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AASL goes to Washington! October 19, 2011

Posted by Carl Harvey II in AASL News, Committees, ESEA Reauthorization, Hot Topics, Opportunities, SKILLS Act.
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On Monday of this week, I had the pleasure to be in the company of an amazing panel of school library supporters.  These amazing educators and parents came together in Washington, D.C. for the first ever AASL Congressional Briefing.

The briefing, titled Education Reform and the SKILLS Act: The Impact of the Twenty-First Century School Libraries on Career and College Preparedness, was presented by AASL in conjunction with Representative Rush Holt and Senator Jack Reed.  The briefing was designed to provide information and background on why the SKILLS Act should be included as part of the reauthorization of ESEA.

We formed a planning group made-up of the AASL Advocacy Committee Chair Dr. Judi Repman and AASL Legislative Committee Chair Connie Williams.  We started with a  conference call in early August and from there the planning began and moved very quickly.  The Legislative Committee took the lead on preparing a one-page brochure/handout to give attendees outlining the key facts and research that supports the SKILLS Act.  They spent many hours fine-tuning and picking out just the right words and links that would make the most impact to attendees.

All of the resources and handouts are posted on the Congressional Briefing website at:  http://www.ala.org/aasl/congressionalbriefing/

From there, the process began to compile our panel.  We knew we needed a panel that could provide different perspectives on school libraries.  The planning team was very methodical about thinking about who and the perspective they could bring to briefing.  We were able to locate some of the most dynamic speakers in the country.  As the President of AASL, I also joined the panel and was the moderator for the event.  I can’t tell you how honored I was to be in the company of such amazing advocates for school libraries.   Our panel (in the order of their presentations)

  • William A. Mayer, university librarian, American University (D.C.), international speaker and leader on the changing face of services in libraries
  • Carl Harvey, school librarian, North Elementary School (Ind.), AASL president
  • Connie Williams, National Board Certified Teacher Librarian, Petaluma High School (Calif.), AASL legislative committee chair
  • Donna L. Haye, assistant superintendent, Atlantic City Public Schools (N.J.), an AASL Distinguished School Administrator
  • Kathy Mortimer, parent from Henrico County Public Schools (Va.) an AASL National School Library Program of the Year

We decided to use the L4L branding and outlined our agenda under the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner – Think, Create, Share, and Grow!  It provided a great framework for us to paint the picture for attendees about how school libraries continue to change and evolve into 21st Century school library programs.

William Mayer spoke about the important role that school libraries take in preparing students for college and careers.  I focused on elementary school libraries and Connie Williams brought the perspective of secondary school libraries.  Donna Haye talked about the dramatic transformation libraries have made in her district in the last 10 years and the impact the dollars have made on their libraries and student achievement.   Finally Kathy Mortimer shared from a parent’s perspective about the amazing school libraries and opportunities her children have access to and the need for every child to have those experiences.  I could go on and on about what each presenter shared and talked about.    Each spoke eloquently about their perspective and ideas about the importance of school libraries in the education of our students.   So, rather than me attempting to recap everything they said, you can go to the AASL website and view the videos of the Congressional Briefing at: http://www.ala.org/aasl/congressionalbriefing/

Many educational staffers of Representatives and Senators attended the briefing.  It was a “packed house!”  You could see their pads of paper taking notes and we can hope that they went back and shared with their bosses the importance of school libraries.

Following the briefing, we each went off for an afternoon filled of meetings with staffers of the Senators and Congressmen from our own states.  Making that personal connection was important and we’ll be following back up with them as the ESEA act makes it way through Congress.

The timing for the briefing could not have been more perfect as the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is beginning working on the ESEA reauthorization this week.

Thank you to several of our vendors and members who donated through the Friends of AASL to help fund this endeavor.  Many others have written letters or contacted their legislators to advocate for school libraries.  Their support has been key.

On a personal note, I can’t thank everyone who worked so hard on this day enough.  The time and effort they devoted to put this together was amazing.  The AASL staff, the ALA Washington Staff, the Advocacy Guru group, the members of the AASL Legislative and Advocacy Committees, and finally the amazing panelist all deserve to be recognize for their hard work and efforts over the last few months.

But….the work isn’t done.  The briefing in DC this week was great and I think had an impact.  However, it can have a bigger impact if we each have to take time to call our Senators and Representatives and share with them the importance and value of school libraries in our schools.  They need to hear our voices loud and clear and often.  So, when the ALA Washington Office or AASL sends you the email to call you into action, don’t assume someone else will call and do it.  We ALL have to step forward and take ownership of making sure those in Congress (and at the state level, too) have no doubt that school libraries are a critical part of the education ecosystem of today’s schools.



1. Kim Donius - October 21, 2011

Librarians, publishing, learning…all going downhill. There is so much more than what meets the eye. Librarians are necessary…A digitized book shelf for students to read…? Yeah, sure. Students will read those ebooks just after they finish their games and favorite TV show on their iphone…don’t worry. It is all great for kids.

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