The following was written by Douglas Clarke, a retired principal with the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board who now works on the Reading in Mind project at the MELS. Mr. Clarke was part of a panel of three principals at the Library Symposium who spoke about their insights and experiences with school libraries in schools across the English sector of Quebec.


The School Library from a Principal’s Perspective

Douglas Clarke

2015 MELS Library Symposium

March 16, 2015

What message does a closed library at lunch hour give to students and teachers about the importance and access to books and to learning?

Having a vision of the importance of library is essential for all educators- whether a teacher, daycare educator, support personnel, library clerk or principal.

The library ought to be the central learning hub of all schools.  The school library is to support and to promote reading throughout the whole school. It is a place where students have an opportunity to become engaged with new texts/resources- digital and paper- and to exchange with others. It ought to be prominently placed and a centre of activity and learning.   The library is a place where both teachers and students want to learn in a differentiated environment.

The school, and by extension, the library should be a place that reflects learning in the 21st century. It is an integral part of the teaching-learning process for all students.  This implies that the school library ought to offer learning services, books and resources that enable all members of the school community to become critical thinkers and effective users of information in all formats and media.

Given these views of library services, the presentation will focus on seven practices that were implemented when acting as a school principal

The first practice was to provide opportunities for teachers to work with the librarian

Teachers and library staff considered the school library as an extension of their classroom.  Opportunities were given for the library clerk-librarian to work closely with teachers. The focus of librarians was to support learning.  It is necessary to move beyond the idea that librarians are only for the circulation of books, inputting new book data into REGARD and book exchange; for these tasks can be left to volunteers and students. In order to have teachers work collaboratively with library personnel in ways to support student learning it was expected that each teacher meet with the librarian at least once in September and then again later in the year, to share planning and teaching with respect to the teacher’s curriculum map. As a result teachers and librarian partnered together to respond to pedagogical and curriculum concerns.

The second practice was to establish a plan the school library

A committee was formed to develop an annual plan for the school library.  The committee varied from year to year both in composition and scope. Some of the items that we considered were:

Partnerships with classes

Professional development of teachers with respect to the resources available at the library

Planning the development of library-related skills  in subject areas 

Library development- selecting books or magazines to be acquired based on surveys of readers’/teachers’ preferences

Technology development

Promotional activities carried out by staff and students

Budget including fundraising

Student involvement

Student use policy

Physical layout

Scheduling priorities

The third practice was to provide access to the school library beyond the regular school day

Teachers could access books and materials at any time.  The professional learning library with pedagogical materials and resource was situated in the library. 

Organize opportunities for parents to visit the school library with their child.

For daycare, reading became an integral part of the before and after school program. Daycare educators were able to borrow books and used them in the daycare areas.

During holiday periods, especially during the summer, students could borrow books. There is a need for making students accountable for books and having them return them at the end of the year, but why should books sit in a room for three months and not be read. Ideally the library shelves should be empty during the summer.

The fourth practice was to work with the community to further reading

Through a close relationship with the municipal library, students and teachers benefited from the additional resources.

The focus of the MELS’ Reading in Mind project is support principals to further reading in schools at all levels. A participating school identified one of their reading goals as the need to work with their community and chose the municipals library as area to be addressed.  As with most of our English schools, this school was situated in a French community and historically neither the school nor the library spoke to each other. The staff felt that the municipal library was an untapped resource to further reading with families. Especially FSL teachers welcomed the opportunity for students to avail themselves of books. All it took was a simple contact by the Principal to the municipal librarian to request class visits. The school then organized all classes to visit. As a result of students going, parents started to go because the children went. Also, the school was invited last June to display students’ work in the municipal library. This was great for the recognition of the English school; great for the promotion of reading.

The fifth practice was to recognize the importance of technology in the library.

The library should be transforming into “Information and Library Services”.  Technology was made available to students in the school library.  Today the school library should be reoriented to develop literacy competencies through information and communication technologies that are part of the students’ learning environment.

In addition to basic literacy skills, it is necessary for the school library to promote technological literacy, media literacy, inquiry and problem solving, as well as ethical and social responsibility.

Furthermore, the library should have establish an online presence- have a webpage as part of school’s website, library blog, social media presence announcing new books etc

Today the main investment should in e-books, databases, video streaming and other digital resources

The sixth practice was to request support from the school board

There was a will to continually fighting for addition funding from the school board. With the active support of the Governing Board, the school was able to increase the number of school board allocated hours that the all schools receive for library clerks. During that time the school library clerk sat on the GB as the support representative. Through the GB petitioning other schools for support of increased hours, parents’ representative putting it on the agenda of the Central Parents Committee and as a principal participating on budget setting committees and Management Advisory Board meetings, the case for  increased hours was made and supported at all levels- the board responded with increasing hours for all schools.   Library services must remain at the fore of budget priorities both at the school level and the board level. Unfortunately, like everything these days, there is a political element to developing library services.

The final and seventh practice was to select (purchase) reading materials that students wanted to read

A recent study from Denmark, that surveyed 1999 schoolchildren, found that the proportion of 9- to 12-year-olds who read books in their free time had climbed from 56% to 61% since 2000. Young Danes are still watching TV and using digital devices but not at the cost of reading books.  Three factors are attributed to this increase; 1) Promotion of reading by the school system;  2) Publishers have become better at responding to research into reading habits and creating books that kids love ; 3) Importantly, reading for pleasure has been emphasized- students now have to read a book of their own choosing each week.  A child has the right to decide what to read. If a child wants to read book after book about horses or sexy vampires or man-eating zombies, then they are able to. But they are also taught about critical thinking and how to challenge stereotypes from a young age.

Presently the MELS through the Reading in Mind project is developing for the English milieu an online student survey to profile students as readers. It will be available for use next year for students from Elementary Cycle 1 to Secondary 5. The survey will help identify the student’s attitudes and interests. As a result teachers will be able to orient reading to students’ interests and librarians will be able to make purchases in line with the students’ preferences.

The bottom line is that we all have to ensure students are reading.