When Texas librarian Valerie Tagoe agreed to sponsor a graphic novel and anime club for high school students who were passionate about manga, it opened the door to all sorts of new activities in the library: cosplay, manga-related arts and crafts, and a selection of graphic novels for students to read and chat about.
“When you do something that’s unexpected and that students are interested in, you might get kids who may not have otherwise walked through your doors coming in and seeing what else they can do in the library,” says Tagoe, co-author of the ISTE book Liven Up Your Library.
From Florida to Tennessee to Texas, as school libraries face heightened scrutiny from parents, community members and even legislators, it’s becoming increasingly necessary for librarians to engage their communities and show the world what really goes on behind library doors.
“It's important that we tell our stories about the work we’re doing for our campuses, students and staff,” Tagoe says. “We have to constantly advocate and communicate our value.”
In the current social and political climate, school librarians — who play a key role in teaching students how to evaluate information sources — are themselves battling a host of misconceptions about their libraries, from the belief that libraries don’t improve student achievement to recent accusations that paint librarians as “groomers” with shelves full of inappropriate materials.
At best, these misconceptions can lead to laws and policies that make it harder for librarians to do their jobs. At worst, they can result in programs being cut and even librarians being criminalized for stocking the wrong books on their shelves.
“It’s important that we share our voices and encourage library supporters to share their voices too,” says Lindsey Kimery, coordinator of library services for Metro Nashville Public Schools. “One thing legislators have told us is that they definitely hear a lot from those who are upset with school libraries, but they’re not hearing as much from those of us on the opposite side. We encourage school librarians to make it a point to communicate more and connect more so we can try to dismantle this narrative that’s being pushed out about school libraries.”
Telling your library’s story
In Liven Up Your Library, Tagoe and co-author Julia Torres share strategies for developing exciting and unexpected programs that engage learners in library activities. But Tagoe encourages school librarians not to stop there. By documenting and sharing these programs on social media, you also can invite parents and community members to engage with your library.
“Don’t underestimate the power of social media to connect with your community,” says Diana Rendina, media specialist and teacher librarian at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida. “Sometimes it might take time to build it up, but it can gain momentum.”
It can be as simple as capturing a short video of what’s happening in the library each day or as complex as setting up a green screen and getting students involved in the production.
If you’ve got an author or guest speaker coming in, post photos or a soundbite from the event. If you just got a new book order in, make an unboxing video to show off the new additions to your collection. Even if you’re just teaching students how to search a database for articles, you can stand behind them and take photos as they use the software.
“Even the everyday things, even if you think it may not be post-worthy, you might want to post about it because you never know the impact it may have,” Tagoe says.
Kimery also suggests sharing statistics about your library, such as the top 10 books most frequently checked out in a month or the most popular books by genre.
“I think it’s important to focus on the joy of reading and to show students’ engagement and usage of books,” she says. “We also want the library to be the hub of the school, the heart of school, so what does that look like? Share the things kids love about the library, whether it’s the comfy furniture they sit on while they study or the makerspace. What makes your library unique to your students and to your school community?”
For more ideas about what to share, check out some of these social media handles:
Telling your library’s story on social media is an important first step. But if you want to build an even stronger support base within your community, consider inviting parents and community members into your library — either physically or virtually.
For example, when a couple of students from Tagoe’s high school were accepted to West Point, she hosted a small reception for them in the school library.
“A local congressman came, and someone from the military came,” she says. “Those are ways to bring elected officials in so they can see that this is a high school library in their community that they’re representing. This is what’s going on at this school, and hopefully they’ll see that they should be supporting this school and its library.”
You can also invite parents and community members in virtually by hosting regular Zoom chats about what’s coming up in your library or inviting them to join a book club and participate in discussions.
Don’t be afraid to ask your supporters to share their experiences with your library on social media, too.
“It is not only important for school librarians to tell the story of the work they are doing day to day, but it is also important for staff, parents, students and alumni to tell the story as well — be it a post on social media about a book they checked out, a program they participated in or speaking at a school board meeting,” Tagoe says. “It is important that the people we serve tell the story of the school librarian and the school library. Decisionmakers need to hear those stories because it will influence future decisions.”
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.