June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A New Start: With School Libraries in ESSA, on to the Next Phase of Advocacy | Editorial

President Obama signing the Every Student Succeeds Act. whitehouse.gov

President Obama signing the Every Student Succeeds Act.

I am savoring the moments spent watching President Obama sign the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10, 2015. The long-awaited rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) includes a major win, with school libraries now incorporated throughout federal law, which helps define what great schools should look like.

We at SLJ have been reflecting on the long road that has led to this moment. Years of advocacy in the field by so many have paid off. It is worth taking the time to appreciate the success and recall the hard work, ongoing strategic thinking, and coalition-building that made this possible. (I do that in more depth in “A Win for All,” my January editorial for sister publication Library Journal.)

Congratulations to the team at the American Library Association Washington Office (ALAWASH) and everyone who put in the time and effort to raise awareness of the efficacy of school libraries and librarians.

In the days after the law was signed, Emily Sheketoff, executive director of ALAWASH, told me what had been gained. “If I were the king of all things, I would have wanted a section [in the bill] for school libraries that required every school—no matter how many students are in that school—[to] have a school library with a state-certified school librarian and such staff as that librarian needs to teach every student in the school what they need to know,” she said.

“Here in the real world,” she added, “I got a lot.”

“Throughout the bill [there is talk] about an effective school library program,” she said. “Talk about the need for digital literacy skills…. There is now authorizing legislation for innovative approaches to literacy. Now we just need to build up the amount of money that’s in that program.”

The bill also carries a more important message in “the acknowledgment that an effective school library is part of a good school,” said Sheketoff. “So if a school is failing, one of the things the school district needs to look at is if [it has] an effective school library program.”

That question, however, may not follow automatically. Now, Beth Yoke, executive director of the Young Adult Library Services Association, said school librarians must “figure out what ESSA can do for them and how to advocate for that with their administrators. Since school libraries aren’t a line item in the bill, nor does the bill provide a dedicated funding stream, school librarians will need to be savvy about exactly what funding programs within ESSA are open to them and to make sure their school is taking advantage of them.”

All of the organizations and thought leaders in the field will have a role in this, according to Yoke, who said, “Because so many schools don’t have librarians to advocate for these opportunities, we have to figure out a way to address that.”

As the president noted in his comments before signing ESSA, “laws are only as good as their implementation.” The next great task is mapping the road ahead toward effective real-world integration of libraries and librarians into our schools.

“Now this process moves to the state and local governments,” Sheketoff said. “Librarians need to be talking to the people who run the school districts” to make sure the opportunities in the legislation are understood.

Sheketoff and her team will be providing support. In the short term, ALAWASH is working on a report detailing the opportunities for school libraries in ESSA—with the goal of having it ready for the ALA Midwinter Meeting [see the PDF here]. Down the line, they’ll be focused on implementation and what’s needed from the field in terms of research to continue to keep the case for school libraries relevant over time.

“The heavy lifting is over,” she said. “Now it turns to the regulations and then, every year, the appropriations.” That will involve ongoing advocacy.

Energized by this validation, let this new phase begin.


Rebecca T. Miller

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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  1. Indeed, the legislative success charges us all with ongoing advocacy as intentions become regulations that in turn guide appropriations. Thanks for pointing to the ALA-WA ESSA information sheet. Teacher-librarians will discuss this further in our February 15 #TL News Night http://tlvirtualcafe.wikispaces.com/ . Join us!