School Libraries

Uncovering the “truth” about makerspace

When given the opportunity to return to the teacher librarian role in recent years, I knew that including a makerspace was on everybody’s library “to do” list.

But here is the truth – I had no idea where to begin! I felt overwhelmed and honestly a bit intimidated. I assumed that everyone else had a deeper understanding of the maker movement and how makerspaces could enhance a school learning environment.  I also made the assumption that successful makerspaces existed only if the teacher librarian had significant knowledge of and experience with high tech opportunities likes coding, robotics and 3D printing. I questioned if the mere use of the word “maker” implied a value of product over process. I wanted to embrace new ideas and technologies as part of our evolving learning commons yet I felt completely out of my league.

And then I began to wonder …

Is makerspace an essential addition to the library learning commons? or is it a trendy phase?

So I began my journey to figure out this mysterious and popular movement known as makerspace.

I have written many blog posts of my own, detailing our makerspace journey but, in the interest of brevity let me venture to share an overview.

  1. I looked for and continue to gather a variety of resources to develop my own understanding of makerspaces. These included but, were certainly not limited to the following:

Twitter connections:

Print resources:

Human library and networking opportunities:

  1. With an open invitation to all staff, a group of us gathered together to explore and discuss the concept of makerspaces and ideas for bringing it to our school community. From this conversation, we decided the following:
  • Student voice and interests needed to be at the center of our planning.
  • We wanted to offer both low and high tech experiences for our students.
  • We reminded each other to pace ourselves and resist the urge to buy tech simply because it was “cool”.
  1. We planned a four day maker event for all of our students and staff to experience a variety of “maker” stations. This experience included the unveiling of our LEGO wall, sewing, coding apps, origami, a disassembly station, loom knitting, sock puppet making and much more.  During the event, large sheets of brown craft paper were hung on the walls for staff and students to offer feedback about their experience.
  1. Based on the feedback received from our four day event, we began offering “Maker Monday” workshops developed around a variety of low tech and tech-based skills. Students of all ages signed up using Google Forms and each Monday we offered an 80-minute introductory session. As this evolved, we began to receive a greater increase in responses (almost 200 children for our session on learning how to sew). Although this was wonderful, it became a logistical challenge.
Brown paper on the wall for makerspace feedback

Asking for feedback about the makerspace

  1. Currently our makerspace has become a once a day, 40-minute free flow experience that we are calling Open Learning. We have created a Google Site which ideally will become a collaborative space for students to share their knowledge and maker experiences with our school community.

Through this process, I can truly say that embracing a maker mindset and offering a makerspace learning experience is essential to our library learning commons.

Students working on sewing machine projects

Students working on sewing machine projects

A few key ideals guide the work for our school community:

  • Fostering a makerCULTURE throughout the school is much more important than the actual makerSPACE.
  • Student voice & interests remain at the center of our decisions around every aspect of makerspace.
  • To ensure value is placed on the experiences makerspace learning can offer we use dedicated instructional time for students to access the tools and materials.

The biggest impact on our school is the realization that makerspace is really all about creating COMMUNITY.  When our students recognize that they are at the center of the learning, they take ownership and responsibility for themselves and the entire learning community.

The “truth” I have uncovered about makerspace is that there is no “right” way to create one in your school. Each school community is unique and therefore each makerspace should reflect that uniqueness.  This also means that it will not stay the same year to year.

Student shows off their sock puppet project

Student shows off their fun sock puppet project!

So, if you are feeling trepidatious about embracing makerspace in your school library I would encourage you to begin.

  • Start your own journey.
  • Discover your students’ interests.
  • Build your own maker community.

More than anything – feel confident that creating a makerspace that reflects your students and school community will always be more than a trendy phase, even if it changes over time.

Jennifer Brown is the Teacher Librarian at the Castle Oaks Public School in the Peel District School Board. It’s Elementary: Thoughts About School Libraries is a regular column on Open Shelf. Jenn can be reached at jennifer.m.brown [at] and by following her Twitter account @JennMacBrown.

Equity & Social Justice in the Library Learning Commons

I read an interesting tweet recently about transforming the perception of school libraries from a warehouse for books to houses of student learning. The phrasing of the tweet did not completely fit my approach but the overall sentiment certainly did. The idea that we, as teacher librarians, must actively work to transform both the function and perception of the space resonated with me immediately.

A long time mentor of mine often spoke about the importance of proving our worth and value to all stakeholders in our school communities. This idea stuck with me for years but I now see a deeper, more powerful potential in her message. Aware that some elementary school boards had eliminated teacher librarians, I always saw this as a version of self-preserving job security. Making our role invaluable and our practice transparent seemed enough.

But can we challenge ourselves to take that thinking even further?

I wonder if the real value of the library learning commons and those of us charged with its care, is the potential to empower learners to identify and deal with issues of equity and social justice.

A carefully, intentionally designed library learning commons is intended to be a completely safe, accessible environment for the entire school community. This does not mean we can be viewed as neutral.  With each choice we make in our collection, our schedule, our decor, our language, our routines, we have the potential to take an equity stance. Whether we realize it or not, we are sending a message about what we value with even the tiniest decision.  If our mandate is to include all members of our community in a school-wide hub of learning, then we must foster inclusion and equity to be successful. As we evolve and grow we can offer learning experiences and spaces for open dialogue, debate, questioning, inquiry and discovery in any area of interest. Putting aside for a moment the logistical challenges of scheduling, if our doors are always metaphorically open to opposing views, new ideas and creative initiatives, then it only makes sense that addressing issues of equity and social justice is already embedded in our practice.

Here is the truth though – all of that sounds lofty and lovely but let’s be honest, it also sounds a bit overwhelming!

I encourage all of us to resist the urge to let that feeling side track our equity journey.  The library learning commons is the ideal space for students who feel silenced, disenfranchised or outside the perceived norm to find solace. It can also be the perfect setting for students to discover and question confusing inequities or injustices facing our society. We can encourage and foster critical thinking and inquiry in a safe, thoughtful manner. Supporting our students to develop deeper understandings of the world, themselves and their own power to become agents of change is an amazing opportunity.

Author Libba Bray is credited with the following quote about libraries:

“The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance.”

Although her reference was not directed at school libraries themselves, for me it certainly applies.  Occasionally I feel overwhelmed creating a library learning commons that acts as a safe space for these important discussions around power, oppression, bias, injustice and social awareness. In those moments I find I often return to the vision set forth in OSLA’s Together for Learning: School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons.

I also ask myself reflective questions and revisit resources that help me to consider each of my choices through the lens of equity and social justice. Obviously each educator must partake in their own equity journey and develop their own list of questions and resources to support their work, but hopefully the ideas below may help along the way.

Click here for: Reflective Questions and Equity Resources

Jennifer Brown is the Teacher Librarian at the Castle Oaks Public School in the Peel District School Board. It’s Elementary: Thoughts About School Libraries is a regular column on Open Shelf. Jenn can be reached at jennifer.m.brown [at] and by following her Twitter account @JennMacBrown.

The Case for Free Flow Book Exchange

In education we often use IF, THEN statements to guide changes to our programming and practice.

IF I change this, THEN my students will… (sort of a predictive cause and effect stance).

Sometimes these are formal, written statements that we share with key stakeholders in our buildings.  Other times they are scribbles in our own day plans. And sometimes they are simply reflective thoughts in our own minds.  

The power of these statements for me is always the idea that one, small change can have a long-lasting positive impact on the children and families we serve.

The first time I was a teacher librarian I thought I loved it.  That first year in the role I was so excited, proud and grateful for the phenomenal opportunity my administration had given me.  I loved buying books, sharing my love of books, reading with the kids and optimistically assuming every teacher in the building would be thrilled to co-teach often.

For a wide variety of reasons, this Utopian vision of the role of a teacher librarian did not come to fruition for me.  

Somehow I knew I would always go back to a school library position but, I knew that I needed to re-envision the library learning commons and my role within it.  With an unbelievably supportive administrative team we ventured to try something different for our learning commons when we opened our new school in fall 2015.

Of all the changes we made and all the learning we have done so far, I feel that one change has been particularly powerful.  To put it in the terms of an IF, THEN statement…

IF I implement a completely free flow book exchange model, THEN students will have greater, more frequent and meaningful access to the books, the learning environment and the teacher librarian.

So began the case for free flow book exchange.  In a building that includes learners ranging in age from 3 to 14 developing an independent free-flowing daily book exchange model might seem impossible.  But I can attest to the fact it is not only possible but ideal!

What it used to look like:

  • In the past, I spent much of my time booking primary (Kindergarten to grade 3) book exchange periods.  
  • They stayed the same each week and offered only one day the kids could access books.  
  • If you were absent on library day or forgot your book you often had to wait an entire week to get access again.  
  • The period usually included a read aloud with me and then a scramble for books and a long wait in line to sign them out.  
  • Often younger students were restricted to only one book and specific sections of the library.

How it impacted learning:

  • This impacted my availability for more meaningful co-teaching opportunities.
  • When older students dropped by during these periods it often meant I could not offer them much attention or support in their library use.  
  • I spent much of my fall start up time struggling to schedule everyone which meant it took days to get the library up and running.  
  • Often I felt like the classroom teacher and I were both frustrated with the lack of connection to their classroom practice and how much time we spent dealing with overdue books rather than literacy instruction.
  • I was unable to connect with each student in order to help support their literacy development.
  • The younger students relied on a great deal of teacher direction to both select materials and sign them out.

What it looks like now:

  • There are NO whole class book exchanges for any grade.
  • Any child in the school can come to the library during the instructional day – every day if they choose to do so.
  • Partners or small groups of students come throughout the day and independently return, select and sign out books.
  • Most of our Kindergarten students come in small groups but, if needed an educator can accompany them now that all K classes in our school are full day and have at least two educational professionals.
  • Every child in the school can have two books out at any time and they can select any text they desire.

How it impacts learning:

  • I am less focused on book in/book out and can offer more meaningful co-teaching opportunities.
  • Regardless of age or grade I can connect with each student if needed.
  • The library was open for book exchange the very first day of school. (And kids signed books out!)
  • Classroom teachers work to make the library learning commons an extension of their learning environment.
  • I am able to get to know the students as readers and better understand their literacy needs as time progresses.
  • The students are developing and demonstrating an incredible amount of independence and self-regulation.  

Don’t get me wrong – there are some gloriously chaotic moments in this model and new challenges we adapt to each year.  I would be a liar if I did not admit there are some educators, classes and students that I still need to get on board. (And that keeps me up at night often!)

However, there are two key understandings that remind me to stay the course.

1. I trust children.  I always have and I always will. And if I trust them to navigate free flow book exchange and make their own literacy choices, then they know that I trust them and that may remind them to trust themselves.  

2. It all comes down to the math. In my old model kids could have a maximum of 2 new books per week.  Now, if they choose to do so, they can have 2 new books per day! Read any research on literacy development and it will somehow state that the more you read (or are read to) the greater the growth in literacy skills. So the potential for 10 different books to go home with a child each week seems to be the best mathematical equation I have ever seen!

Jennifer Brown is the Teacher Librarian at the Castle Oaks Public School in the Peel District School Board. It’s Elementary: Thoughts About School Libraries is a regular column on Open Shelf. Jenn can be reached at jennifer.m.brown [at] and by following her Twitter account @JennMacBrown.

Bravery in Collaboration

Working in libraries we must be brave. Bravery can come in many forms – the socially conscious books we add to our collection, the advocacy we do for our yearly funding, the new and innovative initiatives we bring to our communities and so much more.

Of late I have come to the conclusion that collaboration with our fellow educators is one of these acts of bravery. A successful school library learning commons can only thrive if we build trusting, open relationships with our colleagues. Fostering love of reading, meaningful technology use, effective literacy instruction, makerspace learning opportunities and everything else we do in our role, are only possible if we connect with the classroom teachers and other educators within our buildings.

Recently a group of 10 educators on our staff met to discuss a book they had read over the summer. The book was the small yet powerful 2014 Silver Birch Express Nominee,  Jason’s Why by Beth Goodie. They gave their lunch hour on a professional learning day to gather in a collaborative, safe, trusting environment to share their thoughts about the book.  

As the initiator of the inaugural staff “book club”, I was nervous and unsure:

  • Would anyone join?
  • Would they read the book?
  • Could we figure out a time to actually meet?
  • Would the discussion feel natural?
  • Would we be brave enough to have an authentic dialogue?

The answer is yes! The details of the dialogue belong to those who were in the library space but, I can attest to the bravery. This came through personal stories of childhood experiences, in reflections about our own choices as educators in our past and current practice, our lives as parents and caregivers and so, so much more. Every educator in the room was brave. And maybe more importantly we were brave together.

This brief moment of total trust and openness reminds us to be optimistic in our belief that teacher librarians and school library learning commons can truly reach everyone. On those days when we feel like we have yet to connect with culture of each classroom in our building, or get every staff member on board with our chosen method of book exchange or that we have much more to offer to support student learning, we can remember this type of collaborative bravery.

It can also offer us the opportunity to recognize the brave leap of faith it takes our fellow educators to step outside of their own classroom, grade team or department. They are exposing their practice to our scrutiny and potential judgement.  They are modelling risk-taking and healthy, collaborative relationships for their students. They are entering a physical space that is open to anyone walking in at any point throughout the day. This all adds up to a brave act.

In our current system which values inquiry, creativity, growth mindset and risk-taking in our students, we must expect the same of ourselves.  Collaboration between teacher librarians and their colleagues offers an obvious access point for these values. That is why we must be brave and nurture this bravery in others. We can create the most appealing, intentional and accessible space in our school but, if we don’t build trusting relationships with our colleagues our space is just another space.

So the struggle for many of us is our desire to make all educators comfortable with this brave collaboration.

  • What new ways can we reach out to those in our building who do not feel ready to work outside the walls of their classroom?
  • How can we share the successful collaboration that is already occurring in our library space in a non-threatening and inviting manner?
  • What can we do to help empower fellow educators to feel brave enough to take that first step in working together?

The simplest answer can often be found in asking ourselves to determine what is best for kids. And maybe putting them before our own fears and doubts is the bravest act of all.

Jennifer Brown is a teacher librarian with the Peel District School Board at Castle Oaks Public School in the Brampton.  You can read more of her thoughts about issues in education, social justice, school libraries and more by following her Twitter account @JennMacBrown or her blog “Finding The Magic”.

La réforme des bibliothèques scolaires

De quelle façon doit-on s’y prendre pour attirer les élèves du primaire et du secondaire à fréquenter leur bibliothèque scolaire? Selon Joanne Plante, bibliothécaire en chef au Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, il faut les rendre plus vivantes. Les différentes écoles devraient revamper leurs bibliothèques en ajoutant des couleurs à leur décor et assouplir les règlements. On pourrait par exemple laisser les élèves y manger et boire afin de créer une ambiance semblable à celle des cafés étudiants.

Joanne Plante Interview

Joanne Plante est Bibliothécaire en chef au Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est depuis 3 ans. Elle supervise une vingtaine de bibliotechniciens à travers un réseau de plus de 50 bibliothèques. Elle est également Présidente d’ABO-FRANCO et est bibliothécaire de liaison au sein de l’OSLA. Outre ces implications, elle a récemment été nommée sur un comité permanent de l’IFLA.

The School Library: Where vs. Who


If you asked someone to describe a school library, what would they say? I’ve been asking myself this question because of three things that have happened recently:

  1. Colleagues sending me pictures on social media of creative reading nooks and book trees
  2. The unending stream of students being sent down to the library during class time
  3. A visit from some teacher-librarian colleagues who were looking for ideas on how to transform their library into a learning commons. They had been specifically been instructed to look at furniture.

From these three examples, I think others would describe a school library as:

  1. a place to store books
  2. a place to send students to work
  3. a place that has well-designed, modern furniture


If the school library is a place for storing books, supervising students and having learning commons furniture, do we really need teacher-librarians? Do any of the above require a university degree.

In his 2013 article “School Libraries and Student Achievement”, Ken Haycock asked a related question: “Do school libraries really make a difference?”  The answer might surprise you. He found that a book warehouse, a supervised space and comfy furniture did not have an impact on student achievement. What he found was, we “are confusing school libraries with teacher-librarians … The impact is derived from the teacher-librarian.”

The Book Warehouse

Yes, we have and love books. Instead of report cards, teacher-librarians manage print and digital resources to be used by the entire student body and staff. We investigate what is coming out each publishing season, read reviews and books, talk to teachers about what their students need for reading and research, and make purchasing lists to best match those needs. I may not build a tree out of books, but I curate both print and digital resources so students are not overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that is available to them today.

Still a Teacher 1

For a variety of reasons, teachers often send students from classrooms to the library to work. Some teachers understand that we may or may not be able to accommodate the students; others react: “But what else are you doing?” Sadly, despite many presentations, some staff no longer see me as a teacher. This is not a new problem. My predecessor struggled to convince other teachers that the library was her classroom.

This situation is unfortunate because when the classroom teachers co-teach with a teacher-librarian, student achievement increases by 20-50%. David V. Loertsher shares this result in his 2014 article, “Collaboration and Coteaching: A New Measurement of Impact” (Teacher Librarian 42:2). The article also describes the success and challenges of teacher/teacher-librarian collaboration. It echoes something I already know: I sometimes think it is fortunate that only a handful of teachers collaborate with me. I couldn’t juggle any more.

Yet there is something powerful when we reduce the teacher-student ratio from 30:1 to 15:1. When I work collaboratively with a classroom teacher, as a team, we are much better able to give descriptive feedback to students as they progress through their work.

If I’m ever asked to state what I do in a nutshell, I say: I co-plan, co-teach, co-assess.

Still a teacher 2

“Why do we need a library when we have Google?” a colleague once teased me. I love Google. Google is great. Google often helps me in my teaching.

For example, I’ve been asked to teach students how to create a YouTube video. Teachers are shocked when I turn to the class and say: “OK, go Google how to make a YouTube video.” Classroom teachers get stressed because it sometimes takes more time for students to find the answer by themselves, instead of me just telling them how to do it.  But the most important 21st century skill is learning how to learn. If a student gets stuck at home, he or she now knows how to find the answer. Also, the students also don’t fall asleep as I lecture them about YouTube.

What a Teacher-Librarian does (and Google doesn’t) is we ask students:

  • Are you using Creative Commons images and audio?
  • Why should you?
  • What are the consequences (for you and others) if you don’t?
  • What are the exceptions?
  • Where can you find good resources for Creative Commons images and audio?

Teacher-librarians often see the gaps students have and guide them over the bridge.

The Commons

The visit from my library colleagues who were looking for learning commons furniture made me realize how often we think about the library space over the library program. When teacher-librarians get together, we almost never talk about our day-to-day work. Instead, we are eager to see what the host librarian has done with his or her space and what kind of technology he or she has access to.

For me, the library learning commons is more pedagogical than physical. It is vital for all teachers to consider this question: How do we change instruction when most of what we traditionally taught (content, how to, facts) is now Googleable? How do we design assessments that allow students to co-create knowledge? How do we get students to take control over their own learning?

The Canadian Library Association’s recent document Leading Learning places the teacher-librarian at the forefront to answer these questions. In their “Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada” (page 8), teacher-librarians are to:

  • Facilitate collaborative engagement to cultivate and empower a community of learners
  • Advance the learning community to achieve school goals
  • Cultivate effective instructional design to co-plan, teach and assess learning
  • Foster literacies to empower life-long learners
  • Design learning environments to support participatory learning

Only a person, and not a room, can carry out all these actions.

The School Library: My Definition

As we move to an increasingly digital, BYOD world, will people change their definition of a school library? Will the space cease to hold an importance? Teacher-librarians may worry that the loss of the room may mean the loss of their jobs. But as Ken Haycock has observed, the school library is really the teacher-librarian. This library consists of our:

  • teaching program
  • curation of resources
  • and our learning design for the 21st century

 Barbara McVeigh is a secondary school teacher-librarian with the Peel District School Board. She scribbles and pedals in her spare time. Continue the conversation with her on Twitter: @barbaramcveigh.

Big Bookstore School Library Fundraisers

In recent years, it has become an increasingly popular practice to hold school library fundraising events at a large bookstore chain.  We have all seen the posters, host a night at your local store, and 10-20% of money from purchases goes towards your school to buy books for your school.

On the surface this appears to be a win-win.

As a former teacher, teacher librarian and education librarian, I understand fully the realities of school libraries not being afforded the staffing or acquisition funding they deserve to support school success.   So on the surface, my discomfort with the events may appear counter-intuitive. What kind of person, let alone librarian, would poo-poo efforts to get more books in schools?

But as in most things in education, it isn’t at the surface where trouble lurks.  Let’s dig a little deeper.

De-professionalization of Teacher Librarianship & Reducing the Role of the School Library

On an academic level, I am concerned that the mentality of getting more, shiny new things from a fancy store is superseding the critical selection process.  It reduces the professional processes involved with school library collection development to, well, shopping.   School libraries should house reading content that reflects curriculum across grades and subjects. They should encompass that content at a variety of reading levels and in variety of formats.

Does this big bookstore carry non-fiction material on an important science and technology topic like electricity at a reading level appropriate for kids not reading at a Grade 6 level?

Limited Voice and Perspective

Publishers have come a long way in allowing for a greater range of voices to be represented in children’s material. However, we still have a looooong way to go before the protagonists of fiction are truly reflective of the children and families that populate our schools, or that will allow children in more homogenous communities to recognize that they are only one corner of a very diverse global village.

While the teachers or school library staff who will do the shopping with the gift cards will undoubtedly do their best to buy diverse materials with these critical thoughts in mind, they are still only able to buy what’s in stock. And what’s in stock, for the most part, is reading material reflective of middle class suburban and urban families with able bodied children who like to read.

Reading as Consumerism, ‘Helping’ Through Consumerism

Unfortunately, like just about every other aspect of North American life, somehow we have managed to commodify reading. In a bookstore, that very thing heralded as the great equalizer, the hallmark of the classless society, the gateway to all other learning, comes with a price sticker.  When we take the kids to the bookstore and glorify the act of buying books we reinforce consumerism as positive social behavior.

And, once again, who is NOT coming to these fundraisers?

The same kids who are NOT playing on team sports, and the same ones who don’t come on class trips or travel. The kids who do not have the support network in place to bring them to the event, the ones who don’t have money to casually spend. Once again, “all” are welcome to participate in school culture, to contribute to bettering your school community, as long as you bring your wallet. For the kids that do attend?  They get to say that they ‘helped’ their school, with very little effort or personal sacrifice involved.

Equity and Inclusion

These are critical aspects of equity, inclusion, and character education that should be considered when organizing this kind of event.  Without intent, social dividers like ability, first language, and socio-economic status can be reinforced with this fundraising model.  We are also reinforcing that School Libraries are rooms of books, not comprehensive programs integrated with professionals, curriculum goals, technology and that reflect contemporary practices in learning and reading engagement.

We are putting into the hands of corporate book marketers and sellers – not educators, not librarians, not reading specialists –  what our classroom and school libraries look like, and what it means to be a contributing part of a school community.

Better Practice

Despite these concerns, this is not a call to ban or abandon the bookstore based fundraiser altogether. It is a call to critically consider how to frame it, and how to minimize the potentially exclusionary aspects. Here are some ‘better practice’ suggestions for your big box bookstore fundraisers:

1. One of many.

Instead of making this THE fundraiser, create a plan for 3 different events throughout the year, all with the goal of raising money for school library materials. Further, be sure to provide many opportunities for children to be involved in school library improvement that has nothing to do with buying things. They can tangibly support their school library by being a reading buddy, being a classroom library ambassador, by shelving books one recess a month, etc.

2. Develop a relationship with your public library.

Make visiting the library or having a visit from someone who works in the children’s or teens area of public libraries a regular part of school life. Norm the ‘consuming’ of reading, listening, or viewing material from the library as strongly as going to the mall has been normed as enjoyable, everyday behavior.

3. Do your homework, together.

Before the event, have an authoritative team spend some time developing a wish list based on gaps in your school library collection. Ask questions like:  What don’t we have? What genres are already represented?  Whose voices are missing?  Is there a format we haven’t explored yet?  Is there a major world event – the Olympics? Historical anniversary or commemoration? – coming up that we can anticipate needing resources?

Then, when you are shopping online with the gift cards your fundraiser earned, you are not simply duplicating the top ten sellers, the latest movie franchise, or whatever author the bookstore is currently marketing the hardest. Remember, your voracious readers have likely already read the top ten, and your non-readers are highly unlikely to ever read them.

4. Encourage GIVING, not shopping.

Set up an anonymous reading wish list box for children to slip pieces of paper stating the types of things they are interested in. Then, the list can be compiled and posted.  Encourage your students who do attend the fundraiser to not just buy one for themselves, but one they recognize would be enjoyed by someone else.  They may have to rethink how much they are spending on themselves in order to make their money go further.  THIS is giving.

5. Think outside the print book.

Traditional print fiction is still very popular with kids and teens alike, but teachers know it isn’t for everyone. Audiobooks, non-fiction magazines, and multimodal kits make wonderful additions to school libraries. Use your fund raising dollars to buy unusual items that will bring added engagement to those students who may be disinclined to pursue print reading, but still hunger for places to engage in reflective, individual activities in other ways.

6. Materials supporting the Maker Movement.

Along with non-traditional book formats, also think about buying non-fictional material that supports MakerSpaces and Genius Hours in your School Learning Commons. Sewing machines, soldering and glue guns, robotics, Claymation, kite making,  are all activities that encourage kids to TRY things, get messy, make mistakes. Purchasing print books as guides to improving their design or just as inspiration can be wonderful complements to a Maker Space.

The Learning Commons / The School Library Program

Schools with cultures of recreational reading and of inclusion are two strong school effectiveness goals that hit a number of learning and development targets. School libraries have the potential to contribute immensely to those two goals.  In this era of chronically underfunded and inappropriately staffed school libraries, teachers and principals are filling the gaps as best they can but it is imperative that these gaps are identified and acknowledged.

A franchise bookstore can never be a learning commons and it is not a comparable option to a comprehensive school library program.

However, if holding big box bookstore fundraisers is an initiative your school is considering, the better practice suggestions above can help to separate the myths from realities, and hopefully, they reinforce that commercially based sellers of items are simply not equipped to be a replacement for non-profit based professionals designing places and acquiring materials for educational settings.

And when your school district is ready to talk about re-imagining and rebuilding their school library programs, there are many resources and OCT certified Teacher Librarians ready to do so much more than just go shopping.

Peggy Lunn is the Teacher Resource Centre Librarian at Queen’s University Library. She can be reached at Peggy.Lunn [at] or through Twitter @QueensTRC.

For more information and resources about the contemporary School Library and the Learning Commons movement, please visit the Ontario School Library Association’s (OSLA) Together for Learning website.

Linked to Learning: the Public Library and Local Schools

Ten years ago, it was standard practice for teachers to bring their students to the public library for a “class visit”. This provided the students with an introduction and overview of how the library worked and how they might access the information they need for different assignments.

Today is a very different matter; teachers are increasingly pressed for time and resources.

Thunder Bay Public LibraryThe Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL), like many other public libraries in Ontario, has been grappling with how to maintain a connection within the schools (elementary, secondary, and post-secondary). In recent years as the traditional class visit model declines, particularly with the high schools, we have seen an increase in the interest and demand for in-school class visits.

Engagement among elementary school teachers remains strong and has resulted in some great developments in the types of programming offered to their students by the library’s Children’s & Youth Services staff.

At the secondary school level, regular research workshops at a local high school have been offered for several years by Reference and Adult Services staff, usually at the beginning of each semester. These sessions involve the senior English classes congregating in the school’s library throughout the day to learn about secondary sources and literary criticism material available at TBPL.In a city the size of Thunder Bay (108,000), word gets around and in 2013 we were invited to do similar research workshops at other high schools.

In the spring we took part in a high school certification training program in which we offered a three hour workshop entitled “Get Hired, Not Fired! Social Media for Job Seekers”. This was quickly followed up with a shorter version of the same workshop at a local high school leading into the summer months. Other opportunities included an afternoon spent with students in need of help with how to access ebooks from the Overdrive collection.

At this point it was decided that we needed to make a plan for how to leverage the growing momentum. A member of the Community Action Panel (a group of community members who volunteer their time to help advise on the direction of TBPL) suggested sitting down with the librarians who handle most of the school relationships for a meeting. Some of the key points that were made in that discussion included the importance of taking the library to the students and making it as easy as possible for the teachers to have you in their classroom. Providing direct links to the curriculum in any promotional material or emails is also really important.

Speak their language, not that of the library.

This idea has led to the development of new marketing brochures that feature lots of colour, images, and specific detail on the kinds of workshops/visits we can offer. Further suggestions covered the need to bring our in-house programming out into the open spaces within and around the physical library buildings, as well as regularly promoting the fact that all of our resources, services, and programs are available for free and to everyone in the community.

Other key sources for ideas and suggestions here at TBPL are the teacher librarians at specific schools with whom we have developed relationships. They provide insight into the needs of the students and act as coordinators within the schools to bring teachers on board with what we have to offer. And of course we can’t forget the students themselves. In addition to the Community Action Panel, TBPL hosts a Youth Advisory Council (YAC). The members of YAC meet regularly throughout the school year and serve as a reality check for us. They tell us when our spaces, services, and programs just aren’t cool anymore and then provide ideas on what should be happening at their public library.

It turns out that like most of what we do, the answers are right in front of us and all we have to do is ask what people think.

Jesse Roberts is the Head of Reference Services at the Thunder Bay Public Library in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She leads the library in areas such as services to small business, local history and genealogy researchers, and copyright. She can be reached at jroberts [at]


Dumping Ground or Hallowed Ground?

When school library professionals are recognized as vital to student success, why do schools still see them as ‘other’?

Reading can provoke some strong reactions in me, even non-fiction, and sometimes the most innocuous sentence can create a firestorm. Such was the case when I read my most recent issue of Professionally Speaking, the official magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers. In an article about establishing good nutrition habits, (September 2014, page 36) the author quoted several educators. This is how one of the sections began:

“Although Ann Vieira, OCT, from Anson Taylor Public School in Scarborough, Ontario
is now a teacher-librarian, she has a long history (think 25 years) of being in the classroom.”

Wait a second. Why might her role as a teacher-librarian negate her experience on this topic?

My blood started to boil, but I talked myself down from my tirade – it wasn’t meant to be a slight, it was just a turn of phrase. As I continued to read the magazine, I found another reference to school libraries in an article on volunteers on page 41:

“if a volunteer isn’t a good fit in your classroom, see if there’s a need elsewhere in the school (sorting books in the library or selling tickets at a fundraising event, for example).”

If “not a good fit” is a euphemism for less-than-ideal or bad volunteer, then why is it more satisfactory to place them in the library? These two examples seem to suggest that there is a wall between students and school libraries, a distance that does not exist in classrooms or with class teachers.

This notion is reinforced by the practice of placing inferior teachers in the library as their assignment. The assumption behind this practice was that the individual would do “less harm” in the library than if he or she was in the classroom.

The idea that school libraries and school library professionals are apart from students is far from the truth. The Canadian Library Association recently released an updated Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada, called Leading Learning. School libraries are less about resources and more about relationships, connections and networks between learners and people.

Dr. Ross Todd is quoted on page 7 as saying:

“The hallmark of a school library in the 21st century is not its collections, its systems, its technology, its staffing, its buildings, but its actions and evidence that show that it makes a real difference to student learning, that it contributes in tangible and significant ways to the development of meaning making and constructing knowledge.”

The revised standards, freely available, provide five core standards of practice:

  1. Facilitating Collaborative Engagement to Cultivate and Empower a Community of Learners
  2. Advancing the Learning Community to Advance School Goals
  3. Cultivating Effective Instructional Design to Co-plan, Teach and Assess Learning
  4. Fostering Literacies to Empower Life-Long Learners, and
  5. Designing Learning Environments to Support Participatory Learning.

The word that keeps appearing in those categories is learning, and learning happens in people, not with things. The transitional growth stages are meant to be positive and not judgemental: Exploring, Emerging, Evolving, Established.

One of the key leaders in a Learning Commons is a teacher-librarian and Ken Haycock says,

“The role and impact of the teacher-librarian can be synthesized quite simply: teacher-librarians impact student learning and achievement by forming strong and positive relationships with members of the school community, especially the school principal; by collaborating with classroom colleagues to plan, develop and assess independent learning abilities in students; by fostering a recreational reading culture in the building; and by providing informal staff development opportunities.”

So if school libraries are truly about students and learning, how can this message be conveyed more effectively to the groups that work with school libraries, otherwise known as the school community? The answer exists in that new document. School library professionals can start by sharing the revised CLA standards document with their staff members.

The “Moving Forward” section of the document encourages people (and not just teacher-librarians, but also learning commons teachers, library technicians, teacher-technologists, and learning commons support staff) to begin by establishing a Learning Commons Leadership team in the school, a group representative of the school community with student and parent involvement.

When it is more than an individual working towards this transformation, the opinions of those involved with the School Library Learning Commons will also change.

On Twitter, a recent image suggested that if a=1, b=2, c=3, d=4, e=5 and so on, then

k+n+o+w+l+e+d+g+e = 96%,
h+a+r+d+w+o+r+k = 98%
but a+t+t+i+t+u+d+e = 100%.

Eventually that attitude change will filter up to the Ontario College of Teachers and its publications.

Diana Maliszewski is the teacher-librarian at Agnes Macphail Public School in the Toronto District School Board. She is the editor-in-chief of The Teaching Librarian, the official magazine of the Ontario School Library Association and is the OSLA representative on the Open Shelf OLA editorial board.