Staff members at the DLC include, from left, Jessica Brown, Cathy Drew, Sharon Hockin and Stacey Boudreau.

The DLC has a large collection of kits. These 'lessons in a box' are very popular with teachers and students.

This kit has a Prince George focus. It contains things that can be found in the city and region.

Imagination bins, for use by younger students, are also part of the DLC collection.

Getting books in the hands of students: DLC the hub for school libraries

Here’s a big number to contemplate: 425,611.

As of July 2018, that was the official item count in the School District No. 57 library network. For perspective, the Prince George Public Library held about 170,000 items in its physical collection in 2017.

So yes, the school district’s assemblage is, to say the least, extensive. Spread across more than 40 libraries and their hub, the District Learning Commons, the stockpile of material includes textbooks, novels, graphic novels, non-fiction books, audiobooks, DVDs, kits and more. The collection is impressive and serves as an incredible resource for students, teachers, administrators and district employees.

At the crux of it all is the District Learning Commons, located at John McInnis Centre. Before any new item finds a spot on the shelves of elementary and secondary school libraries and becomes available to sign out, it flows through the DLC., which is helmed by Aubrey Mitchell, Vice Principal of Learning Innovations-Learning Commons.

“The DLC has sort of two departments,” explained Senior Library Technician Cathy Drew.

“We have the tech services department and that consists of our acquisitions, (overseen by) Sharon Hockin. She does centralized orders for the libraries, both textbooks and library books.

“Then there is cataloguing, which I do, and Jessica (Brown) is the junior cataloguer. We have processing, which is Nicole Egglestone’s job. She processes everything before it goes out to the schools, so it has labels and everything done.

“There’s also circulation, which is Stacey Boudreau's job. Circulation houses kits and resources to support the teachers in classrooms – to support the curriculum.”

On the tech services side, there’s flexibility built into the system when it comes to acquisitions. Hockin – a 30-year member of the DLC – searches out suppliers and places orders but teacher-librarians at the individual schools also do their own ordering.

“They can go out and buy their own resources,” Drew said. “Lots of them will go down to Books & Company (1685 Third Avenue in Prince George). We have vendor fairs, some of them will pick up stuff over the summer and send it in (to the DLC).”

Whether items have been ordered by the DLC or acquired by teacher-librarians, they are added to the DLC’s centralized catalogue, which makes them searchable district-wide. Next, Egglestone designates them for the appropriate school and they go onto a processing cart. Once processed, they are shipped to the school via courier. Inside the DLC, the turnaround time is typically less than a day.

A large chunk of the floor space in the DLC is occupied by shelves that contain educational kits of all varieties. Teachers use these kits – which can be booked online – as complete lessons in a box. They are perfect for hands-on learning and usually tackle the Big Ideas as laid out in the provincial curriculum.

“We’re trying to make it so that (teachers) can look at (a kit) and go, ‘OK, Big Ideas in Science,’ because those Big Ideas, they encompass a lot,” Drew said. “And we’re trying to use the same language as is in the B.C. curriculum. We’ve got a lot of the Social Responsibility and the Core Competencies, which is really huge in the elementary grades.

“(Kits) are very popular,” Drew added. “We ran some reports for kits that hadn’t been out in three years and we only had five pages, where we’ve run some reports for our DVDs and we have huge weeding to do on our DVDs because they’re not being used as much anymore because of the online resources. A lot of the DVD shows can be accessed online now through our subscriptions.”

The DLC also has novel sets that elementary school and high school teachers can order for use in their classrooms.

Despite all of the information at her fingertips, Drew isn’t able to determine which individual title in the School District No. 57 system is most popular because book borrowers are protected by privacy laws. Based on the ordering of books from suppliers, however, she said the Harry Potter series was a phenomenon unto itself.

“I wouldn’t say it’s top of the list anymore,” she added. “A lot of the newer things, like the Red Cedar books, are very popular. They push those in elementary schools (as part of a district-wide reading program). Graphic novels are very popular and Minecraft is always popular.”

‘They are a team of well-oiled professionals’

The biggest school in the district – Prince George Secondary School – also has the largest library, with about 18,000 items on record. As caretaker of all that knowledge and someone who also instructs, teacher-librarian Joseph Jeffery has his hands full on daily basis. That being the case, he truly appreciates SD 57s District Learning Commons and the people who work there.

“The staff at the DLC takes a huge amount of work off our plates for the administrative side, by the combination of Cathy, Nicole, Jessica, Sharon and Stacey,” Jeffrey said. "This means that for me, who orders somewhere in the range of about a thousand books a year, I don’t need to be trying to find time to catalogue a thousand books, plus all the textbooks. For instance, this year we ordered 300 new Math 8s, 200 new Math 9s, 200 new Math 10s. It was probably close to a thousand math textbooks that we ordered that they processed for us, and that’s fairly typical of all the high schools. We would not be able to do our teaching part of the job if we had to spend as much time on the administrative side.”

Jeffery is also thankful for School District No. 57s centralized/decentralized catalogue for the flexibility it allows.

“(Some districts) have one central person doing the ordering for every school, whereas here, we do our own ordering – we choose the materials that are best for our schools and our situation but we have a centralized catalogue so if I need to grab a book for one student who really needs that fifth Harry Potter book and we’re all out (at PGSS) I can easily phone up Sandra (Jandric) over at D.P. Todd and say, ‘Do you have this in stock? Can you send it to me?’ And then she’ll send it over in the (DLC) mail. The DLC will process all the mail, making sure it gets from one school to the other.”

Jeffrey considers himself fortunate he works in a district that has a District Learning Commons and one that takes advantage of a centralized/decentralized cataloguing system.

“It’s a pretty integrated team between the teacher-librarians and the District Learning Commons and it would not run as smoothly in this district if it wasn’t for these (DLC) guys,” he said. “They are a team of well-oiled professionals who know what they are doing.”

DLC website is one-stop shopping

The primary gateway into the DLC is the District Learning Commons Discovery Portal, a website maintained by Brown.

The site – most easily found by going to sd57.bc.ca and clicking on the ‘More’ dropdown menu – gives the user access to all materials and resources in the district and also provides a host of useful links, some of which include: Learning Innovations (Examples of Possible Resources to Support the New B.C. Curriculum); DLC Resources to Support Truth and Reconciliation; Carrier Natural Calendar Framework; Master List of All Core Competencies Kits; SOGI 123 Resources; Maker Kit Master List; Historica Canada; and the University of Northern British Columbia. There are also links to the Learning Commons websites of PGSS, D.P. Todd, Duchess Park Secondary, Kelly Road Secondary, Ecole College Heights Elementary, Ecole Lac des Bois Elementary, Nusdeh Yoh Elementary, Polaris Montessori Elementary, Quinson Elementary and Spruceland Traditional Elementary. Other library websites – The Prince George Public Library, the Geoffrey R. Weller Library at UNBC, the College of New Caledonia Library, the Northern Health Library and Courthouse Libraries BC – are also linked to the DLC site.

In Brown’s view, one of the great features of the District Learning Commons Discovery Portal is the access it gives to the new resources that are available. By clicking on the New DLC Resources tab, a user can find all the recent arrivals at the DLC, including kits, imagination bins for Kindergarten students, novel sets, graphic novel sets and DVDs. When a kit or imagination bin is selected, a photo of the contents appears, and a full information card can also be accessed.

Jeffrey, the PGSS teacher-librarian, best sums up the importance of the District Learning Commons in School District No. 57.

“We (teacher-librarians) would not be able to do this job if it was not for this department,” he said. “The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make all the school libraries work is enormous. I don’t think even most teachers understand what this department actually does and how it makes their school libraries work.”