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« I'm confused | Main | BFTP: Stone Soup: A Classroom Parable »
Monday
Sep122011

4 Rules of Library Advocacy

AASL has just release a collection of advocacy materials for school librarians. While I am pleased to see these materials made available, like any tool, they aren't much good unless you know how to use them and realize that a brochure alone will not save your bacon. Here are some basic rules of advocacy. I am sure you've heard me fuss about them before.

Johnson's 1st Rule of Advocacy: Don't depend on national studies, statistics or publications.
My cynical side says that if one looks hard enough, one can find a study to support almost any educational program, strategy or theory, no matter how crack pot. And a lot of administrators have a cynical skeptical side. Your principal's goals might be different from the goals advocacy materials say libraries help meet. And really, who trusts any study done in another state, let alone another country? Forget asking an administrator to read anything more than a page long. By all means use these fine AASL materials and others, especially as a discussion aid in face-to-face meetings. But don't depend on them alone to make your local case. (See Demonstrating Our Impact, Part One and Part Two.)

Johnson's 2nd Rule of Advocacy: Build relationships and inform so others will advocate for you.
One parent telling a school board how important he thinks the library program is to his child is more powerful than a dozen AASL brochures. One teacher willing to tell the principal that library services have helped her class be more successful secures library funding better than any mandate. One community group that works with school libraries to build information literacy skills is more effective than any set of state or national standards. But the kicker is that we need to make sure we build the kind of relationships with parents, teachers and the community that are strong enough that members of these groups will speak on our behalf. Ans that takes a great regular communication plan. (See Whose Voices Are Most Powerful?)

Johnson's 3rd Rule of Advocacy: Never advocate for libraries or the librarian - only for library users.
The biggest mistake we make is advocating "for libraries." When framing our comments from the standpoint of an impact on "the library," these statements sound self serving. "The library needs a bigger budget" or "The library can't be used for study halls." or 'The cut in the clerical postion will hurt the library program."  Look how a simple reframing changes the tone of the same ideas: "Without an adequate budget, students will not have access to the newest children's choice award titles and reading interest will decline." or "If the clerical position is reduced, I will not have as much time to work with teachers on collaborative units." or "When the library is used for study halls, students who need to use the library resources and want to study find it more difficult to do so." I hope the reason we ask for anything is because it has a benefit to our library users. We just have to make sure we connect the dots between what we want and why it's good for those we serve.

Johnson's 4th Rule of Advocay: Don't depend on the library supervisor to make your case.
A district-level library supervior can be a wonderful voice for building librarians and library programs, especially when that person sits on adminstrative councils or teams. But remember, no matter how forceful, how charming or how much dirt he or she may have on other administrators, the library supervisor is a single voice among dozens, each with its own set of priorities. We'd love to be as powerful as you think we are, but we still pull our superhero tights on one leg at a time.

Any other rules you care to add?
 

 

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Reader Comments (8)

Don't sit back and wait on your state or nat'l organization to advocate for you. They can be a resource but not your job's salvation.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Jo Nelson

Hi Cathy Jo,

Well said!

Doug

September 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

rule 5: Advocate before, not after your job is in jeopardy.
related: Advocacy is a process and a journey, not something you can do once and move on.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

1. Never say "that's not my job" - Say "let me find out how to find / get /fix / report that.
2. Tell your teachers your job is to make their job easier - and then follow through!
3. leave home made brownies in the lounge from time to time.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGuusje Moore

Hi Guusje,

Great ways to build relationships with those who can advocate on the library's behalf. Baking is always welcome in the teachers' lounge - even the experiments!

Doug

September 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

No matter how hard the situation gets, have more positive things to say about what is happening in the library than negative. (Read: We are strong and can only get stronger with your help.) People want to invest in things that are going well.

Related to Johnson's Rule #2: Schedule regular program reviews and involve anyone who will participate, even skeptics (parents, teachers, administrators, AND students). Make sure as many people as possible feel like they are partially responsible for the success of the program. If the library is everyone's baby, no one will want to throw it out.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Stanbro

Hi Jen,

These are fabulous points! When/if this post becomes a column, I am using them and attributing the insight to you!

Thanks,

Doug

September 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I do agree with your "rules", Doug!

I would add: "Design and build up an advocacy plan" (in order to set up and run strategic and effective actions) and "Evaluate the effectivness of your advocacy plan" (and eventually change it...).

All the best.
Luisa

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa M.

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