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Amplifying the voices of school libraries: Spotlight on Jane Dennis-Moore

By Jennifer Brown

The biennial Canadian School Libraries think tank, Treasure Mountain (TMC), is a space where those who work in school libraries can connect, create and celebrate with their colleagues. Last year, TMC was held during the OLA Super Conference and in this multi-issue column It’s Elementary, columnist Jennifer Brown brings us details about some of the incredible work being done in K-12 school library learning commons across Canada.

This month features the work of Jane Dennis-Moore, a teacher-librarian with the Peel District School Board.

Jane is an incredible advocate for student voice and embedding creativity into her library practice. Her thoughtful and intentional work sharing her love of photography through the library learning commons is just one of the ways she centres the identities of her students and encourages them to share their perspectives on the world around them. Jane is a dedicated educator who continues to learn and grow, and is committed to a lens of anti-oppression and student empowerment. Each time I connect with Jane I am amazed by her calm, gentle spirit and her dedication to improving the lives of her students. 

Jane Dennis-Moore: If you give a kid a camera

Jane is a zealous photographer-creator-gone-teacher-librarian. She is currently settling into her new library location at a Brampton elementary school. Previously, she enjoyed the bustling habitat of a middle school learning commons and, prior to that, taught media literacy in a cozy elementary school in Port Credit. Jane is passionate about giving children and adults opportunities to discover and “read” the world in a different light through visual literacy and participatory learning. In a virtual-visual, media-saturated world, Jane believes it is imperative to help students construct and deconstruct the images around them. As a teacher-librarian in the Peel district school board, she is constantly seeking ways to innovate and curate visual literacy with critical literacy through her programming. 

How did you get involved in TMC?
I was incredibly surprised when I got a private message from Jennifer Brown saying she’d like to discuss the opportunity for me to submit an article to TMC about my journey in the Library Learning Commons. I felt so honoured and humbled that one of my favourite mentors would think of me for such an opportunity! At first, I needed some pep talking, but Jenn walked me through the different vantage points of approaching my work through action research and I grew more confident. Really, you are reflecting on and sharing your story and your learning journey.

Give us a brief summary of your paper submission
My paper is entitled If You Give a Kid a Camera: Participatory Visual Literacy in the LLC.  Because today’s students are becoming increasingly more visually oriented, I explore how engagement in learning experiences in the library learning commons (LLC) using photography leads to student empowerment and expression of voice. I also share my journey developing LLC student-run library Instagram accounts that create a virtual space for participatory student learning.

Large group of children with the caption Give a kid a camera

What was your big takeaway from your TMC 2020 experience?
There’s power in numbers and diversity! Meeting with different librarians from all across the country in different functions and stages of their careers was mind-boggling. It really opened up that insular world you sometimes feel a part of when you’re in a school library; for example, being the lone ranger at your school! It gave me insights into other approaches and viewpoints. At many times I felt I had to pinch myself – just hearing some of the things people around me were saying? Awesome. It was wonderful to be around people with similar passions. I loved meeting the vibrant personalities that make up our collective. 

And librarians are really nice; like, really. Maybe it’s an intrinsic part of being a librarian – you want to be social, you want to reach out and connect. You want to do better for others. Now imagine being in a room full of people like this for two days—wonderful!

What should readers know about your school library learning commons and/or your practice?
We’d love to connect with you! My practice is continually evolving, and each year I find my thinking about equity, acquisition, approaches and values are refined and changed through interactions with other people.

I would love to be able to collaborate on a larger, community-wide project based on participatory visual literacy. Perhaps to create a collective visual ebook, something similar to a travelling mural, but based on visual stories and storytelling through images. How can we learn about each other by comparing images? What insights can students gain by taking pictures to share their identities/histories with others, and what can they learn by looking at the works of others? It would be nice to see this done on a much larger, collaborative scale, culminating in a beautiful communal picture book, or perhaps even a public gallery.

Jennifer Brown is a teacher librarian with the Peel District School Board at Castle Oaks Public School in Brampton and the past president of the Ontario School Library Association (OSLA). You can read more of her thoughts about issues in education, social justice, school libraries and more by following her Twitter account @JennMacBrown or her blog “Finding The Magic.”


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