In 1997, Gary Hartzell wrote an article for the November issue of School Library Journal entitled “The Invisible School Librarian: Why Others Are Blind to Your Value.” Seventeen years have passed and little has changed for many – and there are far fewer school librarians than there were then.
Why isn’t our message being heard?
I think it’s because our priorities are in (almost) reverse order with the decision makers who hold the power. Our priorities—in order—are students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community. But the power hierarchy in ranked orders consists of the community (in the form of the Board of Education) administrators, parents, students, and teachers.
We must never forget our true priorities which is working with students (most often through teachers) to develop their competencies as lifelong learners through inquiry learning, love of reading, digital citizenship, and the host of skills associated with information literacy. Building collaborative relationships with teachers is essential in accomplishing this.
- All libraries, regardless of their type, belong to a larger host system.
- All libraries, regardless of their type, receive all their funds and resources from this larger host system.
- Libraries get their funds and resources based on their value to the host system.
- That value is determined by the host system, not the librarian.
The last truth is often overlooked. In order to be valued by those who decide on whether your program will be funded rarely know what you do and how it contributes to the learning environment. How many of you know all your Board of Education members? Do you know what their agenda is? How can your program advance it? This is what you need to communicate.
Using visual media, target specific Board members – or the entire Board. Don’t do this without alerting your principal (and supervisor if she is not the principal). You never blindside an administrator.
Your Superintendent of Schools is another major player. In some districts the Board rubber stamps his decisions. In others, he follows the Board lead for the most part. Do you know what the situation is in your district? Do you know what your Superintendent wants? What is his vision or goal? Where can your library program fit in to it? Once again be ready to communicate that information – keeping your building level administrators in the loop.
If you want to be a Visible Librarian and have your Value recognized, the ones who make the money decisions must become aware of your worth to them. What can you do to get the word out? And what’s the message you are going to send?