What is advocacy?
The Canadian Association of Public Libraries has developed a definition that is well worth considering. “Advocacy is a planned, deliberate, sustained effort to raise awareness of an issue. It’s an ongoing process in which support and understanding are built incrementally over an extended period of time and using a wide variety of marketing and public relations tools” (Canadian Association of Public Libraries 2001, para. 1).
Advocacy is more than just lobbying for extra funding, or stating the importance of the role of the information professional within a school community, or seeking school-based support for an information skills / literacy program. It involves advocating for excellent school library services, appropriate staffing and facilities in the context of advancing the educational opportunities of a school community.
Over the years teacher librarians have used the terms of promotion, public relations, marketing, and advocacy interchangeably, but there are some distinct differences attached to each of the terms. A general reading of business management literature provides insight into the activities associated with each term. The following attempts to place these terms within the context of school libraries.
Promotion is about saying who you are, what you do, for whom, when and how. It tends to be a one-way communication much like public relations, which includes activities to promote the school library and teacher librarian to the school community members. Informational brochures, bookmarks, posters, newsletters, library signage, presenting a report at a staff meeting, hosting Book Week and storytelling activities, presenting at a conference, lobbying a government agent, or writing an article, tend to tell the target audience rather than engage them in collaborative exchange.
Marketing, on the other hand, attempts to find out what the school community needs and wants through mini surveys, market research, needs assessment, questionnaires, focus groups and studying demographics. The school library then focuses its attention on providing the information and/or service to meet those identified needs. The same tools used for public relations are applied, but the emphasis is on providing a response that will leverage the gained understanding the teacher librarian has of the school community.
Advocacy uses promotion, public relations and marketing to indicate that what is currently being done within the school community will be greatly enhanced by what the school library and teacher librarian can offer. Advocacy attempts to influence the perceptions of the target audience by connecting with their agenda to demonstrate how the school library and the services of the teacher librarian can advance the position of the school as an information literate learning community. Planned and deliberate advocacy activities will work towards building effective partnerships, influential relationships, interactive decision-making, and collaborative activity.
Ross Todd, cited in Hartzell (2002, para. 3), suggests when teacher librarians advocate on behalf of the school library emphasis should be on ‘connections, not collections’. The school library and its services need to connect administrators, teachers and students to the information they need to realise an information literate learning community.
It is someone else’s job!
Teacher librarians, in general, are probably very good at promoting their school library and its services to the staff and students of their respective schools. In the busy-ness of a teacher librarian’s day, marketing may be something they would like to get around to, but do not have the time. Unfortunately, advocacy is often viewed as the job of the state/territory and/or national teacher librarian associations. This perception is quite reasonable, but we need to factor in that there is a role for everyone in advocacy.
For example, advocacy tools developed at a national level are only effective when skilfully used by the practitioner. Handing the principal a copy of the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians (ALIA & ASLA 2004) and indicating how it was applied to oneself, or the school library team, to identify the skills and expertise that benefit the school community in areas of pedagogical practice, curriculum development, information provision and service, student learning and performance, lifelong learning, and professional commitment would be a productive exercise.
A useful approach
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a group of teacher librarians on implementing the Learning for the future: a professional development kit. . The presentation incorporated a workshop activity that combined the ‘Strategic planning’ workshop in the kit with the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians. Each person used the ‘Strategic planning template’ to initially identify their strengths within one section of the standards, that is, either ‘professional knowledge’ or ‘professional practice’ or ‘ professional commitment’. They were encouraged to link their identified strengths with potential opportunities to make a connection within their school community. The ‘situational analysis’ also includes identifying weaknesses and threats. Positive approaches were adopted to consider how one could move a weakness to a strength position, and also move threats to potential opportunities. This is certainly a challenging exercise and most revealing.
ALIA & ASLA 2004, Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians, Australian Library and Information Association and Australian School Library Association, viewed 11 December 2004, http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.htm
Canadian Association of Public Libraries 2001, Library Advocacy NOW!, Canadian Library Association, viewed 20 January 2005, http://cla.ca/divisions/capl/advocacy/index.htm
Hartzell G 2002, ‘The hole truth’, School Library Journal, viewed 21 January 2005, http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA225242.html
Mitchell P 2005, ‘Workshops to raise awareness’, Access, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 29-30.