School Library Crisis Toolkit

If you are looking at the AASL School Library Crisis Toolkit, chances are your program is danger of being reduced or eliminated. This kit is designed to assist you as you build meaningful and effective support for saving your program. That means educating and rallying stakeholders to speak out on behalf of school libraries.

If cuts are not imminent, visit AASL's School Library Program Health and Wellness page for prevention strategies. The ideal time to start advocacy efforts is before there is a crisis.

Thinking about Advocacy
True advocacy is when stakeholders stand up and speak out for you on behalf of a cause, idea, program or organization. Think of what is happening in Washington State with the Spokane Moms. With the Moms behind the message, it carries significantly more weight than if librarians alone campaign for better funding for their own school libraries. As librarians, we need to plan ahead and focus our efforts on building support from stakeholder groups. Ideally, you want students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders to carry the message that school libraries make a difference to students. But this won't happen without careful planning and action. We need to educate and mobilize our stakeholders to advocate for school libraries. The voices of school librarians are most effective when we join our voices with others to advocate for students and student learning.

Crisis Planning    

  • Defining the situation
    • Determine who is making the decision(s).
    • Determine why decisions are being made.
    • Ascertain the decision timeline.
  • Mission
    • Develop goals for the Crisis Action Group.
    • If there is time, think in terms of the group's mission, vision, and objectives.
    • Put together a timeline to organize efforts.

Key: Remember decisions are business and not personal. Try to avoid forcing decision makers, who are reluctantly making cuts, into defensive positions. When are forced to defend cuts, they are more likely to feel strongly in favor of the cuts. The goal is to build bridges for working relationships centered around what is best for children. Messages have to be about students and student learning; they cannot be about the jobs of librarians. Schools are not in the business of employing librarians; they are about students and learning. We need to reach out to these decision makers with a helping hand. A positive approach is to offer to supply information to help inform difficult decisions and to help support efforts to bring back positions. It is critical not to form an adversarial relationship.

  • Communication structure
    • How will you keep your coordinating group informed?
    • How will you ask for support?
      • Who is going to contact which group?
      • Who is going to follow up?
    • How will interested parties be kept informed?
  • Identifying the stakeholders
    • Bring together any interested parties. Arrange for a meeting with library personnel and other concerned individuals.
    • Determine potential sources of support:
      • local organizations
        • union
          • know which members of your group are dues paying members
          • encourage non members to join
          • review contract with union leadership
        • PTA/PTO
          • building
          • district
        • public library
        • local colleges, technical schools, and universities
      • professional library organizations
        • local and regional library associations and organizations
        • state library organization(s)
        • AASL
      • individuals
        • students
        • alumni
        • parents
        • teachers
        • administrators
        • community members
        • business owners
  • Crafting messages

Key: When asking for support, messages should be child-centered. Write in terms of "what the students will gain or lose with a diminished educational opportunities" and not about "what the library will gain or lose." Stakeholders are interested in children, not libraries.

  • Know the mission, vision, and goals of the educational institute.
  • Have program-specific quantitative empirical data available
    • national and state standards and indicators taught,
    • access to technology,
    • integration of technology,
    • impact on reading,
    • equity,
    • the libraries' connection to test scores,
    • course load, and
    • access to materials
  • Also provide qualitative anecdotal information and evidence:
    • student quotes
    • brief stories
    • alumni testimonials
    • photographs
    • examples of student work
    • videos
  • Collect and share relevant:
    • state study findings
    • local data that connects the learning in the library to
      • 21st Century Skills
      • the global economy
      • information technologies
      • reading skills
      • students' special needs
      • the district's educational needs
    • petition signatures
  • Prepare talking points

Key Point: Connect the data to the educational problems, issues, goals and priorities in the district and demonstrate how the library supports them or is part of the solution.

Talking points should focus on education and students. The focus should NOT be libraries and librarians.

    • Know what is desired/be ready to make specific requests.
      • staffing and other support needed
      • amount of funding needed
    • Acknowledge the reality of the situation.
    • Say thank you for opportunity to speak and past support to
      • stakeholders
      • decision-makers
  • Sharing the message:
    • Web site - use to:
      • Share information & build support
      • Coordinate efforts
      • Gather information (i.e. signatures)
      • Raise funds for effort
    • Offer to speak at meetings
      • Who
        • Parent meetings
        • Community meetings
        • Teacher meetings
        • Administrative meetings
      • What-
        • Demonstrate database use
        • Demonstrate Web 2.0 tools and resources
        • Teach information and technology skills and strategies
    • Coordinate or encourage letters to:
      • the editor
      • board
    • Attend board meetings.
    • Invite the local paper to do a story on student learning in the library.
    • Invite law-makers and other decision-makers to observe or participate in student learning activities
    • Encourage others to visit the library and participate in students learning experiences
  • Getting people involved:
    • Be clear about what people are being asked to do:
      • obtain petition signatures
      • inform and recruit other supporters
      • attend a board or other meeting
        • be part of a large presence
        • speak
        • carry signs
      • write letters to the editor
      • meet with or contact school board members
      • meet with or write to the superintendent
    • Provide clear message information
    • Provide support

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State and National Support: Contacting AASL and Other Associations:    

Asking for letters of support from state and national organizations:

  • Provide:
    • contact person(s) with contact information
    • nature of changes/cuts
    • reasons for cuts
    • number of students to be impacted and how
    • meeting dates
    • when cuts are to be made
    • other relevant information about the
      • program
      • community
    • people to be contacted:
      • names, positions and other helpful information
      • contact information
      • name, position and role
      • preferred contact method
        • email
        • fax
        • snail mail

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About Advocacy    

Now Hear This: The Nine Laws of Successful Advocacy Communications: With Words of Wisdom From More Than 25 Leading Experts

Experts share advocacy basics and advice.

Rettig, Jim. “Advocating Together.” American Libraries. (August 2008) p. 8.

ALA President, Jim Rettig, advocates for various types of libraries to work together as a library system.

Video: Advocacy Webinar #1 & Visit Packet

Advocacy Guru, Stephanie Vance, provides training on how to advocate.

Your Competitive Advantage

While this blog is geared toward marketing, the concept of looking for what makes a “product” unique and essential to the end user is an important approach. Look at the library from the end-user perspective to determine what makes the library program distinctively necessary and valuable to students and teachers.

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The Research    

College Success: High School Librarians Make the Difference

Two of the three school districts in Santa Cruz County do not have high school librarians. This published study shows the difference in achievement by students from the respective high schools in a Cabrillo College course.

School Libraries Work! updated (3rd ed., 2008)

Provides an overview of school library research studies.

School Library Impact Studies

Links to the results of the state studies.

Study: Higher Test Scores Linked to Certified Media Specialists

This Syracuse study connects a nearly 10-point increase on the fourth grade English Language Arts tests for students with school librarians.

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21st Century Skills, Information Technologies and the Economy    

21st Century Connections:  Voters Want Schools to Teach 21st Century Skills

Summarizes findings of survey on voter perceptions and expectations for education.

21st Century Skills, Education & Competitiveness Guide

Identifies skills sets needed to ensure success in the 21st Century.

AASL's Standards for the 21st-Century Learner

Document the connection between the instruction in your district's libraries and the skills needed for 21st-century success.

AASL's Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs

Advances school library programs to meet the needs of the changing school library environment and is guided by the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action.

Learning4Life (L4L)

AASL's national intiative to implement the learning standards and program guidelines.

Educational Testing Service's iSkills TM - Information and Communication Technology Literacy Test

Use the content and research sections of this site to identify and show the links between instruction in school library programs and students being prepared for higher education and the workforce.

ISTE National Education Technology Standards

Align with the NETS to show how programs teach national technology instructional standards.

Martin, Ann M. “School Libraries Renewed: Library Media Specialists Connect Curriculum and Technology to Real-World Skills.” District Administrator. (October 2008)

This article by AASL President, Ann M. Martin, elaborates on the relationship between school libraries and 21st Century Skills.

Shift Happens

Provides a global look at the rapidly changing demographics, economy, and world of information and information technologies.

Tough Choices or Tough Times: Executive Summary

The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce has prepared guidelines for developing a competitive workforce for the global economy.

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Raising Readers    

Children's Literature: Very Good News and Very Bad New

Stephen Krashen discusses the connection between access to books and reading success.

The "Decline" of Reading in America, Poverty and Access to Books, and the use of Comics in Encouraging Reading

In this research-based article Krashen connects school libraries to the encouragement of reading.

Literacy Campaigns: Access to Books is the First Step

Stephen Krashan makes a connection between school libraries and making books accessible to students.

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The Role of School Libraries    

Are Librarians Totally Obsolete? 33 Reasons Why Libraries and Librarians are Still Extremely Important

Addresses why the Internet is not a replacement for libraries and other needs for libraries.

Libraries Working Together: Public and School Libraries Working Together to Provide Complementary Services

The New Jersey Library Association identifies the distinct roles of school and public libraries and librarians. This resource clearly differentiates between the roles.

Principal’s Project

This is ILILE’s collection of resources for administrators on the role of professionally staffed school libraries. A second section of this toolkit provides resources to help school librarians work with administrators.

School Library Media Centers Rock!

Shows the school library as a place for reading and learning.

Today's School Library

Illustrates the nature of a 21st Century school library.

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Advocacy in Action: Examples of Advocacy Movements and Tools    

California Parents Saved School Librarians

School Library Journal article (8/1/2003) about wealthy parents funding a school library position.

Fund our Future Washington

This Web site details the efforts of the Washington Moms.

How Three Moms Save their School Libraries and Created an Advocacy Model for the Rest of Us

This SLJ article (9/1/2008) chronicles the efforts of the three Washington Moms.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Joyce Valenza’s slide show designed to build understanding for state legislators about effective libraries and equity.

Kaaland, Christie. “Making History on a Shoestring: The Story of the Spokane Moms.” School Library Media Activities Monthly. v. 24 no. 8 (May 2008). p. 45-6.

This article updates the activities of the Spokane Moms through the passage of Bill 6380.

Rogge, Patience. “A Textbook Case of Advocacy.” Alki. v. 22 no. 1 (March 2006). p. 29-30.

How a school board member advocated for school libraries and saved LMS positions.

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Additional Toolkits    

Friends of Santa Cruz Libraries

New York Library Association Crisis Toolkit

When Your Job is on the Line: MEMO’s Strategies for Assisting Library Media Specialists Whose Positions are in Jeopardy

Key Concept: Budget Cuts In this time of limited resources, educational leaders are faced with unenviable decisions. They have to make cuts. These are decisions that they do not want to make, but have to make. They try to make informed decisions that will minimize the negative impact on students. Cuts can happen to excellent programs where the librarians have done everything “right” and more. School districts cannot spend money that they do not have. What can we do? We need to make a conscious effort to avoid making business decisions personal. It is imperative that we do not back the unfortunate administrators into corners. We do not want to force administrators to rationalize and defend library cuts. We need to continue making connections between the district's educational goals and how the library plays an essential role in meeting those goals. We need to show our support for the district by providing information that will assist them with the data they need to make informed future decisions regarding the support of students and learning through library services. Our job is to offer support, assistance and data that will help decision makers make informed decisions prior to cuts and to support their efforts to ultimately bring back positions after cuts. Messages have to be about students and student learning; they cannot be about the jobs of librarians. Schools are not in the business of employing librarians; they are about students and learning.

Dealing with Budget Cut Resources: Fontichiaro, Kristin. "Staffing Has Been Cut…Now What Do You Do?" School Library Media Activities Monthly. v. 24 no. 8 (April 2008). p. 28-30. When it is over, is it over? Fontichiaro provides strategies for dealing with cuts.

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