MEMO’s Strategies for Assisting Library Media Specialists Whose Positions are in Jeopardy
Minnesota Media, 2004
The Minnesota Education Media Organization (MEMO) advises that its members whose positions may be reduced do to budget reductions or reorganizations in their schools districts take the following actions:
1. Learn the timeline for your district’s budget adjustment process.
Districts start planning for budget reductions for the next school year as early as November. (Very large districts may start budget planning in September!) Visit with your superintendent to see what the timeline and procedure for making budget reductions are. Don’t rely on rumors – keep an open line of communication with your superintendent and building principal throughout the school year. If district budgets are the result of a collaborative decision-making process, make sure you are part of it.
Every school district is required by law to have written budget policies and procedures. (Look in your board policy book.) Find your district’s official budget procedures and read specifically to find the timeline and which administrators have authority over budgets.
2. Let your MEMO president and MEMO region chair know as soon as possible when library-staffing cuts are being considered in your district.
MEMO is willing to help you if your position is cut. Besides reviewing and clarifying this document, we can provide advocacy materials, testify at board meetings on your behalf, and suggest strategies you might use to reduce the likelihood of your position being cut. Contact MEMO as early as possible. If the budget adjustment recommendations have already been finalized or even approved by the administrative staff, there is very little anyone, including MEMO, can do. Also contact the public library director and library multitype director in your region. They can be great allies.
3. Contact your teacher organization representative.
Know what help your teacher organization is willing to give you. Understand your teaching contract in terms of seniority and layoff notification deadlines. Find out its role in the budget determination process.
4. Distribute and discuss “library advocacy” information with your building administrators, superintendent, school board members and site teams.
Compile and synthesize your local program statistics in a visual and easily understood format. While circulation, collection size, and usage numbers are important, also make sure to outline your information literacy curriculum and its specific skills, your literacy activities, and each of the collaborative units you team-teach within other teachers’ curriculum. Discuss your role in teaching, supporting and integrating technology uses in your building, outlining specific activities and skills you teach to both students and teachers.
While the tools below are powerful, do not assume that just because they get in the hands of your school leadership that they read, understood, or believed to be applicable to your district. You need to find ways to discuss these materials with decision-makers, not just distribute them.
- Familiarize yourself with the AASL Advocacy ToolKit at <http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy>.
- Get research about effective school library media programs into the hands of administrators, including:
- The Minnesota School Library Media Center Census <http://www.memoweb.org/htmlfiles/linkscensus.html>
- “School Libraries Work!” (A summary of the research done in 14 states on the impact of school library media centers on student achievement) <http://www.scholasticlibrary.com/download/slw_04.pdf>
- Use the Minnesota Standards for School Library Media Centers at <http://www.memoweb.org/htmlfiles/linkseffectiveslmp.html> to evaluate and show the effectiveness of your current library program and the advocacy materials that support it
- Library/Media Center Report Card to use with Parents and Community Members
- Principal’s Checklist
- The video “Minnesota School Library Media Programs Make a Difference” and its accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
5. Begin developing a short statement outlining the consequences to students and staff of the potential cuts to your program.
A statement that describes in concrete and specific terms how the loss of services, learning opportunities, technical services, library access and support for curricular and building goals impact students and staff should be created as soon as the degree of budget cuts is known. Do not frame this in terms of how your job will be more difficult, but in terms of how students and staff will be affected. Emphasis your teaching role. (What skills will students not be learning if your program is cut?) Again - the more concrete, the better. Distribute and discuss it with all decision-makers in the district.
6. Begin getting commitments from district teachers, parents and students willing to write and speak in opposition to the library staffing reductions.
Ask those who make use of your skills, your library’s resources and its services to speak on your behalf, either informally to administrators or formally at school board meetings or in letters to editor of the local newspaper. This is the most powerful advocacy you can have. Again, this advocacy needs to be done during the budget reduction process, not after recommendations are already formalized.
7. Arrange for a MEMO spokesperson to write and/or speak on your behalf to your superintendent, school board and community.
If you feel that an MEMO officer speaking on your program’s behalf to your administrative team or school board would be helpful, contact the MEMO president. The expert (from more than 50 miles away) can be helpful under some circumstances, especially if the person speaking has knowledge of current research, best practices, and the state of libraries in Minnesota.
8. Keep doing your very best despite the possible cuts.
Your position may be restored if the school and community are aware that the roles, functions and events you are doing may not happen the next year. Decisions and cuts are not always permanent.
Of course, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Ongoing efforts can make your library media program less likely to be the target of budget reductions. Make sure you are already doing the things below.
- Building and maintaining a library media program that teaches critical information and technology literacy skills, builds student literacy rates, and supports all classrooms and curricular areas.
- Serving the needs of your teaching and administrative staff through instructional collaboration, technology training and support, and their own professional materials request fulfillment.
- Establishing or continuing a school library media program advisory committee comprised of a wide range of stakeholders (especially parents) that meets on a regular basis to discuss goals, policies, and budgets.
- Creating long-term goals and annual objectives that are supported by the principal and teachers and are directly tied to your building’s goals. Enacting long-range plans and multi-year strategies or projects makes it difficult to change horses in midstream.
- Building a relationship with your principal that is mutually supportive.
- Tracking and reporting to your administrator the use of your library media program, especially in terms of units of teaching, collaboration, and specific skills you yourself teach.
- Communicating regularly and formally with administrators, teachers, students, parents and the community about what is happening in your library program, through newsletters and e-mail; and communicating informally through e-mails and notes to individuals on “I thought you’d like to know about this…” topics.
- Having an ongoing involvement with your parent-teacher organizations.
- Serving on leadership, curriculum, technology and staff development teams in your building and district.
- Being active in your teacher professional organization and reminding officers that as a dues-paying member, you deserve as much support as the classroom teacher.
- Being involved in the extra-curricular life of the school, attending school plays, sporting events, award ceremonies etc. Be visible! (I think it helps to be an active member of the community belonging to a church or other religious organization, community service group, and/or volunteer groups. It’s harder to fire a friend and neighbor than a stranger.)
- Being active in MEMO by attending conferences and regional events, reading the MEMOrandom and Minnesota Media publications, volunteering for positions in the organization, and attending MEMO/MLA legislative functions.
You as a school library media specialist are too important to too many children to let budget reductions that impact your program just “happen.” Get active, ask for support, and heed the words of Dylan Thomas – “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
Please let me know of other strategies that you or others you know have effectively used to preserve their library media positions during times of budget reductions for inclusion in future revisions of this document.
Thanks to Gail Dickinson, professor at Old Dominion University, Norfolk (VA), Sara Kelly Johns, librarian at Lake Placid (NY) High School, and media specialist, Mary Alice Anderson at Winona (MN) Public Schools, for reading and adding great suggestions to the draft of this manuscript.
A Case Study in Fighting Library Cuts
Linda Corey LCOREY@bluevalleyk12.org (Blue Valley Schools, Overland Park, Kansas). Used here with permission.
We have been fighting cuts locally for the past three years. Our best weapon has been the support of parent groups. Parents have written, called and appeared before Board of Education (BOE) members and at meetings in support of well-staffed library media centers. We involved no students but parents speak eloquently on behalf of their children.
As a group we presented each BOE member with a packet containing a brief outline of the research supporting library media programs - a collection of statements made over the years by school administrators and leaders indicating that the library media program is the central and crucial hub of the district educational program. We used a statement from our superintendent that was part of a nation-wide teleconference on the librarian’s role in keeping students safe on the Internet in a filter free environment. Not all administrators were happy with us but they did not retract their prior statements. The Board of Education and administrators were provided research done by The Association of American Universities and The Pew Charitable Trusts concerning what skills college freshman need to succeed. We also used the Department of Labor SCANS report on the skills needed in the work place.
Library media specialists (LMS) attended every BOE meeting and every community forum on the budget. At times we outnumbered all other groups. We were all ready to answer the question, “How does the Blue Valley library media program improve student learning and academic achievement?” We wrote individual letters to all BOE members and copied to district administrators. We wore buttons with hearts that read, “Save Our Unequaled Libraries.”
But we really began our battle before the cuts. BOE members and district administrators are invited to all events in the library media centers. They don’t always attend but they are aware we are providing exceptional learning experiences for BV students. LMS hold leadership positions on building and district committees, task forces and working groups. We attempt to be very visible and support our building administrators. We do not view our administrators and BOE members as enemies. They too want what is best for the students. It’s our responsibility to communicate to them the power of our integrated library media program. We didn’t want cuts to the library media program to be the easy answer to a difficult situation.
The sad fact is that with all we do, library positions will again in all probability be on the list of possible cuts for the 05-06 year. We have a new superintendent and a significant number of new administrators. We have very little time to build the necessary relationships and the understanding that a fully staffed library media program is critical to the learning