After listening to Anjula Gogia speaking about the history of Toronto Women’s Bookstore at ….And Still We Rise in February, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on how the school library can be a place of hands-on learning and community. Sometimes called the learning commons, the library is a gathering space for all students and school staff. As such, the library sets a tone that resonates throughout the entire school.

In elementary schools, the library today is so much different than I can remember. My whole life I have been an avid reader. I can remember being in grade seven and eight and looking for books to read in the school library. We had to all be silent and keep a pen and paper reading log of all the books we read and how long it took us to read them. Given that this was the late 1980s, the majority of my reading log consisted of titles from Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams. I recall recognizing a formula to all of those books (mostly pre-teen romance about high school) that told us how to behave and what was going to be important in high school. Everything was very gendered and those were the only ‘girl’ options – and none of them ever applied to me. I never saw a racialized girl at the centre of the story. I cannot recall ever reading about a girl who was interested in the same things I was – books and science and just living a happy life.

Fast forward to today and the library looks very different when I enter a school. There are learning sounds of laughter and talking together. Sometimes there are maker spaces, breaker spaces, robotics, and all kinds of technology being used. The library may also host presentations or be a space for students to be in community with one another. There is a feeling of camaraderie and support for students. However, most noticeable to me is that the teacher librarians that I work with really do their best to honour student identities, experiences, and voices.

When I walk into a school library and the shelves are filled with different experiences and identities, I think of what it means to those students who might not see themselves represented in places outside of school. They see their identities accepted and celebrated; they see many possibilities about who they can become, who they can admire, and who is important. Teacher librarians have the opportunity to provide these spaces for students where they feel and see themselves as welcome without expectation and without judgment. Some teacher librarians even ask the students for recommendations on the books they want to read or identities they want to read about.

The school library can be such a joyful space! Thank you to teacher librarians who are thoughtful professionals, taking time to affirm student identities and intentionally curate materials and books that reflect students. No wonder the students look so excited to get to the library when walking down the hall!


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