Diverse Schools, Adaptive Services: An Alternative ‘Learning Commons’ Approach


Julia Stark and Nicholas Warren

Convenor: Julian Taylor


The Learning Commons approach to school libraries has many levels and facets to help make school libraries more relevant and interesting to today’s students and educators. Not every part of an ideal Learning Commons is feasible in every school library; the physical space / changes, funds, and a commitment from the rest of the school community is not always possible, and every library has its own community with its own school culture. Two elements that are crucial however are collaboration and community-building. Julia Stark and Nicholas Warren (librarians working in the English Montreal School Board) decided to focus in on those elements to try to help their school libraries become more inviting, helpful, and relevant to their school communities and revitalize the love those students feel for their school libraries. At the 2015 ABQLA Annual Conference, Julia and Nicholas shared the stories of what they were able to accomplish and how they did it.

Julia Stark’s part of the presentation focused on her work at St. Gabriel School which has a low student population and is located in an economically disadvantaged area of Montreal. While the library was refurbished with all new furniture just a few years ago as a charitable donation from a local Montreal company, the interest in the library from the students and teachers was not any higher than beforehand. However, Julia started a few new initiatives to help build the school community and foster a sense of collaboration, all on a shoestring budget… or perhaps I should say “yarn” instead of “shoestring”. Having very little budget for activities in her library, Julia introduced knitting to her students as a fun collaborative activity that grew and grew! Soon, not only were more students excited to come to the library, but more were taking out books to learn about knitting, and a knitting club was created. This greatly helped make the library be perceived as a true part of the school community by all of its members and has only made additional activities easier.

Nicholas Waren’s library world is very different. The main difference is that he serves 13 different schools across Montreal, and many of them do not even have an official room designated as a library. The 13 schools that Nicholas serves are all part of the Outreach School system in the EMSB that helps students that don’t succeed in traditional school settings. Nicholas started several different library activities to try to foster student interest in their school’s library, like  staff book talks where the staff talk to the students about their favourite books, and information literacy sessions. However a number of his other activities have been non-standard activities when we think about school libraries. Among those programs was bicycle maintenance sessions, guitar lessons, Minecraft sessions;  all of which have helped build collaboration between the library and the students and the teaching staff, as well as greatly helped to grow the sense of community. Nicholas also shared some of his greatest obstacles and how he has managed to overcome them; sage advice for anyone about to undertake such a difficult librarian assignment.

Julia Stark and Nicholas Warren’s examples of how they have managed to take some of the main ideas from the Learning Commons approach and give it an alternative spin to help them build better libraries and library communities was a real inspiration.

Presentation links

Julia Stark: http://bit.ly/1MIhdb2

Nicholas Warren: http://bit.ly/1UiGPg7