Advocating for Funding: The Who, What, Why, How and When

Money is generally a taboo topic of conversation. We're raised to never discuss it. It just isn't polite and is frankly, quite uncomfortable. But, where does that leave us librarians? Does it benefit us to sit back quietly and accept what we're given without questions? Or should we have that brave conversation in an effort to provide a quality collection and programs for our students? If, in fact, we are ready to have that conversation, where do we start? Who do we turn to? How do we say it?

WHO are we?

We are two librarians in a county of sixty-three schools working on two different levels towards the same goal: to advocate for more money to adequately fund our library collections and programs. Carolyn is an acquisitions librarian working at the district level and Sarah is an elementary school librarian. It is from these two perspectives that we approach the subject of budgets, funding, and advocacy.

WHAT are the funding issues that need addressing?

Carolyn: Our district provides online databases and a strong one-to-one technology program. However, because our county utilizes site-based management, library budgets are set at the school level. Thus, each principal can allocate funds according to the specific needs of the school and community; this has led to inequity in our schools' library funding. Many schools host book fairs and fundraisers to supplement their library budgets. These, too, have contributed to funding inequities because the profits earned from these fundraisers are largely dependent upon the socioeconomic level of the community. Statistics in our district show that funds allocated by principals have decreased for the majority of our schools since 2011, while book prices continue to rise. This trend is confirmed by Linda Jacobsen in "Big Fish, Small Budget: Insights from SLJ's 2017 Spending Survey." It is from this vantage point that I share advocacy tips with school librarians.

Sarah: When I first became a librarian, I didn't have a true understanding of what type of budget was necessary to simply sustain a collection. During the first few years, however, I quickly learned that the money was being used up in surprising and unanticipated ways. How was I to know that five books could cost $100? Or that a projector bulb would be $200? If I didn't know, then my principal may not either. This is important information to share in order to ensure we are able to maintain the necessary resources for our students.

WHY talk about money?

Carolyn: AASL's National School Library Standards Framework for School Librarians foundation Include reminds us of the importance of having a collection that supports our diverse learning communities (AASL 2017, p. 60).

In 2017, a team of Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) librarians, using ALA's intellectual freedom resources, updated our collection development procedures to better reflect the wide diversity of learners in our schools. Best practices in collection development recommend collections that provide a wide variety of up-to-date diverse resources to appeal to all learners in the community. As we examine our collections in light of our new procedures, it becomes clear that there is work to do to bring our collections up to best practice standards. Yet, our budgets are tight, how can we update our collections to better appeal to our learning community and meet these standards?

Sarah: The Standards' Curate foundation calls for our collections to have "sufficient breadth and currency to be pertinent to the school's program of studies" (AASL 2017, p. 62) Key words here are "breadth" and "currency." In order to provide resources that are updated for a diverse school population, it is necessary to continually weed the collection and acquire new resources. Collection development is an evolutionary process; it is never "done." There needs to be a budget that annually funds this continual process of renewing and refreshing in order to maximize the literacy benefits to our patrons.

HOW do we advocate for more money?

Carolyn: From the district level, I collect and share statistics and information that can be useful in preparing a case for advocating for more library funding:

  • Average budget allocations, average copyright age, and the number of resources in the collection by school level for the district;
  • School Library Journal 2018 Average Book Prices report (Marc-Anthony 2018); and
  • Each school's allocations over time.

As I meet with librarians individually to discuss tools they can use to approach their administration for more funding, here are some of the recommendations I may make:

  • Know what your students and teachers need and want;
  • Know how to use your collection analysis and circulation statistics to target your weak areas;
  • Take the long view; use our five-year collection development plan to target your weeding and purchasing each year, see Figure 1;
  • Be prepared to share with your principal what $500 worth of books looks like
  • Be able to communicate individual student literacy success stories and how a current, diverse and inviting collection helps your students learn, grow, and achieve more; and
  • Keep it simple, have targeted statistics and charts, but don't overwhelm your administrator; be courageous, and patient.
Figure 1
Designated Dewey areas for CCPS 5-year plan for assessing library collections
2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21
300 500 900 000 FICTION
400 600 BIOGRAPHY 100 SC
700 AV 200
800
EASY

Finally, I work at the district level in advocacy with the other two district librarians. We share with our administration targeted data from the collection analyses, funding statistics, and circulation information that shine the light on the inequities that exist between district schools by looking at:

  • Statistics of average library allocations over time;
  • Funding inequities between schools (from allocated funds and fundraisers);
  • Average collection copyright dates; and
  • Statistics from schools, especially Title I schools, of lost books and their replacement costs.

Sarah:

Advocacy, especially advocating for your budget, is not something that comes easily to everyone. But as librarians, it is a necessity. If we want to provide a literacy rich environment for our students, it's going to take some advocacy to make that happen. What makes your library worth the money?

We know that we fill our days by fostering students to think, create, grow, and share. Our libraries are vibrant with activities that encourage inquiry and collaboration. But does everyone else know this? Maybe not. So show them:

  • Start a Twitter account: Take pictures of the engaging activities you do each day and share them with the community.
  • Display an announcement board: Advertise all the library happenings for the month that keep students engaged with literacy.
  • Display lesson plans: Show others that you, too, are a key instructional partner.
  • Display your mission statement: Show that you are standards driven and have a key role in influencing academic achievement.
  • Offer staff trainings: Be the staff member that teachers go to for advice on instructional technology.
  • Collaborate with the reading specialist: Show that when the two of you work together, you can be a dynamic literacy team.

In addition to outwardly advocating for your library, it is important to look at the data in the background. The hard facts. Investors need evidence to support their monetary decisions. Gather pertinent reports like the ones Carolyn mentioned above and organize them for the final step: a visit with your primary investor—your principal.

Meet in the library so your principal can connect with the information you're presenting. Take on an attitude of "sharing" during your discussion. Start with, "I appreciate your taking the opportunity to meet with me today. I think you'll find it meaningful to hear some important details about our school's library program."

WHEN is the best time to advocate for more money?

Carolyn: I counsel new librarians to spend the first year getting to know their students, teachers, administrators, community, and library collections. Developing relationships is their most important job during their first year (and in succeeding years, too). As they get to know their school community, they begin to define what their needs are: for their collections and for their instructional, makerspace, and literacy programs. I always try to be available at their point-of-need: when they ask about their funds, when they ask about how they can weed if there is no money to replace the books, and when they want to delve into the details of how to prepare for a meeting with their administration. This way, when they are ready to make an advocacy plan, I am able and willing to assist them.

Sarah: The time is now.

Contact your central library department, if you have one, or talk to library colleagues around your area about their budgets. Start gathering specific data on your collection, as well. It is time to summon your courage and have a brave funding conversation with your principal. The bottom line: your principal wants to invest in students. In all students. It is your job to show him that investing in the library does just that.

Works Cited

AASL. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. ALA Editions, 2017.

Jacobson, Linda. "Big Fish, Small Budget: Insights from SLJ's 2017 Spending Survey." School Library Journal March 1, 2018. https://www.slj.com/2018/03/budgets-funding/big-fish-small-budget-insights-sljs-2017-spending-survey/.

Marc-Anthony, Josephine. "SLJ's Average Book Prices, 2018" School Library Journal February 27, 2018. https://www.slj.com/2018/03/books-media/sljs-average-book-prices-2018/attachment/slj-2018-average-book-prices/#_.

Further Reading

Rendina, Diana. "How to Weed by the Numbers and Clean Up Your Collection." Knowledge Quest blog September 25, 2017. http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/weed-numbers-clean-collection/.

"School Libraries Transform Learning." Digital supplement, American Libraries September-October 2014. http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/tools/transforming.

About the Authors

Carolyn Moul, MEd, is the resource acquisition support specialist for Chesterfield County Public Schools in VA. She received a master's degree in education with a specialty in school library media programs from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a former National Board Certified Librarian. She can be reached at carolyn_moul@ccpsnet.net or follow her on Twitter @carolynmoul.

Sarah Takacs, MEd, is an elementary school librarian for Chesterfield County Public Schools in VA. She earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Virginia Polytechnic and State University as well as a master's degree in school library media from Longwood University. She can be reached at sarah_takacs@ccpsnet.net or follow her on Twitter @EcoffLibrary.

MLA Citation Moul, Carolyn, and Sarah Takacs. "Advocating for Funding: The Who, What, Why, How and When." School Library Connection, September 2018, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2145376.

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