Studies librarian – in the service of adult education

Lifelong learning, further education, flexible learning, adult education, developing competence, formal and informal learning. The terminology utilised, when accounting for citizen’s voluntary or inflicted search for knowledge, is varied and alters with time. The cradle of the Swedish public library lies embedded in adult education. But to what extent does the Swedish public library rock that cradle of education? In what deliberate and effective ways do modern public libraries support the citizen’s quest for knowledge and instruction?

Increased need of support for teaching at public libraries
There are numerous factors contributing to increased and changed requirements to support teaching at public libraries:

  • Citizens increasingly find themselves spending longer periods of time in the educational system. Courses given by colleges and institutions of higher education are lengthening. The number of admissions to higher education is on the rise.
  • An increasing number of students are taking to distance tuition, as courses are becoming more flexible in time and space.
  • Increased recruiting of students in need of educational support, students from environments not accustomed to higher education, students who experience reading and writing disabilities, people with disabilities and immigrants.
  • The development of pedagogy into realms of increasingly problemised teaching.
  • Increased competence in dealing with information. The rapidly growing mass of information sets new demands on citizens. It is no longer enough for an active member of society just to be efficient in reading.

The public library and the student
A public library open to changes and developing trends in society, is a public library in possession of a will to change its working ways and media in accordance with the demands and needs of the citizens.Without willpower, there can be no change. And that willpower is found among the public libraries. There has been a significant change in the views on adult students and their need for support. Lifelong learning is a public library concern. The study librarian is in charge of and responsible for the development of support for the adult student in the public library.

It takes knowledge to change methods of working. It requires knowledge to grasp the situation and demands of adults seeking education, knowledge about the pedagogy of various study programmes, knowledge of the educational system, knowledge pertaining to what other institutions there are who fund educational ventures (e.g. Learning Centres) and the pedagogy applied by the library system. Knowledge and skills need to be continuously incorporated and developed within the framework of library services.

Needs of students
What are the needs of students? Needs are individual and contingent upon the student’s social and educational circumstances, choice of locality and course of study. It necessitates the instigation of a flexible environment, a keen ear and willingness to accept new assignments and modes of thought. A rough estimate divides the student’s needs into three parts: media, competence in dealing with information and library environment.

If the public library system strives to become an active institution supportive of studies, it presupposes a conscious effort in the field of media. Textbooks and teaching aids at elementary school level in all subjects constitute an important starting point in all media collections. There should also be a minimum of higher education course books available to the municipality’s students. An increased awareness when purchasing course books will lead to:

  • An increased level of quality with regard to public library collections. This will favour students involved in a great variety of study programmes as well as the ordinary library user pursuing his own studies.
  • An increased level of service when required material is found at the local library.
  • A positive spiral effect, as access generates demand. The purchasing of textbooks by the public libraries leads to an increased demand for complementary reading matter and qualified reference work.
  • New user categories finding their way to the library.

An important aspect of undertakings in different media is the deliberate effort put into developing various Internet services (e.g. databases, e-books). Net services require knowledge about selection, purchasing, contracts, availability and evaluation. Net services need visibility in the library. Information concerning net services must reach students and the general user. The library staff should be well acquainted with their net services. The studies librarian must assume a central position in the dissemination of information, both internally and externally.

Information competence
Information competence can be defined as the ability to search information, evaluate it in a critical fashion and transform the information into knowledge. Information competence can be considered part of a general education and the enhancement of critical faculty. The public library should offer the citizens tools (guidance, instruction, teaching and information) as an act of encouragement toward the attainment of information competence. The studies librarian should, with her knowledge of pedagogy, produce a strategy enabling the public libraries to assume the role of increasing information competence among the inhabitants of a community.

Library environment
A consequence of an adjustable approach to learning is that it will take up a great deal of a library’s premises. The premises of a public library should function simultaneously as public meeting places and as an environment for studies. Judging from the public libraries’ wishing lists, the following have priority: silent study rooms, rooms for group activities and flexible study rooms with access to computers. Even the shape of the information counters plays a significant pedagogic role in reference work. Every meeting by the information counter is a pedagogic meeting.

The studies librarian – a new professional role
A public library is that particular kind of library to which a citizen can return throughout her life. School libraries, higher education libraries and other specialised libraries, all play an important part in people’s lives, but only for certain periods of time.Whether in the city, the countryside or the suburbs, the public library is always available. The public library is often the kind of library where a student feels safe and secure. By tradition the public library offers a different kind of service to its users from the one provided in the libraries in the echelons of higher education. Students often make a deliberate and complementary choice when combining the services of university libraries with that of a public library. The public library must adapt to such choices and in doing so become a pivotal part of the municipality’s ventures into education and developmental processes.

The studies librarian is a new professional role. A role which public libraries can utilise to meet the demands that follow in the steps of lifelong learning:

  • The studies librarian will be responsible for the support offered by the public library to the municipality’s adult students and distance learners
  • The studies librarian conducts active lobbying on behalf of the public library and its part in the regional and municipal infrastructure for adult education.
  • The studies librarian will build bridges and create networks connecting the various players involved in teaching to the student’s benefit. Those taking part in the networking can be representatives from learning centres, municipal educational organisers, educational associations, folk high schools, county libraries, regional university libraries.
  • The studies librarian will stake out new paths by obtaining and creating different pedagogic tools such as study gateways and guidance.

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

The article is to an extent based on the author’s publication: The studies librarian – thoughts and ideas about a new professional role, published by the Region library of Western Götaland

Studies librarian, Mariestad Public Library.