Time to broaden our strategy?

You’ve gathered the statistics, you’ve had an active library program, you’ve served teachers and students consistently well, your usage has increased, and you’ve publicized what you do, through sharing, videos, newsletters, visibility at meetings and more.  You’ve shared research on the impact of libraries on achievement scores, the importance of staffing, and studies galore.

Yet your library staff or program still gets cut, your budget gets cut, librarian positions are reduced.  Frustratingly, this scenario has been playing out around Texas (and around the country).   It’s dismaying, it’s disheartening, and discouraging.  We wonder what we could have done better, how much more we could have shared, and how to make an impact.

I’ve been thinking that perhaps we need to reframe the issue, because to an extent, it’s not just about us, it’s about them.

I don’t mean to set up librarians against administrators or other decision makers because I think we are all contributors to learning in our district.  But for some reason, some decision makers  just “aren’t wired” into libraries.   I don’t think that is an unchangeable situation, in fact, I know it is not.  But if it is about “them”(per se), and not so much about us, what do we do that can have an impact?

First off, it is very important to continue our efforts to share what we do, gather data, document, inform at every opportunity.  Document what cuts mean to your students.  Document the positive learning experiences they are having, and results in any way or format you can.  Maybe administrators prefer video to written reports or images instead of text (they oversee many different programs so appeal to their style of receiving information).   I do believe the tide can change–it just takes time and sometimes we aren’t heard until after cuts happen and the resulting problems become obvious, so it’s important to keep up the efforts to communicate EVEN after cuts happen or library staff is removed.

But if it is also about “them,” then what else can we do?  What would help us create a sea-change in our district, I am wondering?

–Change is strategic.   We need to map a plan and we need to understand the process of change.   We need to read books on change and transitions so we understand it better, like Managing Transitions:  Making the Best of Change (Bridges), Made to Stick(Heath Brothers), Enchantment (Kawasaki)and many more (such as these titles).

–Consider establishing a library and information technology Visioning institute in your district.  Gather together a team of pertinent players–teachers, librarians, instructional technologists, parent representatives, students, and chart a vision for your districts’ libraries.   Again, EVEN if your libraries have been cut, do this anyway.  Even if you have been put back in the classroom, ask if you can do this ANYWAY.   Show your skills as an instructional leader and help your district chart their way back to the inclusion of a vital and growing library and information literacy program in their school.

–If you can’t or don’t have the authority to have a visioning institute within your district, consider banding together and asking the local Regional education service center, your state library association,  or some other entity like your state association of school principals or some other entity to put one on.     Imagine a regional “Charting the future of our school libraries” summit that you could invite your administrators to–how powerful could that be?  Plant the seed of this idea by suggesting it to organizations around you; we can certainly offer to help guide this as well.

–Ask some administrators you know personally through your PLNs  in other districts how administrators  “hear” their staff best.  What works for them in their districts?  What are they hearing on the grapevine about libraries that might be influencing them?  What are their belief systems?   What dilemmas are they facing budgetwise?   Suspend frustration and get curious and see how other professionals can inform you about the lack of support in your own district.  Don’t complain to them– just inquire how they work so that you understand the administrative perspective better.

–It often seems that administrators/school board members are more likely to “get it” from outside than from within.  (True of many of us–the “never a prophet in our own homeland” phenomenon).   One of my former administrators attended an event the Texas Library Association provides for administrators, “Strong Libraries, Strong Schools,” and came back a much stronger supporter after hearing Keith Curry Lance and others discussing research studies and academic achievement in schools.  Hearing it from someone outside the staff made a difference.  Can you find ways to help factiliate that for your administrators in your district.  What we do is vitally important to our students so how can you play a part in bringing in resources from outside, or connecting your administrators with speakers or resources that might be influential and informative?

–That being said, help other administrators along too–submit sessions to your state principal association conference, school board conference, or write for their journals or website.  Do your part to raise the profile of libraries in venues where administrators seek guidance.  Step out of the library silo–even if you don’t reach your own administration, you might help save another library program.

–Don’t neglect the importance of engaging with the school board (ahead of a crisis). Especially in smaller school districts, this can have an impact.  If you aren’t asked to present, then ask how to get on the agenda.  Again, do this in a non-crisis time.   Present not only what you are doing, but paint for them a vision of the future, one that they can relate to with their own children, one that they can also get excited about your role in.  This is also helpful because they see you not just when you are fighting for jobs, but can see you as significant partners in an exciting, forward thinking educational environment.  Painting a picture of the future of libraries can help them understand far beyond the crisis of a particular budget-cutting season.  Another benefit of doing visioning at school board meetings is that many decision makers are at those meetings–business officials, principals, teachers, parents.  So it provides a venue to get a lot of community members interested in and excited about your vision of the future.   Everyone wants to have things to believe in, and most of us involved in schools want to feel good about the future of our districts in terms of the students we teach.   And EVEN IF your libraries have been cut, ask to go to the board and paint this “long term” vision of “where you COULD go.”   Give them a roadmap for when the budget cuts lessen.  Guy Kawasaki writes in his book Enchantment (a must read) about ways to enchant others with your vision;  the power of getting buy in to a vision of powerful library programs can be compelling.

–Engage your technology department (if that is a possibility in your district) as a partner.  Often their positions/work is devalued also, so they can understand your position.  And they also are leaders in your school and can partner in your efforts.

–Be a change agent yourself.  It can be so discouraging to do what you think is effective and then have your staff or program cut anyway.   Believe that you do have the power to regroup.   Be a believer.   Your efforts may impact surrounding school districts as well, so it’s not just about your students, but about our students in general.

–Always think of this as a marathon, not just a race–it takes effort over time.

I’d love to hear more ideas you have for working to impact administrative decisions in our districts and to help preserve the services our students need and deserve.  Of course we can’t carry all of these–this post is meant as a brainstorming space for ideas.   But we can do some strategic thinking about how to address the situation.  When we know that school libraries have significant positive impacts on learning, on achievement scores, on reading scores–it is unconscionable to not provide those services to our students.   We have to continue to think as strategic planners to help preserve,  grow, and evolve the services we provide our students.







8 thoughts on “Time to broaden our strategy?

  1. What a cool blog. Someone on FB shared this so I had to come and see.
    One thing I can think to help this situation is to stop singing to the choir. School librarians can reach out more to school admin via social media and even publish articles in journals that are aimed at administrators.
    I like your blog. Will come back often.

  2. Thanks Carolyn–you push our thinking again!

    An old standard in the lexicon of the school librarian is “teacher-librarian collaboration,” and a popular and effective bit of advice is to find one teacher that is open to collaboration. Do great work with that teacher, and others may follow. I think this can be said of administrators too, and I’m not sure we’ve given nearly enough thought to this potentially much more powerful force for change. If we can influence one administrator, persuading him or her that the library is essential to the goals of the school or district, our struggle becomes a collaborative one. If our goals become embedded in the goals of the administrators, school libraries may survive the threats that we face today.

  3. Jamie, exactly. We can be powerful partners for administrators–help forward their vision, support them with information resources (like a corporate librarian does), keep them “connected in” and shine a light on what’s going well on our campuses.
    It’s a really important part of what we do for our school and how we can really help it move forward.

  4. I recently had an urban library director tell me she attended another city council meeting recently where there was an “issue” about the library’s efficiency. She went prepared to be grilled, and answered all their questions to the extent that afterward a city manager said he had never heard a more cogent presentation to the council. The remarkable thing was that one council member said “I now know more about the library than I ever knew before.” Another one said “I had no idea.”
    This all supports your point that we often think our supporters know and understand the library’s issues, but in reality they don’t. We must be contributing members of the community’s decision making process. We must have a seat at the table. We must be viewed as partners by all other departments in the community’s governance. It is the only way we’ll be heard by the decision makers.

  5. Steve,

    Great point. I fear we get indignant sometimes that we aren’t understood by administrators or our school boards, but they come in with their own understandings. It takes time, listening, sharing and repeated efforts sometimes for us to communicate what we do.

    Sometimes, even doing all that, we fail to reach an understanding, of course. But other times, there are experiences like you witnessed that will make a difference for libraries in that community for years to come.

    Jamie–I also want to say that making this effort with communicating to administrators is a way of paying it forward. Not only do you help your own school library, but whatever school those administrators end up at next, or whoever comes after you benefits from that improved understanding and respect.

  6. Great post!

    I think that advocacy is so important, and we really need to make that one of our priorities. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day work, but advocacy is completely necessary.

    In my library, I keep records of what I do each month and compile a library report at the end of every month. This report gets sent to the vice principal (who is my supervisor). She did not ask me to do this, but it really made an impression when I sent one at the end of my first month, and she even sent it to the principal and the superintendent!

    I would also say to make yourself important by trying to be involved in a variety of activities. For example, I spent a good amount of time working and collaborating with teachers on research projects and technology integration. I make sure that the administrations know that I am working with particular classes. I also help with technology troubleshooting, volunteered for the professional development committee, etc. Don’t only stick to library management; make sure that you’re also working on instruction and collaboration as well.

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