Rising from the Ashes: The Canadian School Libraries Story

Canadian School Libraries

By Anita Brooks Kirkland, Chair, Canadian School Libraries

How much has changed in the past three years! Cast your minds back to the third biennial Treasure Mountain Canada (TMC) research symposium and think tank and the Canadian Library Association (CLA) conference in Victoria, British Columbia in late May, 2014. The main event was the release of new national standards for school library learning commons, the result of an impressive cross-country collaboration. The development of Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada brought together input from every province and territory in the country, and successfully developed standards for growth that are meaningful within this very disparate context. This was a remarkable achievement, and the Canadian Library Association was there to publish the results.

Leading Learning Release
Leading Learning Steering Committee members Linda Shantz-Keresztes and Judith Sykes hold the ribbon as CLA Executive Council member Jane Schmidt officially launches CLA’s new national standards.

Although we had great reason to celebrate, a palpable sense of unease was emerging under the exhilaration of the event. The Canadian Library Association was in trouble, and planning for its own dissolution. While the library association world was busy with a contingency plan for a new federation of library associations, the dissolution of the CLA meant that Leading Learning would be effectively orphaned. The only national publication dedicated to school library practice, School Libraries in Canada, would cease publication. The positive steps made through the Leading Learning collaboration for developing and sustaining a cohesive school library network across Canada would be lost. The new Canadian Federation of Library Associations – Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques was sympathetic, but sustaining these projects was beyond the scope of their mandate.

A Recent History of Canada’s National School Library Associations

History seemed to be repeating itself. Maintaining an effective national school library organization had been historically quite elusive. At one time there were two national organizations, the independent Association for Teacher-Librarianship in Canada (ATLC) and the Canadian School Library Association (CSLA), a division of the Canadian Library Association. The two associations were amalgamated in 2004. The new Canadian Association for School Libraries (CASL) remained a division of the CLA. There is little doubt that the unification of these two associations was the right move at the time. Its strengths clearly outweighed any perceived risks. However, the external threat to CASL’s continued existence quickly became apparent with the emerging financial constraints under which CLA found itself. An early attempt to address this led to the dissolution of all CLA divisions in 2010. The high hopes that characterized the creation of CASL a mere six years previously were dashed with this move.

The CLA retained its School Libraries Advisory Committee, and under its new structure supported the informal network, Voices for School Libraries. As with all CLA networks, Voices for School Libraries has no formal role in, nor influence on the work the overall association.

The dissolution of the divisions of CLA was a major blow to the school library sector, which, unlike other library sectors, had no other sector-specific national association, and considerable variances in the structure of provincial associations. The School Libraries Advisory Committee continued to liaise as best as possible with the CLA council and administration.

With education being a provincial jurisdiction, it is logical that provincial school library associations are most active in serving their constituent communities. There has always been an awareness of the unique value of a national affiliation, nevertheless. Despite our disparate contexts, we share common concerns. The successful development of Leading Learning was eloquent proof of this concept.

Once again, the Treasure Mountain Canada symposium served as the incubator for a new initiative. Participants at TMC4 in early 2016 gathered to consider the options presented in the paper, Toward a New National School Library Association in Canada: The Case, Considerations, and Potential Models.

The notion of a new initiative clearly engaged those gathered, and a working group emerged to investigate the potential for developing a new national school library organization.

A National Mandate

The working group’s first task was to seek input and advice from school library practitioners and leaders across the country through an online survey. The results indicated overwhelming support for the formation of a new national school library organization.

CSL Survey Results

With positive survey results and under the pressures of the tight timelines for the dissolution of the Canadian Library Association and therefore potential loss of a platform for major national school library projects, the working group decided to proceed with forming Canadian School Libraries as a new non-profit organization.

The Working Group took CSL from vision to reality within one year.

Through an extensive consultative process, the working group:

  • Established the vision, mission, guiding principles and purposes and activities for the new organization.
  • Established a governance structure best suited to achieving those goals.
  • Established a communications structure for informing researchers and practitioners across the country of our activities, and for soliciting feedback.
  • Conducted a successful fundraising campaign to cover start-up costs, such as legal consultation, fees for incorporation, and technical infrastructure costs such as web hosting and domain registration fees.
  • Engaged legal counsel to take us through the process of incorporation as a non-profit organization and the application for charitable status.
  • Successfully negotiated with the Canadian Library Association for the transfer of intellectual property rights to Leading Learning and School Libraries in Canada to the new organization, as well as stewardship of the Angela Thacker Award.
  • Created a website for the new organization, as well as a subscription email newsletter, and rebranded existing social media channels to further strengthen channels for communication.
  • Created a website for Leading Learning, realizing the vision of the standards as a living document.
  • Launched the new website for the translated version of Leading Learning, L’apprentissage en tête : Principes relatifs à la transition de la bibliothèque scolaire vers le carrefour d’apprentissage au Canada.
  • Began the process of establishing a new online journal for school library learning commons research and practice.
  • Began the planning process for Treasure Mountain Canada 5 and for the first CSL research clinic.

It’s Official: CSL Incorporates

CSL was registered as a non-profit organization in February 2017. After incorporation the Working Group dissolved. Members remain involved in the organization as board members and/or committee leaders. The new Board of Directors now oversees operations as well as the work of committees of volunteers who work to develop the organizations projects.

Canadian School Libraries

The new board continues to aggressively develop the organization and its projects. Since incorporation, we have:

  • Partnered with the Manitoba School Library Association and its SAGE conference to present the fifth Treasure Mountain Canada symposium in Winnipeg, in October 2017
  • Partnered with the Durham District School Board to present the inaugaural CSL Signature Seminar in June 2017
  • Released this first issue of the new online publication, Canadian School Libraries Journal
  • Cultivated relationships with school library organizations across the country and internationally
  • Joined the International Association of School Librarianship
  • Established terms of reference for volunteer committees to sustain national projects
  • Continued to establish organizational procedures in order to sustain and grow the new organization

Sustaining and Growing the Organization

CSL is dedicated to professional research and development in the field of the school library learning commons in Canada. CSL connects school library practitioners and educators across Canada in the collaborative pursuit of delivering exemplary practices reflective of current professional school library learning commons standards.

We have learned many valuable lessons from national association history, one of which is the lack of viability of a membership fee based business model. The board is dedicated to cultivating other revenue streams, including soliciting donations.

CSL DonateThe mandate of the organization clearly resonates. We request that you consider investing in the important work that we are undertaking. Generous donations to date have covered the legal and technical costs involved in getting going, and left us with enough to invest in initial projects. That’s a start. Please do consider investing in the vision of advancing the role of the school library learning commons in the culture of education in Canada.

Growing Our Network

Cultivating a national network is at the core of CSL’s mandate. Become a part of this important initiative by:

  • Subscribing to our electronic newsletter
  • Joining our public group on Facebook
  • Following us on Twitter, @CdnSchoolLibrar
  • Becoming involved as a volunteer: watch the newsletter for emerging opportunities!

Anita Brooks KirklandAnita Brooks Kirkland is the Chair of Canadian School Libraries. As a writer, presenter and consultant, Anita specializes in the areas of digital literacy and the role of the school library learning commons. She draws on her extensive experience as a teacher educator, as an instructor in school librarianship for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and previously as Consultant for K-12 Libraries at the Waterloo Region District School Board. Anita is a past president of the Ontario Library Association and the Ontario School Library Association, and past co-chair of The Association of Library Consultants and Coordinators of Ontario.