We’ve been waiting patiently (ok, maybe not so patiently) for almost two months now since we crossed the threshold of 25,000 signatures to the White House petition I posted. When I say we, I mean the countless librarians of all kinds of libraries, parents, students, and community members that took the time to sign the petition have all be anxious to hear the reply from President Obama and the White House.
On Friday, April 13th, at 7:15pm, the wait was over. The response was delivered to my inbox. I read it quickly and then begin emailing colleagues and friends to see if they, too, got the reply. Obviously they did as I quickly began to see posts of it coming up on Facebook, Twitter, and a few emails, too. The complete text of the reply is available for anyone to read on the We the People Petition site.
What did you think?
At this point, I’ve gotten a variety of different assessments on the reply —from those who were glad to finally hear the White House say school libraries are important and have value to those who think they completely talked around the question. Reality in my estimation is there a little truth in both assessments.
I saw some strong wording about the value of school libraries and the critical role they play. For example:
“School libraries do much more than house books and store data: a school library can broaden the horizon of learning for students and link them with communities and experiences far beyond their own classroom and community.”
I saw the direct language that says the White House is supportive of school libraries.
“The Obama Administration remains committed to supporting school libraries…”
I saw where they saw the important role that school libraries play in our schools.
“The Administration believes that if we want to give every child a fair shot in life, we must open doors of opportunity while they’re young and teach them the skills they’ll need to succeed. This means that one of our greatest responsibilities as citizens, as educators, and as parents is to ensure that every child in America cannot only read, but possess the skills to comprehend, analyze, and think critically about the text. School libraries are critical to making sure that this happens.”
Where I saw a little bit of a dodging is of the funding opportunity. Most of the opportunities that were listed as potential funding sources for school libraries, to the best of my knowledge, are not working out that way. Many of these state-wide literacy plans completely ignore or leave school libraries and librarians out of the conversations and funding opportunities. There are pockets where the school library program is fundamental to a state’s literacy plan , but there is no consistency.
So, where do we go from here…
First, I would urge school librarians to use this statement to work with their State Departments of Education. Clearly school librarians need to be a part of those State Literacy Teams and this statement from the White House supports that. At the very least, any funding opportunities coming from those plans need to include school library programs.
Second, as ESEA goes through reauthorization, it will be important to use this statement to help garner support and funding for school libraries. This is be a powerful piece to use with our Federal legislators. Share it with your Senators and Representatives during National Library Legislative Day or when you visit their offices at home.
Lastly, I think there is opportunity to use this at the local level. The White House gave some strong support for school libraries and the role they play. I don’t know if that will resonate with local school boards and administrators, but it just might worth a try.
Was it worth it?
Looking back, there was a lot of time and energy spent by a lot of people to get this petition to 25,000+ signatures. What did we gain? Really only time will tell, but I think there are a few immediate take-aways.
- We were successful! We got school libraries on the White House radar. There statement clearly shows a support for school libraries and the critical role they play in schools.
- We saw what happens when we all work together. In my career, I’ve never seen such an amazing job of coordinating libraries of all type to work on a single issue. This is a clear example we can succeed when librarians advocate for each other (regardless what type of library they are). We need each other and have to be willing to work together! This was a great example of doing just that.
- We continue to work on being a more vocal and visible presence. With the AASL Congressional Briefing, the White House Petition, and now in a few weeks with National Legislative Day, we continue to raise the important issue of school libraries to our nation’s leaders. We still have a long way to go, but I think we are moving in the right direction.
I want to thank each and every person who signed the petition and put time and effort to encourage others to sign as well. We may not have gotten everything we wanted in the reply, but I think we made some great progress. Each step forward is a step in the right direction. The petition, I think, gave us just that – another step.