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?
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.
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?
- 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.
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.
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."
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.
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/#_.
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.