While the term “front line” initially was coined by the military to describe those troops at the forward-most point in the battlefield, literally the soldiers facing the opposing army, “front line” or “frontline” has more recently become an expression to describe those individuals who interact in the visible forefront of any situation.
You interact with frontline people every day. A few examples include the helpful sales clerk at your favorite retail store, the restaurant server who knows you like mustard on your turkey sandwich and the cashier you see so often at your grocery store. These people all interact on a personal level with you. The kind of service they give you directly impacts your opinion of their business and of the value you get for your money there. Your interactions with them shape your opinion about the business’s quality and importance in your life.
“Advocacy” means supporting a cause or course of action, and in the school library world, all library staff and everyone who has direct contact with the school library media center - librarians, media specialists, paraprofessionals, clerks, secretaries, volunteers, students, parents, teachers, site council members and principals - can easily be advocates - “frontline advocates” - for their school’s library.
Frontline advocates talk to others - colleagues, friends, neighbors, relatives and acquaintances - about their school library media center’s value to its students, teachers, families and community. They share their passion because they understand that the school library plays a critical role in learning and school success. Success in life begins in school, and if you are a school library media center staff member, you play a vital role in this process. It’s important that you share the value of your impact as well as the value of your library media center’s impact on student success.
The purpose of this Where School is Cool! Frontline Advocacy for School Libraries Toolkit is to provide simple tools and strategies for anyone who works for or is passionate about their school library to make advocacy part of their everyday conversation and activities. For some great ideas about frontline advocacy activities for all kinds of libraries, including school libraries, check out 2009-2010 ALA president Dr. Camila Alire’s 23 (Advocacy) Things (Tips) for Frontline Employees. [3.1.a]
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Why Do Schools Need Libraries These Days?
Our Internet-driven world is quick to discard the traditional ways of doing things for ways that are faster and glossier. The explosion of information that is available online makes it easy to believe that everything a student needs to know is on the Internet and that what isn’t there is in the public library…so school libraries are no longer relevant or necessary.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, much of what is on the Internet is difficult for students, particularly young students, to understand. A good deal of it is inappropriate for students. Some of it is downright inaccurate. The school library media center, on the other hand, provides resources that are appropriate for students’ comprehension and maturity. These resources are selected to complement curriculum, teaching styles and the school’s mission, and they are organized in a manner that makes them easily accessible for all users.
Today’s school library media center supports students with resources in both print and electronic formats. It’s truly an active and interactive learning environment. A variety of formats is essential because students learn differently and teachers teach differently from one another. Additionally, student-centered teaching methods often require the support of online resources and other technologies, and guidance by staff who can help students use these resources and technologies. A great school library media center is also about enrichment. School librarians excel at storytelling, reviewing books, giving book talks, launching reading challenges and organizing student book clubs, computer clubs and other activities that foster a love of reading and learning.
Research has shown that students with well-equipped library media centers, staffed by professional library media specialists, perform better on assessments of reading comprehension and basic research skills. For “quotable facts” about school library media centers, click on this link from the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) online Advocacy Toolkit [3.2.a]
Why Are YOU Your School Library’s Best Frontline Advocate?
Good question! The truth is, you are a valuable staff member, and you know your school library media center best. Whether this is your first year or your 30th year in your job, you are part of an important team that provides a critical service: helping students read, love reading, learn and love learning. Your school library media center contributes directly to their success in school, and that success equips your students to contribute something positive and important to the world as they go through life.
You are someone your friends, neighbors, family and others connect with the school library because they know you work there. You have credibility and the power of persuasion when you talk about your library media center because you are the face of your library and school to the community.
Why Are YOU Needed Now More Than Ever?
The difficult economic times we have been living through means that counties, cities and other municipalities have lost tax revenue, federal dollars and other critical sources of school funding over the last few years. School libraries and media centers have all felt effects of these reductions: professional staff cut, materials budgets slashed, paraprofessional help given pink slips – in other words, doing more with less while students’ needs grow.
School funding is complex and cuts are unavoidable in an economic environment such as this one, but it is important that those cuts do not undervalue the media center or sell the library short. The school library media center needs passionate advocates now to ensure that decision makers understand the link between the library and student achievement. That is the reason that every school library employee is being called upon to share the message of their library’s value with everyone they know.
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What Does an Effective Frontline Advocate for School Libraries Do?
Frontline advocacy is all about informing and persuading. It’s about partnering with your school librarian and administrators to place your school library media center in the spotlight at every opportunity. It’s about saying and doing the little things on a daily basis that give others positive feelings and an appreciation of your school’s library, and doing the big things when times are hard. Don’t wait for a crisis to advocate for your library. Practice it every day, and, when there is a special issue or concern, you’ll be very good at it.
Once you try it, you will realize that advocating for your library is actually pretty easy. Click for Ten Action Steps for Frontline School Library Advocacy. [3.3.a]
Resist the urge to say, “Yeah, but…” Instead, check out Six Good Excuses That Won’t Work [3.3.b]
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3.4 Frontline Advocacy Every Day : Library Media Center Leadership, Staff and Others Working Together
You know that your library media center is the coolest place in school. Tell others! Think about two kinds of frontline advocacy for your school library media center, “informal” and “planned.”
“Informal” frontline advocacy is simply using everyday opportunities to tell or remind people about your library media center’s resources and value to students, families and staff. How do you do it? You can share success stories with school staff, parents, your family, friends, neighbors and the former student (now grown up) you bump into at the drug store. It’s not hard; in fact, you probably do this already, without consciously thinking of it as frontline advocacy. You have many opportunities to share this information every day. Seize those opportunities! Once you start practicing it, you’ll find that talking positively and persuasively about your school library media center and the value of your job there comes easily and spontaneously.
“Planned” frontline advocacy is more deliberate, and it requires the knowledge (and possibly the approval) of school library leadership. It starts with defined goals and a carefully crafted message, and it is more strategic than informal advocacy; but like informal advocacy, it’s not difficult. It requires someone who is willing to be a LEADER - such as the school librarian, media specialist, or other library staff member - and a simple, organized PLAN.
Below are some basic steps for planned frontline advocacy. A library leader who follows them will find the information and tools he or she needs to deliver a well-crafted, effective frontline advocacy message.
Ten Basic Steps to Successful Frontline Advocacy for School Library Leadership
- Be sure your library administration supports frontline advocacy, then recruit others who have a strong interest in your library media center to join you in your efforts. Who? The other members of your library staff, of course, but also student volunteers, parents, teachers and other school staff who love what the library media center contributes to your school and its students. This is your “A Team.” (“A” stands for advocacy!)
- Gather your A Team together and think hard about your library media center. What are its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? Click on Your Library Media Center’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats [3.4.a] (PDF) or download the SWOT worksheet (Word doc) for a handy worksheet to guide you.
- Determine your goal. For example, would you like to make the library media center more visually inviting, or offer after-school reading help in the library?
- Understand why that goal is important to student success. These are your objectives. Identify and list your goals and objectives using a tool in this toolkit, Frontline Advocacy for School Libraries: Goals and Objectives Worksheet or the Goals-Objectives-Strategies worksheet (Word doc) [3.4.b]
- Craft a strong, clear message that communicates your goal. Make it short and memorable. Be sure that listeners understand that your library media center is the coolest place in school! This toolkit contains guidelines for helping you craft the best message possible. Click Crafting Your Message [3.4.c] or download the Crafting Your Message worksheet (Word doc).
- Ask your A Team to list all the people they know who need to hear your important and timely message. Need help with this? Go to Target Audience Identification for All Frontline Advocacy Staff [3.4.d] or the Target Audience Planning worksheet (Word doc).
- Think of all the ways you can communicate your message to a variety of people. These are your strategies. Brainstorm beyond the A Team and get lots of people’s creative suggestions. Schedule an after-school session to create fun decor. Put on a skit or puppet show at the next school program. Make special bookmarks or buttons. Write an article for the school or community newsletter. Have fun with this! Remember, there are no bad ideas (well, almost none). Look at the tool Fun and Effective Strategies for Frontline Advocates [3.4.e] for some great ideas, and remember to decide who will be responsible for particular tasks.
- Congratulations! You’ve just developed your A Team’s frontline advocacy plan. Now it’s time to write it down. You can summarize it on two pages by using the handy tool included: Your A Team’s Frontline Advocacy Plan [3.4.f] or use the Frontline Advocacy Plan worksheet (Word doc).
- Find jobs for everyone on your school library media center staff and anyone else who wants to help. Ask them to use their networks of friends, family and others to help spread the message that your library media center is the heart of learning at your school. Let them work at their comfort level, and encourage them to have fun doing it.
- Get the A Team together regularly to evaluate how you’re doing and to celebrate a job well done. Can you use one more tool? Click on Evaluating Your Efforts [3.4.g] or use the Evaluating Your Efforts worksheet (Word doc) and make it easy to assess your performance.
Hint: Look for natural times to promote your library media center’s resources and its value to students and your school. Go online and find out the dates for “School Library Media Month,” “The Annual Day of Reading,“ “I Love to Read Month,” and other special days, weeks or months, and take advantage of the public awareness those events generate.
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What if you’re a passionate frontline school library media center staff member who wants to do more? Don’t do it on your own! You must first work with your librarian or media specialist and your school administration. They are the ones who can get you more involved at the appropriate levels.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to succeed at advocacy. Many advocacy tools are easily available over the Internet because a wide variety of organizations depend on advocacy for their livelihood. The American Library Association (ALA) and others have excellent online resources if you want to read more about school library and other kinds of educational advocacy:
Howard, Jody K., “Advocacy Through Relationships,” School Library Monthly (26:2), October 2009, pp. 44-45.
Hand, Dorcas, “What Can Teacher-Librarians Do to Promote Their Work and the School Library Media Program? Constant Advocacy,” Teacher Librarian (36:2), December 2008, pp. 26-27.
Johns, Sara Kelly, “What Can Teacher-Librarians Do to Promote Their Work and the School Library Media Program? Offensive Formula: P+M=A,” Teacher Librarian (36:2), December 2008, pp. 30-31.
Logan, Debra, “What Can Teacher-Librarians Do to Promote Their Work and the School Library Media Program? Think and Then Do…For the Kids!” Teacher Librarian (36:2), December 2008, pp. 20-21.
ALA President Camila Alire wishes to thank the Neal-Schuman Foundation for its generous support of the Frontline Advocacy Initiative.
The Neal-Schuman Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation formed to aid, assist, and promote research and educational activities for the improvement of library and information services. For more information, contact www.neal-schuman.com .
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