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The New Librarian: Using advocacy to promote leadership

Here are a few steps you can take to empower your librarians

[Editor’s note: Welcome to our new series, The New Librarian. In this series, we will be profiling innovative and award-winning library media specialists who will share their favorite tools, lessons, and advice. If you are or know a librarian we should write about, send a note to]  


As innovation coordinator for instructional technology, information & library media at Parkway School District in St. Louis, Missouri, Bill Bass has long demonstrated his commitment to 21st-century learning. He believes that the only way to deliver a dynamic student learning experience is by empowering his librarians to be leaders in everything they do.

Bass has earned numerous awards, including being named an NSBA “20 to Watch” and an ISTE Making IT Happen award. He was recently elected ISTE president for 2019.

Bass says one of the biggest things he offers his librarians is that of a constant voice advocating for them as leaders when it comes to literacy, instruction, and technology. He urges administrators to think differently about the way libraries are used and the role of the librarian in the digital age.

Here are some ways he advocates for his librarians.

Listen to empower.
“As a district administrator, my role is to set priorities and vision for our program while helping to navigate new challenges,” he says. “Since this means different things in different buildings, I must constantly listen to and intentionally garner feedback from each piece of the greater community to be effective.”

To him, listening means creating multiple opportunities for professional learning for librarians so they can stay in front of trends and be able to provide answers when students, teachers, and parents come to them for help and support.

From the moment Bass stepped into his current role, he started asking his librarians, “What does it mean to be a librarian in the digital age?” While it may not be a question with a single answer, Bass believes every librarian should readily have his or her own answer.

(Next page: More ways to empower your librarians)

Get involved in the movement.
Bass says getting involved in advocacy efforts like Project Connect (spearheaded by Follett School Solutions) is one way for administrators and librarians to promote innovative learning opportunities for students. He also recommends staying informed, sharing with others advocacy pieces like the popular TEDx talk by Mark Ray, “Changing the Conversation About Librarians,” and urging colleagues to take the Future Ready Pledge.

Take it beyond your library or district.
A key characteristic of modern leaders in library spaces is the desire and commitment to connect beyond any individual library. “There is a tendency to be very inward looking and think about the current state of your own programs, but by intentionally looking beyond our own districts, and beyond the profession of librarian, we can find many amazing ways to approach our work and continue to better serve our communities,” says Bass.

He’s learned that to be a better leader he must take the same level of risks that he’s asking of his librarians. “I have to lead by example and be willing to try things that may not work.”

Offer innovative professional development (PD).
To help his librarians remain relevant, Bass set up structures to bring them into the conversation with curriculum, technology, PD, and instructional leaders. He recommends librarians be given access to training that promotes innovative models of school libraries, like the microcredential courses offered through Project Connect.

Bass said Parkway’s librarians are tightly aligned with the district’s plans for technology and are positioned as leaders and the “go-to” people in their buildings. “We gave them higher levels of access to online tools to help buildings solve instructional challenges and we listened to them because they are our biggest conduit into building needs and cultures. We purposely connected the library program to other initiatives.”

Advice for other districts
As Parkway continues to move forward, Bass realizes there are many districts, schools, and librarians that struggle to transform their own programs. His message to them?

“You are responsible for both student and adult learning in the digital age, so be the one who can help develop your teachers and introduce them to relevant, instructional practices and tools. Secondly, tell your story. It’s not about bragging or showing how great you are; it’s about showing what you have to offer your community.

“It’s important to encourage students to share their stories by providing a space on your school’s websites or in their buildings. The library is a place to explore and discover. Sometimes that can be found in a book, sometimes it’s in an experience such as a makerspace, or by being given an opportunity to create through code. However it happens, allow them to celebrate that discovery and exploration by sharing their stories.”

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