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California’s proactivity: Best Sellers

I recently discovered CSLA’s recharged Best Sellers campaign

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Despite its hardships, California’s state organization is exhibiting inspiring and energetic leadership in getting the message out about the meaning of strong school library programs. 

Best Sellers complements several other California efforts which include

Among the components of the very replicable, grassroots advocacy program are the Best Sellers tutorial, a downloadable flyer for advocates, a sample invitation, and  a one-page summary of Doug Achterman’s study on “Haves, Halves and Have-Nots: School Libraries and Student Achievement.”

I spoke with Jackie Simonitis, mover and shaker, and Vice President of Communications for CSLA.  Jackie is using her 20-year background in sales and marketing to help the state organization craft an effective message. She and her committee decided to resurrect a program successful way back in the 90s. 

According to Jackie, who is now project manager for the tutorial:

It’s all about talking story. Your story. Spreading the word about what it is we do.  As a profession, we don’t like to talk about ourselves. We just provide.  But, perhaps as a result, people don’t remember to acknowledge our efforts. So we designed a way to raise awareness.  To help others we work with, talk to, and meet talk about school libraries.  The program will help your neighbors bring up the story about libraries at back fence, the gym, while watching the soccer team.  We are trying to get legislators to be Best Sellers.

Who is a Best Seller?

Best Sellers are aware that school libraries make strong students and they can speak to that concept should the need arise.

Why the term Best Seller?

It’s a nice play on words.  People want to read and talk about New York Times best sellers.  In the case of CSLA, Best Sellers are people enlisted to sell the idea of school libraries, low key, honestly, regularly, whenever they  are engaged conversation.  Anyone can be a Best Seller.

How do CSLA members find their Best Sellers

It involves nothing more that bringing the possibility up in casual conversation.  When you are talking with friends, bring the subject up. Say, "I have literature."  Give them or lead them to the tutorials, flyers, etc.

Best Sellers are asked to communicate three key messages using common vocabulary: 

  1. Students deserve equitable access to school library resources.
  2. Library Standards provide blueprints for strong school libraries.
  3. Strong School Libraries Build Strong Students and Lifelong Learners.

The campaign suggests five questions for stakeholders to ask in order to determine if a school has a strong library program.

Does the library have…

  1. A full time, certified teacher librarian and a full-time paraprofessional working as a team. This allows the teacher librarian to collaborate with classroom teachers in co-designing instruction which incorporates information literacy into the curriculum. Measurement: The national average is one school librarian to 856 students. California’s average is one librarian to 5,240 students.
  2. Lots of carefully selected books, databases, and other learning resources. Resources must reflect the school curriculum and the research and recreational reading needs of the students. Measurement: The national average is 22 books/student.
  3. A program which provides instruction and activities for students to use the research process in finding the information they need. Research is a process, not an end product. It is the thinking process whereby students learn to access, evaluate, and use information to solve a teacher’s research project requirements. Measurement: The American Library Association (ALA) has created nine information literacy standards that are best taught when embedded in content-area standards-based units of study through collaboration between the site library media teacher and classroom teachers. Is your library media teacher routinely practicing collaborative teaching? California state content standards are infused with independent reading as well as information literacy. Is your library media teacher promoting reading for purpose as well as for pleasure?
  4. Its doors open before, during and after school hours, with liberal circulation policies. This means access to the school library, its resources, and staff. Measurement: Compare the number of hours your elementary, middle and high school libraries are open. Compare your district to others.
  5. Technology, including hardware, software, and networking that form a virtual library without walls linking students to the world of information, a cybrary that fully supports the school curriculum, 24/7. Measurement: Do all schools in the district have access to the same level of technology-based resources? How do your school library eResources compare with other school districts’ eResources?

And the movement offers six talking-point rationale. Strong school libraries:

1. Improve student achievement
2. Foster literacy and a love of reading
3. Produce a technologically savvy workforce
4. Nurture life-long learning
5. Create engaged citizens

Jackie notes that anyone can take the tutorial and become a Best Seller.  She suggests:

participants start with close friends and move on to the PTA, student volunteers, the English teacher, the principal. Talk to to them and thank them for being an advocate.  Say, "I know you passionately care. Would you be an official best seller? And here’s a little brochure or thank you."

Why this program, why now, and what comes next?

Most people outside our profession don’t know what a strong library program looks like.  We defined it. For the first time ever, standards were approved in California. Sure, there’s no money, but the standards are a huge step.  "If you don’t have a blueprint, how can you build?"

What we need to do now is educate, educate, educate.  Start with that little group and move it out. Make sure people understand

So is this a replicable program?

Any state can develop a grassroots effort like California’s.  It may be a different message.  The key is to have clear messages you repeat over and over again and have everyone else repeating on regular basis. Who doesn’t want to be encouraged to promote something wonderful?  We need to give our advocates permission to become advocates and to teach them to do it accurately with right words, with statistics.

California lists it research and resources:



Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Thomas Kaun says:

    Great to see Jackie Siminitus being interviewed on the blog. Although not a school librarian, Jackie has been a tremendous, tireless supporter of school libraries since her days working as a library liaison at Pacific Bell and its various permutations and combinations (now ATT!). Her revival of the Best Sellers Campaign is only one of the many things she’s done for CSLA recently. Keep up the good work, Jackie!

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