School library initiatives and future challenges

Cooperation between public libraries and school libraries in Oslo

Anne Kari Holm, Head of the Department for School Services at Oslo Public Library (Deichmanske bibliotek) and from 2001 a member of the project team for the development of library services in primary schools.

In 1999 the Oslo Education Department and Oslo Public Library (for practical reasons I will use the Norwegian short-version, Deichman) agreed upon a programme of close cooperation in order to raise the standard of school libraries in Oslo. A new primary school reform had been introduced affecting the curriculum by placing a greater focus on projects and assignments. The demand for library services consequently increased markedly but few school libraries at primary or secondary level were capable of functioning as learning arenas. Not even Deichman was in a position to cope with the school classes arriving in considerable numbers. Something had to be done! During the 5-year period 1999-2004 each and every one of the 140 elementary schools in Oslo carried out a special initiative aimed at solving the problem. I should like to outline some of the main aspects of the project, paying particular attention to how the plan of cooperation has worked in practice.

The basis for the project was an understanding that professional expertise in both the school and library sectors was essential in order to develop any strategy or initiative to raise the standard of school libraries. The aim was not to make school libraries into independent units but to include them in a network based on services supplied by Deichman combined with the input from shared experience among the schools. A project team was assembled consisting of representatives from management and professional staff from the Oslo Education Department and Deichman. The project was allocated NOK 6-8 million (EURO 750,000 – 1 million) annually from municipal funds, approximately half of this amount being used to purchase services from Deichman.

It was important that the schools participating in the initiative should acquire a sense of ownership towards their school library and should develop it on the basis of local needs and the pedagogic situation. Each school had to assume responsibility for the library premises, staff and ICT-equipment. They were also obliged to work at improving their level of competence and to take part in network cooperation with other schools in the project. On this basis some 20 schools were chosen each year to take part in the project and funds were allocated for the purchase of books, media, furniture, fittings and equipment. Each school was supplied with a library system, given instruction in the use of the software programme and was provided with close back-up from the Oslo Education Department and Deichman.

10 of the schools taking part continued with an extension project “The school library as a centre for information and learning”. Their experiences are summed up in a report entitled “An Oasis in the School Building”.

What was the contribution of the public libraries?
The teachers who were given the task of building up their school library possessed little professional library expertise. In cooperation with the project team Deichman therefore produced a 40-hour course programme designed to provide fundamental information in areas such as knowledge management, guidance for library users, the Internet, developing a library collection and fitting out a library. This course was held annually, lecturers coming both from the library and the school sectors.

Librarians from Deichman visited those schools that so desired in order to assist in discarding material and in making new purchases or to discuss how best to organise and furnish the school library. The Deichman Department of School Services ran an annual course to bring the schools up-to-date on the latest literature for children and young people and contact was maintained with the school librarian network which had been established throughout the Oslo region.

Deichman took on new members of staff and made sure they possessed the skills necessary to ensure successful participation in the project. The main library and some selected branch libraries were upgraded in order to offer improved services to visiting school classes and individual pupils. Courses were arranged, advisory services made available, new literature purchased and special study areas established. The library also developed a new programme to assist users both in the library itself and on the Internet. This period saw the creation of the “Detektor” portal and also the “School Workshop” web-site, which offers suggestion on books and Internet links appropriate to the various subjects being dealt with in the schools.

How is co-operation today?
One year has passed since the school library initiative was completed. Today all Oslo schools have better library facilities than before, while awareness of the library as a teaching resource is much greater now among both administrative personnel and the teaching staff. Deichman continues to provide schools with services of a higher standard and to a greater extent than before 1999. At the same time, however, there is a widening gap, since some schools have failed to maintain progress after the withdrawal of project funds and the loss of special support from the educational authorities. Here lies the greatest challenge to the project organisers in their efforts to continue developing the scheme within the normal working framework.

Both the Oslo Education Department and Deichman have been reorganised in recent years. Members of staff central to the school library initiative have assumed new responsibilities and cooperation between departments today takes place at a lower administrative level. Although Deichman continues to offer its services to schools, these are less than before a direct response to specific needs.We also see that schools struggling to maintain their libraries make less use of our services than others, thus widening the gap. This presents a dilemma for a school system which focuses on the basic skills of reading, writing and digital competence and yet should also strive to create a culture of learning, Deichman faces the challenge of keeping abreast of new tools and working methods being introduced into schools.More and more schools are using digital learning platforms in their everyday teaching and if Deichman is to function as an alternative learning arena, youngsters must have access to similar services in our library and we must look closely at the possibilities of contributing to these digital teaching methods.

This coming autumn a new curriculum, “Kunnskapsløftet” (“Knowledge Promotion”), will be introduced into Norwegian primary and secondary schools. This development presents Deichman with new challenges, not least with regard to the services we offer secondary schools. It is therefore good to know that the report for Deichman approved by the Oslo City Council in December 2005 dealt in considerable length with library services for children and young people. Emphasis was laid on the need to help children “learn how to learn”, to assist schools in improving their libraries and to keep them informed about new, relevant literature. The report and not least the political will behind it both acknowledge the value of the existing library services to schools in Oslo, providing a basis for the development of new services in cooperation with the educational authorities.

Web: www.deichmanske-bibliotek.oslo.kommune.no/english/

Head of Department of School Services Oslo Public Library