The inaugural Everyday Advocacy Challenge (EAC) reached the halfway mark on September 22 with this Take Action Tuesday prompt:
Write or call your elected officials to talk about your work at the library.
In six words or less, here’s what a few of our cohort members had to say about their Week 4 experiences:
- “Voicing political opinion demands attention.”
- “From library lover to library advocate.”
- “Calling or email probably more productive.”
- “This one just crushed me.”
- “Afraid to start. Managed to complete.”
- “Scary! Not a skill I’ve used!”
For Brittany Staszak, the EAC Week 4 challenge was a great opportunity to do her homework on the best ways to appeal to her representatives.
For Mira Tanna, the EAC Week 4 challenge helped her champion the critical roles of both school libraries and state-certified school library media specialists.
I decided to contact the state and national legislatures that represented both the district I work in and the district I live in via telephone, where I knew I would most likely be leaving a voicemail. After briefly researching the leanings of my representatives and having no specific piece of legislation I intended to lobby for (or against), I decided it was time get some hard facts and concrete numbers about libraries.
I quickly discovered that ALA has a handy “Quotable Facts about America’s Libraries” PDF. Utilizing the annotated version, as well as the Pew Research Center’s “10 Facts about Americans and Public Libraries,” I tailored a few quick and persuasive statements for each representative, hoping to demonstrate the importance of libraries in America, the importance of libraries to voters, and the huge toll legislation can take on the livelihood of America’s academic, school, and public libraries.
The talking points I found most useful were the following:
- A 2012 poll conducted for the American Library Association found that 94% respondents agreed that public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed because they provide free access to materials and resources. —ALA
- 90% of Americans say the closing of their local public library would impact their community and 67% said it would affect them and their families. —Pew
- More than 92% of public libraries provide services for job seekers. —ALA
- Research shows the highest achieving students attend schools with well-staffed and well-funded library media centers. —ALA
- 85% of Americans say libraries “should definitely” coordinate more closely with local schools. And 82% believe libraries should provide free literacy programs to young children, which may include traditional reading, writing and comprehension as well as technology and new media literacies. —Pew
- Americans go to school, public and academic libraries more than three times more often than they go to the movies. —ALA
As a new member of ALSC, I decided to join the Everyday Advocacy Challenge as a way to get my feet wet and get to know other ALSC members across the country. Our Week 4 challenge was to contact our elected officials about the work we do.
Conveniently, I had received an e-mail several days prior from YALSA (lucky that I joined YALSA, too!) about the need to take action to ensure that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) includes provisions to fund school libraries.
ESEA is a big deal. When the law was last authorized in 2001, No Child Left Behind (as it was called) made sweeping changes in education policy, the reverberations which have been felt not only on schools but on families, neighborhoods, and communities. School libraries were impacted as well.
I learned from ALA’s advocacy information that 8,830 public schools across the country do not have a school library, and that 17,000 schools don’t have a full- or part-time state-certified school librarian.
Luckily, the U.S. Senate passed the Reed-Chochran Amendment, which explicitly makes effective school library programs part of ESEA. I wrote my U.S. Representative, Corrine Brown, and my two U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, to urge them to support the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), which reauthorizes ESEA and includes provisions for effective school library programs.
Although I work in a public library, I felt that this call to action was important both as a library assistant manager and as a parent. In our large library system, we work closely with the public school system to ensure that students have library cards, to inform families about the resources we offer to children and families, to improve literacy and pre-literacy skills, and to publicize our programs. Our main point of entry into individual schools is through the media specialist. We rely on media specialists to get the word out about the public library. Families also rely on media specialists to inform them about our resources.
As a parent, I also feel strongly that school libraries and effective media specialists are important to my children’s success. Having a quality school library or media center improves students’ love of literature, their digital literacy, and their academic success. My children have benefited by reading books as part of our state’s Sunshine State Young Reader Awards (SSYRA) with their classmates and by participating in televised morning announcements run by their media specialist.
I hope that others will answer the call to action, whether you are directly impacted by the funding of school libraries or—like me—simply understand how crucial these institutions are to our families, schools and communities.
Brittany Staszak is a librarian and supervisor; Mira Tanna is a new ALSC member. Both are participants in the inaugural Everyday Advocacy Challenge cohort, an 18-member volunteer group convening from September 1-October 20, 2015.