Desire, multiplicity and learning


In my vision for the 21st century, the library is integrated into teaching and learning at all levels of the educational system. This will ensure the future of libraries and the preconditions for life-long learning. In day-care centres and schools, children and adolescents should be introduced to the library as a place for pleasure, as a social meeting-ground and an arena for learning. Qualifying all pupils to use the library for their own personal purposes and as an arena for learning ought to be a key task for all schools from primary through upper secondary.

All university colleges and universities have libraries. Most upper secondary schools will probably also have a library. A considerable proportion of them will have a full-time librarian, but far from all primary and lower secondary schools in Scandinavia have a school library with a trained school librarian working full-time. For example, in 2007 the school libraries in Norway were staffed for only 5.4 hours per week on average. There are no adequate educational reasons for giving lower priority to libraries at primary and lower secondary level than at the upper secondary level or in higher education.

Research shows that even though university colleges and universities have good libraries, the students tend to make use of the library’s resources to a very varying extent. Integration of the library in teaching and learning should therefore start from first grade and continue through all levels of the educational system.

Libraries and desire

Particular efforts should be made to implement library use in primary and secondary schools. Here, the ground is prepared to ensure that children and adolescents develop cultural and information literacy and a desire to read. All primary and secondary schools ought to have:

  • a well equipped school library/ learning resource centre with digital media, databases and software which are continuously updated and renewed, as well as other audiovisual media
  • a trained school librarian or teacher with a professional background from library work in a full-time position.
  • a school management that gives priority to the library for teaching and learning at all grade levels and incorporates this in the schools’ educational plans
  • systematic collaboration between the school library and the public library.
  • systematic collaboration between school librarians and teachers at all levels with regard to educational plans, dissemination of literature, integration of information literacy in various school subjects and topics, and the use of the school library as an arena for learning.

Knowledge development and digitisation are proceeding faster than at any previous time in history. This indicates that teaching and learning should be based on a variety of sources, which are updated with regard to the development of knowledge. The textbook is gradually losing its status as the main source of knowledge in schools. At the same time, the student population is far more heterogeneous than previously. Multiplicity in the student population calls for multiplicity in teaching in terms of content, genres, aesthetics, accessibility and languages, that may stimulate the desire for reading and learning. A single textbook is not sufficient to ensure adaptation of teaching in classes characterised by diversity with regard to the pupils’ cultural, social and linguistic background. Multilingual children should have access to multilingual literature.

Reading engagement and multiplicity

Research shows that even though children and adolescents read textbooks throughout their thirteen years at school this does not turn them into good readers. It is by reading literature that appeals to the emotions and the intellect that children and adolescents turn into avid readers. Voluntary reading of fiction and individual choice of books has proved to have a major impact on the development of reading engagement. Furthermore, research has shown that there is a positive correlation between access to books, daily reading for pleasure and school performance in reading skills. Finnish pupils are close to the top in the OECD with regard to daily reading for the sake of pleasure, and this result is correlated with the high reading skills among Finnish pupils described in the PISA surveys. At the same time, the Finns are the most frequent library users in the EU. It is reasonable to regard this in light of the fact t’hat access to libraries is significantly better in Finland than in the other Scandinavian countries.

One of the most interesting findings in the PISA study from 2002 was that pupils who come from a disadvantaged socio-economic background but are avid readers in their spare time, on average have a higher reading score than pupils who come from a medium or privileged socio-economic background but are less avid readers. This is a key argument in favour of having schools provide equal access to a broad range of literature and reading for the sake of enjoyment for all pupils. This may counteract reproduction of social inequality in schools.

A shared social mandate and collaboration across professional boundaries

The social mandate of the public libraries and schools is to promote enlightenment, education and cultural activity. The shared social mandate facilitates close collaboration between pub-lic libraries and schools, which is a necessary precondition for development of well-functioning school libraries. In the Multiplicity project a research- and development project of which I have been the director librarians, teachers and researchers for four years collaborated within literature-based literacy education, using the library as an arena for learning. Two primary schools with school libraries, one public library and two teacher-training colleges participated in the project 2007-2011. The librarians’ competences in disseminating literature and the teaching of information lite-racy represented an invaluable resource for teachers and children. In the multilingual schools, altogether 75 per cent of the pupils included in the Multiplicity project became avid readers. At the school where three quarters of the pupils had linguistic minority back-ground a total of 90 per cent of the pupils in the project used the public library once a week or more often. Lending from the school library increased by 145 per cent in that school that established a fully staffed library during the project period. At the same time, it was challenging to obtain support from educational policy-makers for inter-professional collaboration between librarians and teachers and use of library resources in literacy education at all schools.

Cultural or educational policy?

My assertion is that as long as the political responsibility for the library sector lies with the Ministry of Culture, this will act as a barrier to integration of libraries as arenas for learning at all levels of the educational system. Educational policy is developed separately from cultural policy. There is a ‘missing link’ between educational policy and cultural policy. However, in Finland, the public libraries are subjected to the Ministry of Education and Culture. This may bridge the gap between educational policy and library policy. The libraries have not lost their soul as cultural institutions, but have allied with the educational institutions. Results from Finland are promising.

This is the vision for the 21st century in an educational policy that integrates libraries into educational policy. This will respond to multiplicity in the student population, the rapid development of knowledge and digitisation and allow us to merge desire with teaching and learning in a life-long perspective.

Joron Pihl
Professor, PhD
Master programme in Multicultural and International Education
Faculty of Education and International Studies
Oslo and Akershus University College


Translated by Akasie språktjenester AS



Professor, PhD Master programme in Multicultural and International Education Faculty of Education and International Studies Oslo and Akershus University College