September 17, 2017

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School Librarians of Rhode Island Raising the Profile of Their Profession

School librarians know very well that the services they provide run a wide gamut, from arranging author visits and running book fairs to setting up maker spaces and spearheading STEAM programs. But the School Librarians of Rhode Island (SLRI) found that the image students, and parents in particular, held of Rhode Island public school libraries was behind the times. It was clear that perception needed to evolve along with reality.

To that end, SLRI came up with the idea of producing a video to raise the profile of public school libraries, and to expand knowledge of what school librarians can do and are doing. The project was backed by a Kickstarter campaign, a 45-day fundraising initiative with a goal of raising $8,000. That mark was surpassed by $526. “We’ll be putting the money toward production costs, such as filming, editing, and music licenses, and a small portion will be used to purchase equipment to raise the quality of the film,” explains high school librarian Mary Moen, executive producer of the video and an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies.

Moen and her colleagues worked hard to get the word out about the video project, using Facebook, Twitter, and email. “We are proud of our efforts and amazed at the nationwide response,” she adds. Serendipity may have played a role in the project’s success: School Library Month and National Library Week occurred during the SLRI campaign, which helped raised awareness. “The goal of the video is to show people what school librarians do and to underscore the fact that well-funded, supported school libraries really matter to the kids in our communities,” says Moen.

Then school library publisher Capstone got wind of the project. Capstone was impressed, and decided to back it financially. “School districts are continually challenged by funding, but there’s also increasing recognition that a librarian can make a major difference in helping kids become critical thinkers and savvy citizens of the 21st century,” explains Amy Cox, marketing director for libraries at Capstone. That recognition is finally emerging, because librarians are being more proactive than ever about sharing what they do. “It’s good for all of us—as members of the library community and as citizens—when the voices of Rhode Island’s librarians can be heard by as many people as possible,” notes Cox.

Capstone knows a thing or two about videos, having produced its own (School Libraries Matter) that’s garnered over 30,000 YouTube views and countless shares and links. “The title of that video pretty much says it all—and to the extent that we can help voices from this community be heard and contribute to the conversation by helping create great outcomes for students, we want to be there,” Cox adds.

Much of what school librarians do is behind the scenes, which is why this video is important to SLRI. “Many of our services, are, in fact, overlooked or underused by parents and their kids,” notes Moen. One example, says Moen, is the statewide book award programs. “And our impact as information experts is particularly important now, given the recent attention to fake news and disinformation in our society,” she says. Moen also stresses that librarians truly make learning happen for kids. “We are fortunate in our state to have an incredible group of professionals who are trained as teachers, instructional partners, information specialists, and program administrators.”

The video will be a short documentary featuring the stories of three or four librarians who plan to tell it like it is, using a realistic perspective and tone. Production of the video is slated to begin by summer. And while the success of the campaign has, of course, been rewarding, crowdfunding through social media is not for the faint of heart, warns Moen. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster as we watched the pledges come in or slow down.” But the outpouring of support and funds has been worth the moments of stress. “People from all over the country sent money—and we’re so appreciative of every pledge, whether it was $1 or $1000,” she adds.


Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a Manhattan-based reporter who writes for Parents.com and Modern Farmer

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