It’s a busy time of year for library advocates, with National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) right around the corner on May 2–3. Even if you don’t have the time or the resources to head to Washington for the day itself, you can participate in Virtual Library Legislative Day (VLLD) activities during the week of May 2–6 (for details, check out the Everyday Advocacy website).
Advocacy Begins at Home
As the excitement over NLLD and VLLD build, however, it’s important to remember that big, visible campaigns like these are only one small piece of advocacy, and that much, much more is being done on the ground everyday by librarians simply doing their jobs. Ultimately, advocacy means convincing others of the value of library services to children, and we can all do that just by providing great service—and by ensuring that our bosses, administrators, boards, etc. know about it.
As a solo school librarian with no support staff in a school where only 20% of the student body is reading at or above grade level, the last thing on my mind on a day-to-day basis is advocacy. My number-one, almost obsessive mission is getting my students to read. One way I do this is by keeping the library open after school so parents can drop in with their children to have a little quiet reading time together. This hasn’t been a hugely popular program, but it doesn’t really cost me much effort (I stay late to shelve anyway), and the unintended rewards have been huge.
My most regular after-school customer last year was a fourth-grade girl I’ll call Jane. Her mother brought her by one afternoon and asked if it would be OK if Jane used my after-school hours to sit and do homework and read quietly. It was too chaotic at home, she explained. As a single mom, she found it hard to keep Jane’s two much younger siblings quiet enough for Jane to focus on her reading or her work. I said, “No problem” (this being the abracadabra phrase of micro advocacy), and thus, Jane became my companion every afternoon for the rest of the school year. This didn’t require much effort on my part. She would sit and do her homework, and then dip into the collection, reading everything from picture books to graphic novels to nonfiction on just about every subject. Occasionally, I would suggest a book, but mainly, we worked in companionable silence. It was nice to have company during what is frequently a fairly lonely time of the day.
How Our Daily Tasks Become Advocacy
Where this becomes an advocacy success story is in my conversations with my principal. Obviously, I asked her for permission before taking Jane on for what was essentially free child care, and every so often, I would share anecdotes with her, mostly about how voraciously and broadly Jane was reading. Lo and behold, Jane came through with top marks across the board in the state exams, which the principal attributed to her time in the library. I personally think it had more to do with Jane’s native intelligence, natural curiosity, and strong work ethic, but I was happy to let my principal make assumptions. I am blessed with a very supportive principal, but in my world, keeping her happy is advocacy-goal number one. As with all New York City elementary schools, the decision to have a library rests entirely with the principal.
I’m sure that school librarians around the country all have their Janes—students they’ve helped in some, small way that in turn created ripples throughout their schools. We would love to hear these stories. As Matt McLain wrote in an earlier Advocacy and Legislation blog, “Did You Know This Is Advocacy”, these stories are crucial not just to your own, local advocacy efforts, but also on a much broader scale, as these stories are passed along to policy makers. Please take a moment to submit your school-library advocacy story to the Everyday Advocacy website.
Eileen Makoff is the School Library Media Specialist at P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School in Coney Island, Brooklyn, and a member of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee.