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April 15, 2014

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Texas School Librarians Share Strategies on Parent Advocacy | SLJ Summit 2013

Jennifer D. LaBoon, coordinator of library technology for the Fort Worth Independent School District, and Cindy Buchanan, program director for library media services for the Aldine, Texas, Independent School District, knew that parents had the potential to be their biggest library advocates, so they set out to create an effective partnership with their state’s PTA. LaBoon and Buchanan shared their experiences at School Library Journal’s annual Leadership Summit in Austin in September. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from their presentation, “PTA & School Library Relations.”

PTAsummit 600x400 Texas School Librarians Share Strategies on Parent Advocacy | SLJ Summit 2013

Jennifer D. LaBoon and Cindy Buchanan’s presentation “PTA & School Library Relations” at  SLJ‘s Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas. Photo by Jack Plunkett/AP Images for SLJ.

LaBoon and Buchanan acknowledged that it took time to build a solid relationship with their state’s parent organization—and a serious, ongoing commitment to collaboration on both sides. However, they were determined to grow together to strengthen school libraries, they told Summit attendees.

It became clear throughout the process, they said, that school librarians needed to do a better job telling their own stories. Parents still think librarians are the “keepers of the books” and remember the librarians from their youth. Parents needed to hear about the instruction and collaboration that librarians do for students. Librarians also need to become comfortable speaking to “grown ups,” LaBoon and Buchanan said. In fact, their own path to these advocacy discussions with parents began by developing resources to share with the 267,000 members of the Texas PTA, they said.

The librarians set up booths at the Texas state PTA conferences in order to initiate conversations about certified librarians, the role of librarians in education, and to answer questions. They also presented workshops covering topics such as collaboration techniques, information literacy skills, and what you should expect from your school library. The PTA also has a presence at the school library conferences.

Now, the parents and the librarians publish in each other’s journals, submitting short, informative articles about what a 21st century library can provide students. This has been a great opportunity to share information about databases, resources and collaboration activities, the presenters noted.

In addition, the Texas Library Association has developed handouts and PowerPoint resources for School Librarians and Parent Partnerships to make it easy for school librarians to initiate conversations and develop relationships with their own local PTAs.

These proactive activities have made PTA members educated, knowledgeable advocates for libraries and librarians in their state. The parents and librarians have organized and testified before Texas state legislators, educating them about the correlation between school librarians and student achievement. And the Texas PTA has presented a resolution to the legislatures about the contribution school libraries make in educating the whole child, and in preparing them for a college or career, which is a powerful statement coming from an organization of its large membership size.

Above all, LaBoon and Buchanan reminded Summit attendees that small actions taken locally can lead to big change. Together, they helped develop the Shirley Igo Award, which is presented annually to exemplary programs that demonstrate outstanding collaboration between a PTA organization and school library media centers. And their own parent-school relationship has been nurtured and supported over a long period of time so that it serves as model for other states.

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