Building Common Ground • Legislators & Policymakers

Our next lesson is legislators and policymakers. This area of advocacy with school district community and government leaders, is often the most easily associated with advocacy. But it can also feel like an intimidating step. So here, we're going to look at how to follow and learn about advocacy efforts and begin involvement yourself, including first steps to learning about state and national education policy, examples of advocacy efforts at local, state and national level, and advocacy within your network of stakeholders in your school.

So first, to get study, it makes sense to just read about how policy affects school library services, and how advocacy can support the maintenance and growth of effective school library programs. One easy way to start, read your local paper. Read the paper where you teach, especially if they're not the same as your local paper. Be sure to get copies of information that goes home to students. I always tried to make sure that I did this as a school librarian and as a classroom teacher, because I wanted to see the information flow from the school to home, because I wanted to know what programs were perhaps being added or eliminated, and the emphasis that the school was sharing with parents.

Find out what's happening in school libraries and education more broadly in your state, perhaps through the website of your state education department, and especially your state's school library association, as well as at the national level. AASL and the ALA district dispatch are good resources for this. Your state associate and AASL should both have advocacy or legislative committee resources that you can look up online. Our exercise for this lesson, locally learn who your school board members are, and either attend the meetings or follow minutes. If it's possible, present from time to time a very brief and positive update on the library. If you show up only when your job has been threatened, this could be a problem. We want to make sure that you convey an ongoing flow of information about the effects on student learning that your school library has.

At the state and national level, your task for this lesson; learn who your state and U.S. legislators are; find out who serves on committees that deal with education and make some contacts. Have your targeted elevator speeches ready. Some examples of advocacy at the local, state and national level, one of the most famous is the Spokane Moms, the Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology. This was a group of people who organized in 2007, in Spokane, Washington, where the school libraries were facing the loss of their librarians. This group organized, reached out to business and community groups, and their local effort evolved into an advocacy effort at the state level. In 2008, the state approved four million dollars in funding to help the districts retain the school libraries.

Now, this effort and other efforts don't always maintain. You can look for updates on this article online, and I provided a few of the resources with this lesson. The important thing to know, is that through building partnerships, we build relationships with those who can speak for us. And that's the really important message about the Spokane Moms. It wasn't the Spokane librarians, it was the moms who were advocating for the importance of school libraries in their children's education.

Another state-level example is Pennsylvania's state-wide school library study, which was put into action through a house resolution. Deb Kachel, writing in School Library Monthly, explains that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution in October 2010. This resolution authorized a comprehensive state-wide survey of school libraries; providing for a study that would measure and compare funding facilities, access to print and electronic resources, professional support, programming and instruction and the use of information of research among the schools and districts in the state, and evaluating how elements are allocated in relation to students in community circumstances, such as poverty, disability, race and English language ability.

This is important, because this was a collaboration between state law makers, the state school library association, and other advocates to make sure that the message, centered on equality of services for the students, not the job of school librarians. And that's a key thing to remember. It's a complicated effort, and I've also provided tis link so that you can read about this. But the important part here, was that it's not about the librarian's job. And so, when you develop relationships and advocate or build advocacy efforts, the message should be about student learning, equality and access; not about saving your job.

And one last example, nationally, is at the time of this workshop recording, the collaborative efforts of school library organizations and NEA to include school libraries as part of the reauthorization of the elementary and secondary education act has created some nice traction in the U.S. Senate, and we will see if school libraries are included as part of this reauthorization, which would be another result of advocacy efforts.

Finally, you might think, "So, where do I start? Now that I've learned about some of these issues and now that I've seen some of these examples?" To begin, build and maintain the partnerships at your local level, with teachers, school principals, community parents, staff and peer professionals, technology support, instruction and leaders. And of course, your students. Think about this; beware of the enemy within. This is a quote from Lisa Brown, who is at the time the senate majority leader in Washington who met with the Spokane Moms.

Basically, she means, "Watch how you present your case." When you advocate or describe the work of the school library, don't complain about something. Instead, advocate for something. Be positive. Sometimes, it's just in how you craft the message. You may have heard the example before with Disney World. If you ask a Disney employee what time does the park close, they'll tell you, "The park is open until 11PM" or whatever it might be. It's subtle, but the nuance there is that you don't want to think about Disney closing, that's sad, so we know when it's open until. Did you see the little difference there?

So when you convey information about the library, offer solutions, be positive, be frank about the needs, but make sure that you frame it in the context of student learning. Use data and evidence both from the national studies and from your school library. Docuemnt your work across the five roles of the school librarian, especially your work as a leader. Participate in your state organization, as well as ALA and AASL. And a great way to get started with advocacy at the national level, is National Library Legislative Day, which happens in May. And if you can't attend, you can follow this event and learn about the talking points through ALA's resources. Advocacy starts with you as they say, but really, advocacy is also about doing what you do every day, sharing the good work that is happening with your students in your school library, with your stakeholders, and then getting these stakeholders to tell other people. Thank you.

MLA Citation Morris, Rebecca J. "Building Common Ground: Legislators & Policymakers ." School Library Connection, September 2015,

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Entry ID: 1980856

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