Library Learning Commons @ École Richard Secord School

June 07, 2012 (2 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC


After attending Treasure Mountain at the University of Alberta several years ago, I began to work with our school administrators, staff and parents to move us toward the library learning commons model suggested at that time.

What is that model?

At École Ricard Secord School, it’s all about literacy and learning! We are large elementary school with 3 different programs. There are no flexible common learning spaces besides the gymnasium or library commons. Following is how we are working together to build a library learning commons (LLC) over the past four years. It is a work in progress, as all LLCs should be….evolving to meet the needs of its school community.


We strive to provide students access to resources, both physically and virtually, in a timely manner.

How we do that:


  • LLC is open daily for book exchanges, whenever students need a new book to read.
  • Furniture/technology (Smartboard/laptop/projector) is mobile, so it can be reconfigured to be functional for desired usage.
  • All book shelves are on wheels. Tables/furniture is easy to move.
  • Increase OPAC circulation stations available for student use throughout the day. (Students in Kindergarten are taught how to sign out their own books.)
  • Changing of shelving units to add variety of height to meet children’s age group.
  • Weed collection and purchase of new resources to promote quality literature and encourage students to read for a variety of purposes.
  • Centralize/manage home reading/guided reading books to increase student/teacher access
  • Set up of computer wired station for student/teacher use/printing
  • Provide classroom teachers with Smartboards/document cameras for use in classrooms.
  • Add new tables/chairs to facilitate group work/collaboration.


  • Build a school web site that provides web based links related to the curriculum, for easy reference for teachers/students/parents.
  • Build a library commons blog. (This is much harder to keep up and is often used as a place for topical themes in the library. E.g. Poetry Month)
  • Provide an infrastructure of a wireless network for use with Netbooks throughout the school
  • Purchase three class sets of Netbooks for student use in classrooms and/or library commons/literacy stations in collaboration with School Council and matching Community Initiative Grant.
  • Access to school created documents via SchoolZone (District Extranet) from home, school, anywhere in the world using Google Apps.
  • Set up of school licenses for databases/Web 2.0 tools
  • Removal of old technology (TVs, Overhead Projectors, VHS tapes, records) to make way for new technologies

Common Spaces

Students, staff and community members share common spaces to access information and meet for collaborative learning and/or to provide best functionality of users’ needs. E.g. when a classroom needed more space, a section of the LLC became a guided reading/writing center for student. Or the teacher-librarian provides guided reading instruction to meet flexible grouping of students based on literacy needs. The virtual common spaces are facilitated by our school district, which provides StaffZone for teachers and SchoolZone for student work spaces and parent information.

How we do that:

  • Space is available throughout the day for large group presentations/teaching, guided reading groups, individual work spaces (In-school field trips, author visits, volunteers read with students, ICT classes)
  • Clubs/student interest groups use spaces for meeting.
  • Teachers use space for marking/working on progress reports, etc.
  • After-school use for professional development, staff/committee meetings
  • Addition of soft seating that can be configured in different ways.
  • Reconfigure library layout to meet functionality of school’s needs
  1. Traffic flow - The library commons acts as a hallway 
  2. Accessible to classrooms – majority of classes are located just off classrooms (small groups will use space for group work)
  3. Visibility of library learning commons from administration offices/work spaces
  4. Purchasing of shelving/reorganization of Teacher Resource Room/guided reading resources for easier reference/collection
  • Spaces for large group instruction, individual quiet work spaces, story read-alouds, small group instruction/work.
  • Removal of computer lab to make space for classroom space which was needed because of growing population
  • Newly designed administration spaces for working on processing, conferencing with teachers, and parent/student meetings.
  • Students hand-in homework electronically through SchoolZone, attaching Google Docs.
  • Teachers handing out assignment templates and marking assignments electronically via Google Docs/SchoolZone
  • Teachers work remotely from home via district StaffZone Extranet


We have moved to a flexible scheduling of facilitates and technology to foster integration of technology/learning between students and among teachers. This schedule encourages collaboration between the teacher-librarian/teacher and teacher-to-teacher collaboration.

How we do that:

  • Student access to OPAC to sign out library books, when needed throughout school day (This is besides their regularly scheduled library book exchanges. Some classes come daily. Others come weekly with their classes. Some classes send their students, on a need-to-have basis.)
  • A flexible two week schedule is used by staff for signing out Netbooks using Microsoft Calendar/Google Calendar.
  • Share Staff Calendar for booking library commons teaching space for large groups.
  • LLC is an extension of classroom teaching space e.g. educational assistants working with small groups/individuals, volunteer readers, student small group/individual work simultaneously, consultants meeting with teachers
  • Use of LLC space for recess, lunch hour, after school/evening groups on a needs basis.
  • Post School/class newsletters/updates to SchoolZone for quick access for parents and students
  • Teacher-librarian and library technician meet the broader needs of students/school programming e.g. guided reading, administrative support, when needed. LLC staff schedules change throughout the school year based upon overall school needs.

Programming & Services

It is easy to forget that the core of a school library commons is about programming and services above all else. (It is like eating a hamburger bun without the meat in it.) People are our greatest primary resources. They ensure that the LLC is not simply a resource repository but a place where everyone can come to learn for a variety of purposes. Each school must look at its own population needs to develop their LLC program plan. The school library commons plan should be developed to support the school wide plan and evolve/be updated on at least a yearly basis.

How we do that:

  • Provide professional development to staff on use of new technologies e.g. Smartboards/document Cameras
  • Provide professional development to staff in using Google Apps/SchoolZone/Web 2.0 tools
  • Cooperative Planning and Teaching of integrating technology/resource based learning with classroom teachers
  • Model/’test drive’ new Google tools/Web 2.0 tools/databases/digital citizenship with students during ICT relief periods
  • Promote and monitor school-wide home reading program in conjunction with classroom teachers/administration
  • Provide ‘just-in-time’ support for teachers with use of technology tools, technology troubleshooting, readers’ advisory, use of literature across curriculum
  • Facilitate teacher participation in action research (e.g. Div. 1 teachers participated in research exploring the impact of Smartboards in literacy instruction)
  • Provide parent sessions on use of technology tools to support their children’s learning
  • Promote literacy & inquiry e.g. school assemblies (act as school mascots: Captain READ and Lucy Lobster), coordinate Read-In Week guests, author visits, coach student book clubs, share read-alouds, promote Book Fairs, YRCA and Rocky Mountain Book Award nominees, create displays that encourage inquiry, coordinate used book exchange for students
  • Level/manage of guided reading/home reading books
  • Collaborate with Administration on priorities for changes/initiatives of LLC
  • Update school web site/library commons blog regularly
  • Promote/provide teachers with awareness of newest resources (print and electronic)
  • Coordinate purchase of school textbooks/teaching resources in collaboration with school administrators and teachers
  • Collaborate with Edmonton Public Library for YRCA books and Summer Reading Program
  • Train/monitor student library helpers to shelve books
  • Catalogue print resources, using downloaded and/or purchased cataloguing. (Our district is moving to a new catalogue system in the coming year. Our school has offered to be one of the first to integrate the new cataloguing system, which will allow for student access via web and/or integration of online resources/ebooks eventually.
  • Publish LLC activities/initiatives in monthly school newsletters


Leadership is the catalyst to bring change to a library learning commons. The school administrators and teacher-librarian provide leadership in guiding the development of a school library commons program with teachers, support staff, parents and students.

How we do that:

  • School administration team strive to keep abreast of the newest technologies/literature/professional development to evergreen school library commons as it evolves to meet our students’ learning needs and promote effective teaching strategies
  • Teacher-librarian meets with Administration team to
  • monitor coordination of LLC events on school calendar
  • highlight needs/role of LLC
  • ensure LLC is part of school plan
  • Collaborate with technology committee/staff e.g. development of school-wide continuum of technology skills and digital citizenship plan (currently being updated)
  • Collaborate with community/educational groups to develop/promote literacy development (E.g. partner with U of A grads/professors for research, initiate community fair for school families)
  • Teacher-librarian/administrator/teacher leaders model integration of technology tools/literacy strategies across curriculum with classroom teachers/students
  • Demonstrate risk-taking of learning new tools together with teachers/students, though one may not have entirely mastered them yourself
  • Library technician and teacher librarian review and set policies/procedures of how LLC will function and division of responsibilities

“Be the Place to Be”

In the end, a LLC should be the place everyone wants to be. Some guiding questions you might ask yourself and your school are:

  • When you look around your LLC, do you see others there? What are they doing?
  • Is it a comfortable space to be?
  • Is this the busiest place in the school?
  • Are there spaces to do different things?
  • How are you promoting Literacy?
  • Are your students’ choosing to read?
  • Are your teachers’ excited about teaching different forms of literacy?
  • Do your students have access to learning tools outside of school?
  • Do parents have support in meeting their children’s educational needs?
  • Have you seen a difference in the changes you are making to students/staff and parents attitudes towards the library commons?
  • Are students engaged in literacy activities outside of school hours?
  • Is the space freshly painted? Calming? Engaging?

How do I know if we are ‘getting there’?

Each school library commons will have these five common elements; Access, Common Spaces, Flexibility, Programming & Services and Leadership. The reason it is hard to define a LLC is because is constantly changing with each of these variables being modified to meet your students’ learning needs. We have begun to use Google Form to survey grade 4-6 students about our Library Learning Commons each year. This provides us with valuable information about what we are doing well or not doing well and how we can improve upon our Library Learning Commons. A school survey of parents also informs us of the priorities of school families. Attending school council meetings and establishing a working partnership with parents helps to build a shared library commons a reality. Fostering a relationship between the (school administrator, district consultants, teacher-librarian, library-technician, teachers, students, support staff and parents) ensures that the school library commons development becomes a focus in your school, as it has in ours. In the end, it feels like the LLC is a living, breathing organism that it is continually adapting and changing to meet the needs of its host (school). Choosing to prioritize the school library commons will help to improve the literacy and learning of your entire school community. We continue the journey…

Fern Reirson
École Richard Secord School


A Quasi Panel Discussion on the Library Learning Commons

June 04, 2012 (2 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC

I was at a session on initiatives our school district is embarking on earlier this week and it was not surprised to see that moving school libraries to a library Learning Commons model is at the top of the list. This is good! When I think of the library Learning Commons being the hub of the school where learning can be flexible, just in time and personalized in a community of learners, I am all for shifting to the idea of the library as a Learning Commons.

However, when I hear people quote that 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 evidences 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.”(Todd 2001, p. 4), and listen to them hone in on the part stating the library learning commons isn’t about staff and resources I am concerned. I worry that decision makers are only reading the first part of Todd’s statement and think...oh great, a way to save money in these tight economic times. Let’s cut the library staff and resources. After all, isn't it all available online anyway?

How can you have actions and evidence of student learning without a qualified instructor, whether it is in the classroom or the Learning Commons? A teacher librarian is there to lead and collaborate with staff and students to use the Learning Commons resources in guided inquiry to achieve student learning. How can a library that only has a library technician function as a learning hub of the school? Who leads the learning and designs the programs? Who leads the staff learning on emerging technologies? Who teaches students about digital citizenship, allowing teachers to focus on core curriculum? Who builds a community of learners by creating programs that bridge across the core curriculum? How can a teacher librarian focus on teaching and collaborating with all staff and students without the support of a trained library technician whose focus is ordering, cataloging, making resources available to staff and students, checking out mobile devices and books, and assisting the teacher librarian as he/she organizing the programming?

Valerie Diggs’ excellent Slideshare; From Library to Learning Commons states that a key idea is that as we move to a new model we need to build our program first. As I read this, I reflected on how our school’s library moved from a space designed primarily for quiet, independent work and finding information where the teacher-librarian was in charge and the resources were only accessible during school hours to the lively learning space it is now. A space that is flexible and shared, resources are “just in time” not “just in case”, accessible both online and in house, with a teacher-librarian who is a learning coach who is embedded into the work of the classrooms and staff professional development rather than hiding behind a desk dictating the library space. It has become a space that encourages participation and community.

It sounds like it was simple, but is an evolution that continues. It began five years ago when I moved to high school with my current principal. We had a shared vision of the library as the learning hub of the school and we set up a committee to look at what students and staff wanted from the library Learning Commons. This involved surveying students and staff, involving both in the committee and investing money and time into developing the space. And yes, comfy furniture and flexible space that allows for a variety of activities was included, but so was a virtual library, letting students showcase and create knowledge, having resources chosen by students as well as teachers, letting students work in groups, and having a space where staff could go for professional development. The goal was to build a program that supports learning and meaning making school wide.

This involved weeding out old outdated resources, investing in a virtual library that has resources (fiction and nonfiction), and is a space for students to create, collaborate, connect and communicate both face to face and online through video conferencing, blogs and other Web 2.0 tools. We also changed the physical space by removing no longer needed shelving to make space for students and teachers to work, putting wheels on shelves so that the space can be flexible, and adding comfy chairs and coaches as well as more tables for student group work. It involved the teacher librarian working very closely with teachers in a way that goes beyond gathering research resources for students and instead, involves collaboration in building student engagement and learning. This learning involves providing professional development to staff on Web 2.0 tools and emerging literacies as well as curriculum changes. It involves the teacher librarian being part of the instruction of students and building of learning activities. With all this, we have not reached the finish line yet. Perhaps constant evolution is part and parcel of our changing society, and the library Learning Commons needs to reflect that evolution.

I want to go back to my original concern that decision makers are thinking that a move to the Learning Commons is more about space and less about the actions in that space. I wonder how you can have a library Learning Commons without qualified library staff...both a teacher librarian and a trained library technician? Who builds the virtual library? Who does professional development with staff on emerging literacies? Who facilitates the building of the program, working with resources and inquiry learning? Who works with teachers and students as they create knowledge?

If 21st century learning and schools are about connecting, collaborating, creating and communicating, then creating an effective library Learning Commons is the right move. If it is about saving money and cutting staff, a true library Learning Commons is not going to happen in your schools. You may have comfy couches and a Smart board, but it is a dead space.

As you begin to make this transformation, ask yourself: how is the program you are building allowing for connecting, collaboration, communication and creating. This isn’t an overnight change that occurs because of the space and furniture but rather because of the actions of the school community. A great resource for those libraries interested in moving towards a library is Ontario's School Libraries Publication Learning Commons is Together For Learning:  School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons.  

I am interested in hearing other voices?  What steps have you or are you taking as your schools make the move towards a library learning commons?  




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