IFLA WLIC – Part 1

Last August I attended the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Lyon, France. My sincere thanks to the John Campbell Trust for awarding me their conference grant which enabled my attendance. It was by far the largest conference I’ve attended with some 4,000 delegates from all around the globe. Indeed the international perspective offered by IFLA was one of the most valuable benefits I gained. It was often difficult to choose from amongst a packed and very interesting programme, but the two main tracks I followed were sessions on school libraries (sector I was working in at the time) and the IFLA Trend Report. This post will cover the school library related sessions – apologies for the length!

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Huge exhibition hall for poster sessions.

I attended the School Library Section standing committee meeting (chair, Barbara Schultz Jones, University of North Texas) which was a great opportunity to meet school librarians from around the world and hear about the activities of the Section. They are working on a set of international guidelines for school libraries with UNESCO (more on this later) and want to work on broadening access to their publication Global Perspectives on School Libraries (DeGruyter Saur, 2011) which is currently only available in print at steep academic prices. This sounds like an absolutely fascinating book but lack of digital access and the high price point is a barrier for many (including me!).

Another session I attended was entitled ‘Libraries creating content for/with children and young adults’ and was co-sponsored by the Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section and Literacy and Reading Section. The most fascinating paper was delivered by Michael Kevane (Santa Clara University) on creating picture books in Burkina Faso. Over the course of the presentation, my impressions went from negative to completely enthralled! He started by describing the lack of books, especially African books, in rural Burkina Faso and how his charity Friends of African Village Libraries wanted to provide books. I thought this was a narrow approach – why do libraries only have to be about books? The group began producing simple photo books using volunteers on the ground who took pictures and wrote about local people’s stories and issues in French, the language of education. These books quickly became the most popular items in the libraries. Kevane described how the books improved literacy by introducing specialised language (e.g. stories about trucks or gardening) and were actually incredibly practical and educational, for example one book was about a man building a latrine. They are now holding training sessions for local authors and illustrators and have established a multimedia centre. This brilliant project is supporting literacy and sustainable development and serves as a useful model for others.

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Michael Kevane’s Burkina Faso picture book presentation

I also attended a School Libraries Section session reviewing their IFLA/UNESCO School Library Guidelines, which are currently being drafted. Each round table had a chapter to read and review. I was on the Evaluation and Advocacy chapter table. During the lively discussion, participants remarked that whilst we felt we were being highly critical of the existing draft, this was actually a very helpful process for the authors as it provided feedback and perspectives from an international audience and saved them a lot of work. This session demonstrated the unique value and impact of IFLA. I was asking another school librarian based in Dubai why we needed another set of guidelines as I knew several that already existed in the UK, clearly this was duplicating effort, right? He said, yes, but in developing areas they may not have a strong national association or any guidance at all, so the publication of the IFLA/UNESCO guidelines addressing school libraries internationally would be an invaluable resource for these places, and only IFLA with its international membership could produce such a document.

One final school library session to highlight was ‘School Libraries on the Agenda: Advocacy Initiatives from Around the World’. Three interesting points from this session:  first Mette Hendriksen Aas (Fagforbundet) who talked about how a trade union is advocating for school libraries in Norway because they help produce educated, literate citizens. Second, we heard of some victories in South Africa from Genevieve Hart (University of the Western Cape). Two organisations there, the National Council for Library and Information Services and an NGO, Equal Education, have successfully lobbied the government over the past few years to take action for school libraries on a platform of equal access to information. This has resulted in the Education Department publishing school library guidelines and a 10-year plan. Third, Ross Todd (Rutgers University) sounded a novel clarion call proposing that school libraries should base their advocacy on evidence and social justice.

The social justice note was a thread throughout the conference actually. For example the Burkina Faso picture book project mentioned above, and also in a project in Cambodia called Open Development Cambodia. There was a need for a central portal to access information, data and news in the public domain because development was being stymied by this information vacuum. ODC focuses on economics, environmental and social development and they employ a team of Cambodians to facilitate open access to information and transparency in the public and private sectors in the country. Clearly libraries across all sectors have a role to play in issues of social justice such as providing open access to information.

Next week I will look at the IFLA Trend Report sessions in part 2 of my conference round up.

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Things I Learned in a School Library

I worked in a secondary school library for just over one year, not very long in the scheme of things, but that experience taught me a lot and also helped me into my current job. Apologies for quite a long post but I thought I would share some of the things I learned.

Customer service

  • I gained so much customer service experience and improved my skills as a result of working in a school library. Verbal communication was a daily challenge. Explaining library procedures to 12 year olds required real care so that they could take in the information. Instructions needed to be as concise and clear as possible, if-then statements worked, and always say please and thank you!
  • Which brings me to the improvement in my manners because treating people how you want to to be treated is essential when working with young people both to model good behaviour and maintain credibility. If I had to tell a student off, I then tried to be extra nice to them to show that even though their behaviour/attitude was out of line, I still respected them as a person and wanted to help them as best I could. It’s unrealistic to expect to be respected if you’re disrespectful yourself.
  • Consistency is another important aspect of customer service, especially in a school library. Consequences for overdue/lost books had to be applied consistently and information given had to toe the line as well.
  • Creative thinking was another aspect of customer service I developed because I spent a lot of time helping reluctant readers find books. This involved asking questions, figuring out what they were interested in outside school, making comparisons to pop culture, connecting improving reading and literacy with a life goal (like passing your driving theory test)…you name it, it was worth a try. Those experiences forced me think creatively and develop my interpersonal skills.

Teaching and instruction

  • Observing many teachers teach every day, something was bound to rub off. Through my school library experience, I learned a lot about teaching, learning styles, different instructional approaches and special educational needs, as well as Ofsted, school governance, assessment and national curriculums. I did also gain some experience in instruction and delivering material myself, which was one of the main goals I had set for myself for that year. I delivered training on the Accelerated Reader scheme to students and staff, both formally in training sessions and informally across the library counter.

Behaviour management

  • This was a major aspect of the job as I was working with students most of the day in lessons and supervising them in the library outside lesson time. I had very little experience of behaviour management previously, so I was learning on the job. One advantage was that since I worked with so many different teachers, I could observe what they did that worked (or didn’t) and then try to implement that myself. I had to be very proactive about improving this skill as the behaviour was quite poor. This meant asking advice from others on how I could have dealt with a situation better and blagging my way onto a behaviour management training day put on for the teachers. I also had to learn to shout and sound angrier than I was, neither of which I ever got very good at.
  • The key thing I learned was that you had to be consistent all the time, because if you let a student off once or ignore something, you then undermine the whole system. However this was extremely difficult as it takes so much energy and of course everyone across the school had to be on board.
  • Positive redirection was another important concept. For example if a student was off task, instead of saying, “Stop doing that. You’re not doing what I asked. Why aren’t you doing xyz?”, you would get them to think and redirect themselves back on task by saying something like, “So what are you going doing to do next?” Smiling and looking really expectant helped too. Basically the idea was to focus on the positive rather than emphasising negative behaviour which only reinforces that this is what gets attention.

Solo working

  • Though I supported lessons and teachers all the time, it was really a solo job. There was no head librarian, it was just me. This taught me about taking initiative, seeking advice and feedback, and time management. I also got involved with support networks such as SLN who were a vital lifeline when I needed support from other school library folks.

Subject knowledge

  • The library collection focused on titles that were on the Accelerated Reader scheme that would be of interest to our users. Unsurprisingly, most of the stock was young adult fiction. I was familiar with many of the books such as Harry Potter, Eragon and Twilight, but I sure did learn a lot about this subject area and the many wonderful authors who are also great library advocates – Alan Gibbons, Cathy Cassidy, Neil Gaiman, Tom Palmer, to name a few! I wish I could have read more of them (The Book Thief is still on my list). Whenever I go in a bookstore now, I enjoy having a quick browse of the teen section to see what’s new.

So there’s a year distilled into five points. I hope it was informative. If you are interested in school librarianship, here are some more resources to check out:

Heart of the School blog – A blog by school librarian Caroline Roche.

Barbara Band blog – Blog by school librarian and current CILIP President, Barbara Band.

CILIP School Libraries Group – useful if you’re a CILIP member.

SLA (School Libraries Association) – supports anyone involved with school libraries not just professional librarians.

Articles worth a read – Neil Gaiman, Woody Caan, John Harris

These two articles have been sitting in my Evernote blog notebook for months now. They’re still interesting so I wanted to share them.

Neil Gaiman, the author and a big supporter of libraries, gave an interview where he discusses among other things, the library as a safe place. This was an issue I thought was very important for school libraries. He talks about it more in the context of a public library. Read it here.

Woody Caan writing in Times Higher Education about the vital role librarians play in the university context. Read it here.

Here’s a more recent article by John Harris in The Guardian that was relevant to an essay I was writing and also my current work context in a music conservatoire with a significant (and in demand) vinyl collection. My library, based on student demand, recently brought out more LPs into the main stack area and bought another record player. This article highlights the growing synergy or tension in the music industry, also reflected in my workplace, between rapidly evolving technology and a desire to return to roots. Read it here.