February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Three Strategies for When the Going Gets Tough | Take the Lead


Lilead Fellow Leslie Yoder

On the cork board near my desk is a green and white button that reads “Stand Up, Keep Fighting.” The buttons were handed out at the 2004 memorial service for our much-loved Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, and mine has served me well in my role as a school library leader and activist.

In 2014, when I was invited to lead the school library program at St. Paul Public Schools, my district was on a path to success. Our board had agreed to hire 15 new librarians; we had leadership and administrative blessing. Just one year later, everything changed. The agreement to hire librarians was reversed, our district leadership team was eliminated, and librarian positions were cut mid-year. We were reeling, and morale was low. Some days, I wanted to run away.

But I’d committed to this work and intended to follow through. I would not abandon our library staff or program because of disappointments or obstacles. My belief in the power of school libraries and their importance for our students kept me strong. Even in tough times, I tried to lead brave. Three strategies helped me.

Being clear about the why of school libraries in my district

The first goal of our district strategic plan is achievement, to be accomplished through equity, personalized learning, and college and career readiness. Connecting effective library programs to this goal was easy.

School libraries are key to equitable access to quality resources and ensuring that all students have the skills to find and use those resources. We are equity. School librarians are the original personalized learning specialists; they ensure access to current resources aligned to student interests and needs. Most importantly, the information skills that we teach are crucial for college, career, and future readiness. We prepare all students.

Good school libraries offer opportunities and increase achievement for students. They are a part of a good education and thus are a civil right. All students deserve this.

Identifying my network: who are the people that support libraries?

Advocating for school libraries can be hard, lonely work. We cannot do it alone. The good news is that our profession is full of smart people who are generous with their time and support. Find them. Access the collective wisdom that you will surely find.

The school librarians and support staff in my district were a tremendous resource. When I asked for help, they stepped in. The members of our state professional group responded to queries with advice and information. Our library vendor partners are experts in local and national school librarianship and want us to succeed. Conferences and professional journals provided ideas and information. My Lilead colleagues and friends also offered counsel.

Find inspiration or support wherever you can. It will feed and fuel you.

Knowing how I could do my best work: by taking care of myself first

This point was driven home one day early last fall, when I was asked by several librarians if I was OK. My superhuman efforts to do the work of what had been a team on too little sleep had left me distracted and forgetful. I realized that day that I could not effectively lead our district library staff if I was not rested and focused. My days and weeks were long, but I endeavored to get adequate sleep most nights. This also kept me healthy. Making time for exercise—walking, running, or yoga—was also important, as an antidote to stress and for the social interaction. Having fun with colleagues, family, and friends offered needed balance, and left me ready to stand up and keep fighting.

It was a tough year, but we came through strong. Our program is once again growing. This fall eight, new librarians will join our district, and our students will benefit.

As Paul Wellstone said: “When we all do better, we all do better.”

Lilead Fellow Leslie Yoder is the former district library services supervisor for Saint Paul Public Schools, the largest school district in Minnesota. She will join the University of St. Catherine MLIS program as an adjunct instructor in 2017.


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  1. Holly Frilot says:

    Thanks, Leslie. As a school library supervisor struggling with demands, this could not have come at a better time. Thanks for taking the time to acknowledge the challenges as well as strategies for how to meet them.

  2. I remember that sad day when the Wellstone family passed on. Your work is the great work providing students with the tools they need for research, analyzing, evaluating, reading, writing, and more. We can never give up on the students we serve.