PWSLA Advocacy Efforts

Advocacy from VAASL Affiliate, PWSLA

-Beth van Kan, PWSLA President

On March 13, 2020, our school in Woodbridge, Virginia, went through the day at less than half the student capacity of an average school day. The night before, an official announcement had been made informing parents that if they chose to keep their students home that day because of the outbreak of Covid-19, it would be an excused absence.

When it was determined we would not be returning to school for an indeterminate amount of time, we had already begun tapping feet and banging elbows with our students in the hallways to say “hello.” And though it was not a surprise that a change was going to happen, there was already a surreal feeling in our building due to the low attendance and it was compounded by our new reality. 

Continuing to work now means working from home and keeping up to date with the changes, concerns, needs, and shared resources of local school librarians. Membership in the Prince William School Librarians’ Association (PWSLA) has been extremely helpful. PWSLA communicates to members through a publicly accessible website and a Private Facebook Group for members. One of the first steps PWSLA took was to make the Private Facebook Group available to non-members within the Prince William County school communities. PWSLA membership has always encompassed Manassas City, Manassas Park, and private schools within the county. The Facebook 

Group exists as another means for members to receive information about PWSLA news and events as well as share all things in the school library. Now, more than ever, we felt the need to deep dive into our mission and support all school libraries, but especially those in our area who have similar community traits due to location. PWSLA sent emails to let fellow Prince William County school librarians know that the group was open to all of them, regardless of membership, and they began to join and share. It is a local landing place of support and news for our professional community. 

From the beginning of our quarantine time through today, the librarian community began sharing resources and recommendations within the PWSLA Facebook Group. It is a safe space to ask questions and find answers from other members of our professional community. The school librarians at Prince William County Schools now attend weekly county level meetings as well.

As we have found our way and are adapting our roles to provide for online learners, the PWSLA Advocacy Committee came together and began to discuss the role of school librarians: the differences in the role within each building grade level, within each unique school building, and within each school community. We were concerned what this dynamic role may look like to people outside of the immediate school communities. Particularly, those individuals who make decisions on funding and are not up to date on current educational practices. How do they see the role of the school librarian?

The PWSLA Advocacy Committee decided to take decisive steps to shine a light on school libraries. Though we have always advocated for all school libraries, we felt an urgency to make the role of school libraries known and the variety of expertise that professional school librarians bring to the school building.

Our Advocacy Chair created a survey, the members completed it, and committee members used the data to create an infographic that was then sent to our local school board members with the following note: 

"Our local school libraries are doing great things!

"The Prince William Association of School Librarians (PWSLA), is a membership based professional learning community welcoming members from all schools in Prince William County, including Manassas City Schools, Manassas Park Schools, and private schools. 

"With a membership of 66 school librarians, PWSLA has a 29 year lineage and is affiliated with the American Library Association (ALA), the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), and the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL).

"During this time of change, school librarians have been at the forefront of supporting our school communities, students, staff, and families, with a variety of innovative measures. 

"We invite you to take joy in a sprinkle of the wonderful ways that librarians are engaging students, enhancing instruction, and extending the at home-learning of students while supporting the school staff and community with professional development opportunities, new ways to communicate, and morale building activities. 

"See for yourself with this link, PWSLA: Strong School Libraries Build Strong Students

"Please visit our PWSLA Website and join us on our social media outlets to share in even more wonderful school library experiences!"

Our next step as burgeoning advocates for school libraries everywhere is to use the information from our second member survey to share another hefty sprinkle of information with our school board before the summer school break begins. We are also sharing our information with our PWSLA members, VAASL, and would like it to be available and part of any endeavor putting a spotlight on the important role that school libraries play in building strong students.

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