Tori Murray holding up a bookOttawa, Ontario
CUPE 2357

“If we weren’t here, the library would essentially be a storage room”

When I was taking my A-levels in England (advanced level qualifications for students aged 16 and older), I worked in my school library. Years later, after moving to Canada and starting a family, I found myself volunteering at my child’s school library and making regular family trips to the public library.

Life took a turn when my husband lost his job, and that’s when I applied to Algonquin College’s Library and Information Technician program. It was the best decision I ever made. I realized this is where I’ve always belonged, tracing back to my very first library job when I was a teenager.

Today, I’m 8 years into my journey at St. Matthew High School. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about working in a high school. I had worked other library jobs with Industry Canada, a medical association, and the Ottawa Public Library where I led inner city outreach, ran a summer reading club, and planned weekly story times to bring literacy to the community in public housing and municipal child care centres. I still remember the joy of sharing stories in the community and watching kids light up telling me about an amazing book they had read. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Working at St. Matthew is different, yet the same. Students still come in, eager to tell me about the books they have read, and that joy is awesome! St. Matthew feels like home now. There is something unique to our school that makes all the staff feel this way.      

As a library technician, I perform all the regular tasks like circulation, cataloguing, shelving, and book displays. However, there are so many other things I do that might sound surprising. Every workday is a fresh adventure, and I love it!

For instance, I run novel studies and book tastings. I read stories to the developmental education students every week. I assist with using the library’s Chromebooks, photocopiers, and projectors, and I help resolve IT issues. We also have a 3D printer and I teach students how to use it.

I run clubs, from the Minecraft group challenge to book clubs.  We have tubs of yarn for knitting, a Lego wall, board games, and a large screen for Nintendo Switch games. I turn the library into a games zone on the last day of school.

St. Matthew’s library is a cornerstone for nurturing a love of reading and learning. Students can explore who they are, be who they want to be, and learn what they want to learn. As a library worker, I make sure students have the tools they need to succeed. Creating a safe space in the library for 2SLGBTQI+ students is one of my priorities, so I also team up with a teacher to support the school’s Pride group.

We are constantly shifting and adapting to ensure we have the resources students need and crave. Without us, the variety of books and services available to them would fade, and the library’s collection would wither. A library is alive. If staff were not here, the library would essentially be a storage room. There’s no point in having a library without a library worker in it! 

I am a people person. I love the staff and students I work with, and I enjoy spending time in the library ready for anything that is thrown my way. However, some things worry me too. 

Library worker wages are low and, while I have a full-time job for 12 months of the year, I am fearful the school board could decide to cut my position entirely or reduce it to a 10-month contract. My family and I are barely getting by as it is. That would be a tough blow for us financially.

I wish there was more funding for our library and more recognition for school library technicians in my school board. Ontario’s Ministry of Education also needs to get that school libraries matter and invest in keeping them alive.

In the fall of 2022, I was a part of the OSBCU strike. It was my first strike and it was incredibly stressful and scary. I was also a picket captain. We were education workers fighting for recognition and making our voices heard. We did a leaflet drop at a grocery store in my community to make people understand the issues. The support we received… I can’t describe it! It felt powerful, invigorating, and inspiring. I learned a lot about the union and how I want things to work. We have to work together. One voice is tiny. Together, we’re colossal!