ESL Centre Project

Photo: Kathleen Oakey

Photo: Kathleen Oakey

By Kathleen Oakey, M.L.I.S. (Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian)

It all started with a President’s Creative Challenge and an email in my inbox from Paula Ogg. The year was 2014 — the year of “internationalization” — and Paula had an idea.

The email was addressed to Diana-Crina Cartargiu, Sarah Sinclair and myself. By the time we submitted our formal proposal for the President’s Challenge, we had added Danielle Palombi and Shelley Woods to the team. Together, we would start to fill out Paula’s initial idea. With approval from library administration, we built a plan to collect ESL materials and improve access to library collections for ESL students, develop extra-curricular language-learning opportunities for ESL students, and lay out criteria for a space within the library at each campus that could encourage cross-cultural interaction, communication, and knowledge-sharing.

Image: Kathleen Oakey

Student conceptualizations of the ESL Centre. Image: Kathleen Oakey


We were excited. We felt the proposal presented practical solutions to very real challenges faced by both ESL and many International students.

But, alas, our proposal did not win the coveted prize of the President’s Creative Challenge.

We were disheartened.

So it was with some surprise that in the fall of 2015 Shelley and I received a request from Joan Sweeney Marsh, Director of the Library, to revive and modify the proposal. Library administration, it appeared, was keen to move forward with the idea and see what could still be done for ESL students — even without the funding offered through the President’s Creative Challenge.

The ESL Centre Project

By December 2015, a new proposal was drawn up, and approval was given to (1) design a small corner of the Davis Campus Library for ESL students, and (2) pull together and create a separate collection of existing ESL library resources to be displayed within that space. I was elated.

Photo: Kathleen Oakey

Photo: Kathleen Oakey

To get us started, I met with Stephanie Samboo and Sacha Fejer in the spring of 2016 to inform them of the project and solicit any criteria or suggestions they might have. Then we met with Facilities to talk about simple changes that could be made to the existing space for signage, seating, shelving, and technology. Facilities was able to draft a few different floor plans for us, and select furniture. Then, Sacha invited Danielle Frietas to solicit feedback from her students. Danielle asked her students to design their own concept for the space (with a $5000 budget) and present their ideas to me – an activity that proved extremely engaging for myself and the students alike! Around that same time, an email was sent to Accessible Learning for any considerations we might need to keep in mind for students with accessibility needs, as the space was to be located next to the Accessibility room in the Davis library. And then, we sent a survey out to all ESL and LINC faculty to further clarify expectations and the academic needs of ESL students. With all of this invaluable information in our pockets, we were ready to start the re-design.

Throughout August (and the beginning of September) textbooks were moved, shelving dismantled, an ESL collection set up, window film signage installed, tables installed, and comfy chairs moved over from the Tutoring Centre. By the second week of September, we were ready and excited for the ‘grand opening’ on September 30th.

Response of Faculty and Students

Overall, the project has been tremendously well received by faculty and students alike. For the grand opening, 6 or more full LINC classes all made their way down to the library to view the new space, participate in a few games, and enjoy some cookies and juice. Their appetite for ‘more’ was insatiable – More books! More space! More computers! More Conversation Circles! With time, who knows how this initiative could grow?!

Photos: Kathleen Oakey

Photos: Kathleen Oakey

Next Steps

Over the next few months, we will be purchasing a few more books for the space. If any ESL faculty have book suggestions for class sets or kits, acclimatizing to Canadian culture, improving speaking, listening, reading, or writing skills, or would be interested in specific books on teaching ESL students, please let me know.

We hope you and your students enjoy the ESL Centre!