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Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned About Advocating for My Dyslexic Child I Learned by Being a Teen Librarian

As a teen librarian and the mother of a child with dyslexia, I have had to learn to be a good advocate. I’ve been reflecting on advocacy a lot these past few days as I had to put on my advocacy armor and fight hard for my child’s education as she was recently put in an inequitable situation. And anyone who has a child with any kind of special needs is used to advocating, trust me.

Background: Thing 2 was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. We had to fight long and hard to get the school to test her. When we finally did, we were able to create a 504 plan and in this school district dyslexic kids are pulled out of class for an intervention called MTA. She was supposed to be in the MTA plan from the time she was diagnosed until she completed 6th grade.

Unfortunately, due to over crowding in the schools, the district re-arranged the school system in this district and they created a 5th and 6th intermediate campus. In fact, they created two of them and this year Thing 2 started 5th grade at one of those campuses. We soon learned that while the other kids in her school would get to take an exploratory class of art, music, band and STEM, children in the MTA program would not. This means that for the next 2 years my child would not get to take art, music or STEM with her peers and she was being denied the same educational opportunities and advantages as her peers. And make no mistake, art and music education is an advantage that should be afforded to all children. It’s not optional, it’s imperative. There are a wide variety of well documented advantages to art and music education.

I had a lot of concerns regarding the lack of art and music education in my child’s curriculum. For one, as a child with special needs, she was now being put into a more rigorous intense and rigorous academic program with no time built into her schedule for creativity, calm and potential success. These kids were now suddenly going to be without a recess (another issue, for sure) and they were going to have to be fiercely and academically focused for 8 periods a day. In addition, she would be missing out on the advantages that come from having art and music to round out your curriculum, she was being singled out and left out from her peer groups. But also, my kid just really likes art and I wanted her to have an opportunity to learn more about it.

To make matters worse, I learned that the 2 intermediate campuses were not handling the MTA program the same and that the kids on the other intermediate campus were able to take these classes. So last week I once again put on my advocate hat and fought to get my child the education that she needs, deserves, and is guaranteed by law. I went through several steps that were going to talk about in a minute and in the end, the school agreed to change their approach so that my child got the MTA intervention that she needs AND an opportunity to do art, music and STEM education.

So here are 5 of my do rules when it comes to advocating for youth . . .

Do a Gut Check

I’m not going to lie, when I found out how the system was set up and how it was denying my child certain educational opportunities, I was instantly in a blindingly hot white rage. This is something that happens to me when I feel that an injustice is happening, which is why I personally always stop to do a gut check. My gut instinct says this is wrong, and in this case possibly illegal, but I wanted to be sure. So I did what I always do and called some of my peers and explained to them what I was upset about and asked them if I was right to be upset. I highly recommend having some trusted professionals in your pocket that you can reach out to in situations like these to help talk you through a situation and make sure you’re right to be concerned before engaging. This has saved me in many of my jobs. Sometimes my peers have said yes, and I’ve gone to admin and fought and sometimes they have helped me put a situation in perspective and while I vented to them, I didn’t approach the subject with my admin.

In this case, I called several teachers that I knew and explained my worries and they said yes, this was not the correct way to handle an intervention and that I was right to be upset and I should definitely pursue it. So having done that gut check and being affirmed that my concerns were valid, I pursued it. Doing a gut check always helps me to calm down and get focused, it also helps me to get to that place where I can approach a situation in a more professional manner and not get myself fired or thrown in jail.

Do Your Research

I then went onto the next stage, which for me always involves research. I got together information about what was and wasn’t legal in a 504 plan. I got together research on the value and benefit of music and art education. I found out how to contest what I thought was a special education violation. I asked my teacher friends the right terminology to use. I researched and put together a solid case that I could present that was well reasoned, supporter and clearly articulated. When I am asked to talk about an issue I’m advocating for, I want to make sure that I know what I’m saying and the most effective ways to talk about it. Using the right terminology and citing precedent or law or statistics can help your case more than most people realize. Research is a key component of advocacy.

Do Your Best Impression of a Grown Up

I put all the information together and wrote up a letter making it clear that I was not going to back down and filed a formal complaint. I was clear, articulate, fierce yet professional. So although I cussed up a storm to my husband and it was clear that I was in a blindingly white hot rage, I wrote my letter in such a way that it was both respectful and had to be taken seriously. I was calm, respectful, but fierce. How you present your case can make or break it.

At one point as I talked in person to the vice principal I even said, “I’m getting really upset so I’m going to walk away right not but I need you to know that this is unacceptable and we are not done with this discussion.” I mostly walked away because when I get really, really upset I cry or dip into the swear jar and neither one of those were going to help my case so I walked away to give myself an opportunity to calm down and collect my thoughts. There are moments in life where protest and dissent are called for, the key is learning how to gauge what approach is needed for a situation. At work and when dealing with the school system, I have found that starting out from a place of professional respect and courtesy is a good tactic. But yes, there are moments in life when you have to escalate or take something to the next level.

Do Your Due Diligence

I have found through the years when advocating that it is very important that you maintain a paper trail. I like to put things in writing as opposed to having face to face or telephone conversations for this very reason. When I write a letter or send an email, I have documentation that proves I have approached someone with my concern and helps prevent denial on their part. And if someone does talk to me about the subject, I then write up a follow-up email saying something like, “thank you for calling me and discussing the matter I emailed about on <insert date here>. As you stated on the phone, you will do x, y and z by <whatever date>.” This way, I have documented what happened in the phone call or an office visit. I have found that some times people will call because they don’t want a record so that they have plausible deniability and it is very important that you do your due diligence and create a record. Trust me, sometimes you will need it. Having a paper trail is essential.

Do Your Part with Whatever Comes Next

Whatever comes next, be sure to do your part with follow through. If the situation is resolved in a satisfactory manner, say thank you. If you have agreed to do certain things to make a resolution possible, be sure you do those things as agreed and by any end dates you have said you would do them by. Whatever happens next, don’t let the situation fall apart by not doing your part. And sometimes, that means taking it up to the next level because you didn’t get a resolution at the first phase.

Sometimes, a matter is resolved quickly and satisfactorily, and this is great. There is much rejoicing. Sometimes it’s not and you have to decide what to do next. Sometimes this means continuing to fight and going on to the next step or next higher up person, whoever that may be. Sometimes, especially in work situations, this means asking yourself whether you can live with this new policy, procedure, or task and deciding to stay or seek new employment. This is a hard thing to acknowledge but sometimes, leaving a job if possible is the right decision.

I am happy to say that in the dispute with the school district about my child’s education, I was quickly contacted by the school and my child is now going to get both her MTA intervention AND to take music and art education. I am thankful that in this instance, advocacy worked. It doesn’t always. I was setting up for a long and hard fight and I am so glad that I didn’t have to. I can breathe a moment of relief because my child is going to get the education she wants, needs and deserves.

Over the years, because I have dedicated myself to working with teens, I have found that I have had to advocate a lot for our youth. I have fought against age discrimination, I have fought against LGBTQ discrimination, I have fought against racism and sexism, I have fought against classism, I have fought against policies and procedures that I felt were discriminatory. I have fought for larger spaces and larger budgets and new materials and services. Sometimes I have won and sometimes I have lost. Advocacy is part of teen librarianship, and parenting. I never knew how important it was to both of these roles in my life, but here I am, teen librarian, parent, and professional advocate.

Let me tell you a secret: They’re all worth it.

Summer Reading Chaos: How do we balance the needs of our community with those of our staff?

As my teethingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolns are counting down the days left in the school year, I find myself counting down the days until summer reading begin, but with very mixed emotions.

This is my 25th year as a YA librarian, which means that it is the 25th summer reading program that I have planned. I have worked in several systems and have experiences several different approaches to summer reading. And, of course, I have spent 25 years listening to my peers talk about their experiences in their library systems. I have to be honest with you, there is a lot that concerns me. I’m not sure we’re doing right by our staff when it comes to summer reading.

Many public libraries put a lot of emphasis on summer reading programs. It’s our bright shining moment. SRPs help prevent summer slide, a real thing. We spend a lot of time, money, energy and resources focused on this part of our programming. It’s stressful. It’s time consuming. It can be a make or break deal for a lot of library systems, which means its a make or break deal for a lot of youth services librarians.

A book with summer in the title

A book with summer in the title

There are, of course, benefits:

1. Helping with that summer slide issue is a real and true thing.

2. Especially during the beginning of summer, a lot of teens now have some free time so it’ can help them fill up that free time and get them into the library.

3. Parents are always looking for things to do with their kids during the summer to help fill all those newly freed up hours and it is no doubt good pr because it makes parents happy

But SRPs can be incredibly hard on staff.

Some libraries, for example, have really long SRPs and have a rule stating that youth services staff can’t take vacation during SRP. This means that if you are a parent of school aged children who also works with youth in the library, you can’t take vacation during the only time of year that your kids can take vacation. And this rule almost always only applies to youth services staff because most public library summer reading programs focus on children and teens (though, for the record, my current library system has a very strong and robust adult summer reading program as well).

Another book with summer in the title

Another book with summer in the title

I understand why libraries have these rules in place. Most libraries don’t have enough staff and trying to allow staff off for vacations during your biggest yearly event can be difficult. Of course, there’s also the flip side where you’re trying to beg your brother who lives in another state to please not get married in June because getting the time off would be incredibly hard. For the record, I did get the time off, but it was not easy and there were long lasting hard feelings. And goodness forbid someone have a serious illness or injury during the summer months because absolute chaos can ensue.

As staff begin to realize the very real limitations that come with summer and working in youth services, it can be one of the most reviled parts of the library system to work in. Staff starts defecting for other departments because everyone wants a summer vacation. Youth services staff become resentful because they realize that other departments are not subject to the same rules and restrictions. I know a lot of genuinely gifted and passionate librarians who have left youth services for other departments because of the stress and demands that are put on youth services compared to other departments. We have lost some of our best and brightest because of burn out.

I often wonder, too, about the amount of time and money that goes into summer reading program compared to the rest of the year. Some libraries spend literally thousands of dollars on summer reading and are forced to find ways to do programming throughout the rest of the year for little or zero dollars. There are, after all, only so many crafts you can do with all the toilet paper rolls from the bathroom. And I can’t help but think it has to be a let down for all those kids and teens to come out of an amazing summer reading program and then be asked to come back in September for a program where we make whatever it is we’re making with that discarded toilet paper roll. There’s a bit of an inconsistency in how we present ourselves to the public when we are pouring all of our time, energy and resources into only three months of the year and then trying to make ends meet the other nine months of the year. I’m not convinced that it sends the message we want to be sending.

Hey look, another book with summer in the title

Hey look, another book with summer in the title

And yes, I know not all libraries are the same. Some of them are better staffed, better funded, and are better equipped to do knock your socks programs all year round. Some are staffed in ways that allow vacation during the summer. But the reality is, for a lot of libraries, summer reading programs are where it’s at. But this presents some very real challenges for staff. They’re being asked to maintain a year round participation that is being elevated by an influx of money, resources and marketing for a yearly event. They are being asked to commit themselves emotionally and physically often in unrealistic ways for this three month period of the year. They’re being asked, often demanded, to forego family reunions and family vacations in the only time of the year when families can go on vacation. In many of our library systems, the stakes are too high for our youth services departments during the summer.

I am not here to question the need for or validity of summer reading programs. I understand their value and support all that they offer to children, teens, and local communities. I am, however, asking us to take a step back and evaluate their role in our year-round programming, the amount of staff time and money they take up, and the extra demands they put on our staffs. I’m asking that we evaluate how libraries can work to spread the burden out so that it’s not just the same staff being asked to sacrifice in the same ways year after year. And I’m asking if we are making youth services in some ways an undesirable department to work in and losing some of our potentially best people by the extra demands placed on youth services departments during these three months of the year.

I'm sensing a theme here

I’m sensing a theme here

I’m asking that we step back and find a way to balance the needs of our communities with the needs of our staff to find a way to better meet the needs of both, and year round.

All it takes is a few moments on Twitter or Facebook, or on a youth services discussion forum, to realize how stressed our staff are about summer reading programs. Maybe it’s time we asked ourselves if there was a way to make this better for them while still reaching our goals for our community.

So You’re a Librarian (or Library), What Do You Do Now? Librarianing in the Time of Political Turmoil

Sometimes inspiration comes in the strangest moments. Yesterday on Twitter I was thinking about what it means to me now to be a librarian. So I started tweeting and ended up with a long string of tweets highlighting the things that I think we – and that we includes me – can do now in light of current events. These thoughts are inspired in part by my mentor who asked me the other day, “okay, so now what do we do?” This question was asked in part because, if we’re being honest, a lot of not normal things are happening at this moment and people are concerned about privacy, about civil liberties, about the quality of and access to information. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that. So here are some of my thoughts. You probably has some great ones as well, so please add them in the comments.

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool



  1. So my fellow librarians, here we are. What can we do:
    1) Print off or create an evaluating media sources page & put it everywhere


  2. 2) Buy diverse books. A lot of them. Put them everywhere. Flood your library with them.
    3) Host diverse or dystopian book discussion groups


  3. 4) Make a super easy bookmark for your local community. Put contact info for reps/senators on it. Websites. Understanding how govt works.


  4. @TLT16 4.) Use a canary for government requests about borrower records.
    5.) Delete all borrower records when the material is returned.


  5. 5) Go right now & make sure your collection is balanced left/right, progressive/conservative Christian, etc. Order accordingly asap.


  6. I mention #5 because as a progressive Christian I can almost guarantee you your collection skews overly conservative.


  7. 6) Don't pretend kids/teens don't know/care about what is happening. Put up a so you want to understand govt. page/display/booklist


  8. 7) Make sure all staff knows phone #/web addresses for things like ACLU, be ready to answer reference questions for help & referrals


  9. 8) Train staff ASAP - again - about freedom of information, censorship, collection development, patron privacy, what to do if records


  10. are requested or books are challenged.
    9) Don't keep patron records. It's a privacy issue.


  11. 10) Don't have a collection development policy or materials challenge policy? Get on that ASAP.


  12. @TLT16 6.) Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Kids need to understand data collection and surveillance.


  13. 11) Remind staff AND public the value, duty and role of the public library. Stress Democracy, education, freedom of information.


  14. 12) Make sure staff knows who to refer public/media questions to, what they can/can not say. Write out a script. Bad info hard to retract.


  15. 13) Keep business cards of PR person and/or director well stocked at every public desk. Tell staff to refer all questions/concerns there.


  16. Our goals:
    Patron access to info
    Patron privacy
    Patron safety
    Library, patron, information advocacy




  17. Remember, education of local communities doesn't mean protecting people from info, it means providing it. How democracy thrives.


  18. @TLT16 Don't forget historical fiction!! We protest today because we know what happened when people didn't in the past.


  19. @TLT16 Community discussion focusing on historical works and why history and historical memory are important. Create oral history projects