What Comes After Victory

January 31, 2012

Congratulations, Libraryland! School library boosters hit the 25,000-signature threshold this morning on the White House petition urging that every child in America have access to an effective school library program. (To be exact, there were 25,594 signatures as of 1:49 p.m. Central time.) You’ve got the attention of the Executive Branch now, per the rules posted at the We the People petition website; the White House staff will review the petition, ensure that it is sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response. So, take a moment to savor your victory in the full knowledge that your work is far from done.

“The big questions now are how to capture this momentum, how to capitalize on this achievement,” mused Lake Placid (N.Y.) Middle/High School Librarian Sara Kelly Johns to the discussion list of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians, which kept the petition drive in the public eye along with ALA’s Office for Library Advocacy (OLA) and the Presidential Task Force on School Libraries. School librarian Carl Harvey II, who wrote the petition, sees step one as amassing as many signatures as possible by the petition deadline of February 4. “The higher the number the louder our voice will be!” he wrote to the list.

“Agreed,” said OLA Director Marci Merola. “This petition is a big first step in getting on the radar of the White House and Congress, and more than anything, creating a broader understanding that if we want children to succeed in school, we need effective school library programs.” Noting that ALA’s Presidential Task Force on School Libraries has been working on these issues since its formation in fall 2011, Merola recommended that librarians “look to this task force for next steps in the near future.”

Whatever little-engine-that-could buzz phrase du jour you prefer—leveraging, capitalizing, promoting, persuading, encouraging, pushing forward, pressing on—supporters of quality education need to maintain the momentum, and there are plenty of opportunities, among them:

  • Supporting the SKILLs Act (Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries Act). Whether as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the SKILLs Act would return school libraries to their rightful place in the federal education code as essential to learning.
  • Registering for this year’s National Library Legislative Day, which will take place April 23–24 in Washington, D.C., and afford librarians the opportunity to tell their congressional leaders about the power of school libraries. 
  • Inviting lawmakers to visit your library. If the First Family can spare a few hours, why not your local representative? “Invite members of Congress, Senators, to your school libraries,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told School Library Journal. “If you get enough of those, guess what? Lawmakers who hadn’t thought twice about libraries are going to say, ‘You know what? My constituents really think libraries are important.’”

Merola added: “That said, we should bask in this glory for just a minute longer. Having 25,000 people come together to speak up for school libraries was no small feat. As anyone who caught ‘petition fever’ can tell you, there were lessons learned about mobilizing supporters, finding unexpected pockets of support, and rethinking how we define our library community. This is an important moment for the profession.”


ALA Midwinter Meeting 2012, Day 2: The Occupy Wall Street Librarians

American Libraries Editors George M. Eberhart and Sanhita SinhaRoy interview (back row, from left) Jaime Taylor, Zachary Loeb, Mandy Henk, (front row) Danny Norton, and Betsy Fagin about their experiences building Occupy Wall Street’s People’s Library.