February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

8 Ways To Make Your Library More Visible Now

Jan Wilson, SLJ’s 2017 Hero of Collaboration

When I became a school library media specialist 20 years ago, I had no idea how much time and energy I would devote to promoting my role and media program. As school librarians, our impact isn’t always apparent, and our roles are frequently questioned.

That’s ironic to me because year to year our role evolves more than that of any other faculty member. We must adapt and grow with changes in curriculum, students’ needs, and the expectations of teachers and administrators. What I do in my media program at Brookwood High School (BHS) in Snellville, GA, may be unlike from what happens at the other 20 high schools in my county. Each school offers different courses and electives. Some librarians have additional duties assigned by administrators, and the professional development that we offer varies. Our priorities are student-centered and we strive for their success.

Most adults recognize that what happens in a classroom has evolved since their student days, but those same people often fail to see that school libraries have also changed. Perceptions of our profession are caught in a time warp, and we need to change them.

Here are some helpful strategies for increasing the visibility of school librarians. Some require a commitment beyond school hours, but connecting with staff and students outside of the school day leads to increased interaction during the day.

1. Take photos. This is the best way to capture the variety of literacies occurring in the library. Use the photographs in a presentation, newsletter, or on social media. Our media center is open 35 minutes each morning before students report to their first class. We are busy! One morning, I stood on the front desk, took a panoramic shot, and emailed it to my principal with the caption “It’s 7:10 am!” After seeing the hundreds of students in the photo, he assigned morning duty to a teacher to help with supervision—and later showed the photo at a faculty meeting.

The Brookwood High School Media Center at 7:10 a.m. Photo by Jan Wilson

2. Create Twitter and Instagram accounts. These should be separate from your personal accounts. Keep it professional by posting photographs and information to promote the incredible happenings in your library, and try to post every week.

3. Lead professional development. Don’t wait for someone to ask you. When changes were announced to the 2016 SAT, my co-media specialist and I designed a 15-minute presentation about the new format so students would know what to expect on test day. We led 32 presentations to BHS juniors during their “guided study” (homeroom) time.

4. Serve on multiple committees. Most media specialists are required to lead the media committee at their school. Find more ways to serve. Inquire about committees that would benefit from your expertise, strengths, and interests. Several years ago, a busy teacher was unable to finish reading National Honor Society applications. I volunteered to help and have been on the Teacher Selection Committee ever since.

5. Involve students in decisions. In addition to input on book purchases, include students in other decisions. When we were considering shelving our fiction by genre, we posted a survey on our website and polled our frequent library visitors and avid readers. We wanted their perspective on this initiative. Students also selected the furniture for two of our soft-seating areas. After all, the media center belongs to them.

6. Volunteer at school events. For open houses, ask administrators if they need your help, and if not, use them as a public relations opportunity. I create a half-page infographic with facts and statistics about the media program including the number of classes taught, student visits, hours, and of few of the available resources. I staple a soft peppermint to the top corner of the infographics and hand them to parents as they pass by. Parents sometimes change their path, come into the media center and I have a few minutes of their time. Plus, they love the mints!

7. Attend extracurricular activities. The next day, send an email to faculty and staff with a positive comment in the subject line. Praise the choral concert, compliment the students in the talent show, and applaud a sports event. Your visibility increases with each email you send and shows the administration that you’re invested in the school.

8. Transform your mindset and space. If you haven’t already, change your media center from a traditional environment to a collaborative one. But don’t just change the name and buy new furniture. Transform what happens there and be out on the floor, not in your office. Students and staff need to shift their view of your role and how they utilize your space.

I believe that we have the best job in the school building. We don’t have the same curriculum standards that sometimes limit what teachers can do. We have the opportunity to design innovative lessons by fostering collaboration and to show students how to present their learning in multiple formats. We can discuss books with them that have nothing to do with required reading—how great is that!

And simply put, we can provide a space where students want to be. Get the word out by becoming active in your space, your school, and on social media.

Jan Wilson is SLJ’s 2017 Hero of Collaboration.

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Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.
Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
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  1. Angelyne Collins says:

    I am honored to work with Jan as a co-media specialist. Her work ethic is evident by all that she does to make our media program the best it can be. She strives to do the best for our teachers and staff each day.

  2. Nikeena Boyd-Kearsey says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I have been a school librarian for just two years and have quickly realized that my media center is what I make it. Sometimes that seems overwhelming, but our role provides a real opportunity to affect school culture. You have just reminded me of that.

  3. So excited to see this article. Sometimes you have to fight for your place in the school. As curriculum changes in the high school I worked in,I had to come up with ideas to bring teachers and students into my library. I developed lunch and learn. I had speakers come on for one period and talk about their jobs, or their life or just a story about their family. I had a professional baseball player, professional football player, State Supreme Court judge, the superintendent, and a school board member just to name a few. They were all in someway affiliated with our district. I fed the students either pizza or hotdogs. The results was overwhelming. I had people lining up to talk to my students. I even gave a scholarship to one of my student aides

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