School Library Monthly/Volume XXVI, Number 7/March 2010
Legislator in the Library Day: A Model for Legislative Advocacy
by Christie Kaaland
Christie Kaaland, Ed.D., is the Director of the School Library Endorsement Program at Antioch University Seattle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today's school librarians are taking the lead with legislative advocacy for education and their efforts are beginning to have an impact on legislation. According to Deb Logan in an email interview, Ohio's school library advocates, working closely with legislators over the past nine years, succeeded in getting language placed in the 2009 House Bill 1 that included funding for "The licensed librarian and media specialist" (December 7, 2009). In 2008-2009, members of the Pennsylvania State Library Association worked with Representative Keith McCall, currently Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, to insert language in the Accountability Block Grant program that allows special funding above the basic education subsidy allocated to each school district to be spent on school library resources (Deb Kachel, email interview with author, November 19, 2009).
Strategizing Legislative Advocacy in Washington State
Advocates for school library programs in the state of Washington made historic legislative in-roads in 2009 with the passage of Substitute House Bill 2261. Arguably, the most important factor in Washington's legislative advocacy has been librarians' vigilant participation. During the 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions and, more importantly, during education subcommittee task force meetings leading to that bill, Washington state school librarians attended each and every meeting and session. At times, during these strategic planning meetings when legislators and the state’s top educators met to determine research/evidence-based decisions for future educational policy for Washington, there were fifteen attendees: the fourteen members of the Education Joint Task Force and one voluntary teacher-librarian representative. Because of this, many legislators came to recognize that teacher-librarians in Washington truly care about educational policy. They care enough to be involved.
Both the priority placement of &$34;teacher-librarians" (see Excerpt from ESHB 2261, below) within the body of the final bill and the language used reflect the high level of involvement that school librarians had in the evolution of this legislation. It is important to note that this priority placement is second only to school administrators; twelve other staff positions follow. The more current language also reflects the involvement of members of the school library profession: the redefinition of the 21st-century "teacher-librarian, performing functions including information literacy."
Excerpt from ESHB 2261
The minimum allocation for each level of prototypical school
19 shall include allocations for the following types of staff in addition
20 to classroom teachers:
21 (i) Principals, including assistant principals, and other
22 certificated building-level administrators;
23 (ii) Teacher librarians, performing functions including information
24 literacy, technology, and media to support school library media
Washington school librarians quickly discovered, however, it was not enough just to pass a law. Advocacy activity for passing this bill was only the first step; the next step involved the rollout for funding priorities and implementation of this bill which had an eight-year calendar. Thus, involvement had to be constant and ongoing. Such activism, continuing at its previous and current rate, could help guarantee the future of the profession in Washington.
District school library programs, the state school library organization (WLMA), and individual school librarians have employed many strategies for increasing the exposure of school libraries to interested legislative stakeholders. During the summer of 2009, WLMA's Advocacy Co-chairs, Sarah Applegate, Kathy Kalich, and Christie Kaaland, and the legislative liaison, Roz Thompson, gathered to determine advocacy plans for the upcoming school year. Although many components of advocacy beyond legislative action were considered, it was apparent that the job in Olympia was not finished and the priority task should be legislative advocacy for at least one more year.
Legislator in the Library Day
One of the successful legislative advocacy strategies applied in Washington, designed around a similar Pennsylvania model, has been the Legislator in the Library Day. Simply put, the event involves inviting a local senator or representative to spend a day or part of the day visiting the school library.
In planning legislative advocacy for the upcoming 2009-2010 school year, WLMA's advocacy committee put Legislator in the Library Day at the top of the list. The education subcommittee met regularly to prioritize the budget for implementation of SHB 2261; Washington's school librarians had to remain in high profile and Legislator in the Library Day seemed the perfect vehicle for such exposure. It was strategically imperative to select schools whose libraries modeled strong 21st-century programs since many legislators were still working from an old-fashioned librarian frame of reference.
In the fall of 2008 before SHB 2261 was introduced, Washington had initiated several Legislator in the Library Day visits and found them to be an instant hit, a win-win situation for all involved (see Legislator in the Library Day, below). School librarians who hosted legislators during the fall of 2008 were surprised to discover how nonthreatening and receptive their legislators were, particularly those serving on education committees. Building on the success from the 2008 Legislator in the Library Day, advocacy chairs were able to present the event to select school librarians for this second year in a less intimidating and more celebratory fashion. Legislative liaison Roz Thompson divided the state into four regions and each of the four WLMA advocates contacted school librarians in legislative districts around the state whose libraries modeled strong 21st-century programs. An email invitation was crafted and sent out to key individuals from the WLMA Advocacy Committee detailing how the visits would transpire, the roles each would assume (advocacy chair and school librarian), and what to expect during the visit (see WLMA’s Email Message, below).
Legislator in the Library Day
A Winning Advocacy Model for All Educational Stakeholders:
1. Children in the schools are able to meet and talk to one of their local legislators, probably for the first time.
2. Legislators find that this visit is potentially transformative. As legislators meet and engage in dialogue with students in the library, they are able to hear first-hand what today’s libraries provide. Principals who attend are able to reinforce with legislators the notion of 21st-century information skills. Additionally, legislators love the positive publicity; visits provide excellent photo ops taken within their legislative districts:
- Meeting, greeting, and reading with children (libraries provide delightful and strategic background images)
- Looking over children’s shoulders as they engage in research and use new technologies in the library
- Meeting teachers and parents
3. Administrators love meeting political leaders under optimal, positive conditions. Principals look good to their administrators; library administrators are seen as political advocates. (In one small district, the superintendent attended and was congratulated for his political savvy.) All this action is taking place in the library, modeling the library as the academic heart of the school.
4. School board members might also be invited.
5. School librarians are seen as political activists, concerned educators, and educational leaders, all within the framework of exposing those visitors to a 21st-century school library environment.
WLMA's Email Message
Here’s the Plan:
1. You agree to host your Legislator for an hour or two in your library.
2. I will help you coordinate (get contact information for the Legislator, help schedule a visit, give you some guidance on what to expect), but you initiate the invitation so it doesn't seem like it's only coming from a few of us on advocacy.
3. You will do what you always do do outstanding work with students and teachers "to ensure that students are effective users of ideas and information!" You will also make sure you have students in the library the entire time and class(es) scheduled on the day of the visit to truly show the legislator what you do, and more importantly, what is possible when school libraries are staffed with qualified, quality professionals.
4. You will coordinate with your principal and district office so they know when the visit will be happening and make sure all district policies are followed (e.g., photo release).
5. You will invite your principal and/or a parent to come during the visit and hopefully talk to the legislator about the impact the school library makes on them.
6. You will get a $25 gift certificate to a local coffee shop to have coffee and treats "on hand" to host the legislator.
7. You will bask in the glory of the experience! Thank you for taking me up on this offer. I feel it is vital that we SHOW legislators what we do in real time right now, many of them are working with outmoded models of what a teacher-librarian does (their own experiences usually) and we need to show them what the 21st-century teacher-librarian looks like in great schools in Washington State!
The effects of these visits have yet to be fully realized. Because of the late start in establishing the Legislator in the Library Day for this year, the 2009-10 legislative visits must take place over the course of the school year—unfortunately, many of them after the legislative session. While members of WLMA"s advocacy committee are still determining what works best, to date these visits have accomplished many of the following goals:
- Increased political contact with legislators
- Increased visibility—an issue that often arises with libraries in general
- Improved legislator understanding of services and resources provided by today's school libraries
- Reminded legislators how rapidly school communities change, the importance technology plays in students' educational experiences, and the changing role the library program plays in those experiences
- Opened a dialogue around today's changing information and communication skills (e.g., cyber safety, authentication of Internet resources)
- Showed how the library is the perfect environment for providing equitable access to technology and other resources for all students.
Overall, the most important outcomes for the school librarian hosting Legislator in the Library Day is that it demonstrates that important model of leadership and increased exposure to the school library of the 21st century.
Strategies for determining where to focus these visits include the following:
- Legislative districts in which a legislator has indicated support for school libraries and an understanding of the role of 21st-century school libraries in education
- Specific schools with high-needs students and/or high level of poverty in which students do not have equitable access to information and resources outside of school
- Legislative districts involving members of educational subcommittees
- Exemplary school librarians who have developed strong library programs.
Carrying the Message Forward
Obviously, all of these benefits do not occur with every visit and the process for re-educating educational leaders about what the 21st-century school library can offer is an ongoing task. But, the potential for bringing many members of the political and school community together in a library setting is limitless—not simply for the preservation of school libraries but, more importantly, for moving the profession forward in the 21st century and providing equitable access for all library services to students. WLMA advocates hope other states will build on these strategies for implementation and will carry out this model across the United States.