Sara Kelly Johns is a New York-based veteran advocate for school libraries. Johns currently works as a school librarian at a middle-high school and teaches for the School Library and Information Technologies program at Mansfield University. Johns previously served as the president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) from 2007-2008. She is the AASL Division Councilor for the ALA Council, is involved with the Act for School Libraries group, sits on the ALA Committee on Legislation Grassroots Advocacy Subcommittee and serves on the AASL Legislative Committee. Additionally, Johns is a member of the Board of Regents Advisory Council for Libraries. Today, Johns presents and writes on advocacy and leadership.
How did you get involved with library advocacy?
I have long been a member of the New York Library Association (NYLA), and a member of the NYLA Legislative Day advocacy team. Between 1993 and 1994, NYLA received a grant for public awareness, and they started focusing on formal approaches to marketing and advocacy. The NYLA had a New York City public relations firm train us and develop tools and techniques that could be adapted to library situations and library needs. After I went through the training, it became obvious to me that while I wasn’t trained on marketing, I knew that librarians needed to become aware of ways to market their school library. That was where I received my first media training, and that was the first time that I saw an organized approach to developing a marketing program using a model that was used extensively in the private sector, but had not been used extensively by libraries. The NYLA program later became the impetus for my ALA and AASL advocacy and marketing work.
“If you do one piece of program promotion a week, then you will have people behind you when you need support.”
Why do school librarians need to know marketing approaches?
School librarians desperately need legislation that supports school library programs and those decision makers are different than public library decision makers. It’s very much a local marketing approach. Your local superintendent, school board, principals–those are the people that make decisions about your program. In a school library, teachers have to know why they should work with you, and the administration has to know why they should keep your position. They’re not going to know if you don’t take the time to be visible.
I took small steps at first to publicize my library’s program. I wrote newsletter articles about my library for the school district. I made it a goal that there would not be a district newsletter that went to the community that did not mention the school library. I also share photos of school library activities via Flickr. Later, one of the fun things that I did was create a library media day, where teachers, students and community members did exhibits on interests supported by libraries. They brought in everything from tarantulas in cages to putting a racecar outside the building. I firmly believe that if you do one piece of program promotion a week, then you will have people behind you when you need support. My personal “formula” is that “P + M=A,” Promotion + Marketing=Advocates.