Written by: Lindsey Anderson
Your to-do list is probably a million miles long, but please consider adding one more item to your list: contact your legislators. Attending TN Library Legislative Day showed me firsthand the power of reaching out to legislators, and it proved to be painless, and even downright fun because it was a joy to spread library love in the offices of the Cordell Hull building in downtown Nashville. Jennifer Sharp, President-Elect of TASL, and I came prepared with books to give away and freshly printed School Library Month bookmarks created by students in Tennessee. We were ready for a day of speaking out on behalf of school libraries. Our mission? To communicate the need for a State Coordinator of School Library Services.
A survey, modeled after AASL’s School Libraries Count, was sent recently to school librarians in Tennessee. If you took time to respond to the survey, thank you! The information you provided was compiled into an infographic, which shows legislators how school librarians are supporting the future of education in TN, specific ways more funding can help, and what our elected leaders can do to support our school libraries. Meetings with legislators are fifteen minutes or less, so providing them with a visual representation of the data was an effective way to express our key points. The data drove the conversation, and providing this information shows legislators that TASL is actively engaged advocating on behalf of school libraries, and that we as librarians are working together to share strengths, concerns, and what we need to better support our students. We are united and passionate about building strong libraries to support our students.
The missing piece for Tennessee school libraries is representation at the state level. How does a State Coordinator of Libraries benefit us? First, a coordinator is our advocate at the state level, communicating the value of school librarians and libraries to state and district leaders. Librarians are leaders in Tennessee! We play an integral part in technology integration in our schools. We are actively sharing our knowledge of current trends and topics with other educators, and we are reaching the majority of our students on a weekly basis. Advocating for us and helping share our impact is vital to the future of school libraries.
A state coordinator can also communicate the importance of funding our libraries and address issues other issues of inequity. Why are some districts funding their libraries and others are leaving libraries to subsist on book fair profits and library fines? Why do some districts ignore the state minimum requirements for staffing libraries? Why are librarians being pulled from the library to cover classes, be building testing coordinators, or do lunch duty? Why do some districts have a district librarian and others do not? A state coordinator will communicate with district leaders and state leaders and make them aware of exemplary school library programs and how strong library programs impact student growth positively.
School librarians need relevant professional development in order to grow and strengthen library programs. Imagine having professional development tailored to school librarians that addresses specifically how we can support ESSA, state curriculum, and initiatives in TN, such as Read to Be Ready, Drive to 55, and Tennessee Succeeds. Imagine being able to call your advocate at the state level and receive assistance from an expert in our field. This truly is a missing piece in our Department of Education.
Thirty-six states have a State Coordinator of Library Services, and it’s time for Tennessee to raise that number to thirty-seven. Stronger school library programs means greater success for students in Tennessee. If our state leaders want Tennessee to continue to show solid growth, they need to factor school libraries into the equation and do what it takes to properly staff and fund our libraries so that we can impact our school communities in a powerful way. Why do our students deserve any less than the best?
So, how can you help? Contact your legislators and ask them to appoint a State Coordinator of School Library Services to the Tennessee Department of Education. Use online tools like ALA Find Your Elected Officials or TN Legislature Find My Legislator to know whom to contact. Then, make contact via email, a phone call, or schedule a meeting. It’s important they hear from you, and it’s important that this is brought to their attention repeatedly. The more, the better. The future of school libraries and school librarians depends on the work we do now!
The future of school libraries and school librarians depends on the work we do now!
Want to act now? Here’s a sample email/ letter you can use:
Dear Representative/ Senator ____________________,
(In your first paragraph, include personal information). Introduce yourself, briefly share your role and your school.
(Share the facts). Research shows that schools with strong school library media programs show greater rates of success. According to a recent survey conducted by the Tennessee Association of School Librarians, the results specifically show that librarians are central to technology integration in their schools, are actively leading professional development, and are seeing the majority of their students on a weekly basis. The survey also shows that 55% feel their library is inadequately funded to meet minimum collection requirements, and 52% of school librarians are being assigned non-library related duties, which take them away from serving students in the library. The results also show that many inadequacies exist across the state and many districts ignore state minimum requirements for staffing libraries.
(State what you’re asking for). I am asking that a State Coordinator of School Library Services be appointed to the Department of Education. The appointment of a state coordinator will help to assure that school library media specialists and their respective districts receive leadership, advocacy, and advisory services pertinent to their needs at the state level. Our libraries need to be properly funded and properly staffed with certified school librarians so that we can best support our students and support education initiatives in Tennessee. Students in Tennessee deserve the best. A State Coordinator of School Library Services will work to give our students exemplary school libraries.
#TASLadvocacy #futurereadylibrarians #getreadytotakeaction
Lindsey Anderson is the Library Media Specialist at Woodland Middle School in Brentwood, TN. She is TASL’s Advocacy Chair and is Vice-President of the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival. She writes about library programming and lesson ideas on her blog, LibraryStile.