TMC7 Ngo

The Elementary Teacher-Librarian Drain in Ontario 

by Francis Ngo

This paper outlines how teacher-librarians must constantly advocate for their positions while carrying out a multitude of expected duties; often having their positions cut back, added to with other duties or in many cases eliminated. The author covers background on this issue and shares data regarding elementary teacher-librarians in Ontario. Additional reading resources are provided for those who want to dive deeper into the issues.

Francis Ngo (OCT BA BEd) is a teacher-librarian and special education teacher at the Toronto District School Board. He is taught across the primary, junior and intermediate divisions in both the classroom and in specialist roles.  He is a former Youth Outreach Worker, Social Services Case Worker, Instructor at Seneca College and AQ Instructional Lead at York University. Francis is passionate about providing new learning opportunities and sharing new knowledge and experiences with students. 

Read the paper.


  1. Francis, I have been privileged to see the evolution of this paper and the thinking behind it. It pulls no punches. It's bold. (Who else would say in their first paragraph "The processes to hire, train and retain teacher-librarians is broken."?) Correct me if I am wrong, but I see you suggesting several things to rectify this situation. a) Stop giving TLs (and other school library professionals) 0.5 positions or positions at two schools. It's not doable. b) If advocacy is such an important part of the school library leader role, then make it more important in school library training for the individuals to undertake AND/OR take this expectation of TL advocacy off the TL's shoulders and form a common understanding of the role in school boards and in the Ministry of Education - "shared message from all stakeholders" [Ngo, p5] . c) Protect school library roles (sweater / envelope them explicitly). d) "Reduce" the expectations so that you don't have to be a "super-TL" to be "acceptable". Did I miss anything? I also just wanted to mention that fall 2022 unofficial stats from our school board indicate an even-higher amount of brand-new TLs in the role, suggesting that the 1/3 attrition rate is a small estimate - yikes! I'd love to hear from some of those former TMC writers who are no longer officially in the school library to comment on their thoughts on their "departure" - does it mean school libraries have more allies elsewhere, or is it part of the "brain drain"? Thanks for the thoughtful research contribution. (I'll send some more links that relate to this topic in a future comment to your paper.)
    Diana M

  2. You are not wrong. Those are the suggestions that I think make sense. And as soon as I wrote them, the next set of ideas popped up. Points a) and c) are closely related and require much more from a policy point of view. When putting on my 'working behind the desk hat', the complexity of defining and funding the role also means that the scope changes with it.
    We are wading closer to waters where one has to wear a suit to work in order to be effective at being an advocate for SLLC's. To me, that policy work seems like a missing link. Who is our inside person in a decision making capacity? We're TL's, not lobbyists.
    Consider your allies point, once some move to admin or external agencies, do we still hear their voices? (at TMC2022 we did) Does the saying once a TL, always a TL ring true?
    We take pride in being able to take care of those expectations and thus can't actually move away from them. "TL's are leaders and skilled etc". A friend at a tech company used the phrase "burn and churn" to explain how their company treats their employees. We're not too far off. The expectation is that they will use that initial enthusiasm to progress as far as possible, and just backfill later. And seeing as we had even higher than 1/3 new TL's is eerily similar.

  3. Francis,
    I realized you've seen these already, but I'm adding them still for others, as they relate to your topic.
    Changing Times: School Librarian Staffing Status by Debra E. Kachel and Keith Curry Lance
    New Link for Kachel / Lance article =
    Leading Learning as a Tool for Reflection and Growth: Culturally Relevant and Responsive Library Learning Commons by Carol Koechlin and Judith Sykes

  4. Hi Francis, I enjoyed reading your paper. You have identified the complexity of the situation. I completely agree that the role and expectations need to be codified by the Ministry to clarify staffing. Sounds reasonable, but I'm sure that you have an appreciation for the years and years of effort that has gone into this, by associations and many, many individuals - in leadership positions and in the trenches.

    I'm interested in your observations about the role of advocacy in the profession. In your reply to Diana's comment you say that you are a teacher-librarian, not a lobbyist. I respect your frustration, but I would suggest that advocacy and lobbying are two quite different things. If you leave advocacy up to the leaders, little will be accomplished. We are all responsible for advocacy - for using our influence through networking, marketing, being able to clearly articulate the value of the position, and yes, doing the best that we can do in our various jobs. Difficult, I do appreciate, but necessary. I really like the concept of being a library activist, as opposed to an advocate. As Deborah Levitov (Activism and the School Librarian, Libraries Unlimited, 2012) says, advocacy is frequently understood to be a PR and marketing strategy, self-serving, and something that others do. She describes library activism on the other hand as being strategic. She states that teaching and learning must be at the heart of activism, that it must be based on what is best for students, and it must be based on the authority of teacher-librarians as learning specialists.

    Like it or not, we are ALL responsible for advocacy/activism, at every level of organizations.

    Lastly, you did quote me in the article, and respectfully, I'm concerned about how you characterized my intent in the article you cited. You concluded that "In this view, the value of the teacher-librarian is determined individually and wholly dependent on their ability to provide value to a school." Of course that was not my intent, to make individual accomplishment the sole means of assessing value. And of course you are right, if teacher-librarians are expected to perform at a particular level, then the positions that they are hired into need to be created for those individuals to demonstrate them. Again, the issues are very complex, but I will suggest that if you are in the position because it engages you, as opposed to being assigned for the myriad of reasons that some end up in the library, then yes, we should be demonstrating our worth through our actions. And yes, we should be helping others understand what we can do for them. "If I'd asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." (attributed to Henry Ford).

    My article that you cited from The Teaching Librarian is a very short summary. Should you feel so inclined, please have a look at this page on my website.

  5. On another strand of your paper, I agree that we should "Reduce" the expectations so that you don't have to be a "super-TL" to be "acceptable" (from Diana's summary). That is exactly the point of Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada. Previous standards (Achieving Information Literacy) were metrics-based, and as a practicing teacher-librarian I did at times feel defeated by the approach. There was no way that the library in my school and my role could be assessed as exemplary despite our best efforts, because some of the standards (ie collection size, facility size, budget) could never be achieved. And what did these factors have to do with student learning? I could have a large collection and a beautiful facility, but that did not mean that my students were learning.

    Leading Learning takes a completely different approach. It's growth framework asks us to assess different aspects of our program, and where we see improvement is needed, within the context of the goals of our school, then it sets a path for continuous development. This is a very different approach. It includes everyone, and every school, and is based on continuous learning, not judgement. Worth a think.

  6. One wonder that I had in reflecting on your paper is around the analysis of the content of the University of British Columbia's teacher-librarian diploma program courses. One conclusion in the paper regarding these courses is that "advocacy and how to do it seem to be afterthoughts". I am not sure if you were able to analyze the topics and focus of the course content. Perhaps these were older descriptions? In the UBC TL course I am most familiar with, one-fifth of the course is explicitly, "advocacy and how to do it" :-)

  7. Thanks Francis for this detailed analysis. It is definitely not unique to Ontario, the lack of funding in education and qualified people to take the positions on is a definite problem. The use of the TL as prep teacher in BC is very common, as is elementary schools staffing to the very letter of the teacher's collective agreement around student to staff ratios for non-enrolling staff. This leads to TLs, even when qualified, wearing many hats. Talking to principals informally, it is not that they don't want to offer more time, it is that there is jo excess funds in education to do that top up. We need, as a nation, to address the lack of funds being put into education as a recruitment and retention issue in all sectors of the public education system. We can't keep teachers--be they TLs, resource, learning assistant or classroom--because we are burning them out.

  8. Hi Francis! I really enjoyed your paper on the realities of the modern Teacher-Librarian. It's reassuring to hear you say we need to reduce expectations and that you don't to be a "super-TL" to be "acceptable." The role of the TL (often a 0.5 position as you said) can be daunting. It's also one of the first to be pulled from to cover classes which devalues the work and the program. When I'm able to do my assigned role, I love it! I get such inspiration working collaboratively with all the students and teachers in my school and of course from fellow TLs like you!


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