Parent Advocate Toolkit

In today’s changing economy the need for creative thinking, problem-solving, and information literacy skills is growing. How you can help your child succeed in this changing global economy where many of us are deeply concerned that the United States is not preparing our young people with the skills they need to compete? The development of social technology tools has created an interconnected global society where learning, social, and work environments have moved across physical boundaries. To successfully navigate through these fluid boundaries, learners must embody characteristics of global citizenship and be skilled users of information technologies. By the end of the 20th century society had shifted from the Industrial Age, which centered around jobs in manufacturing, to the Information Age, in which jobs require innovative thinking and problem-solving skills, effective communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to manage information effectively (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008). As a result, the aptitudes learners need to be successful in work and in life have evolved to include high-level thinking skills, innovation skills, and collaborative teamwork. In 2009, AASL revised the mission of the school library program to reflect the expanding responsibilities of the school librarian in helping learners develop the skills needed to be successful in work and in life in the twenty-first century the revised mission statement states, "The mission of the school library program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information.

The school librarian empowers students to be:

  • critical thinkers,

  • enthusiastic readers,

  • skillful researchers,

  • and ethical users of information." (Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs)

Have you investigated whether your school is staffed by a full-time certified school librarian who is uniquely trained in helping students, teachers, and other school and community leaders develop the knowledge, abilities, and attitudes that are crucial to their success in the 21st century?

When students are taught through their most appropriate learning style, the results include higher achievement, better learning attitudes and fewer discipline problems. The school library is the essential place in the school that provides an environment for exploration and the opportunity to use a variety of materials to meet specific learning styles. Necessary to that environment is a certified school librarian that is specifically trained to examine how students learn, and to respond to individual instructional needs of the student as they encounter information in whatever form it presents itself.

Steps YOU can follow for improving reading, creative thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy education in your schools:    

  1. Get Organized

  2. Get the Facts

  3. Analyze Your Situation

  4. Make a Plan

  5. Educate for Action

  6. Be Persistent

  7. Additional Questions

Get Organized    

Visit your school librarian. Find out what kind of library program is available at your school. Does your school have a certified school librarian? School libraries are critical for student achievement, research shows that students in schools with good school libraries learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized test scores than their peers in schools without libraries, and more than 60 studies have shown clear evidence of this connection between student achievement and the presence of school libraries with qualified school librarians.

Tips for Open House Night/Back to School Night

  • visit your school library/librarian

  • ask for a demonstration of databases your child will be learning to use

  • ask if there is a possibility for a parent learning night

  • ask if you can link your PTA/PTO web site to the librarians Web site

  • invite the librarian to come to your PTA/PTO meetings, ask for a workshop from her/him about what your child will learn in the school library

  • ask if there are book clubs, book discussions, tech clubs, etc.

  • find out if there are book fairs planned and if you can help out

  • ask what you can do as a parent to raise awareness in the community about how important you think a good school library program is to your child's achievement

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Get the Facts    

  • Obtain a copy of the AASL's Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and familiarize yourself with its content.

  • Learn and absorb: Read and learn about information literacy and share that knowledge with other parents and the community.

  • Focus on state and local issues

  • Find out what classroom curriculum is being taught that requires research skills and if the students have the resources to accomplish the tasks set before them, including an information specialist in the form of a full time certified school librarian. The changing role of technology in education has increased the need for information literacy educators. Students and their teachers are more accustomed than ever in having technology as part of their learning and teaching. As technology becomes more advanced, there is the thought that users will no longer require assistance to use it (Gillian, 1996); however, as the World Wide Web has continued to develop in complexity, we see there is an even greater need for information and library work in our schools. Students are struggling to figure out what they need, where to find what they need and beyond that, to interpret what they have found. The school librarian is especially trained to teach the skills these students need to be successful.

You can find out what classroom curriculum is being taught by asking your child's teachers at open house. Many class curriculums can be accessed from district websites and all states post their curriculum standards on their Department of Education Web sites. Be an investigator. Get the facts.

Where to find some of the facts you are looking for:

Informative video clips to help learn what the new school library looks like:

Go to Existing Resources & Organizations for additional tools to inform.

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Analyze Your Situation    

Take stock of what your school's library programs currently offer, and what they don't offer. Is your child being taught to solve problems, imagine, explore, investigate, and question in order for them to develop mental habits that will help them to think creatively on their own? Are they being taught by a qualified school librarian? Determine if classroom curriculum requires research in collaboration with the school librarian. Learn what (or who) should be added: for example, more (or different) teacher training and assistance. Learn whether your school lacks the necessary resources to accomplish the goals, and what can be done to get those resources.

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Make a Plan    

  • Don't assume your goal is impossible. Help is available from local library associationsthe words link to a pdf

  • Find out what your state and U.S. Department of Education has earmarked as funds for teacher training and other types of assistance.

  • Ask your State Librarian for support in the form of a letter to your superintendent and/or board of education. this link opens as a word document

  • Pass a resolution in support of your school library. Use the State Resolution as your guide! (see the PTA Resolution example this link opens as a word document)

  • Send valentines to your congressmen during February letting them know you love your school library/librarian.

  • Send valentines to your administration and your board of education during National School Library Month (April) to let them know how much you love your school library/librarian.

  • Put together a parent wiki, so ideas can be posted and you have ideas that you can act on. If you don't know how to get a wiki started, ask your librarian if he/she can help you. The sharing of ideas can generate action. You will need to share emails and phone numbers with each other to celebrate the good things taking place in your school library or if a crisis hits, to be ready to take action.

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Educate for Action    

Take your case to the public:

  • attend town hall meetings and be prepared to make a statement in defense of your child's library program

  • attend board of education meetings, ask questions, keep your child's library program at the heart of education, thank boards of education if they are strong supporters of the program, be prepared to educate them if they are not strong supporters.

  • attend board of education meetings when things are good, tell the board you appreciate their vision of strong library programs, bring student work that was done in the library and show it off.

  • invite board members to story time at your child's school library or invite them to come and see a research project your child is involved in, or to hear the author who is visiting or to be a part of the book clubs or book discussion groups, whatever it is that is worthy of an invitation. And keep inviting them!

  • Have volunteers write letters, blog to the local newspapers, or send postcards to decision makers telling them why school libraries and your plan in particular is important for education.

  • Speak to your principal (see the principal attachments below) about strengthening the school library program and information literacy skills for your children’s future. Ask if your school is teaching guided inquiry.

  • Be a voice for information literacy before community and civic groups.

Additional information on legislative issues can be found at Legislative Initiatives.

Tips for advocating for your school library

  • Find out what issues are important and what resources are available from your school library state association
  • Find out what key issues are important to your state department of education and local department of education then frame your advocacy around those issues. It is not a good idea to start out with I feel that..., a stronger position would begin with "the board of education endorses....

  • Don't forget to find out what is important to your child's principal who directly influences the environment your child will be learning in. Speak to your principal regarding the importance of a good school library program for your child's education. Most educational opportunities (technology literacy, information literacy, 21st century learning skills, media literacy etc.) can be tied back to essential involvement of the school library staffed by a full time certified school librarian.
  • When you are launching a letter writing campaign or speaking at a board meeting, focus on a key issue. When you are not focused, the audience you are addressing cannot focus or will focus on the easiest problem to solve and not the most critical. Most of the time, it is important to keep your letter or speech short by sticking to the point you want to make, and always be gracious and say thank you.

  • Communication IS critical and many times a handwritten note outweighs a mass produced email or postcard. And a personal visit is even better, but don't just drop by, make an appointment, and bring along printed material that staff can read later. When you finish, be sure to summarize.

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Be Persistent    

Find out what the objections are to a high-quality school library and information education in your school community and respond to each objection. You may not carry the day on your first try, but don't give up.

Some questions parents might have:    

(taken from  Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries)

Isn’t everything available on the Internet? Why do we need a school library?
A school library is more than books, it is the place where inquiry and critical thinking takes place. It’s a learning hub with a full range of print and electronic resources that support student achievement. These resources include books, magazines, videotapes, computers, databases and much more. More importantly, there is a school librarian to assist students with their information needs and help teachers develop projects that engage students in developing critical learning and research skills.

Why do we need a school librarian? Can’t we use volunteers?

  • School librarians have advanced education degrees as teachers and librarians.

  • They have teaching degrees and are experts in children’s and young adult literature, as well as information science.

  • They know what kids like to read and what is appropriate at different stages of their development.

  • They promote reading as a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.

  • Their program provides instruction that addresses multiple literacies, including information literacy, media literacy, visual literacy, and technology literacy.

  • Their program models an inquiry-based approach to learning and the information search process.

  • They understand how information is organized and how to find it in print and electronic formats.

  • They are there to help classroom teachers teach and students to learn using a variety of resources.

  • Few volunteers have the expertise to do all of these things.

  • School librarians teach the information literacy curriculum.

  • They are specifically trained to teach information literacy.

  • They also teach ethical and skilled use of technology.

  • School librarians are trained to teach proper Internet searching so that students are equipped with efficient ways to search for needed information.

  • School librarians teach evaluating information, especially information from the Web, for accuracy and impartiality.

  • Classroom teachers are not trained in this field and do not have the knowhow to teach all aspects of this curriculum.

  • School librarians teach all stages of the research process from understanding the task to putting together a finished product.

School librarians collaborate with teachers to help create real-world tasks that motivate students. They design projects that teach students how to locate and use the best information available. School librarians implement reading incentive programs and introduce students to new genres of literature. Their knowledge of children's literature helps foster an appreciation of reading and literacy.

School librarians catalog books and keep the circulation and cataloging databases current provide collection analysis and orders and process books and other materials (digital and print) to keep the collection current and in line with the state curriculum requirements and local curriculum matters.

Isn’t it true students don’t use the library anymore?
On the contrary! School libraries are filled with students throughout the day -- reading books; logging on to the Internet; receiving help with their research projects; studying; collaborating on projects with other students; and more.

Research demonstrates that an aggressive school library program boosts student achievement. Today's school library programs are focused on helping students learn to think in more complex ways, to instill students with a love of reading and literature, and to prepare them to become information and technology literate, while enabling students to become independent life long learners.

Some possible talking points to ask at a Board of Education meeting if your school library program is in crisis:

  1. How will you guarantee that my child will have the necessary library information seeking skills or information literacy and technology skills needed to move to the middle school, high school, or college?

  2. I am interested in hearing who will choose the resources for the school library, both for the curriculum support and to develop a love of reading for pleasure.

  3. Will the person filling in or overseeing of the library, have any professional background/education to do this job effectively?

  4. Will there be a "paid employee" in the library every day? What will the title of that person be?

  5. Will any new materials be chosen for the elementary (middle/high) school libraries? Who will make this decision? How will they know if those resources are already part of the library collection? There is an automated catalog in our elementary (middle/high) school libraries, who will be entering the data for the new resources coming in?

  6. New books are published every year. School librarians keep abreast of these publications through journals, catalogs, workshops, professional organizations and conferences. Who will be doing this part of their job? If there is no one, won't my child be at a disadvantage when placed against children who benefit from these contacts?

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To Encourage Endorsement of School Library Legislative Initiatives

Consider sending a delegation to Washington, D.C. on National Library Legislative Day. Work with this idea on a state level through your state library association and your school library association. Encourage state associations to partner with your PTA for presentations at Legislative Day.

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Existing Resources & Organizations

  1. The 21 Century Skills Map (Partnership for 21st Century Skills) 
    The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has emerged as the leading advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The organization brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers to define a powerful vision for 21st century education and to ensure that students emerge from our schools with the skills needed to be effective citizens, workers, and leaders in the 21st century.

  2. What the research says School Libraries Work pdf icon by Scholastic
    Studies talk about student achievement while principals and schools look at test scores. This research foundation paper, updated from the 2006 edition of School Libraries Work!, brings together position statements from a variety of organizations and findings from nearly two decades of empirical studies that cite the measurable impact school libraries and librarians have on student achievement.

  3. State School Library Associations pdf icon
    This is a list of school associations and their Web addresses. 

  4. AASL's Learning Standards and Program Guidelines
    The Standards for the 21st-Century Learner offer vision for teaching and learning to both guide and beckon our profession as education leaders. AASL's guidelines, Empowering Learners, advances school library programs to meet the needs of the changing school library environment. Finally, Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action includes indicators, benchmarks, model examples and assessments to support school librarians and other educators in teaching the essential learning skills defined in the learning standards.

  5. AASL Position Statements    
    You will find AASL’s position statements on this page on many topics such as, School Librarian's role in reading, strengthening student interest in learning and access to resources and services in the library program.

  6. Institute for Library and Information Literacy Education (ILILE) 
    The Institute for Library and Information Literacy Education provides local, regional and national leadership in fostering valuable collaboration among teachers, school librarians and academic faculty who work together to promote information literacy in the K-16 classroom.
  7. Learning4Life  
    Learning4Life (L4L) is a national plan for implementation of Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and Empowering Learners: Guidelines for the School Library Media Program.

Important AASL/ALA resources for advocacy:   

Other resources for advocacy:

Standards per state model (are very different). You can find these models by going to state department of education Web sites.

Question to ask, Who is teaching our students research process skills?

ALA Press Release: Spokane Moms Win State Funding for School Libraries

ABC Channel 5/KSTP TV INVESTIGATION: Outdated library books

NY Times article and video: In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update

YouTube:  Letter to Governor John Corzine

New Jersey Association of School Librarians: This wiki is designed for librarians to advocate for their libraries but has useful talking points and templates for letters to legislator's, etc.

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