Monday, April 3, 2017

Facing Challenges in Montreal

This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to la belle province to present at the QSLiN annual library symposium. The event was made extra special because my daughter accompanied me to co-present one of my sessions. This was her first visit to Quebec (excluding our short foray into Hull during March Break to tour the Canadian Museum of History) so we were excited to explore Montreal's attractions together, albeit briefly.

Why would I title today's blog post using the word "challenges"? Well, there were intentional and unintentional obstacles to overcome during the voyage.

Challenge #1: Navigating a New City

We drove to Montreal from Toronto, which isn't a terrible journey. We left at lunch (because my daughter did not want to miss any more school than was absolutely necessary) and arrived at our hotel in Point Claire at 5:30 p.m., so we had the whole evening to do with what we wanted. We still had energy after our successful drive but weren't keen to spend more time in the car tackling Montreal's notorious traffic, so we decided to use public transportation to go downtown and examine old Montreal. The hotel gave us a map and directions on the route to take. It took us longer than ten minutes to walk to the mall to find the bus terminal but that was the least of our troubles. We found the bus and hopped on happily a little after 6:00 p.m.. We drove, and drove, and when the bus stopped at "the end of the line", we were nowhere near the subway station. Turns out, we got on the right bus going in the opposite direction. The driver instructed us to get off and wait for the next bus, which would take us back to where we should have been. The trip downtown should have taken us an hour, but instead it took us two hours.

A photo of our bus stop, where we spent lots of time.

When we arrived in Old Montreal, exiting at La Place D'Armes, it was dark, cold, and wet. Reading the map given to us at the hotel was an exercise in futility because there was not enough light to see. We viewed the Basilica of Notre Dame and took some lovely photos. After a while, our stomachs reminded us that we hadn't eaten since our quickly scarfed-down lunch at an enRoute station off the highway in Ontario. Finding somewhere to eat in downtown Montreal should be a breeze. I was in contact with a former elementary school student who now goes to McGill, and he texted us several recommendations. (He also asked if we needed him to come downtown to help guide us, but he was ill and we said distance assistance would work just fine - good ol' Andrew!) It proved difficult to try and find some of these restaurants. Many places were closed. My French is passable but as I told my audience the next day, "je ne suis pas billingue, malheureusement" and all signs were in French. When we asked fellow pedestrians for directions, often the suggestions made us lost. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I report that we got lost at least six times that night. The convenience store clerk reassured us that the Montreal Poutinerie would be open by the time we arrived and we would have plenty of time to eat. Not at all. We found that restaurant at 9:00 p.m. and it had already been closed for thirty minutes prior. Just as I decided to turn on my cellular data to look at a map myself instead of relying on others, my phone died. My daughter, who had patiently tolerated all these setbacks, turned to me and said, "Mom, we should just go back to the hotel". I empathized with her dismay. By this point, I was tired and hungry too, but I didn't want to end our adventure on such a sour note. Thankfully, I looked up and right across the street was a little pub. We dashed in and checked to see that it would be allowable for a 17-year-old to enter. They agreed that we could stay until 10:00 p.m. and you've never seen two more grateful diners ever. We listened to live music and ate a satisfying meal. Our return trip back to the hotel was uneventful and smooth and we straggled back to the hotel by 10:30 p.m., exhausted but pleased that we had still met our goal of touring downtown.

The Basilica of Notre Dame at night

Love the architecture of Montreal (not the snow)
The view of old Montreal from our seats in the St. Paul pub

Challenge #2: BreakoutEDU

The QSLiN symposium was enjoyable. It was held in the same hotel where we were staying, so carrying our props and costumes from our room to our presentation site was simple. We set up during the morning keynote but were able to hear Pam Harland's afternoon keynote address.

Pam Harland describes library leadership in her keynote
The closing event of the conference was a BreakoutEDU experience, run by the incredible Sandra Bebbington, who didn't let an injured foot and a lack of sleep deter her at all. I've played collaborative problem solving games before, like "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes" with my family at Christmas, but I had never participated in a real BreakoutEDU event with strangers before. Why would people buy in? Who would care? People did commit and we did become invested in the task. I had only met a couple of the individuals recently during my last workshop. (Ute will be my convenor for ABQLA in May and we were introduced to each other that afternoon.) I didn't know these people well, yet we all came together as a group to try and solve the problems we were dealt. It wasn't easy! We had to divide up the tasks to get things accomplished with enough time to spare, and we had to rely on another group, that was in possession of a deciphering tool, so that we could crack a code we were given. I think my face as captured in the tweet below accurately represents the level of difficulty of this task.

Sandra explains the Breakout setup

Locks, waiting to be solved and opened

What does this say? 

Using another group's device to help us read our clue

Sandra was kind enough to provide a few hints when she saw that some groups were struggling and in the end, the group opened the box with less than a minute left on the clock. We were very happy and I felt some sort of kinship with my tablemates, even though I didn't even have time to learn their names. It was only because her Twitter avatar resembled her in real life that I realized I was working with the wonderful Ellen Goldfinch next to me!

Was it a relaxing way to end the conference? No, but that was a good thing! Participants were energized, neurons were firing, and people were thinking and talking with others. It was worth staying until the end, and a lucky attendee walked away with a great door prize - a BreakoutEDU kit of locks and containers.

Bonus Challenge: Maintaining School Libraries and QSLiN

I was so thankful for the chance to be a part of this symposium. Sandra Bebbington and especially Julian Taylor were generous with their time, friendly, considerate, attentive, and helpful. The status of school libraries in the province of Quebec is rather different than here in Ontario. Julian explained it a bit to me both in a Skype call in preparation for the conference and a post-conference chat. In the past, the Quebec education system was organized along religious divisions, but after 2000, this switched to linguistic divides. Neither the English nor the French school boards in Quebec have teacher-librarians quite like we have in my school board. (I was going to say "in Ontario" but several school boards have eliminated the position of teacher-librarian.)  Historically, Quebec has not been as "pro-library" as other parts of Canada. Staffing in the English sector of Quebec is healthier than in the French quarters. For the fortunate schools, at the secondary level, they will have a library technician five days a week; at the elementary level, they may have a library technician one or two days a week. Most of the people in school libraries have tech degrees and love libraries enough that they don't want to see them disappear. Outside of Montreal, to the south, north and east, the elementary school library is likely supported by a parent volunteer or a staff member who has taken an interest in this role.

With the challenge of no teacher-librarians in the province, how is it even possible to have a school library organization exist? Well, it's a bit complicated. I appreciate this explanation from Julian:

The Quebec Ministry of Education's DRD (Direction des ressources didactiques or “Dept of Didactic Resources") came up with a plan to encourage the hiring of librarians at the board level in both the English (9 boards) and French (60 boards) sectors. That program started in the 2008-2009 school year (for 10 years). This was a great initiative by the ministry and many librarians were hired at various boards throughout Quebec. I [Julian] was charged with creating the first library personnel training day for all library personnel in the English sector (public, private, and native schools) in that first year, spring 2009. This was the first "Library Symposium".

Then in late fall 2009, a representative from the DSCA (Direction des services à la communauté anglophone; basically Dept of English Community Services) invited all of us who worked as library personnel at the board level (us new hires and a small number of people who were already in place) and asked us what we saw as needs within the community that perhaps the DSCA could help us to realize with a project using funds from the Federal government to help minority language rights in Quebec. This was basically the birth of QSLiN, but it would take another year or two for the name to be set.

The DSCA helped the English sector school board library personnel to meet, realize their community’s common needs, then gave them the structure to have QSLiN created and the funds to run it. The Quebec School Librarian’s Network is an committee of English Educational Community Librarians, that supports the community  by facilitating information literacy, supporting school library personnel, encouraging professional development, sharing resources, collaborating with the educational community, advocating for school libraries and hosting a symposium that brings the community together.

School libraries have faced a number of challenges in Quebec but more and more people see their value and will continue to invest in their future. The future of QSLiN is never certain, but challenges like this (and the others I've described above) can be tackled with:
  • passionate people
  • a positive, growth mentality
  • finding funds and other support systems
I look forward to returning to Montreal in May for the ABQLA conference, and seeing some of my new contacts again. A bientot!


  1. Challenges make us stronger! You didn't give up and you defeated every one of them! Glad you enjoyed your time with us! Can't wait to hear what you have to say at ABQLA (I was hobbling around during your sessions)! Super pleased you enjoyed the Breakout and even more happy that it was a success with such a large group! Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

  2. Thank you so much for the shout out, Diana! It was a blast being on your team. I only wish that I could have attended your sessions. May I suggest to your followers that QSLiN has a YouTube channel that supports the school library standards developed by CLA a few years ago. It contains QSLiN hangouts at school libraries around the province that features issues such as going Dewey-Lite, evolving library into a learning commons model and more. All this at:

  3. Thank you for the kind shoutout! It was a blast to meet you face to face and be on your team for Breakout. I'd also like to give a shoutout to the QSLiN YouTube channel that supports the school library standards developed by CLA a few years ago. It contains among other films QSLiN hangouts that features such issues as going Dewey-Lite and transforming high school libraries to a learning commons model. All this at: