our students.

So today, I’m talking about her article in the Spring 2017 issue of Children and Libraries – yes, the one that just arrived in my mailbox. And folks who are not members of ALSC cannot just go read the article – so I will tell you about it while adding my TASL spin.

Jenna led a workshop in Lititz, PA entitled ”Why YS? Advocating for the Youth Services Profession.” She offered 6 take-aways for ALSC Everyday Advocates looking to up their game – and all of them apply to school librarians. We just add ESSA language and collaboration liberally to this already spicy stew for a show stopping entrĂ©e.

1.    Step outside your Comfort Zone.
School librarians – heck, all youth librarians – are not in fact wall flowers. We know how important our jobs are to student achievement in schools and to literacy rates in our communities. We know how to collaborate with teachers, how to reach the misfit kids who look to our library as a safe space, how to teach REAL news sources, and… We also know – even when we don’t want to admit – that if we don’t toot our own horn, we will not be nearly as successful because the adults outside our library space won’t know what we do. Step outside your comfort zone every day to tell someone on campus why you matter to campus mission, vision and goals. Every single day.

2.    Listen to understand, not to respond.
While your goal is to get those people outside the library to understand why you matter, your first goal has to be to UNDERSTAND what they need to hear. You only get that understanding if you slow down your brain to listen to what they are saying, rather than filling your brain with your retort so that you can’t absorb crucial information that will help you hone your message to be perfectly understood when you are able to voice it. It is really important that you tell people what they want to hear, with your library expertise as the topic – and no, that is not a contradiction. Use that fabulous journalistic term “spin” to translate your message to their vocabulary.

3.    Temper passion with reason.
Jenna must be a trained logician – I don’t know, but she talks about Aristotelian ethos (you and your credibility), logos (evidence presented through logic or reason), and pathos (an emotional appeal to your audience). And she talks about balance between too dry and logical or too wild and emotional. You need to offer your listeners the goldilocks formula that is just right, exactly what each of them needs to hear on this day – because you listened to them tell you what they needed you to know.

4.    Be the pebble.
A pebble thrown into a puddle or pond, ripples out farther than the thrower expects. Be the pebble by repeatedly offering your community ideas, information and data that demonstrates the impact of strong library programs on students in your specific campus or district. Don’t relax – keep it interesting. There are many ways to offer information, from letters and blog posts to infographics and events. Use them all to raise enthusiasm and awareness for your program so that administrators will hear from parents and teachers and even students if they threaten to cut your funding.

5.    Open doors wider.
Does your library entice EVERY student into your space, whether physical or virtual? Do you know what EVERY student needs? Reading level, research skills, personal interests, friends? There are not many librarians who could say “yes” – but that “maybe” or even “no” means that you have an opportunity to open your doors even wider, to find ways to welcome even more of your students, teachers and parents into your library collection and space. When every patron – or at least a growing number – are excited to learn how to locate what they need, then everyone will support your library program and begin to understand its impact on student achievement.

6.    Advocate, don’t justify.
Don’t get defensive – that leads to justifying. Listen to steps 1-5. Step outside your comfort zone, listen to understand, temper your passion with reason, and open the doors wider to welcome more and more students and teachers – and even administrators. Be the pebble. It isn’t as hard as you think. Lead with your passion – yes. But always leave room to hear what the community needs and to support your ideas with data and concrete methodologies that support the school’s mission and vision.

So, look for Jenna’s actual article (http://www.ala.org/alsc/publications-resources/cal ) thru your databases – her wording is better than mine. And implement as many of her ideas as you can manage – advocacy for youth services is essential in the current political climate. Use your enthusiasm and passion to lead your program forward wisely to a stronger footing on your campus. Persistence is power!

Thank you, Jenna – you are indeed my library advocacy rock star!

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