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Amplifying the voices of school libraries: Spotlight on Jonelle St. Aubyn

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 Jonelle St. Aubyn. Jonelle started her teaching career with the Peel District School Board as a health and physical education and family studies teacher at T. L. Kennedy Secondary School in 2002. When Louise Arbour Secondary School opened in 2010, Jonelle became the first head of physical education and, 2015, she transitioned to the library learning commons. Since then, she has been the full-time lead teacher-librarian at Louise Arbour and is excited to be celebrating her fifth year in this role.

One of the misconceptions that many outside the K12 education sector might have is that elementary and secondary educators have a complete understanding of each other’s work in their respective panels. For some who have taught in both panels or have this option in their school board this may be true, but for many of us, there is still little connection with those outside our own panel. This is how I became intrigued with the work of fabulous secondary teacher librarian, Jonelle St. Aubyn. Via social media, I began to follow Jonelle and the incredible work she was doing in her high school library learning commons with her library technician partner at her side. 

Something about Jonelle’s practice felt both familiar and innovative at the same time; I realized that much of what we were trying to promote in our elementary school library learning commons was also at the centre of Jonelle’s work in her high school. It was this bridge that led us to begin dialoguing about our practice and ideas that we were exploring with our students. We collaborated on an article for the OSLA’s Teaching Librarian magazine that broke down the myths and realities of being teacher librarians in the elementary panel versus the secondary panel. 

What amazes me about Jonelle is that she continues to thoughtfully and intentionally centre students in her secondary school LLC and break down many of the barriers to learning success that the structures of our education system continue to perpetuate. She has high expectations for all students and offers learning experiences like the human library that inspire students to see themselves as valued members of the community, and empower them to envision their own future. 

Jonelle St. Aubyn: The Human library at the Louise Arbour Secondary School Library Learning Commons

How did you get involved in TMC?
After running the human library at our school, a number of teacher librarian colleagues encouraged me to write a paper and present it at TMC6. I was not familiar with TMC up until that point.

Give us a brief summary of your paper submission
My paper, The Human Library at the Louise Arbour Secondary School Library Learning Commons,  is a resource for others to use in organizing a human iLibrary event in their school.

I researched and organized a human library event where volunteers from the community engaged with teens in small groups about various aspects of the volunteer, or “human book’s,” life including vocation, challenges and accomplishments. Survey responses following the event indicate a high degree of the event’s success from both students and community volunteers.

What was your big takeaway from your TMC 2020 experience?
That there are so many amazing teacher librarians out there doing wonderful things in their libraries.  I read almost all of the papers and found something new in each one that I could incorporate into my teaching practice. I absolutely loved meeting and hearing from other teacher librarians from all across the province and country.

Collage of four photos from high school human library featuring participants and seating spaces
Whether virtually or in person, a human library is an effective way to break down stereotypes or stigmas that people may hold about certain people or organizations.


What is something about your school library learning commons and/or your practice that you want our readers to know?
We are not afraid to try new things and to fail spectacularly along the way. It’s what helps move our library learning commons forward. 

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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