Vaasa city library has been making longterm educational investments for many years. In 2010, the library was awarded the title of Library Developer of the Year. The award was presented by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and one of the reasons mentioned in the citation was the creation of new types of collaboration between schools and libraries.
Vaasa is a medium-sized city with a population of approximately 65,000, situated on the west coast of Finland. Vaasa city library also serves as a provincial library. The provincial library area covers 16 municipalities, 12 of which have Swedish as their majority language.
Bilingualism permeates everything that is done at Vaasa city library. Customer services, all the events that are organized, the information given out – everything is done in Finnish and in Swedish.
Vaasa city library has three pedagogical information specialists on its staff. Two of us work with children and young people. Naturally, this work is also done in both Finnish and Swedish.We work with the schools in the city of Vaasa, coordinate school libraries, booktalk, help people learn to use libraries, teach information seeking and how to evaluate sources, and much more. A large part of our job is about taking the city library services out of our physical building to our customers, and we are constantly developing our activities to serve our customers even better.
We have put together lots of educational packages suitable for different age groups. Teachers can select which packages they want their classes to participate in. Various types of tours and instructions on how to use the city library are usually given at the library, but booktalks and information seeking lessons are also frequently given in school classrooms. Thus, the educational work of the library is not confined to the physical library building.
We seek to continuously develop our educational efforts.We try to take a critical look at our tutoring sessions so we can develop them. As a result of this work, for example, instead of providing a traditional walking tour of the main library with seventh grade students, we organize a competition called the Amazing Library Race. During the race, the students have to perform various tasks and they are timed as they navigate the library. The first group to finish is the winner, and by taking part in the competition, the students have familiarized themselves with the main library and its services.
Unease despite excellent PISA results The key plank of our educational work consists of activities to promote reading. Schools ask us to give booktalks more than anything else, and naturally we are involved in all the reading projects and initiatives in Vaasa’s schools.
Although Finland scores well in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), there is nevertheless a downward trend among Finnish children when it comes to reading skills. One example of how the library tries to counteract this growing problem has been the meetings we as city library education specialists have held with the director of Early Childhood Education Services.
As a result of these meetings, we now attend parents’ meetings at Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking child-care institutions in Vaasa and meet the parents and talk to them about the value of reading aloud to children as an aid to their development.We try to inspire parents to read aloud to their children, and we present lots of different types of picture books.
We also organize storytelling sessions in Finnish and Swedish at the main library and at our branch libraries, which parents who are at home with their children can participate in.
Those of us who work as pedagogical information specialists at Vaasa city library are also part of a strong cultural network in the city. Museum educators, archival educators, audience developers, pedagogical information specialists and other cultural educators in the city meet regularly to plan various collaborative projects. Once a year, the entire network get together to arrange time travelling sessions for several groups per day over a period of about two weeks. Some 600 pupils in the city usually take part in these sessions.
Smaller collaborative projects also come about quite spontaneously within the network of cultural educators. For example, at Vaasa city library, we have organized an archive mystery for students in the fifth grade, working together with The Ostrobothnian children’s culture network, BARK.
School library links with the city library
There is extensive collaboration between basic education programmes in Vaasa and the city library. Much of this collaboration is focused on the city’s school libraries. At the moment, 16 school libraries are linked to the library network, and the school library network is coordinated by the pedagogical information specialists at the city library.
Various reports and plans focusing on school libraries in Vaasa have been prepared over a number of years before the school library project financed by The Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) began in 2008. The school library collections have been catalogued and reorganized, and electronic lending has been adopted in the schools. The collections in the school libraries now share the same classification system as the city library, and pupils are able to use their city library cards at school too. The educational thinking behind this is that once a child learns to use the school library, he or she will recognize the same system when visiting one of the city library units.
One of the objectives of the school library projects was to bring the school libraries into the city library network. The project has raised the profile of the school libraries; lending statistics for school libraries are up, and pupils have learnt to use the library as a natural part of doing their school work.
The school libraries are run by teachers who are in charge of the libraries, with library-trained support from the pedagogical information specialists at the city library. The future of school libraries in Vaasa has been ensured following the end of the project period by means of an agreement between the city library and municipal Early Childhood
Education Services. The agreement sets out the division of labour and expenditure.
The value of working together is by no means a new concept. But we still want to emphasize how incredibly important it really is.Working with others makes it possible to achieve so much more and to reach many more.Working together with other organizations is absolutely vital to our work as educational specialists at Vaasa city library.