Lifelong Learning

The act of learning is an ongoing process and as long as life itself. It carries on throughout life in different settings. The width of learning is as wide as that of life itself – such as formal learning within the educational system, or as non-formal learning as constituted in other organised educational institutions such as vocational training courses and adult education. Learning is also non-formal as observed in associations, societies, family and in that of everyday life. The ability to enable the use of various strategies, media and tools to come to grips and interact within a reality of complexities, needs support in order to develop all forms of learning.

What roles can the public libraries play in this all-encompassing perspective of people’s learning processes? Does it merely provide for yet another form of service or is it capable of actively advancing pedagogic method and instructional functions? In what manner can the public libraries participate as part of an infrastructure supporting learning strategies? If the libraries’ role is not made clear to the surrounding world it runs the risk of merely being seen as a public service taken for granted though lacking growth potential, thereby instigating stagnation and a frustrated staff.

In Sweden there is a major initiative currently being co-ordinated by the State, aimed at adult education and its expansion alongside that of higher education. The Government has granted an appropriation of 350 million SEK, part of which the municipal authorities can partake of by application to the Swedish Board of Education.

The background for the undertaking commenced with the EU publication Memorandum about lifelong learning during autumn/winter 2000. The aim of the Government’s initiative is to:

“Ensure all adults the possibility of expanding their knowledge and enhancing their competence for the purpose of promoting personal development, democracy, equality, economic growth, occupation and a just distribution”. (Government Bill 2000/01:72)

Discussions in Sweden, as seen from this memorandum, emphasised libraries’ educational function. From 2002 the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs has also granted 3 million SEK to be used for initiatives “aiming to enhance adult education and its access to the public library service”. The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs has elected to grant funding for seven regional projects. Simultaneously the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs created a centrally located position for a library consultant to manage and assist in these projects. The consultant will also advance schemes of development related to the Council’s efforts in the public library sector and its role in adult education.

In an official communication to the municipal authorities the Swedish Board of Education has emphasised public libraries as constituting a collaborative contingent to organisations, public administrations and the commercial sector when it comes to developing these municipal projects. This has enabled the public libraries to take an active part in discussions and to throw light on their role. Although the initiative is aimed at adults, the libraries are still free to apply a comprehensive view encompassing children as well as those of all school ages. To substantiate a solid and supportive infrastructure, collaboration between the school libraries, public libraries and libraries connected to higher education is of the utmost importance. The central positioning of the individual in such an overall view is crucial both on a regional and national level. The physical infrastructure constituting centres of learning, libraries and other educational environments are of development interest, as is the virtual structure found in distance tuition and IT support. Questions of a practical nature relating to study counselling and the validation of non-formally obtained knowledge must be debated across traditional spheres of activity.

Within the Government’s decision regarding the expansion of adult education (spring 2002) there lies a st rategy on a national level in a number of issues, which also relate to the public libraries of Sweden. Library schemes should be viewed in relation to its strategies. This exciting work within the seven projects has recently begun and is funded by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs and should be regarded in the long perspective, as there is much to discuss. As an example, the strategy claims: “Pedagogy and modes of work are developed in correspondence to individuals’ variable and increasing need of learning in a society founded on knowledge. ”What pedagogy and what methods will the local libraries develop? What modes of work require change? Another statement claims: “The individual’s learning and search for knowledge will be supported through counselling based on the acknowledgement of factual previously recognised knowledge”. What counselling and guidance can the libraries offer? Can their ability to handle and utilise information of varying problem resolution strategies be considered assets? And if so, should it be validated? This is more likely to be discussed among those involved in IT based learning. Is this enough? What do the libraries say?

New forms of collaboration are needed to accommodate expansive support for the development of adult education among the municipalities. Dialogue and co-operation on a national level across public authorities and organisations is needed. This is where the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs can act as a partner in dialogue on the subject of libraries’ functional requirements. This new form of collaboration is expressed in one of the strategy’s final paragraphs: “A fundamental unanimity across spheres of politics and co-operation between public authorities, parties of the labour market and national movements is desirable to realise individual learning and development of competence.”

Discussing these issues at various levels has an impact on other library issues in a positive manner. The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs has long been involved in issues pertaining to school libraries and since 2000 the Swedish Board of Education has been commissioned to set in motion creative language environments and the pedagogic role of school libraries. The two authorities reached an agreement in December 2001 pertaining to library and learning issues. This initiative concerning the functions of a library and its development is now being discussed among compulsory schools, senior high schools, higher education and adult education. The agreement between the Swedish Board of Education and the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs emanates from each authority’s assignment and capability. It is partially based on the national goals for the obligatory and voluntary forms of education with particular emphasis on reading and writing, information retrieval and criticism of the sources. In part this aims at the political cultural goals emphasising freedom of speech, participation, cultural plurality and educational goals. The collaboration has its star ting point in an overall view of young people’s learning and linguistic development. Its aim is to promote and increase the learning process of an individual, simultaneously developing and improving the local, regional and national bond between library and education. Since the agreement came into effect the Swedish Board of Education and the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs have in concordance highlighted issues concerning integrated public and school libraries, independent schools and their libraries as well as certain statistical issues.

The Government has also assigned the Swedish Board of Education to co-operate during 2002 with the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs in creating a forum for pedagogues and librarians. The aim is to expand cooperative efforts involving the linguistic progress of children and young people as well as the pedagogic role of libraries. Within the framework for this assignment,and focusing on children attending pre-school, the mutual project Play-Talk-Learn got under way this autumn. Certain colleges of higher education will be assigned to establish courses aimed at pre-school staff and children’s librarians to establish a plat – form for collaborative efforts between pre-school and libraries, involving learning and aesthetic learning processes. Teaching staff and those of children’s libraries attending these courses will be from the same counties. This will lend the courses a sense of locality and encourage pragmatic approaches. A mutual point of departure will be the pre-school curriculum enabling relevant discussions on such subjects as learning, play, imagination, working together, traditions and innovative undertakings. It might well be that preschools and libraries share a certain scepticism towards texts such as this one for fear of appearing “schoolified”. Both parties possess a vast but silent knowledge, which is all too seldom formulated and problemised. This particular aspect of the co-operative endeavour by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs and the Swedish Board of Education will extend into 2004.

Today, as a result of this close co-operation between the two authorities, we have distinct possibilities in seeing important issues concerning schools and libraries come to the fore, being discussed and firmly established in relevant places. It is to be hoped that similar networks of collaboration will be init iated and expanded in separate municipalities on a local level.

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Ann Wiklund library consultantann.wiklund AT kur.se

 Johanna Hansson library consultantjohanna.hansson AT kur.se

The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs

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Library consultant.