The School Library Learning Commons: More than a new coat of paint and flexible furnishings!

July 09, 2013 (2 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC

I have been watching with some interest over the past few years as schools throughout the province struggle with the transformation from traditional school library models to a learning commons philosophy. This transformation is supported by Alberta Education's Guide to Education: ECS to Grade 12 2013-2014, which clearly states that "students in Alberta schools should have access to effective school library services such as a learning commons approach integrated with instructional programs. Such integration improves student opportunities for achieving a basic education (p.69)." In an effort to comply with this mandate, some school boards in the province are providing funding incentives to convert from a traditional school library model to a learning commons. However, in most schools that I have visited, that funding is being used to paint the walls and purchase flexible furnishings. Although esthetic changes to the school library are nice, in my opinion, most schools are forgetting the fundamental premise that IT IS GREAT STAFF, NOT GREAT STUFF that lead to a successful school learning commons initiative. A more careful reading of this Alberta Education document reveals that "to promote integration, opportunities for cooperative planning between teachers and teacher–librarians should be provided (p.69)." How can this possibly happen, when 90% of schools throughout the province do not even have a qualified teacher-librarian on staff (Alberta Education (2010), School Library Survey Summary of Results, p. 2)? This initiative, like so many others, is doomed to fail unless schools have the understanding and the financial support to hire qualified, passionate teacher-librarians with a clear vision of the school library not as a repository of books, but as the physical and virtual space where collaborative, personalized, inquiry-based teaching and learning opportunities take place on a daily basis.These quality educational experiences are something no new paint job or flexible furnishings will ever be able to provide.


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I certainly agree whole-heartedly with “more than a coat of paint and flexible furnishings” and even more strongly with great staff not great stuff. As both a certified TL and a school principal, where I think we as Learning Commons proponents and advocates must be careful is our rhetoric around what “must” be in place or else failure is imminent. The fiscal reality in Alberta’s school divisions (and likely those in most provinces based on the recent feedback from our Alberta writing team on CLA standards) is that TL’s, as much as we want them, are not in place nor will they be anytime soon. So, the bigger question for me is, how do we make the financial choice to be having qualified/trained personnel in the LC. For me the answer is very clear….hit the public and the trustees where it counts…in the academic achievement and accolades department. If we can DEMONSTRATE exactly how a functioning and vibrant LC stimulates academic success for students, increases professional risk-taking and collaboration for professionals and para-professionals, and builds a positive school culture of critical inquiry…..then the financial arguments for TL’s become much more compelling. So, chicken and egg….where do we start? I believe, and am open to argument, that we start with “who we have” and whenever possible augment that to build the case. For example, I took over at a school (k-9 850 students) where there had not been a TL or even a trained Library Tech for over a year. Step one was hiring a (full time) great Library tech who had the wonderful experience of working together with a TL in another school before funding cuts left her alone in the school library. Step two was establishing with her a vision for the Commons and giving her the time and budget to get the space and materials organized such that we could begin changing mindsets. Add in some extra “enthusiastic” time from an experienced EA and some equally enthusiastic volunteer parent support and the stage is set. Meanwhile, the concept of the commons was slowly and carefully instilled in the teaching staff who were encouraged to become involved in the re-development of our Commons at all levels. Step three begins in earnest this year with data collection on usage and activities so we can PROVE that the Commons philosophy is a critical cog in student, school and community success.

What I argue for here is that we avoid saying “without a TL it is doomed” and instead make the case for why a TL is the optimum leader for an engaging and functioning commons. I have the opportunity to address all of the library personnel in my own division this August and will certainly try to engage them in the exciting and challenging transition to a “commons way of thinking” so they can do the same at their sites. It will look different from school to school….and it should. The key is building our. Evidence…making the case…and then maybe, just maybe we will see the return of TL’s to the forefront of student learning.


By Randy Hetherington on Fri, August 16, 2013 - 8:34:39

Your appraisal of the current situation is certainly spot on, but I would argue that there is already ample evidence out there to suggest that teacher-librarians in schools equates to improved students outcomes. Ken Haycock, in his 2003 assessment of the school library situation in Canada states that:
“Recent state-wide studies of the relationship between school libraries, teacher librarians and student achievement…have all come to the same finding. In schools with well-stocked, well-equipped school libraries, managed by qualified and motivated professional teacher-librarians working with support staff, one can expect capable and avid readers;learners who are information literate; [and] teachers who are partnering with the teacher-librarian to create high-quality learning experiences” (p.2). Haycock’s own research demonstrates that student test scores are directly correlated to hours of contact with a qualified teacher-librarian (p.3). The evidence is already available. Is the problem than, that we are unwilling (or unable)to act on what we already know? History has shown that pendulum swings are endemic in education. This is one pendulum swing that I personally feel is detrimental to students.

The full transcript of Haycock’s report can be found at:

By Terri Hayes on Sat, October 26, 2013 - 11:11:44

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