Hi Everyone – I was told that during the discussion about letter writing at the March 11th meeting, my name came up as someone who had written library advocacy letters in the past. It was asked that I share some of my letters as samples, and that I provide a few tips on writing an effective letter. So, here is my attempt at doing just that.
Hope this helps!
Heidi Blais
Hugh B. Bain Middle School
Cranston


For anyone who is planning on writing a letter in regards to saving our school libraries. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind.
  • Everything should be phrased in terms of student learning and student achievement. Unfortunately, no one really cares about the poor librarian who is going to lose her job. Phrase things in terms of what students will be missing or will not be able to achieve and more people will listen.
  • Keep and use as many statistics as possible. At Bain, I keep records of how many classes visit the library; how many individual students visit the library during the regular school day, advisory time, after school, lunch, etc.; how many books are circulated, how many new books are added, where the funds come from, what school improvement committee meetings I attended, etc, etc. I try to document everything. Yes, it is time consuming to keep so much documentation, but these statistics have proven helpful to me over and over again when I have had administrators who don’t really understand what I do, or when things such as the after school library hours have been proposed to be cut.
  • Share your letter with parents, students if possible, and other teachers. Ask them to write their own letters, or better yet, speak at a meeting in support of libraries.
  • Ask teachers for anecdotal evidence of how collaborative teaching with the librarian contributed to student learning. Use these stories in a letter.
  • Send both a paper copy and an electronic copy of your letter. I’ve been told by members of the school committee that they get so many emails that they often just skim through them. Paper letters get more attention. I send both just to make sure they don’t miss what I have to say.
  • Follow your letter up with a phone call. I have been told by school committee members and by my union president that our elected officials get bombarded with emails, but don’t receive many phone calls. By having an actual conversation about an issue with an elected representative, your points will stand out. Also, real conversations allow for them to ask questions and get a better understanding of the issue.

Here are two letters I wrote last year when there was a proposal to eliminate the clerical help from the Cranston Public School Libraries. (The entire Cranston Library Department did a great job of banding together on this issue and we retained our clerical help!!) Even though this time we are concerned with professional staff rather than clerical help, there may be some things in this letter that might be useful.

February 2, 2007
Dear _:
I am writing to express my outrage at the proposed elimination of all of the library secretaries from all of the elementary, middle, and high schools in the Cranston Public Schools. The removal of these secretaries from the libraries would have a damaging impact on the library program throughout the district. Removing the library secretaries from the schools will greatly decrease the amount of library services students at all levels receive, and will handicap the students in finding print and internet information, as it will decrease the students’ access to their school library media centers.

You may be wondering why library secretaries are so important when there are so many pressing issues surrounding the proposed school department budget. The Bain Library is the backbone of nearly all research and literature projects conducted by Bain students. To cut the Bain library secretary will decrease students’ access to the Bain Library and will in effect cut student learning in every subject area. Examples include science fair projects, health projects on illegal drugs, book report projects, author studies, research on ancient cultures, and countless other projects in all subject areas.

Throughout the last several years, the Cranston Public Schools Library Department has been the victim of numerous budget cuts. In 1999, we lost our full time director of the library department when her job was combined with being the principal of Stadium School. More recently, we have lost four out of ten elementary library secretary positions, a full time central library media office secretary, and a full time elementary librarian position. In addition, requests for a second librarian at Western Hills Middle School to bring the school into compliance with state regulations have not been granted. Furthermore, the department’s book budget allocations equal only $7.00 per student at the middle school level and less at the elementary level. This is a sad figure when the average price of one hard cover library book is over $20.00. The library department can not undergo the detrimental cut of library secretaries and still provide quality learning experience for all Cranston Public School students.

According to Rhode Island’s state mandates, and illustrated in the Basic Education Program for Rhode Island Public Schools (Section 25a), “The staffing of the school library shall be in accordance with state library standards”. Section 25 b, staffing for the secondary level, defines these standards: “There shall be a full time librarian plus a full time clerical assistant in schools with 500-999 children”. The American Library Association also supports a school library adequately staffed with at least one library media specialist and secretarial help, as outlined in their position statement on the appropriate staffing for school library media centers (also enclosed). It is unthinkable that the Cranston Public Schools should eliminate their library secretaries and violate RI State Standards and American Library Association standards for staffing.

In the following paragraphs, I will illustrate for you how the elimination of the library secretary would have a detrimental impact on student learning at Hugh B. Bain Middle School where I serve as the library media specialist.

This year, I have received grant funds, book fair funds, and school department funds that have allowed me to add over 1300 new books to the Bain Library collection. All of these books needed some level of processing before they could be utilized by the students. The Bain Library secretary is responsible for processing new books. Given a low-end estimate of five minutes processing time per book (and many books require more than the minimum processing time), it has taken the Bain library secretary over 108 hours to get these new books ready for the students to use. If I had to process those new books on my own without the help of a library secretary, I would have had to severely curtail the teaching of classes and the assistance I give to Bain students, or the books would not have been made available to the students in any sort of a timely fashion. It would be a terrible waste of Cranston Public School resources to pay a professional salary to a librarian for her to perform the clerical task of processing books.

Currently, the Bain library is open and accessible to students and faculty for the entire school day. If the library secretary is eliminated, the library will have to be closed for a significant portion of the day so that the library maintenance tasks currently performed by the secretary can be conducted (checking in materials, shelving materials, processing new materials, repairing library items). Throughout each period of the day, students visit the Bain Library with whole classes or as individuals. It would acutely hamper student learning if the library were unavailable for a major portion of the day.

Currently, I am able to assist students in locating books and in finding the information that they need in books and on computers, while the library secretary checks materials out to students. If the library secretary is eliminated, I will no longer be able to appropriately assist students in finding information and reading materials because I will have to perform the circulation duties.

The Bain Library has extremely high circulation of materials. This year, during the month of January, 2,249 materials were circulated. Some of these materials need to be repaired when they are returned to the library and all of them need to be shelved. If library secretaries are eliminated, I will have to spend a large portion of my day repairing and shelving materials rather than teaching students how to locate and utilize information, and assisting students in finding reading materials and using technology.

Circulation statistics for the branch locations of the Providence Public Libraries are available online for the year 2005. Although at first glance, it may seem like comparing apples to oranges to use these libraries in a comparison with the Cranston Public School libraries, I believe that for the purpose of examining circulation statistics, they are a good match. Here are the average monthly book circulations for the following Providence Public Library branches for 2005: Fox Point – 2589, Olneyville – 1381, Smith Hill - 926, Wanskuck – 1164, South Providence – 1376, Knight Memorial – 3767. Each of these public library branches has a focus on children’s services, is open for approximately 30 or more hours per week, and each of them has a minimum of three full time staff people. These libraries do not have anywhere near as sizeable a teaching load as any of the Cranston Public School libraries and also do not have the responsibility of processing most of their own materials. As stated previously, in January of this year, the Bain Library circulated 2,249 items. This circulation statistic is higher than four out of the six branches listed. The Bain Library only has two full time staff members – one librarian and one secretary. As I also previously mentioned, the books that come into the Bain Library all need some degree of processing. It is completely unreasonable to even entertain the idea of cutting the library secretaries and expect the Bain Library to continue to have a level of service that will positively impact student learning.

The entire faculty and staff of Bain Middle School works together to inspire and encourage student reading. Currently at Bain, I run the Accelerated Reader program, a school-wide reading software program that motivates students to read. If the library secretary is eliminated, it is doubtful that I will have still have enough time to service the classes and individuals who use the library, maintain the library facility, and still administrate this program. In addition to running the Accelerated Reader Program, I also run programs such as The Bain Book Fair, The Reading Week Book Swap, Reading Cafes, and other literacy related activities. Without a library secretary to take care of the clerical aspects of the library, it is improbable that all of these activities will still be available to Bain students.

As our school department administration has emphasized repeatedly, literacy is of utmost importance since reading is the basis of all learning. It is imperative that our students have adequately staffed libraries. Throughout the seven years that I have been at Bain Middle School, I have witnessed a tremendous increase in the students’ desire to read and their love of reading. It is disgraceful that the Cranston Public Schools would dampen this enthusiasm for reading and learning by neglecting to adequately staff and otherwise fund their school libraries. I implore you to do all that is in your power to ensure that students in the Cranston Public Schools continue to receive full access to their library media centers by adequately staffing and funding the school libraries.

Thank you for your attention to this letter. Please feel free to contact me at home (949-1396), school (270-8320) or by email (ride8604@ride.ri.net) if you would like to discuss these issues more fully. I invite you to visit the Bain Library to see how central it is to the learning that goes on at Hugh B. Bain Middle School, and to see how necessary the library secretary is to the smooth operation of the library media center.

Sincerely,

Heidi Blais

(After attending school committee meetings for a few more months, I followed up with the letter below. A few weeks after this letter was sent, I followed up with conversations.)


May 16, 2007
Dear _:
I am writing to you because I am extremely worried about the elimination of the library secretaries from all of the Cranston Public Schools for the 2007-08 school year. As the current Bain librarian and as a former elementary librarian, I have first-hand knowledge about how well utilized the Cranston Public School Libraries are, and how eliminating the library secretaries will be detrimental to the success of our students.
I am also confused about the evidence on which the Cranston Public School administration determined that the library secretaries were expendable. To the best of my knowledge, at no time did anyone from central administration visit a school library to see how the librarian and the secretary function as a team to help students, request any library statistics, speak with librarians, speak with library secretaries, or discuss these cuts with the director of the library department. How then, was it determined that the library secretaries were positions that could afford to be eliminated?
In the following bulleted lists, I will provide information about the duties of the library secretary, Bain library usage statistics, and how the elimination of the library secretaries will negatively affect student learning throughout the Cranston Public Schools. After reading this information, I hope that you will agree that our students will suffer if the library secretaries are eliminated, and that it is asking the impossible to expect the librarian to carry out all of these duties and responsibilities unassisted.
Highlights of the Bain Library for the 2006-07 School Year:
  • The Bain Library has over 13,000 books, audio books and audio-visual materials in its collection. Some categories of materials include fiction, nonfiction, biography, graphic novels (very popular with reluctant readers), audiobooks (extremely beneficial to low level readers), a professional collection for teacher use, and curriculum related videos and DVD’s.
  • 14 computers are available to Bain students, faculty, and staff for school related work.
  • The Bain Library has received two national competitive grants this year: $4200 from the Laura Bush Foundation and $4800 from Lowe’s for a collaborative project with Mr. Gearing.
  • Over 14000 books were circulated from September 2006 to mid-May 2007. This is a 10% increase from the 2005-06 school year. Bain’s library circulation is nearly double that of several of the branch libraries of Providence Public Library (including Smith Hill, Olneyville, Wanskuck, and South Providence). Each of these branch libraries has at least three full time staff members.
  • Each day during Period One, between 20-40 students visit the library for research, book selection, group projects, etc.
  • From September 2006 – Mid May 2007, over 535 classes visited the Bain Library. In addition, over 1200 students visited the library individually (this does not include the additional students who visited during Period One or after school)
  • Since September 2006, over 1800 new books have been added to the Bain Library. The library secretary has worked over 154 hours to prepare these books for circulation.
  • The Bain Library is open for the entire school day. Many days the library is open for one hour after school.
  • The Bain librarian regularly collaborates with teachers in all subject areas to plan research based lessons. Some of the topics of collaborative projects that have taken place so far this year are biomes, ancient civilizations, world geography, and chemical elements.
How Elimination of the Library Secretary will Negatively Affect Students:
  • Library will be closed for a significant portion of the day. Classes and individual students will miss out on research and book selection time. Currently, the library is open for the entire day.
  • New books will not be made available to students in a timely fashion
  • Books will not be repaired due to lack of time
  • Library will be disorderly – materials will be mis-shelved and unable to be found by students who need them
  • Library materials will be lost due to inadequate time to keep track of overdue items
  • Students will receive no assistance from librarian in choosing books since the librarian will have to perform circulation duties
  • Inadequate supervision of students using computers as the librarian will be tied to the circulation desk
  • No time for the librarian to run programs such as Accelerated Reader, Bain Book Fair, Reading Cafes, Reading Week Book Swap, etc. No time to assist with other school-wide literacy activities such as author visits, Bain O.S.C.A.R. Awards, poetry slams, etc.
Duties and Responsibilities of the Bain Librarian:
  • Teaches students to find and utilize information in books
  • Teaches students to find and utilize reliable online information
  • Teaches students about intellectual property and assists students in citing sources
  • Collaboratively plans research lessons with teachers, and teaches research lessons in all subject areas and grade levels
  • Assists students in finding reading materials for class projects and pleasure reading
  • Plans and presents professional development opportunities for teachers in using online databases, the online library catalog, interlibrary loan and other relevant topics
  • Serves on the School Improvement Team, the Reading Committee, The Advisory Curriculum Writing Committee, and assists in other school-wide initiatives
  • Manages all aspects of the Accelerated Reader software package
  • Uses professional journals and other sources to locate and purchase high quality materials for the library
  • Facilitates interlibrary loan requests from students and staff. Prepares interlibrary loan materials to be sent to other schools in the RILINK consortium
  • Prepares required reports and statistics
  • Works with the library secretary to maintain accurate records, an orderly facility and learning environment, and to ensure that library materials are accounted for
Duties and responsibilities of the Bain Library Secretary:__
  • Types, prepares, distributes records, reports, and other library related information
  • Answers the phone and makes phone calls
  • Maintains financial records of library expenditures
  • Shelves books (The Bain library secretary shelves over 2000 books per month @ 1 minute per book = 33.33 hours per month spent on shelving)
  • Repairs damaged materials, extending the life of library materials and making more effective use of library funds
  • Processes new materials (This year over 1840 new books have been processed in the Bain Library at a minimum time of 5 minutes per book, for a total of 153.33 hours spent processing new materials so far this school year)
  • Checks in new magazines, shelves older magazines
  • Runs library circulation system so librarian can assist students
  • Keeps track of overdue items. Sends overdue notices, makes phone calls to parents, and sends out bills for lost items. (To date this year at Bain, over 188 phone calls have been made to parents of students who have library items more than one month overdue. Time spent at 5 minutes per phone call = 15.6 hours. Value of overdue materials is approximately $3000)
  • Prepares the library for opening and closing each day and maintains the orderly appearance of the library
  • Assists teachers and students with general questions
Thank you for your attention to this letter. Please feel free to contact me at home (949-1396), school (270-8320) or by email (ride8604@ride.ri.net) if you would like to discuss these issues more fully. I invite you to visit the Bain Library to see how central it is to the learning that goes on at Hugh B. Bain Middle School, and to see how necessary the library secretary is to the smooth operation of the library media center.

Sincerely,

Heidi Blais