Member Spotlight: The Importance of Advocacy
Since 2009 Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries (FOPSL) has worked in partnership with OUSD, teachers, parents, and community businesses and members to support school libraries and advocate for increased services. They are committed to ensure that all Oakland students have access to a quality school library. FOPSL is dedicated to volunteerism, advocacy, and leadership development to advocate for quality books and resources made accessible to Oakland students in their school libraries.
We sat down with Kari Hatch, the Executive Director of FOPSL, to learn more about their organization and what they have been up to. We talked about their push for professional development for librarians, the joy of libraries, and new approaches for the year. So Kari, tell us a little bit about why school libraries are so important today.
Kari Hatch: A lot of people ask the question “Why do we need a school library today in this day of the internet?” Well, the library isn’t only about information and books on the shelves. It’s really about teaching children how to access information and access books that they are interested in. A library is also a place to access technology and more importantly it is access to a professional that is trained to teach how to read, how to use resources, and how to collaborate with other teachers and staff.
The OLC agrees that school libraries are important but what is FOPSL doing about it?
Through our focus in staffing libraries we put together a professional development program to help librarians continue their certification and training. Lately we have been exploring how to bring in principals and teachers to start talking about how libraries can be used. For example, how libraries can build and support literacy and how a teacher librarian can collaborate with teachers to build and support onto their curriculum. I think there is a lack of knowledge about library practices but I also believe that there will be a strong learning curve that comes from these relationships. My hope is that it will become a self-sustaining cycle.
What makes FOPSL stand out?
I think the way that our organization is different is the advocacy piece of what we do. We are all volunteers who support library staff and the only way we volunteer is in school libraries. Advocacy is a big part of what we do because we learned a while ago since we aren’t staffing a library but instead helping library staff we need to be working with librarians. That’s where the void is, that’s the missing piece. That’s the part that is really not okay, there is actually a law in California stating that every child must have a school library. It’s an important thing that the district needs to take responsibility for.
Over your six and a half years with FOPSL has there been a moment with a student or volunteer that has impacted your time?
This one day at the library I was volunteering in 2013. We had just finished putting together the library but there was no one to staff it. It broke my heart that we had this beautiful room but had no one to staff it. So I volunteered for about a week and ran the library, it was great fun I absolutely loved it. Then I thought I can’t do this and do everything else at the same time. I was thinking about who could staff this library, so then Cindy Pearson walked in and afterwards she came up to me and said this is what I want to do, I want to run this library. Her daughter was growing up and she had been volunteering at her kids library for years. She took then took it over. She was a volunteer but at least someone was in the library. She is still there. She got hired and she has the most fantastic library. She has made the place spectacular and kid friendly. A while ago I was feeling discouraged and I wrote to her and said, “Can you tell me why i’m doing this?” She replied with a letter full of anecdotes from students and how they love and need the library. She said that she needs us to do this because every kid deserves a public school library. I took her letter and posted it on my bulletin board, I read it when I need to get back on track.
Why did FOPSL decide to join the OLC Member Network?
First of all, we couldn’t have survived without Cassie. She’s our all time rock. Really I think that we have always worked with the Oakland Literacy Coalition. We have been attending their meetings and have been involved since day one. So since we have grown with the OLC we feel that they have given us so many opportunities to educate. They have supported us with their forums, community dialogues, and conversations. We have already benefited from being official partners with the OLC besides all the years benefiting from being with other organizations that have common goals to raise literacy in Oakland.