The time to deal with library programs cuts is before they happen or before they are even a possibility. This toolkit provides resources to help you build stakeholder support and true advocacy. It supports your proactive efforts to keep your library program healthy as you work to build the program and to prevent cuts.
Ideally, advocacy is a ubiquitous part of library programs and not a last minute effort to save a program in danger of cuts or elimination. If you are dealing with cuts or imminent eliminations, visit the Crisis Toolkit.
Advocacy is a long-term, deliberate plan that is designed to build stakeholder support. True advocacy is when stakeholders stand up and speak out on behalf of a cause, idea, program or organization.
Stakeholder support is built through program design, marketing and education. It is the job of school librarians to design programs around stakeholder needs and to educate stakeholders about how school libraries connect to stakeholders’ priorities. Data and evidence are key educational tools as school librarians work to educate stakeholders about the school library’s role in preparing students to live work and learn in the 21st Century.
Key idea: School librarians need to be cautious when advocating for their own programs and jobs. When school librarians speak out for libraries or librarians, it can sound whiny and self-serving. However, to advocate for students and student learning is meaningful and far more likely to be effective and is a necessary piece of the advocacy puzzle.
NOW is the time to systematically build support.
- Be intentional about what you are doing.
- Have a mission.
- Develop a vision to work towards.
- Know specific objectives and goals for building support.
Identify the school library program's stakeholders and their agendas. For each stakeholder group, know their issues, concerns, priorities, and needs. This is about them and what they need. It is not about what is best for the library and what you want them to want.
Stakeholder groups and sample "issues, concerns, priorities, and needs."
- Getting good grades
- Being accepted into college
- Need to succeed
- Personal interests
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Safe places/refuge
- Student safety
- Knowing assignments
- Helping students with homework
- Students being well prepared for college/work
- Student success
- High stake tests
- Need to differentiate
- Student success
- Parent concerns
- High stake tests
- Student success
- Parents happy
- School looks good
- Successful community schools
- Cost-effective community schools/tax burden
- Students prepared for work
- Community satisfied- minimal complaints
- Cost-effective schools
- Good press/PR
- Personal interests and goals
Analyze stakeholder goals and issues for potential alignment with library activities and resources. Identify existing connections between stakeholder issues, concerns, priorities, and needs with program goals, services and activities. Adjust current programs to be more responsive to stakeholder priorities as needed.
Develop new library programs and resources to address stakeholder goals and needs. Find ways to solve stakeholder problems and concerns through library programming. When focusing on stakeholder priorities, keep in mind that efforts are not about what the library needs and wants. Create and match library services and resources to stakeholder needs. Avoid trying to mold stakeholders to the library. Understand and build upon commonalities in your agendas.
Research & the Future
While adjusting and developing library programs and services, use school library research findings to inform decisions. Use the professional research to design programs based on best practices. Look at 21st Century Skills and new and emerging information technologies and structures when designing library programs.
Build promotional efforts around stakeholder needs. Leverage the library program through messages that reveal how the library serves and meets the needs of stakeholders. Position the library as a solution.
Collect and analyze relevant data about programs, resources and services. Measure what is important to stakeholders. In the case of school libraries, one of the primary things to be measured is student learning and the impact on student achievement. Focus on data that shows contributions to educational goals. In particular, have data showing contributions to student achievement and the development of 21st Century work and learning skills. Use that data to identify ways to improve practice and make library programs and resources more responsive to stakeholder needs. Caution: traditional library data tends to focus on quantities rather than impact. For example a typical type of library data is the number of items circulated. While it is of value to librarians, is it relevant to stakeholders?
Organize and utilize the data that shows contributions to educational goals. Make sharing data part of each and every day. Sharing positive data and evidence before a situation is critical is key to preventing cuts. Make positive messages and proof of student learning part of the culture of the library program. Do not wait to be asked for data about how the library impacts student’s information, technology and reading skills. Be the positive information reporter. Spread the good evidence. Be prepared to share building and district level library program data whenever given the opportunity. Write articles and regular reports giving concrete evidence of what the library does to prepare students to be successful in the 21st Century. Include evidence of how the library solves stakeholder problems, supports stakeholder goals. Share information with students, teachers, administrators, the community and legislators before cuts are discussed.
Data can be quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative data might include statistics from pre and post instruction assessments or statistical evidence of how student performance has changed due to learning in the school library. Linking student library learning to high stakes test scores can be a powerful form of quantitative data. Qualitative data comes in many forms. Record and share comments, stories, and anecdotes. Anecdotal stories can be moving and help to put faces on statistics. Be sure to make good stories and quotes part of picture. Photographs help to tell the story about student learning in libraries. (Follow district policies when sharing photographs.) Students projects can be displayed and shared as evidence of students achievement.
Do more than show connections between learning and school libraries... SHARE THEM!
If sharing information about your program is outside of your comfort zone, remember, you are not tooting your own horn; you are advocating for students and student learning. This is not about you; this is for the children of your school district. You are being a student advocate. Do it.
Quick Tips & Helpful Strategies to Build Support & Understanding:
- Form a Friends of The School Library program.
- Encourage parents and community members to support students by volunteering in the library.
- Participate in the PTA/PTO.
- Offer to provide informational programs (Web 2.0 and You; How to be a Better Search; Safe Web Surfing; Finding the Good Stuff; How to Use the State Database; Information Workers in a Global Economy; etc.) for community special interest and service groups (i.e. Mothers Club).
- Build relationships with local, state and national decision makers. Contact them about library issues. Visit their offices. Invite these decision makers to visit the library for special programs.
- Encourage school board members and administrators to visit the library.
- Be active in the union and encourage other district librarians to be active as well.
- Participate in the AASL School Librarian Advocacy Institute. This training is designed to train school librarians in designing programs that support and address stakeholder goals.
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 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. 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.
- Advocacy Basics
- Strategic Advocacy
- Ready with Research
- Raising Readers
- 21st Century Skills, Information Technologies and the Economy
- Evidence Based Practice: Improving Practice and Sharing the Evidence
- The Elephant in the Room
- Sample School Library Brochure - "Powerful School Library Brochure"
- Sample School Library Power Point Presentation - "Powerful School Library Program"
AASL Advocacy Special Committee’s definitions of advocacy, PR and marketing.
Freda, Cecilia. "Promoting Your Library Program: Getting the Message Out." Knowledge Quest. v. 36 no. 1 (September/October 2007). p. 48-51.
Freda discusses the thinking that went into documenting the role of the school library media center in the educational process.
Logan, Debra Kay. "Forget Marian! Professor Harold Hill’s Lessons in Advocacy." Knowledge Quest. ?v. 33 no. 1 (September/October 2004) p. 32-3.
Uses songs from the musical, The Music Man, to give an easy to understand explanation of 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.
Advocacy Guru, Stephanie Vance, provides training on how to advocate.
Abilock, Debbie. "The Heart of the Game." Knowledge Quest. v. 36 no. 1 (September/October 2007). p. 8-10.
Discusses how the integration of information skills creates common grounds that lead to effective advocacy.
Barron, Daniel D. "Good People, Hard Times, New Ideas: Survival for the School Library Media Specialist." School Library Media Activities Monthly. v. 20 no. 5 (January 2004). p. 50-1.
Provides ideas for building support in a time of decreased funding.
Hartzell, Gary. "How do Decision-makers Become Library Media Advocates?" Knowledge Quest. v. 36 no. 1 (September/October 2007). p. 32-5.
Dr. Hartzell examines how school librarians need to make information about school librarians and librarians part of pre-service education programs for teachers and administrators.
Logan, Debra Kay. "Putting Students First." American Libraries. v. 39 no. 1/2 (January/February 2008) p. 56-9.
Examines how can school librarians can design their programs and craft their messages to connect to stakeholder goals.
This blog looks at how school libraries can position themselves to create customer value.
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.
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.
Links to the results of the state studies.
This Syracuse study connects a nearly 10-point increase on the fourth grade English Language Arts tests for students with school librarians.
Stephen Krashen discusses the connection between access to books and reading success.
In this research-based article Krashen connects school libraries to the encouragement of reading.
Stephen Krashan makes a connection between school libraries and making books accessible to students.
Summarizes findings of survey on voter perceptions and expectations for education.
Identifies skills sets needed to ensure success in the 21st Century.
Document the connection between the instruction in your district's libraries and the skills needed for 21st-century success.
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.
AASL's national intiative to implement the learning standards and program guidelines.
Use the content and research sections of this site to identify and show the links between instruction in school library media programs and students being prepared for higher education and the workforce.
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.
Provides a global look at the rapidly changing demographics, economy, and world of information and information technologies.
The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce has prepared guidelines for developing a competitive workforce for the global economy.
This School Library Media Activities Monthly (Sept. 2006) article on Evidence Based Practice shows how data can be used to build stakeholder support.
EBP expert, Ross Todd, reports on the 2007 SLJ Library Leadership Seminar, discussing the role and need for Evidence Based Practice in School Library Journal (4/1/2008).
Geitgey, Gayle A and Ann Tepe. "Can You Find the Evidence-Based Practice in Your School Library?" Library Media Connection. v. 25 no. 6 (March 2007) p. 10-12.
Just getting started with Evidence Based Practice? This article provides a basic introduction.
Harada, Violet. "Working Smarter: Being Strategic about Assessment and Accountability." Teacher Librarian. v. 33 no. 1 (October 2005) p. 8-15.
In addition to identifying relevant forms of assessment and data, this article suggests the types of information to be collected for specific stakeholder groups.
Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson provide EBP basic strategies and tips.
Kathy Dempsey differentiates between public relations, marketing, advocacy and other related words.
Gives a brief explanation of the kinds of data that is meaningful to stakeholders and links to a chart of examples.
Todd, Ross. “School Libraries and Evidence: Seize the Day, Begin the Future.” Library Media Connection. (August/September 2003).
Todd provides a basic introduction to and overview of EBP in this highly accessible article.
"Where Does Your Authority Come From?" School Library Media Activities Monthly.
Allison Zumuda looks at the types of data that are meaningful.
While most budget cuts are about money and are not personal, it is time to recognize and introduce the elephant in the room. There are school librarians who are setting the stage for budget cuts. The following blog entries and Doug Johnson column discuss the elephant. They are shared here as “think abouts.”
Johnson, Doug. “Head for the Edge: How to Destroy Any School Library Program.” Library Media Connection. (March 2008) p82.
These blogs are not about the occasional bad days that everyone has; we can use these posting to help us think about the common practices in our programs that we take for granted.
- What do others see when they look at our programs?
- Why do we say yes or no?
- Are our policies about our stakeholders or us?
- Do we have practices that we may want to reconsider and/or address?
- Do we need to educate others about why we do what we do?
- Do we need to stop some of our practices?
- Do people look forward to coming into the library or avoid it?
- Do you greet people with a smile?
- What comes first, people or things?