November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

School Library Redesigns are Advocacy Opportunities | Project Advocacy

The recent surge of interest in reconfiguring school library spaces offers tremendous opportunity to reengage with others about our mission.

As we approach a design process, we should consider the advocacy benefits of involving the larger school community in our decision-making. Reaching out to administrators, teachers, and students can lead to important conversations about the role the library plays in our educational ecosystems.

Becky Calzada, district information and library services coordinator for the Leander (TX) Independent School District, knows just how dynamic the process can be. Whenever her district embarks on redesigning a school, a committee, which includes school librarians, comes together for a five-day charrette process, a time of intense deliberation.

A notable part of their sessions was the growth mind-set that Calzada and other librarians strived for. “I didn’t feel like any idea could be too wild,” Calzada says. “I like to stay open and listen to make sure I understand, and, at minimum, take a shared idea, and perhaps tweak it to help improve what’s happening in the library.”

In my own school district in Austin, TX, Evelyn McAlister, the librarian at Eanes Elementary school, and her principal initiated a one-day design thinking workshop led by a local architect. The collective brainstorming session, including teachers and parents, created buy-in and a shared mission—and enabled McAlister to move forward with the support of her parent group.

Listening to students is also central. Melissa Techman, a librarian at Broadus Wood Elementary School in Albemarle County, VA, invited her students to join the design process by putting out a suggestion box and making Google Form surveys available. Sherry Gick, librarian at the Rossville (IN) Middle and High School, asked her students to post sticky notes saying what they loved about their library space and what they wished their library would do. Heather Schubert, librarian at the Hill Country Middle School in Austin, TX, conducted video interviews with students and showed them at parent teacher organization meetings when advocating for funds.

When we share student input, we educate our community about how children use libraries. As Andy Plemmons, librarian at Barrow Elementary School in Athens, GA, comments, “It’s hard to deny student voices.”

Just as important, when our administrator or an architect advocate for change in ways we find unworkable, we need to focus on creating an opportunity—or “chopportunity,” as School Library Journal “Pivot Points” columnist Mark Ray says, referring to a challenge plus an opportunity, rather than projecting resistance. One method that I’ve found effective is using “yes, and…” statements, rather than “yes, but…,” to invite open-ended dialogue.

Be the first to take a hard look at your library and suggest improvements. Better yet, reach out to school leaders in a visioning process. Share articles, blog posts, or visuals to get administrators on board. Shannon Foley, elementary librarian at the Cedar Creek Elementary school in Austin, TX, enhanced her fundraising efforts by offering sample images of what changes “could” look like, which helped win over her community.

You can also position yourself as an expert on learning-space design, by building Pinterest pages, blogs, wikis, Google Sites, or Scoop.it sites, to show that you’re concerned with the larger dialogue about learning spaces.

A renovated library itself serves as an advocacy tool. When my own library was gutted and renovated, it became a school showcase—which means more frequent attention from administrators. Similarly, Plemmons says, his superintendent is “constantly bringing people in and showing people the space. And because he is in the space, he sees what is going on.” According to the librarian, this has led to a much larger conversation about the library’s potential. That type of buy-in is the ultimate advocacy.

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Carolyn Foote About Carolyn Foote

Carolyn Foote is a “technolibrarian” at Westlake High School in Austin, TX.
She blogs at Not So Distant Future.

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