Already there have been articles published on how to counter this threat to school libraries, especially in regard to the budget. School librarians need to ensure they have good advocacy plans that include local data on the importance of school libraries and tailor the advocacy message to the intended audience (ALA; Ewbank, 2011; Johnson, 2011; Lance & Hofschire, 2011; Lance & Hofschire, 2012; Panter, 2020). School librarians need to do more than simply go to stakeholders; they also need to get stakeholders to come into the library to see the work being done in person or feature their work someplace easily accessible, like social media (Lewis, 2020; Panter, 2020). Stakeholders also need to realize that a good school library program uplifts students through equitable access to resources, provides a space for social-emotional learning and growth, and implements universal design for learning (Jurkowski, 2006; Hunt, 2018; Sparks & Hardin, 2018; Wittman & Fisher-Allison, 2020).
Our study provides insight as to whether an understanding of these roles is widespread in Massachusetts. The subsequent results can be used to guide advocacy efforts. This research was designed to address several areas of concern for school librarians. First, it was essential to know if the general public knows what a school librarian does. What roles of the school librarian are known to those not involved in K-12 school libraries? Which services and responsibilities of school librarians do those not involved in K-12 school libraries rank as important? In order to determine if age and education affect the impression and knowledge of school librarians, we also included demographic questions.
Detailed results of our survey can be found at this link. To summarize the demographics, our 88 respondents were largely between 24 and 56 years old, well educated, and did not work in a school. Most had encountered a school librarian at some point during their K-12 education but hadn’t interacted with one since. Overall, respondents were aware of the educational requirements and roles of the school librarian, overwhelmingly supportive of school librarians, and felt that there should be one in every school. This approval trend was clear across all of the suggested roles of the school librarian. Respondents were also aware of many of the roles of the school librarian, from fostering a love of reading to teaching important research skills. While most respondents have not met a school librarian socially, more than half who have done so conversed about the work that librarians do. A large number of respondents also have experience working in schools. This exposure to school faculty may account for the number of people who know that school librarians need a master’s degree.
This survey certainly had limitations due to access and reach. We shared the survey information on our town Facebook pages and among our contacts. We did not ask for racial or ethnic demographic data; our towns are 80% and 87% white and it follows that the town Facebook groups would not necessarily be diverse. Therefore, we did not fully encapsulate the perspective of people from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. A targeted survey by a group with better resources is needed to ensure a large enough sample size to generate statistically significant data to draw conclusions.
Regardless of the survey’s limitations, this overwhelmingly positive support bodes well for advocacy efforts, and implies that these supporters would share positive news and infographics about school libraries, thereby extending the public’s general knowledge of the profession. However, there are aspects of librarianship that were not as recognized by participants, including involvement in schoolwide curriculum decisions and managing paraprofessionals and volunteers; these should be emphasized in future outreach so that when asked why school librarians are important, advocates are more prepared to answer with a range of roles.
We were encouraged by the results of our survey. It gave us knowledge to move forward with advocacy and hope that when we encounter threats to our budget, we will be able to mobilize allies to advocate for the school library.