How often have you read an inspiring article, or attended an amazing workshop or talk and come away thinking “what a great idea–but there’s no way I could get away with that”! Don’t feel guilty – there isn’t a school librarian alive that hasn’t felt that way! We all have rules we have to abide by, but with a few leadership strategies, some great advocating skills, and a little rebellion we can redefine our parameters, break out of the “but my Head won’t let me” trap and bring about meaningful change. Advocacy is all about speaking out, gaining recognition and establishing our credibility – making the whole school community aware of the valuable services we can provide and the impact the library can have on educational achievement. Many school librarians wait for disaster to loom – such as the threat of budget cutting – before turning to advocacy but because as school librarians, our impact isn’t always apparent, and our roles are frequently questioned we have to work even harder to prove our value and should be embedding advocacy into everyday practice. As our role inevitably evolves from year to year we have to adapt and grow with changes in curriculum, students’ needs, and the expectations of teachers and administrators but so often perceptions of our profession are caught in a time warp, and we need to change that. We must be ready to seize every opportunity and always be prepared, confident and brave enough to speak out! How else will our school communities know what’s happening in our libraries? Its up to us to spread the news about all the good things going on!
How to embed advocacy into everyday practice
- build partnerships – getting to know our pupils, our teachers and our parents and what their needs are will help us create services that are WORTHY of our marketing efforts.
- connect with staff – share your plans for library displays, activities or ways you can support related learning in the classroom; keep your teaching colleagues updated on interesting, new, or useful aspects of the collection
- increase the school library’s visibility – we do a lot of work that nobody ever sees or even understands! For staff and pupils to fully acknowledge what we do, we have to be openly transparent. Show them exactly what we do. Take photos and use them in presentations, newsletters, or on social media. Develop lists, charts infographics etc. Create a library logo and when it features on everything that comes out of the library, staff will come to recognize it and more clearly understand how valuable the library is.
- create Twitter and Instagram accounts – these should obviously be separate from your personal accounts. Keep it professional by posting photographs and information to promote the incredible happenings in your library, and try to post regularly
- document data – every month create an eye-popping visual that shows what classes you have worked with, what your top titles were. Share your circulation numbers. Put information in the weekly school newsletter. Write regular reports for the Head and the Board of Governors
- The SLS-UK School Library Award – this is an external evaluation of your library’s performance resulting in national accreditation and a certificate which you can display for all to see
- be excited! – passion is contagious. Share your excitement! Be unapologetically passionate about your space, your program, your students–and then be evangelical in your sharing. Make posters, go to classrooms, send emails, speak at faculty meetings. Share share share. It will catch on.
- lead professional development – don’t wait for someone to ask you. When changes are announced in the school look into how the library can best support them
- volunteer to help at school events & attend extracurricular activities –the next day, send an email to staff with a positive comment in the subject line. Praise the choral concert, the school play, compliment the students in the talent show, and applaud a sports event. Your visibility increases with each email you send and shows management that you’re invested in the school.
- seek on-going professional development and engage with peers in professional organizations and networks – this helps to extend your reach and expertise and is especially important for solo librarians who may feel isolated in their practice.
- be aware of national guidelines, research etc. – instead of presenting ideas as “I think this is a good idea,” present it as “my professional organization recognizes this…..” Read case studies on libraries and use these outcomes to support your own decision making. Show management that you want your space to be as relevant and academically and professionally supportive as possible
Meaningful change never happens without a little rebellion and it also never happens without a little negotiation and compromise but if our profession and our programs are going to transform alongside the rest of education, it will require us to be brave in speaking out in defence of the importance of school libraries and librarians
SHOUTING IT OUT! LIPSSEE joins the campaign for school libraries
Our campaign started in response to the news that two of our long standing members had been made redundant due to job cuts at their respective schools. The aim of our campaign is simply to raise awareness of the value and impact of a well run library for all current and potential stakeholders (including parents, governors, teachers and students) in our schools. To date the group has produced the following documents in support of this aim:
- Reed, Denise (2016). Why School Libraries Matter. Attain. 10 (30), p26-27. Attain is ‘the leading magazine for the independent sector and the official magazine of IAPS’ (The Independent Association of Prep Schools). The magazine is published termly and distributed to the 650+ IAPS member schools across the UK and overseas. Its strong parent readership was the main focus of our article. A copy can be obtained from the LIPSSEE co-ordinator.
- Reed, Denise (2016). Guidelines for Prep School Libraries. Leamington Spa: The Independent Association of Prep Schools. These were compiled at the request of the Director of Education at IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) following lengthy discussions with him about the alarming variance in the standards of Prep School library provision across the country. As we all know some Prep School libraries are well-supported by senior management, being adequately staffed, resourced and funded; whilst others come way down their school’s list of priorities and end up under-utilised, poorly embedded in the infrastructure of the school and absent from school development plans. The Guidelines have been ratified by IAPS and in November 2016 were circulated to the Heads of all +650 member schools. They are important because they offer a standardised, recommended level of provision for all Prep School libraries, and openly acknowledge that the most important factor leading to improvements in school libraries is the commitment and leadership of knowledgeable head teachers and senior managers. Copies are available from the LIPSSEE co-ordinator or for free download from the IAPS website (English Subject Advisor’s Page)
- Reed, Denise (2017). Prep School Librarians: the Unsung Heroes. School Libraries in View. Issue 42. In October 2016 our efforts came to the attention of the editor of this magazine, which is published by CILIP’s Schools Library Group (SLG). She contacted the LIPSSEE co-ordinator and asked if she would like to write an article about Prep School libraries for the January 2017 edition. This was duly done and a copy can be obtained from the LIPSSEE co-ordinator, or if you are a member of CILIP you can view the article on the SLG’s website
- Smith, Susan (2018). No Librarian Is An Island: Making Good Connections. The SLA School Librarian.Vol. 66, No 3, Autumn 2018.
In September 2019 LIPSSEE pledged its support to the Great School Libraries Campaign. This three year campaign launched by the combined forces of CILIP, the SLA and CILIP (SLG) aims not only to bring school libraries and librarians back to every school in the UK, but also to gather data on the quality and quantity of school libraries that already exist, via a data collecting subgroup. The Campaign is to end in the summer of 2021. The campaign will look to engage with school librarians, authors and other allies to help push the message that ‘Every child deserves a Great School Library’
Suggestions for further reading:
And don’t forget October is International School Library Month – its an ideal opportunity every year to showcase what we do.
(Last updated by Denise Reed on 20th May, 2018)