Above: Grade 1 students Katherine and Natalie check out spring-themed books from the new display set up by MacDonald

On the Job with… Pat MacDonald, Library Technician

Pat MacDonald is focused on the task of cataloguing teaching resources in a sunny corner of J.L. Mitchener Public School’s learning commons, and all around her, a dance party is in full swing. Gone are the days that students might be shushed for using outside voices in a library, and MacDonald couldn’t be happier about that.

“It’s exciting for me to see learning commons so vibrant and full of life,” says MacDonald, who has helped oversee the transformation of several libraries into learning commons in recent years in her role as Library Technician. “The space is adaptive and doesn’t dictate what students can or can’t do, so the options are open to go at our own pace and take what you need from it.”

Today at J.L. Mitchener, MacDonald is organizing Indigenous Education resources for teachers to use in lesson planning. She adds them to a management system called Destiny which will allow teachers and students to search for and locate books and other materials quickly and efficiently. Tomorrow, she’ll be at another school, with a to-do list unique to its library or learning commons, and the next time she visits J.L. Mitchener – approximately two weeks later – she’ll pick up her current project where she left off.

“This is very self-driven work,” she says. “You’re walking into a different school each day, so you need to be able to assess the situation and determine what needs to happen first before other tasks can be started.”

The students wrap up their choreography rehearsals and the dance party winds down. An hour later, another class will move into the space, and transform it once again with the tasks and lessons they’re working on and the interests they’re pursuing. MacDonald’s day is punctuated by groups of students coming and going. She continues with the work of cataloguing but is also ready to assist students and teachers at any moment.

Library Technicians are essentially experts in organizing all types of library and learning resource materials. They’re managers of information. There are 15 of them in Grand Erie – 10 at the secondary level and five in elementary – working as a mobile, collaborative team, each responsible for a group of schools. They liaise with Principals, Teachers, and Information Technology staff to ensure everything works effectively. The elementary Library Technicians, along with one secondary Library Technician, also form the Destiny Administrative team, which is responsible for assisting all Grand Erie Schools with troubleshooting any issues and training new Teacher Librarians and Library Technicians in working with the system. MacDonald covers most of the elementary schools in Haldimand County, on a rotating schedule.

Right: Caption: MacDonald works in a corner of J.L. Mitchener Public School’s cheery learning commons

“Libraries have been a big part of my life for a long time. I knew from an early age that this was where I wanted to be,” says MacDonald, whose grandmother was a Librarian at the Haldimand County Public Library. “That was back in the days of card catalogues, which had to be typed out.”

MacDonald credits her grandmother with helping her find a love of reading, and her first student job was as a page at the Haldimand County Library, shelving books. She continued to work with the library on summer programming and went on to apply to Sheridan College’s Library Technician program. Along the way, she upgraded her skills to be able to take on work in medical libraries and found employment in a Toronto hospital.

“I loved working in that environment, but didn’t love commuting,” she recalls. She and her husband decided to make the move back to Haldimand County and MacDonald took some time off to raise her young children. But it didn’t take long before she found her way back into libraries.

“I was a parent volunteer here at J.L. Mitchener when my kids were students, and one day, someone told me about a job posting for a Library Tech,” she says. “I hadn’t considered working in schools, but I quickly realized elementary libraries were for me – it really makes my day when a student finds something they love.”

When she first moved into the role in Grand Erie, it was a time of transitioning materials from old card catalogues to online systems, and the Library Tech team was focused on inventorying every single title.

“The way we use libraries has evolved, but there’s consistency in the methods of organization and categorization,” observes MacDonald. “People need to be able to find what they’re looking for.”

Right: Caption: MacDonald tries out the comfortable, adaptable furniture in the learning commons

Managing the resources in Grand Erie’s libraries means Library Techs play a big role in Success for Every Student. Each day, MacDonald is creating spaces that reflect current teaching and learning needs, ensuring continuity of services, and fostering welcoming and inclusive environments. She’s also assisting teachers as she builds supportive structures to make it easier for them to find resources and learning materials, pulling books for various lesson plans, and working out engagement strategies. MacDonald also has access to statistics around how each school uses its library and learning commons and can jump in to assist teachers and classes with supplementary materials. Schools rely on Library Techs to drive these efforts.

Today at J.L. Mitchener, in between the ongoing work of cataloguing, MacDonald has set up displays of books with springtime themes such as the maple syrup harvest, and students are already taking notice of the new books. She’ll also do some “shelf reading” – a strategic look at the bookshelves to ensure materials are in order – before moving on to some “weeding,” which is Library Tech-speak for removing outdated materials.

At the end of the day, this high level of organization extends to MacDonald’s home life as well, but you probably won’t find her organizing pantry shelves in the kitchen. She enjoys spending time with her busy, athletic family, and is Vice Chair of the Haldimand County Public Library Board, a role that utilizes her vast expertise and allows her to give back to the community she calls home.

The next day, MacDonald might double check her calendar to remind her which school will be her office of the day, but wherever she is, she’s providing a gathering space for knowledge, discovery, and exchange.

“The goal is to get students into the space, whether they’re using it to do research, read, build something, or code something,” she says. “Every day is a different adventure.”

Photos by Grand Erie Communications

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