April 23, 2015

I Am a Library Evangelist and You Are the Choir

This past year I discovered one of the best ways to procrastinate on my in-progress writing projects: Library Evangelism!
Photo Source: G. Douglas Bundy RHS K-8 

My local school district has not had certified teacher librarians in any of our schools for the past three years. We currently have three district-level librarians serving 39,000 children in 51 schools. Although these three librarians are fabulous, our kids are missing out on the benefits associated with full-time teacher librarians in their schools.

Last spring I started asking questions and realized that no one was talking about the issue. No one was making plans to change the situation. No one was fired up. School libraries without certified teacher librarians was fast becoming "business as usual."

The issue has been complicated by many factors, not the least of which is the dedication of the library media assistants/clerks who currently staff many of our libraries. In many cases they have gone well above and beyond the requirements of their job descriptions to keep our school libraries operating for the past three years. But the situation is not sustainable. Young readers need to be nurtured. Digital citizenship and research skills need to be taught. Rich library collections need to be curated. And classroom teachers need professional development and support. These are just some of the unique contributions that a 21st-Century Teacher Librarian can bring to a school.

Photo Source: Oregonlive.com
Last spring I partnered with a former teacher librarian (the wonderful Andrea Burke) to bring some attention to this issue. We founded the School Library Advocacy Council and hosted some community gatherings. The community gatherings were well attended by public librarians, but poorly attended by parents and other community members. My original hope in hosting the spring meetings was to find "someone" to take on the issue and bring change. I quickly realized that if it is to be, it's up to me.

So I started making noise. Lots of noise. I talked about the importance of school libraries and teacher librarians to anyone who would listen. I blogged about the issue (and tried starting a "school library advocacy blog tour" that never really took off). I wrote emails, spoke at School Board meetings, and pummeled my social media contacts with library advocacy messages. Eventually, (thankfully!) the amazing Mitzi Sandman stepped up to join the advocacy effort, and she soon introduced me to the equally amazing Debbie Plawner. They brought their marketing and communication prowess to the table and together we became an advocacy team.

We reached out to dozens of school and public librarians who helped us better understand the issue. They invited us to their schools. They attended our planning meetings. They showered us with resources and support. They became our librarians, and supported us as only librarians can do. Many of them offered this help and support on their own personal time. Debbie, Mitzi and I dove into the plethora of research studies that have shown that strong school libraries, led by certified teacher librarians are linked to higher academic achievement, and soon we developed an advocacy plan.

We piggy-backed off of the national #SchoolLibrariesMatter campaign and created our own #SchoolLibrariesMatter: Beaverton social media campaign. We met with principals and classroom teachers. We wrote to lawmakers and regulators. We spoke at PTO meetings, School Board meetings and School District Budget Committee meetings and encouraged other parents, community members, and students to do the same.

Photo Source: School Libraries Matter: Beaverton
During this process, we were invited to collaborate with our School District Superintendent and his appointees to create a compelling vision for a re-imagined 21st Century School Library.

We recently learned that our school district has plans to staff up to ten of our school libraries with certified teachers in the coming school year. Ten is less than 51, so it is not enough. But it is progress. We have let our school district officials know that we will not stop advocating until every student in every one of our schools has the opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with a library teacher and a lifelong relationship with reading and learning.

Debbie, Mitzi and I were recently honored as "Library Supporters of the Year" by the Oregon Library Association. We are grateful for the recognition, but remain focused on the goal of every student in our school district having a teacher librarian in their school.

In my next post, I will share the acceptance speech I delivered when the Library Supporter of the Year award was presented at the Oregon Library Association's Awards Luncheon. In future posts, I will share some powerful examples of students advocating for strong school libraries.

Here is a photo glimpse of one such student: