Admin Advocacy: Where Do I Start?

By: Sarah Summerson

$500. I blinked my eyes. I only have $500 to run an elementary school library program? Are those numbers correct? I blinked my eyes again. I was holding the budget papers in my hand, shaking my head. That can’t be right. That just can’t be right. Even as a brand new librarian, I knew better.

So…what now? Clearly, this was a case of needing to educate my principal. Clearly, he didn’t have a full understanding of what was necessary for a library to thrive…or even stay afloat. Clearly, we were going to need to sit down and have a little chat.

Let’s be honest—no one in the building knows what librarians do. Classroom teachers don’t know, other resource teachers don’t know, and yes, even the principal doesn’t know. The closest person who knows what you actually do day in and day out is the librarian at the next school down the street.

How do principals come to know what you do? YOU. You have to advocate. Yes, that’s right. It means you have to get out of your comfort zone and sell yourself. You need to take the initiative to sit down, face to face, and teach your principal exactly what you do and why you are so awesome.

What Do You Bring?

You’ve gathered up your nerve and are now ready to take that leap. You’ve set up a meeting with your principal, but what do you bring?

What you take to this meeting can single handedly make the biggest impact on your principal. It’s not what you say but what you show him that will stick with him. Visuals can be very powerful tools. They are a must.

1. State of the Library Address:
Yes, you read it correctly. You will deliver a statement to your principal regarding the specific state of your library as it stands that day. The good, the bad, the ugly. Include research that supports the effectiveness of libraries, a list of what you do all day besides teaching, and an itemized list of needs for the library.

2. Specific reports that support your needs:
This could take the form of surveys, collection development reports, or budget statements. This includes whatever data you can present that will visually make an impression.

By presenting your principal with reports, you are showing him that you, too, are data driven. You don’t run your library on willy nilly choices and impulsive decisions. You run an efficient program by analyzing calculated reports regularly for information. You use these reports to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your library. You use it as a guide for the best way to improve your collection and resources. Some examples of hard data:

  • Collection Reports: This is a great way to give your principal a snapshot of what your collection really contains. Is your nonfiction section grossly outdated? Are you lacking books on the ancient civilizations? Collection reports provide the actual hard facts that you need to show this. These are things you cannot necessarily “see” when you just walk into a library.
  • Budget History: Has your budget always been the same? Has is recently been reduced? Are you new and you don’t know what it used to be? If you are new, and you can’t find any records of your old budget, sweetly ask the office manager if she has any record of your previous funding (and she should). It is important to know what was given to the previous librarian. You never know—your principal may have taken the opportunity to reduce the library budget during the turnover.
  • Written Logs: Are you frustrated with the amount of tasks you are asked to do during your “free time”? Is your service to the students and teachers lacking because you are covering another class or on lunch duty? Try keeping a log to show exactly what you do with your time. Principals can be uncomfortable with the “extra” time it seems we sometimes have in the schedule, but again, it comes back to the fact that they don’t know what we do! So, show them.

3. Samples of discarded books:
Some principals have a hard time with the concept of weeding. How dare you ever throw a book away! They might argue that if you didn’t weed so much, then you wouldn’t need so much money to replace your books.

The solution: Pull some of your oldest books from nonfiction to bring to your meeting. Now put those ratty, wrinkled, dull books right in front of your principal. I’m betting this will change his mind.

4. 5 Books That Can Fit In One Hand:
When principals see $1,000 or more in your funds, they think you can fill a library with that amount of money. They think the library is swimming in excess moolah. Give them a little reality check by holding up 5 books in one hand and saying, “This is what $100 really buys.” Enough said.

5. Portfolio with Pictures:
This is your chance to brag. You can tell your principal that you do Reading Nights, and Book and Breakfast, and Book Buddies, and Book Fairs, but when you show pictures of these events, you are making a visual impression on their minds that they will remember.

6.Your Computer:
Bring a laptop or tablet to your meeting. You can use it to share your library website and other electronic resources that would impress your principal. I guarantee it will wow him to see such a useful hub of information that everyone in the school can access. It will wow him to see how you’ve created resources that students can access from home. He might even start to view you as the technology guru that you are!

The moral: show your principal what you do. You can tell, tell, tell all day, but what’s really going to make an impact is to show him—with pictures, with documents, with data. By using strategic visuals, you are there to bring him into your dynamic world.

Now, get out there and get going! It is your turn to make change happen for you. Gather up your courage and take those first brave steps towards your principal’s office. I guarantee, your principal will never think of you the same way again.