In support of Libraries for Academic Success & Equity

Libraries are essential in building academic success and equity in our schools and learning environments. This is very easy when staff and students come from similar backgrounds and share similar languages, experiences and expectations. But what about the ‘others’? The one’s who do not share similar experiences, expectations, languages, and backgrounds?

First, what does it mean to have learners achieve academic success?

  1. Basic skills in reading, writing and math
  2. Basic knowledge of Sciences, nature, history
  3. Skills including critical thinking, analyzing, synthesizing, inferring, predicting, connecting
  4. Knowing that there are consequences for actions
  5. Flexibility
  6. Becoming a lifelong learner
  7. Participating in civic life
  8. Ability to keep up with technical changes
  9. Building confidence in a diverse and ever-changing society
  10. Adeptness at working and living with people different from ourselves
  11. Respecting cultural differences
  12. Embracing multiple perspectives.


Often, we as educators assume that we just need better instructional strategies to help learners achieve academic success. BUT, all of the best strategies in the world will not work if they are used in a setting where students don’t feel valued or don’t have confidence that they can succeed.

This is where Equity comes into play.

Libraries have access to resources, expertise and physical and virtual spaces to promote equity.

For instance, TL’s are skilled to organize instruction in ways that can positively build on relationships between students and classes. TL’s also provide adequate resources for students learning in first and second languages, and have the spaces to include students and value what they bring from home.

The Library also promotes citizenship, and helps students understand how we all came to belong. Library spaces have the power to address historic injustices, and connect issues of on-going colonization to the curriculum. The knowledge and resources make it more possible to engage all learners in meaningful discussions with historic specificities.

We simply cannot work with the ‘tools’ in our Libraries when we fail to understand the ‘why’ behind what we are doing.

Libraries are not about assimilation of students into dominant power structures. Rather, they are spaces with professionals who are able to analyze racial inequality, and understand that cultural differences are not temporary disadvantages that lessen over time. TL’s know that we need to go beyond ‘tokenism’ of the First Peoples in Canada. The onus is not on Aboriginal students and teachers to explain themselves.

Students who easily fit in with dominant cultural practices are fortunate to always see school reflected back to them, but TL’s know about social positioning, and work against normal power dynamics to hear all voices.

Further, new spaces, including MakerSpaces, are not used to continue to traditional narratives of education. Rather they are truly flexible and open spaces that promote other ways of expressing ideas and knowing the world around us. We don’t assume that Makerspaces are ‘what the world needs’, rather we help students make it about what they need. We help students connect them to what it means for be a respectable citizen in the world. We also allow them to be unpredictable.

Libraries provide extensive opportunities to write, talk and self-reflect.

Libraries are welcoming spaces.

Libraries encourage students to find ways of interrupting the social and ideological ramifications in which our learning is situated.

Libraries allow for discussions and assignments that trouble our already-familiar stories. And TL’s continually assess teaching and curriculum.

We know that we cannot merely congratulate white students for taking part in our national identity as being ‘helpers of the less fortunate’. Because this continues to put us in privileged positions that continue to marginalize our students.

TL’s are positioned to be aware of unconscious biases. Educators assume that we treat all students equally, but our attitudes often result in different outcomes.


Students transfer what they know to new situations as they acquire new knowledge. This can only occur through careful planning, and active participation in school activities. TL’s are in the perfect position to help make intentional connections across settings and contexts. For instance, explicitly connecting what students learn in literacy with content areas. Ie., Connecting the reading and writing with the Science content.

Libraries are also open places for parents, and help encourage parents to safely share the language and ideas from the home. TL’s become very aware of students prior learning and literacy experiences, and work to build in opportunities for authentic communication in any language that is simply not found in any other spaces in the school.  This increases risk taking skills and develops safety and security.

We work to make challenging concepts understandable – not water down existing curriculum.

Academic Success is what we want for all of our students. However, all the best instructional strategies in the world will not help if we are not promoting equity. A signifant part of promoting equity is truly understanding the underlying philosophies of why we do what we do – and making sure that we are not doing ‘new’ things just to promote the same narratives that perpetuate privilege and oppression.

The Library is an essential space in the school that requires flexible and knowledgeable professionals who are willing and able to disrupt that which is familiar and promote equity for all.  To recognize the power dynamics that honour what is dominant, and honour other ways of knowing and being to promote true academic success.



Deborah McCallum



Commins, M. & Miramontes, O. (2006). Addressing Linguistic Diversity from the Outset. Journal of Teacher Education,57(3), 240 -246

Dei, G. & Simmons, M. (2010). Educating about anti-racism: The perils and desires. Our Schools, Our Selves, 19(3), 107-120.



Knowledge Building in the Learning Commons


Knowledge Building in the Learning Commons


Knowledge Building in the Learning Commons

By Deborah McCallum

“Knowledge building is perhaps the most important skill of the 21st Century”

McCallum aligns the knowledge building process to major ideas and the standards from the new document Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons published by the Canadian Library Association.

McCallum discusses the role of the Learning Commons in creating a level playing field for a diverse community of learners who benefit from the skill support, the variety of resources and the flexibility offered. Collaboration and strategic planning are key elements to success.

When designing for knowledge building both the cognitive and affective domains are important to the fostering of life long-learners who are critical thinkers, and savvy participants in the digital world. McCallum explains the importance of embedded, cross curricular, information literacy skills and the affect of the learning environment on ability to offer participatory learning experiences for knowledge building.

Discover how knowledge building weaves a common thread through the new standards.

Treasure Mountain Site and Knowledge Building

8 Considerations when Creating a 21st Century Learning Commons


There are important elements that need to be considered when trying to create a 21st Century Library Space. Libraries of the 21st Century truly need to be spaces that promote both physical and virtual senses of Safety, Inclusiveness, and Equity. Regardless of your situation, Safety, Inclusiveness, and Equity need to be at the forefront of your planning.

We all know that each school library is different depending upon its its own challenges and strengths. Variables that will inevitably impact your Library space can include: planning time, budget, furniture, in-library and extra-curricular activities, administrative support, collection, tech knowledge, and parent council, to name a few. Therefore, it takes a lot of critical thought to be able to effectively implement an effective 21st Century Library Space within your school.

8 Important Considerations when creating a 21st Century Learning Commons

  1. You want your Library space to be as flexible as possible! Create a flexible and responsive space in order to meet the changing needs of your school both now, and in the future. Therefore you may want to further consider furniture that is easily moveable, to enable flexible instructional spaces throughout the day, and the years to come. For instance, easily moveable tables that can easily be maneuvered easily throughout the day, whether for small group work, conferencing, or even placing them into a larger  ‘conference’ type table with a Smart Board at the end, or a big screen tv.
  2. Consider having 2 Smart Boards, One set ceiling mounted, and one moveable throughout the day. Enabling different groups to work at different times. This also promotes Assessment For Learning opportunities with our students.
  3. Make sure you have electrical outlets everywhere! Consider having up to 8 sockets in various places around your library! You never know when or where you may need to plug in a cluster of iPads for student research involving social networking!
  4. Consider iPads or tablets, and/or eReaders for your library. Consider purchasing a small bank of them for centers in your library for research, social media, Gaming, and eReading. Having these devices available for use on a daily basis within your library also promotes Equity and opportunities for students who may not have access at home. Important note: If you have iPads, get html cables to be able to hook them up to your Smart Boards, and also consider getting apple tv boxes for wireless usage with your iPads on the smart boards, and big screen tv’s!
  5. Create Great Learning Spaces within your library for students to engage with each other. Find ways to make the spaces feel special for the students, to enable them to co-construct meaning together from online experiences. This could include: iPad clusters (not computer labs!), Gaming centres, eReaders, Study Rooms, Research Center, and spaces for Social Media Connections. 
  6. Create a Strong Online Presence! And don’t limite yourself to just websites or blogs. Use Twitter, Edmodo, Kidmodo, and other Learning Management Systems to connect with your students, staff, and communities.
    1. Also, with your students, staff, and community, consider co-creating your own

    Personalized Digital Citizenship document and usage guidelines for your new 21st Century Library. This is an effective way to build a 21st Century Learning Community, and get your 21st Century Library space off to a great start.

  7. Keeping your sights set on a 21st Century Library also means attending to newest software, eBooks and Apps! Get involved with Professional Learning Networks and get to know the many software, eBooks and apps that can be used for all students.

Despite the myriad of variables that Libraries must juggle and maneuver, there are always positive steps that anyone can start to take to prepare your Library for the 21st Century.

What are some of the wonderful things that you have done to create a wonderful 21st Century Learning Commons?

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Copyright Matters: 13 ways the laws apply to education


The Copyright Matters document describes the newest laws in Canada as ruled by the Copyright Modernization Act. The purpose is to protect the creative processes of others and to make sure that teachers and students are using the material of others appropriately. The Creative processes occur in an Educational Institution whereby students Create their own work can include Writing, Research, and the Arts, just to name a few. It is a strong part of Canadian Education Systems for Educators to teach students to create ‘their own’ work, and to always acknowledge those works you have used to complete your writing or research papers, for example.

The following list outlines some key parameters for Fair Dealing within Education, and by no means are an exhaustive list.

Fair Dealing & The Key Points for Educators to Know:

  1. The Copyright Modernization Act is compiled of decisions ruled by the Supreme Court. There are a number of conditions listed whereby Teachers are able to copy the works of others for Educational purposes, provided the use of such material is not being used for personal gain or commercial ventures. The work must be Educational in nature, and be unavailable in a Commercial format that is readily available for teachers.
  2. It is also important to note that Teachers in Canada are now allowed to copy, translate, communicate electronically, show, play and copyright-protected work for tests and exams.
  3. Teachers are also allowed to copy work in any alternatives that best suit students with special needs. However, the work must not be commercially available anywhere else.
  4. Teachers are also allowed to play sound recordings, turn on the television and radios in the classroom, as long as it is not for profit, takes place in front of an audience for the purposes of Education only, and have no ‘motive of gain’.
  5. However, if Educators are going to play music in the background for non-educational purposes, ie., extracurricular activities, assemblies, dances, then royalty payments are required!
  6. News and commentaries, and any television shows and programs can be copied, however only at the time that the program is aired. This media must be erased after 30 days, and Educators must keep a copy of the information to forward on to the copyright owners. Elementary and Secondary schools typically pay comprehensive payments per students to be able to use this type of Copyright material.
  7. AV works including YouTube videos and DVD’s are also allowed, provided infringing copies are not being used. However, Teachers cannot copy AV works and home and then bring it in to school.
  8. Lessons are allowed to be streamed live or recorded for online usage by students. Just remember to erase this data after 30 days after the final evaluation.
  9. Backup copies of software must be erased after Teacher ceases to be the owner of the program.
  10. Information may be copied from the internet, however, students and Teachers alike are still required to cite all sources of information used from the Internet.
  11. Digital Locks may not be broken to use materials in the classroom.
  12. All student works are also protected by copyright. For students in the elementary school system, permission must be obtained from the parent to use any work in a school publication, exemplar, or web posting.
  13. Fair dealing however, does limit the use of Musical Scores. For instance, Educators must also seek permission to copy scores of music. However, music is allowed to be performed live, and in front of an audience for Educational purposes, and not for profit.



Deborah McCallum

Noel, W., Snel. J., Barristers and Solicitors, 2012. Copyright Matters: Some key questions and answers for teachers. 3rd Edition. CMEC.