By: Baule, Steven M., Bertani, Laura Blair. From: Book Report, Nov/Dec 2000, Vol. 19, Issue p. 47-49
How To Gain Support From Your Board and AdministrationBy Steven M. Baule and Laurea Blair Bertani
When library media specialises gather, they often talk about their feeling that local school boards and administrators don’t fully support the library media program. Underlying this perception is often a kernel of truth. If there is a lack of support for our programs, the reason is often that, as library media specialists, we haven’t done enough to inform and persuade. Marketing our programs is a necessity in today’s educational environment.
If your board of education and your school district administration are not fully aware of what you do, they cannot be fully supportive. Fortunately, in most districts, the days of “us and them”—teachers vs. administrators—are past. Teamwork and interdepartmental efforts are increasing, and collaborative management styles are more the norm than the exception. So what does this “changed environment” mean to the school library media specialist? More than likely, it means there has never been a better time for librarians to look to their administrators and boards for support.
Capitalize on this new environment by drawing attention to your programs. Market yourselves! Cultivate the support of your school’s leadership.
Align your library’s goals with district goals; then market your program.
First, learn what is important to the board and administration. Find out what short- and long-term goals they have established for the school district. Then make sure you address those goals when you design your own library media program goals. For example, if the board and administrative focus is on improved student achievement, emphasize the library’s potential to help students toward higher achievement.
Once articulated and in writing, your library media program goals will be your road map for the year. Aligning your goals with the school district’s goals will show how the library program is integral to the strategic direction of the district. Let those goals serve as the springboard for all your communications and marketing efforts. Some common ideas for increasing exposure of your program are outlined below. These ideas—along with your own—can become part of your marketing efforts.
Host your district’s board meeting
To focus attention on your program, create situations for the board, administration, and other school leaders to visit your school media center. Nothing speaks louder than first-hand experience! In many school districts, the board of education holds its regular meetings in school libraries throughout the district. If your school district does not take this opportunity, then suggest it. If regular meetings in the library are not feasible for your board, then suggest hosting one meeting per year. Perhaps schedule that meeting to coincide with National Library Week or another such event. Have your librarians and media specialists attend the board meeting. Offer to present a short tour to board members prior to the meeting. Consider having student hosts explain how they use your library services. Credible comments spoken by a “customer” especially a student—will speak volumes about your program’s value to the school district.
Design a “fast facts” flyer
Design a one-page flyer—a set of bulletin points—that can be your “brag sheet.” Distribute your flyer to the board members and others. Ask the principal to include it in a start-of-school mailing to students and parents. Have copies always available at your check-out counter.
When writing and designing your flyer, be as professional as possible. Use the opportunity to showcase desktop publishing capabilities through your technology. Use one of the professionally designed templates available in much of the software. Use clip art or graphics, but use them sparingly. Make the type font consistent throughout your flyer. Write headlines that attract the reader. In deciding what to write, always consider what your customers need to know about your services rather than what you want them to know (in many cases, the same things). Keep sentences short; bulletin points are easy for the hurried reader to scan.
Showcase everyday life
Invite board members and administrators in to see your day-to-day operations while students are using your facilities. Schedule a day in which they can see a range of your normal activities. Don’t try to impress them with out-of-the-normal activities. Do impress them with how well you do your regular job and how that has a direct impact on student learning and the instructional process. Remember, the main topic of the conversation is student learning. That is our business and that will nearly always get the attention of a board member or administrator.
Send a library newsletter
If you don’t presently send out a library newsletter to your staff, consider doing so. Consider publishing it monthly or quarterly. Be consistent. In time, staff will come to expect this regular news item from your office. A library newsletter will remind readers of your programs and the fact that you are a vital, integral member of the educational community.
Again, brevity is best. Keep your newsletter as a teaching tool. Provide information that teachers can use now. Plug a new technology service, feature a teacher who has used library services to create an interesting lesson, or provide tips on “where to find what” in the library. Consider quoting a student or staff member in each issue to help publicize your services. Your customers’ words carry gr eat credibility. Share news about interesting Web sites, including information that appeals to staff members personally; for example, in the last issue of the school year, an article on where to find inexpensive summer airfares. In addition to distributing your newsletter in staff mailboxes, send copies to your district administration and ask the superintendent to include copies in routine mailings to board members.
Share highlights in an annual report
Develop an annual report for the board and administration. Sharing year-in review highlights—where you were at the beginning of the year vs. where you are now—is good publicity for your constituents as well as a practical assessment tool for you. In a simple format, view your program over the course of the year. Include statistics to show the students and staff usage of your services. Include charts and graphs. Describe changes and upgrades in your services and facilities over the year.
Your annual report could be designed as a four-page document replacing your end-of-the-year newsletter, saving you from having to write and design two publications at that busy time of year. Again, use desktop publishing to design your annual report. Include graphics, photos, and headlines that will attract the reader. When writing, keep your readers in mind. Will he care about this topic? Why should she be interested? How does this impact your readers? What’s in it for them?
Create a Web site
Promote your program on the Web by creating a Web page for your school library program. E-commerce is the way of the future! A good library Web page should serve as a gateway to electronic and community reference resources and should highlight parent information sources as well. If possible, provide a method for feedback to improve your services and link to the community. Remember, community members often have more influence with board members and administration than you do.
Capitalize on existing special events
Use National Library Week and other calendar events to highlight the role of the library media program. Hold a reception for the board, administration, and staff in the library media center. Such an event provides an informal opportunity for them to mingle with the library staff (if only one staff member) and see the library. Make sure you have plenty of student materials on display, along with new titles. Enlist the help of teachers. Perhaps one of them would be willing to present a classroom assignment for your audience. Where possible, have students make poster presentations explaining some of the research they have completed using library resources and assistance.
Use “networking”—good, old fashioned face-to-face salesmanship!
Networking is a new-millennium buzzword for an age-old concept: Work face-to-face with people to develop wide support for the library program among the rest of your staff. Too often, library staff members work their entire days in the library, isolated from the rest of the school staff. Involve yourselves in the wider school community. Volunteer on committees. Speak up in faculty and staff meetings. Be a visible presence, spokesperson, and advocate for your programs. Enlist others. When the English department chair or the third grade teacher speaks on behalf of the library media program, his or her words carry great credibility. Board members and administrators expect the library media specialist to advocate for the library program, but when classroom teachers speak in your favor, it carries an extra endorsement.
Make a formal presentation to the board of education
Another way to market your program is to seek an opportunity to meet with the board in a formal presentation. Ask your superintendent if there is a board meeting at which you could present the library program—in 20 minutes or less. Streamline your presentation, focusing on how your programs and services contribute to student learning. Showcase your technological abilities by using PowerPoint, slides, or video in your presentation.
Again, for credibility-and variety—devote most of your short time to having teachers and students tell how they have effectively used the library to support their teaching and learning. Introduce, set the stage for their remarks, and conclude. Avoid library and media jargon and technology acronyms. (For example, talk about removing old materials from the collection, not “weeding.”) Have fun, encourage staff and students to smile and talk about ways they enjoy the library.
Dress for success when you make that board presentation. Wear a business suit or otherwise present a highly professional appearance. It is important to present yourself as a manager of a modern library and information literacy program, not simply the “library lady” or the “media man” that some board members may recall from their own library days.
Create an ongoing marketing plan
Your progress toward achieving your yearly goals can be included in the content of your monthly or quarterly newsletters and can be the focus of your library tours. The accomplishment of those goals can be what you write about in your annual report and what you present at a board of education meeting.
After your first year of operating with communication goals that support your library’s goals, your marketing plan becomes cyclical. Create goals for the next year based on the prior year’s goals, the actions that supported those goals, any evaluative measures you used to assess your efforts, and, of course, what your board of education and administration have identified as new goals for the next school year. The cycle can be fun! Good luck.
Laura Blair Bertani, APR, Director of Personnel and Communications, work in New Trier Township High School District 203, Winnetka, Illinois