“You have to make choices sometimes, and the importance of librarians is a bit less than it used to be,” said Ze’ev Wurman, a Silicon Valley executive who participated in the development of California education standards and served as a policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Education. “In the elementary grades especially, librarians are essentially teacher’s aides, doing a variety of things that have little to do with books or literacy, per se.”
I just re-read the statement in the January 2nd San Francisco Chronicle article, “Fewer California Schools have Trained Librarians.” that made me sigh in January and my school library advocacy hackles rise up then and now. In California, it is quite likely that Wurman has mostly observed elementary libraries staffed by teacher’s aides, not librarians. Connie Williams, advocacy activist and AASL Legislative Committee Chair posted in an AASLForum e-mail that California has 6,000,000 students, 9,000 schools, and 895 credentialed librarians in the 2010/2011 school year. No wonder Wurman does not see the real impact that school libraries have on students!
I have long believed that it is crucial for every school librarian to make a choice. That choice is not whether to have a strong program or not, it’s whether to make the effort to make that strong program visible. I’ve been sold on the AASL definitions of Advocacy, Public Relations and Marketing since they were published about 2006. What is advocacy? It’s the “on-going process of building partnerships so that others will act for and with you, turning passive support into educated action for the library program. It begins with a vision and a plan for the library program that is then matched to the agenda and priorities of stakeholders.” We need to convince decision-makers like Mr. Wurman of our worth but support for our programs and positions will only happen if we develop a cadre of supporters–advocates—who will speak for us.
It’s really easy to be involved in the day-to-day business of our libraries. We are busy. We work with teachers, select the best materials for our students and staff, and teach our students the 21st century skills they need to use. However, it’s budget preparation season in most schools right now and it’s going to be a touch year for budgets; it’s going to be a tough year for school library positions.
Everyone working in a school library needs to step back, reflect on what your program and you do for your students, how that relates to the needs of your school, and make a plan…a promotion and marketing plan. It’s our job to market and promote our program, no one else’s. The resources there to help us are available from many sources, seven toolkits from AASL alone. But you must make it personal…your district or your school working together. Invite school advocates (students and staff) to help you plan.
Just make a choice.