It’s National Library Month and a great moment to celebrate libraries and how they’ve endured this COVID year and found ways to support our students and teachers! There are many Twitter hashtags where librarians are sharing stories about their libraries like #TXAsl and #AASL. But in a recent session(Digital Library Tools) at the Computers in Libraries Conference, Patrick Sweeney from EveryLibrary reminded participants that every celebration of libraries also needs an “ask.” What do we want people to do if they believe in libraries when they see our poster on the wall? He emphasized that without a call to action, we aren’t gaining much from our advocacy.
Sweeney also pointed out the need for more targeted messaging. Something that larger libraries and organizations are more attentive to than one person school libraries, but still, food for thought. Who are our stakeholders and how can we appeal to their specific issues? Sweeney comments that “messaging only works is we talk about issues people care about.” Our parents may care about dyslexia services for their children, or they may care about the environment. They may care about colleges/careers for their children, or they may care about trauma students are recovering from related to COVID. Our students may care about the environment and climate change. Thinking about and being attuned to what our stakeholders care about helps us speak to their needs.
And for school libraries, we have to also think about what we need to effectively support students/families. We need funding. We need the respect, support, and attention of our school administrators and school board for the ways librarians can support the district mission. We need the support and interest of our parents who are voters, and the support of nonparents who are voters. Ultimately, our celebrations and asks can’t just be for the library. They have to be asks that speak to how the library supports students, and how keeping the library well funded and well supported helps support kids. They have to be asks that show when the district includes the library staff in key decision making and initiatives, what a changemaker that can be for students.
So, in the spirit of National School Library Month, what are some asks we can have? This list is meant as a starting point and food for thought(not to ask for all of them!)
- Ask patrons who like what you do to write a note to your School Board or principal. Hearing from parents or students might have more impact than you telling them what you are doing.
- Create a poster with the district mission key words on it, and have a way students could respond or write a postcard specific to that mission.
- Ask patrons to support the library by donating a book on a student “wish list” in honor of National Library Month or a child’s birthday.
- Ask the district to support your attendance at a library conference or membership in a professional organization.
- Use a Donorschoose to ask for book donations for your students from the larger community.
- Ask your principal or School Board to honor your student/parent volunteers with recognition.
- Ask your administrator if any staff working on their principal’s certification/licensure can spend a day shadowing the library staff.
- Ask your legislators to make a declaration supporting libraries roles in x subject…literacy, reading, info literacy, etc.
- Ask for volunteers or PTO/PTA to help with a special student project you had in mind or help redesigning a part of the library.(Thanks to my former PTO for help with that!)
- Ask community members for donations to the district that are earmarked specifically for libraries.
- Ask for donations for a particular section of the library from parents with special interests(disabilities, arts, history, books grandparents can read with their grandchildren, etc.)
- Create a Library Advisory Committee composed of community members, parents, teachers, and students who contribute ideas and feedback on your program and become more informed supporters.
- Ask for emails of parents and community members who want to learn more about libraries (and then send them more information).
- Ask the Rotary Club or other local service clubs if you can come speak to them about how libraries serve student learning. Then ask them for help supporting that mission.
- When a district admin wishes you Happy Library Month, ask them if you can celebrate by joining an important team or committee.
- When you have needs, post little tear off sheets beneath library promotion posters that include those needs – maybe you need student volunteers or Boy Scouts to take on an Eagle Scout project that involves something you need, or cardboard for robotics, etc.
Give people options and ways to help grow libraries’ support of kids, and give them ways to spread the word to other community members as well. All these asks also require the librarian to effectively communicate the needs and also the benefits library programs offer. And of course, after you ask, thank them for their support, specifically, and publicly. That’s also how you turn supporters into more invested supporters. So, this National Library Month, think about what you library “asks” are, and consider adding those to your messaging.