EMSB presents newest initiatives for library transformation (2019-20)

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has  presented its newest initiatives for library transformation called “EMSB Libraries: Your Space to Explore.”

On January 24, 2020,  Nesbitt Elementary School in Rosemount was the location for the campaign launch  involving media, special guests, other school representatives and notable members of Montreal’s literary community.

Among the morning’s festivities was a “human library,” formed by local authors and media figures.  Symbolically these specially selected “open book” guests answered questions, from students, based on their personal and professional experience as children’s book authors and illustrators, playwrights and journalists.

The EMSB is part of the worldwide surge towards library transformation. Its school libraries are fast becoming innovative, multi-faceted learning spaces, embracing the philosophy of the Library Learning Commons. EMSB schools are already incorporating digital literacy instruction, virtual library resources, collaborative learning and teaching spaces, and makerspaces into their libraries – and are ready to take on more! 

How the space itself is evolving

The traditional library, while still providing a quiet place for solitary reading and reflection, is also allowing for collaboration and cooperation. Especially at the secondary level, school libraries are now increasingly welcoming, accepting and engaging multi-purpose spaces that facilitate both individual learning and group work. They are being designed as a safe place to gather – to experiment, to fail – where, in fact, “a hum is encouraged,” said Athina Galanogeorgos, Assistant Director, Educational and Technology Services. This important part of the school continues to be a place to complete homework, but also provides an infrastructure and resource collection for students to pursue projects based on their own internal motivations.” 

The increasingly multifunctional and flexible setup of the Library Learning Commons helps to accommodate any kind of work, as furniture and shelving can be moved according to the needs of the day. Teachers can bring in their classes to extend the learning that started in the classroom, and students can start their own clubs, participate in board game competitions, and experiment with design thinking in the makerspace.

Dedicated library personnel 

The EMSB boasts the largest number of trained library personnel in any Quebec school board. This includes 22 documentation technicians, seven school-based librarians and three board-level librarians, who assist in developing programming, collaborate with educational consultants and conduct professional development sessions.

Every high school has its own full-time librarian or library technician. More than just circulation managers, they help guide students safely around the online world. Library professionals act as guides in the research process, both online and in print. They assist students in the development of savvy research skills, help decipher the quality of information and sift out “fake news.”

At the elementary school level, the love of reading has always been a cornerstone of these school libraries, and while evolving, it is still at the core of EMSB libraries. For these younger students, library personnel inspire interest in books and reading. When the children leave their classrooms to spend time in the library, they experience the joy of cozy story times in English and French. They are given the freedom to explore the space and browse books that pique their curiosity – this provides the tactile experience of holding books and turning the pages. Eventually, when they learn to read, the library becomes a space where they can find books and other sources – and take charge of their own learning.

Information literacy and digital citizenship

Guiding students to take ownership of their learning and their decisions in life is at the heart of education at EMSB. These life-long skills – how to find credible information and figure out how to separate fact from fiction – allow students to make more informed choices. Working together with teachers and educational consultants, more and more of our library personnel are helping our students learn these skills through structured lessons as well as informal guidance. This model of critical thinking benefits students doing both academic and personal research. Another aspect of digital citizenship is learning how to be thoughtful when giving opinions and interacting with others on social media.

A rich collection, both physical and virtual

Another important facet of the EMSB Library Learning Commons is its rich collection. Created in consultation with our school communities, materials are made available in different formats for different learning abilities, all the while responding to the competencies outlined in the Quebec Education Plan (QEP). They encompass a variety of topics in various formats, in English and French, and other languages. They are designed to give students autonomy in finding information by using clear signage and excellent organization, whether in the stacks or online. 

The EMSB Virtual Library provides a wide variety of current e-books and electronic databases that are vetted by the board’s library professionals. Physical library collections also offer students a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction works. 

These virtual resources are a 24/7 extension of the physical library collections and are purposefully selected to be safe, age-appropriate, accurate, up to date, multilingual and multidisciplinary. They support the curriculum and encourage critical thinking by offering different points of view, thus enriching the students’ research process. Students can use the EMSB Virtual Library to complete their assignments as well as pursue their own interests. 

Bringing together a myriad of resources in one place for students and teachers, the Virtual Library interface is designed with all needs in mind. In order to facilitate browsing, resources are grouped into categories such as Streaming, News & Articles, Encyclopedias/Dictionaries, and others. Various curriculum areas, including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math), are supported. Using the Regard library catalogue, users can also check the availability of books across all of the EMSB school libraries and discover the richness of the collection. Teachers can integrate the Virtual Library into their teaching and also pursue their own professional development by exploring the contents of scholarly journals.

Both students and teachers can stay up to date with the most current news articles through newspapers such as Le Journal de Montréal, the Montreal Gazette and the National Post

The EMSB community also has access to a variety of formats such as video and interactive resources. Both Curio (CBC, Radio-Canada) and the National Film Board offer high-quality materials with links to the QEP.

Exciting resources such as Tumblebooks, Rat de Bibliothèque (e-books) and Bookflix offer our youngest readers fun, quality, interactive e-books. Teachers can also enrich their lessons with these databases.

Supporting all levels of literacy and adaptive needs 

Our EMSB Virtual Library space is geared toward all learners, including those with special needs. Not only can the information databases display text in a variety of sizes, but the text can even be read out loud by the system to the students. This greatly helps readers with perceptual difficulties, other learning disabilities or second-language learners. The same holds true for our selection of eBooks, which allow for text and background personalization by each student to help in their reading. Many are also available as audio books. Additionally, BookShare, an e-book platform developed specifically for students with learning disabilities, is available for EMSB students and is administered jointly by the Educational and Technology Services and Student Services Departments. 

More and more libraries are equipped with technology beyond just desktop computers. This ranges from Chromebooks to laptops to tablets.  The EMSB’s physical collections share the same goal of inclusivity. This is accomplished by buying hi-lo (high interest low reading level) titles, books with large print, oversized books, tactile books, and more.

EMSB’s offering of library services in French

The library services in French take many forms at the EMSB. French story time is offered at the primary level in our libraries. Author visits are also part of the libraries' annual activities to introduce students to the culture of Quebec and Canada.

In addition to rich collections of physical books and other works for all levels, there are also a variety of virtual resources. With databases such as Universalis, Office Nationale du Film, Curio (Radio-Canada), SCOOP, Idello, Rat de Bibliothèque, Journal de Montréal and many others, our EMSB Virtual Library offers teachers and students a wealth of information in French through articles, videos and interactive materials, among other resources.  

The EMSB’s newest and most exciting resource is the Cantook Station French-language e-books and audio book platform. Works by Canadian and Quebec authors will be available for elementary and secondary students for recreational and educational purposes 

The human library at EMSB 

A concept originating in Denmark in 2000, the human library is a journey towards understanding others with an emphasis on empathy. The idea is to provide an opportunity for participants to broaden their own experience, satisfy curiosity about others and confront fears and prejudices in a meaningful and respectful dialogue with someone in a live situation. The library provides the safe space in which to hear about experiences that are different from our own, and a way to build community. 

In its third year of having a human library, Laurier Macdonald High School has seen firsthand the shift in the use of the library space.   Other EMSB schools are engaging in providing the human library experience.   

Battle of the Books’ popularity grows 

Battle of the Books is a book trivia competition that can be adapted to students of all ages, and celebrates teamwork and a love of reading. This style of competition was brought to Montreal in 2013 by the school library personnel at the Lester B. Pearson School Board. Soon after, the EMSB as well as the Quebec Association of Independent Schools joined in. While there are a few smaller-scale French and English elementary Battle of the Books competitions, the biggest one, currently, is the English-language competition for high school students. Usually coached by their school library personnel, students form teams of three to seven people. Between them, they read 10 to 12 Young Adult books in a variety of genres and formats, from science fiction to graphic novels.

At EMSB, there are currently seven high schools that participate in Battle of the Books: LaurenHill Academy in St. Laurent, Laurier Macdonald High School in St. Léonard, Lester B. Pearson High School in Montreal North, Rosemount High School and Vincent Massey Collegiate in Rosemount, Westmount High School in Westmount and Royal West Academy in Montreal West. The winners go on to compete in higher levels of competition, which have steadily been generating more interest and are heavily attended by administrators, families and teachers.

For the love of reading

Reading is connecting; with others, with ourselves and with our world. Reading is about creating meaning in our lives as well as exploring countless imaginative worlds.  

EMSB library personnel inspire a love of reading by building collections that are both mirrors, in which students can see themselves, and windows, in which students grow empathy as they explore the experiences of those who are different from themselves (see the pioneering work of the academic Rudine Sims Bishop for more on this).  

In 2005, the Ministry of Education announced the implementation of a new Action Plan on Reading. Since then, school libraries have been able to progressively build high-quality, diverse collections for all learners. This rich variety gives students an abundance of options to fulfill their needs and wishes.

“An important factor in developing reading for pleasure is choice; choice and interest are highly related.” (Schraw et al, 1998; Clark and PhythianSence, 2008).