Jenn CookePeterborough, Ontario
CUPE 1453

“We’re here to help you find your adventure”

I fell in love with library work during my college days while studying travel and tourism. I worked part-time at the college library, and I was so passionate about my job that after completing my studies, I went back for a second diploma in library science. In 2007 I landed my first library job, working part-time in a small school library to help me get my foot in the door. Fast forward to today, I have been working in libraries across the same school board for 16 years. I am also a steward for my local union, CUPE 1453.

I currently work as a library technician at Saint Catherine Catholic Elementary School, a K-8 school with approximately 700 students. Each day, I run five to seven 40-minute classes in the library. What the students most look forward to are the engaging activities I plan, including book clubs, author visits, and holiday-themed games and events. My goal is to create opportunities that make students excited to visit the library.

I believe my library is crucial because it provides access to a wide range of resources that support student learning and success.

One memorable project I initiated was challenging all students to build robots from recycled materials for Earth Day. The library was transformed with over 250 unique robots! It was an incredible experience! There is a lot of teaching involved when you are guiding students through a project like this and opening their eyes to new things.

Libraries are not just buildings that hold books. They are managed by passionate library workers who are the gatekeepers to captivating stories and valuable information. We’re here to help you find your adventure! 

In my daily role, I read stories to students, I maintain the book collection, and I am one of the go-to people in the school for IT issues. But there is more to my work as a school library worker that might surprise people. 

For example, I run a club in the library called Allies for All outside of my regular working hours. Group members have conversations about racism, diversity, and issues facing 2SLGBTQI+ people and persons with disabilities. To celebrate Pride this year, the group “chalked the walk” and painted a school crosswalk with the colours of the rainbow flag.

Making the library a safe space where students can be their authentic selves is my top priority, as well as making myself available to them. I want to have a positive impact on students, and I want them to see me as someone who genuinely cares and is safe to talk to. 

While I love the community, staff, and students I work with, and the flexibility of my job, I face some significant work-related challenges as a library worker.

For example, the school regularly fails to allocate funding for the purchase of new books, which limits my ability to expand the library’s collection. I’ve organized fundraisers to buy books, but this falls well outside the scope of my job. Besides, it simply isn’t a sustainable solution. Regular, consistent funding would greatly help me in obtaining new resources that cater to students’ needs and interests.

I also wish there were more opportunities for continuous training and professional development. Unfortunately, these opportunities are lacking simply because the employer doesn’t understand what school library workers do.

I am also concerned about the school board’s trend toward hiring library staff who don’t have library training or experience. This leaves library workers who have relevant qualifications, skills, and expertise feeling devalued.

In November 2022, my local went on strike alongside thousands of OSBCU education workers across Ontario. We fought for better working conditions and improved services for students. Members were there for the fight and held the line right until the end! We didn’t back down until the local received official confirmation that a deal had been reached.

Thinking of that struggle makes me very proud of what my local has accomplished. The way we mobilized and the power we had was truly remarkable. That is a fight worth remembering and, in the end, it is the students who will reap the rewards of our efforts.