Library Advocacy

National_Library_Week_Spotlight-option 1_2_This past week, April 14-20, was National Library Week.  While I assume that the small number of you who choose to read this library-related blog recognize the value of libraries, the fact of the matter is that not everyone in the general population realizes their importance.

use librariesSchool libraries in particular are incredibly valuable to their communities.  Librarians encourage a love of reading, which helps to promote and improve literacy.  However, libraries are so much more than that.  They are places of inquiry, discovery, and creativity.  They are places for students to learn to be responsible, respectful, ethical digital citizens.  They are places where students learn the information literacy skills they will need to succeed in school, higher education, and their careers.

For all of these reasons, it is important to advocate for school libraries.  If school librarians are the only ones doing this, though, they are likely to go unnoticed.  If we want community members to recognize the value of school libraries, advocacy efforts must come from community members themselves.  The question becomes, then, how can we engage others to advocate for the school library?

The best way to do this is to get them involved in the library.  Invite parents to be volunteers in the library.  Have some after-school or evening hours when parents can come into the library to check out books with their kids, or host evening library activities.  Bring community members into the library to talk to classes, or bring students to community organizations for a lesson or activity.  Showing community members all of the things the library does will allow them to recognize the value of the library, and share that information with others.  Thus, hopefully, library advocates are born.

236_Library Advocacy Logo March 2010 transparentOnce you have a community ready to advocate for the school library, though, how do you get that message across?  There are a number of ways this can be done.  Parents, students, and community members can attend school board meetings, or even events such as Library Advocacy Day.  They could also write articles for school newsletters, or even in the local paper.  The prevalence and popularity of social media these days, though, combined with the fact that most school libraries have limited budgets, makes advocacy via the internet a valid choice.  Students can make videos or podcasts explaining what the library means to them, why they value the library, or what they have learned in the library.  This could even be an evening activity; parents and students could come to the library after hours for a quick lesson on making a video, and then they could work together to make their advocacy videos.  In addition, notable local alums could do something similar, making videos showing their support for the library.  The librarian could also organize an activity in which students could interview alumni or community members about their library experiences for a podcast.

There are a wide variety of ways to engage community members to be school library advocates, and an equally large number of ways to advocate for the library.  I made a brief library advocacy video using Animoto, which can be seen here.  There are many other messages that could be presented and tools that could be used.  This is just one example of how we can advocate for school libraries.

Hosting an Anti-Bullying Event in the Library

cyberbullyingAnyone who spends any time on the internet these days has probably heard something about cyberbullying.  As more and more ways to communicate virtually become available, and as the internet becomes more and more accessible, cyberbullying has become a huge problem.  It is difficult at times to walk the line between giving kids privacy and access to information and keeping them safe.  I think the library can play a role in spreading awareness of cyberbullying, as well as providing tips for its prevention.

The library, where students go to learn how to analyze information and be respectful, responsible digital citizens, is the perfect place to host an anti-bullying community event.  I think an event like this would be a great way for students to practice some of their information and digital literacy skills, be creative, and learn about how to be respectful, responsible, and ethical on the internet.

In my library, this event would take the form of an arts showcase, giving the students the opportunity to take ownership and teach others about this subject.  The PACER Center’s information sheet on putting on an anti-bullying event suggests having a poster contest as one of the activities.  I would like to take this a step further, and allow the students to decide what they would like to create and present.  The librarian could do brief mini-lessons on creating short videos, making infographics, etc., and students could then choose to create a PSA on cyberbullying, an infographic on respectful online behavior, or something less tech-heavy, like a poem or song.

Then, at the event, following a brief welcome and presentation by the librarian or administrator including a few important tips for parents, the students would be the stars of the show, having the opportunity to screen their videos, perform their poems, or showcase their artwork.  This doesn’t have to be a contest, but rather a way for students to show off their great work while also educating the community about cyberbullying.  There could also be snacks and drinks, like a real gallery showing, to make the students feel like they are a part of something special.

Cyberbullying is a growing problem, and the only way to solve it is to make sure everyone in the community is aware of what it is and how to be respectful online.  The library is a great place to raise awareness of this problem, give students a voice, and even practice information literacy skills.

Online Filtering: Help or Hindrance?

Filtering-URLOne of the ways schools attempt to protect students from the big, scary internet is through online filtering.  Proponents of filtering will say that this prevents students from accessing inappropriate sites and protects their privacy by keeping them from revealing too much identifying information on the internet.  But is this the whole story?

Not exactly.  Filters do block a lot of inappropriate sites, but, truthfully, they block a lot of beneficial ones, too.  In addition to legitimate educational websites, many social networking sites are blocked.  While revealing too much personal information and the possibility of cyberbullying are legitimate concerns when it comes to social networking, it is also true that tools like blogs, Twitter, and Pinterest can have many interesting uses in classroom instruction and activities.

internet-safety-thumbAdditionally, those who see online filtering as less than ideal (including myself) may argue that by preventing access to so many websites, we are not actually teaching students all that they need to know about evaluating information and online safety.  Allowing students to access the “bad” sites gives teachers and librarians an opportunity to teach them how to determine if the information they find is accurate, or unbiased, or completely false, or created by a hate group.  Similarly, allowing students to utilize social media provides an opportunity to explore internet etiquette, respect, and ethical use.  If everything is blocked and teachers and librarians are unable to give students the chance to practice these skills, then odds are they’ll leave school without the appropriate tools to analyze and evaluate information, or the proper attitude about how to interact with others on the internet.

When schools use filtering, they don’t just prevent teachers and librarians from instructing students on information literacy, they also jeopardize intellectual freedom.  Basically, people have the right to access whatever information they want, from any viewpoint, without restriction by others.  Online filtering, while ostensibly for students’ safety, takes that right away from students.  It is better to teach students how to find a wide variety of information in a smart, safe manner than to take away their right to obtain that information.

nsscomic2Most likely, online filtering isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  However, school districts can begin to utilize filtering more effectively, so that students are not only safe, but also have the opportunity to learn and practice important skills for information literacy and online safety.