MARC Records as an Advocacy Strategy: My AASL “Advocacy Tip of the Day”

Teachers drift in and out of my office all day for the $.25 freshly ground coffee, “real” and decaffeinated. I sometimes sit at my desk with a pile of new materials, entering them into my automated catalog. Suddenly it hits me. We talk about school and life, give each other advice, plan collaborative projects (the point of the coffee from my point of view), but even those teachers have very little idea of the more invisible parts of a school librarian’s work.

Teacher enjoying the library coffee

Chemistry/physics teacher Micah Stewart loves his coffee--and he knows what a MARC record means.

Recently, I have begun pointing them to my laptop screen. “By the way, this is what a MARC record, a computer record for this book, looks like. Do you remember the old catalog full of cards?” Some of them ARE old enough to remember them. “Every book in every format, every video in this library [I wave my hand] has its own MARC record in the online catalog to make it accessible to everyone.” I then open a new tab, go to the OPAC, and show them what a record looks like after it’s saved, and let them be impressed. They are.

Comments like, “I had no idea how complex it is for you to help us find materials” are not uncommon.  “Did you learn how to do that in library school?” I tell them that it’s very important to make sure the records work for our school, that they provide equal access to materials for every student and staff member.  I tell them about the Flushing Library in Queens, NY, where the online catalog is searchable in over 25 languages.

We all need to create a core of advocates–people who know how important the role of the school librarian is in the school, people who will speak up for us when our positions are threatened or we ask for more funds for materials or a change to flexible scheduling from fixed scheduling. Teachers can be part of that core group. We co-teach with them, but we also do things that are pretty invisible to most people. Books just appear on the shelves, right? Right.

Anytime we can highlight those invisible parts of our jobs to add to their respect for what we do, we MUST do it.  The coffee has long been one of my advocacy strategies for teachers, sharing materials selection with them another. Now they know one more piece of the back-story of how the library works. One of my newer coffee regulars just completed his very first collaborative project with me today—after 12 years of working together. It took familiarity with our routines and our added value to his teaching for him to trust me to design a project with him and co-teach it.

Today I will send this “tip” to Jen Habley at the AASL office to possibly be an “AASL Advocacy Tip of the Day.” I subscribe to that service; you don’t need to be an AASL member to do so (though this is the time to join and get active in our professional organization for sure). Almost every day in my e-mail I get a tip, many of which will work for me. It’s always worth it to take a quick look. There are currently close to 300 great tips, many of which have been compiled and submitted by the AASL Advocacy Committee. I know Jen is always looking for ideas from the field to pass on to a wider audience, us.

Please send in your tips. The form is at the bottom of the web page. We all can use them. Try MARC records!

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. I love this idea for a couple of reasons. First, I think it speaks to the fact that advocacy comes in all different shapes and sizes. Too often we think of advocacy as waving a sign or writing a letter, when, really, some of the most effective (proactive) advocacy efforts have to do with planting seeds and arming people with knowledge. Secondly, I think this idea is pure genius because while the folks we show are MARCS to may never fully understand library automation/cataloging, they WILL understand that our job requires a specific skill set that only we have. While there is no question that teaching and learning are the most important aspects of our job, I think it’s vital for our colleagues and patrons to realize that making all the wheels of a library run smoothly is NOT effortless – it takes a lot of highly skilled work that not just anyone can do. Great library programs don’t just happen – they are built and cultivated by skilled professionals who are not ONLY master teachers but who also effective managers and program administrators.