Since the Swedish Parliament legislated in the summer of 2011 that all pupils have the right to a school library directly connected to their school, the issue has been vigorously debated. However, many pupils in Swedish compulsory and upper secondary schools still lack access to a school library. In those schools which say they have a school library, the standard is variable to say the least.
There are halfasleep headmasters who make reference to a public library in the municipality and there are schools which have approved objectives, plans and a wellfunctioning library integrated into their teaching practice.
This fragmented picture is nothing new. I have encountered all these variations during my own and my children’s schooling. Ranging from the collection of books in the school’s attic where I would go in the early 1970s to meet the speech therapist and learn not to ‘hiss’ on the ‘sssss’ sound. No one else was ever allowed there, only the speech therapist and those who hissed.
At senior level we would press our noses against a locked glass door behind which there was a former library, but the librarian had left and that was when the library closed as well. The only time in three years that we were on the other side of the glass door was when we watched the Swedish slalom star, Ingemar Stenmark, make an important run on the school’s one and only TV.
At upper secondary school everything was quite different, there was a large library with a librarian where new books and journals covering different subjects were being purchased all the time. You could also sit and do group work and study there.
The library was where things happened! When my children go to school, those who can’t settle down in the classroom are sent to the library and sit down – as a sort of punishment. In another school the headmaster referred to the fact that all pupils have portable computers connected to the internet which “solved the problem” of the “library being so old-fashioned”.
When people, such as we do in Sweden, have the task of co-ordinating libraries as a whole you cannot help but see the close connection between the school library and the university library. They are governed by the same ministry and have similar tasks but at the same time they are, in many cases, two different worlds. At a university or university college you would never dream of having a library which was just a room without competent staff and activities.
The library itself is often a symbol for learning and education and it is there the headmasters take their prominent foreign guests to show what they have. So it goes without saying that a library always has good resources, but the library is regarded as a matter of course, they are respected and a lot of development work goes on there. The university library is adapted as required to the needs of the particular seat of learning and integrates them into education and research.
There are many common questions which the university library and the school library should be able to collaborate on: they should be able to share knowledge with one another regarding how the library can be a teaching resource, how to generate creative learning environments and develop modern services. Together it should be possible to test different measures and assessment models and also to create progression in the pupils’/ students’ skills in information research and source criticism.
This issue of SLQ includes several development projects and examples of what is happening in Scandinavia regarding the school library. I believe in the power of good examples and hope that you will find inspiration. Don’t let the school library just be a room for books without even space for development!