It Takes a Group of People to Rescue a Sinking Ship: Colorado’s “Survive and Thrive” Campaign

Can we have business as usual on a Titanic? That’s a question that bothered Becky Russell, the School Library/21st Century Skills Content Specialist at the Colorado Department of Education’s Library Development Office, about the diminishing number of school library positions in her state.

After reading Doug Johnson’s blog post about the new Colorado Association of School Librarians (CASL) advocacy campaign “Survive and Thrive,” I knew they were ready to “Make Some Noise!” Interested in the back story, I contacted Becky (listed in Doug’s blog piece), who co-developed the campaign with CASL members.

Becky came to the conclusion that school libraries could not reverse the drain of jobs by doing the same thing they had already been doing, She knew that the school librarians still in their schools are working very hard to make up the gap of services and teaching caused by empty desks where jobs have been eliminated. They don’t have the time needed to do sustained advocacy campaigns. There needed to be a way to make excellent materials available to “Make Some Noise!”—enabling the embattled school librarians to “survive and thrive.”

Realizing that their advocacy efforts needed to target both educators and non-educators, CASL wanted a non-educator perspective to help get this project off the ground. They asked Jamie LaRue, Director of Douglas County Public Libraries, to help. With his guidance, Becky and the CASL board pushed themselves to think “outside the box” to connect the state’s new educational standards to the contributions and leadership of Colorado school librarians. The standards, based on the Common Core Standards, are replete with 21st century skills. CASL identified the stakeholders of the standards as administrators, businesses, legislators, parents, school boards, and teachers. CASL now targets each group’s own needs and concerns; they intend to convince them of all the ways school libraries impact students’ educations, thus creating the core of advocates that school libraries need in this struggling economy.

Working groups of CASL members developed “taglines” or brands that each communicate the expertise of school libraries to teach the 21st Century skills found in the standards. The results make it clear what these skills are and the taglines define in pithy language what the school library role is:

The connections

CASL members then developed templates for sample e-mails, brochures, or letters targeted to each stakeholder group and a series of short and focused videos to make connections to the standards and develop awareness of often-invisible school librarians’ roles. The videos not only make direct connections to the five taglined standards skills, they also provide awareness of what it is that school librarians actually do—NOT shelving and checking out books as is so often the perception but instead teaching, collaborating, and affecting student success.

21st Century Skills and Roles of School Librarians

CASL has asked each school librarian to spend only five minutes a month targeting these stakeholders. For example, one month a school librarian could send a quick email to some parents whose children had success with one of the 21st century skills.  Another month, school librarians could target the principal with a short e-mail or video clip.

One of the advocacy videos with School Librarian Phil Goerner, Silver Creek High School, Longmont, CO

CASL’s president, the tech-savvy Becky Johnson, organized the materials into a Google site web page so that CASL members can easily add their own contributions.  And they are sharing it with the rest of us as well as providing a model for other state affiliates. I would love to see this advocacy campaign shared at the AASL Affiliate Assembly at ALA in Anaheim!

Taking five minutes a month to personalize an e-mail to send it out to one of the stakeholders is an investment in creating that core of advocates needed when school library positions are examined as school boards go through each and every position in the school for potential elimination. Sending a link to a video about school librarians’ role in students’ reading to a legislator who is interested in literacy is an investment in state funding streams.  Even the busiest school librarian can have a sustained advocacy campaign with these thoughtful and creative materials.

Thank you, CASL, for making it easy to Make Some Noise!

It's time for school librarians to step out and enlighten their communities about all the ways their libraries impact students' education!






Sara Kelly Johns About Sara Kelly Johns

Sara Kelly Johns ( is the school librarian at Lake Placid (NY) Middle/High School, and knows that she has the best job in the school. She is also an instructor for the Mansfield University School of Library and Information Technologies and speaks and writes about school librarian activism. Find her on Twitter as @skjohns or on Facebook.


  1. Sue Kowalski says:

    Thanks Sara and thanks to CASL for committing to doing it better! I so believe that is the key; to never to be satisfied with the status quo, because too often the status quo just isn’t good enough. Change is hard, we all know that, but CASL is showing all that together it can happen even in lots of very manageable ways. Congrats to all!