Model School Libraries: Tools or Threats? Reflections on a Development Project in Sweden

Article excerpt

This article presents reflections on the evaluation ofa school library development project in the county of Orebro, Sweden. Each of six project schools was to create a model library of its own, tailored to the needs and wishes of that particular school. The main conclusions of the analysis of differences between the schools, in terms of project outcomes, indicate that school libraries may be purposeful tools for teaching and learning, but that they may also be experienced as threats by teachers who prefer traditional teaching. The complex process of information seeking and information use for learning raised serious questions with teaching implications for both librarians and teachers, Teaching teams as well as the principal's conceptions of library functions interacted closely with progress in methodological change and input of resources. Public and school libraries found common strategic interests in the development of the model school libraries.

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to discuss issues regarding the pedagogical, organizational, and strategic conditions for school library development, based on certain experiences from a Swedish project. A description of the situation of Swedish school libraries forms the background needed to present the design, the execution, and the main outcomes of the project from the evaluator's point of view (Limberg, 1996). A discussion of the main conclusions of the evaluation is the main topic of interest of the article.

Swedish School Libraries: The Current Situation

Since the 1980s, Swedish school librarians have looked for role models in North America, particularly the USA. Basic philosophy about the educational role of school libraries, efforts to improve curriculum involvement, and the design of facilities and the level of resources have inspired and influenced thinking and action in the school library field. The writings and visits to Sweden of Carol Kuhlthau and David Loertscher, as well as visits of Swedish school librarians to sites of excellence in the USA such as Iowa City, have had a considerable impact on our library community.

During the 1990s, schools and libraries in Sweden have suffered severe cuts due to the recession, which strongly affected the economy of local governments. Public libraries and school libraries come under the responsibility of local municipal government and are funded through municipal budgets. According to the current Library Act, in force since 1997, every school must have access to purposeful library services provided either in the school building or from the local public library. Before the current Library Act, the School Ordinance included a paragraph of similar content and wording.

Because Sweden has huge, sparsely populated areas outside the big urban communities, the structure and organization of schools and libraries varies considerably. In the rural areas, you may find elementary schools with 20-30 students, or even fewer. Urban areas, naturally, have bigger schools, and secondary schools normally have a larger number of students than the lower levels. The size of senior high schools may reach more than 2,000 students. Since the 1960s, high schools normally have school libraries of their own run by professional librarians. In Sweden, school librarians are not required to have the double qualification from both LIS and education. Elementary and middle-level schools often have a school library run by a teacher-librarian supported by a coordinating professional children's and school librarian. More often than not, the prime obligation for a teacher-librarian is to teach in class, and she or he may devote only a minor part of her or his teaching duties to library work. However, during the last decade, a growing number of schools have employed professional librarians, while others have cut back their library staff altogether. Almost 25% of Sweden's 1,900 or so public library units are combined with school libraries as far as facilities, staff, and collections go (Limberg, 1991, 1993, 1994). …