“The heart of a school.”1 Roch Carrier, Canadian author and National Librarian, used this phrase to describe school libraries. Think of a school library you have visited recently. Would you describe it in the same way?
The fact is that if we took a tour across the province there would be a huge discrepancy, from shining examples of the ideal library to libraries that languish in a state of neglect.
Let’s stop for a moment on our imaginary tour at one school: Cathy Wever Elementary School in Hamilton, a school that celebrated its one-year anniversary this past September. It is a model of what every school of today should be: a beacon within its gritty, downtown neighbourhood. The library in Cathy Wever is an example of the ideal – truly the “heart of the school” – and it is here where we will spend the day.
Only 10 percent of Ontario elementary schools have a full-time teacher-librarian, compared with 42 percent 25 years ago.2
By its location within steps of the school’s front door, the library signals its status in the school. A sign says “Welcome” and the doors are wide open.
Sue MacLachlan, the school’s full-time teacher- librarian, is out making her rounds. She adeptly juggles a tangle of bulbs and wires while making repairs to AV equipment and determining which pieces need to be sent out for repair. Cathy Wever is a school of 654 students, with two floors and a generous footprint, making this a time-consuming task. This multitasking master chats with colleagues at the same time, updating them on new arrivals in the library, planning opportunities to work as a team, and fielding their requests for materials: “Is there a picture book suitable for Intermediate-level students touching on the theme of acceptance?” “Could a collection of books on pioneers be set aside?”
Back in the library, MacLachlan starts pulling books for the staff she connected with on her rounds while bracing for the bell to ring. Ten minutes to go … This room shines. Windows cover one full length of the room. The furniture is comfortable, unblemished, and clean. The space allows for an enviable floor plan consisting of computers, tables, a desk, a carpeted area for read-alouds, comfortable seating, two offices, a professional library, a book room, a circulation desk, and books – precisely organized shelves stocked with a large, current collection.
The bell rings. Today, like every day, MacLachlan will see students from Primary, Junior and Intermediate divisions. This is her preparation time. She does a quick survey: Lessons planned? Teaching materials organized? Marked work ready to return? She spends some time finishing marking and recording the results. For students in grades 6 to