IFLA SL Newsletter

– a commentsblog

How School Librarians Could Work Better Together

by Niels Damgaard, Senior Adviser for School Libraries and Web 2.0,
Biblioteksentralen, Oslo

For some years I have participated in different ways in various international organizations (e.g., ENSIL, IASL and IFLA), working for better school libraries worldwide. I am increasingly concerned about how these organizations manage to reach out to those school librarians who are NOT able or willing to pay for expensive travelling and expensive conference fees and other meetings and events scattered around in the world. In fact it is my impression that it is the same bunch of people (±50) in these organizations, able and willing to travel on their own or on their employers’ budget, who are meeting each others again and again year after year. But for the rest of us there is NO hope of personal participation in remote conferences. What is offered to the thousands of ordinary school librarians during and after

these international events? While one can pay for access to papers and perhaps CDs from some of the events, very little is available after the events for free or inexpensively.I understand that these organizations are eager to earn money to be able to travel and set up these events worldwide. However, two big questions remain: “How can we better dissimilate these internationally researches and speakers for a broader part of the “School librarian on the floor”? and “How can we better implementing a free international co-operation through new social software like e.g. NINGs?” Only in this way we will be able to get greater interest (and more members, perhaps) in the important work in IFLA and IASL from ordinary school librarians in the field.  

An Example: The Norwegian Web 2.0 School 2007-2008

In Norway we successfully offered a course for librarians: the Web 2.0 School. From April, 2007, to March, 2008, ten full course-days were offered. Participants studied Library 2.0 , School Library 2.0, blogs, wikis, podcasts, screencast and video, social software, RSS feeds, and information focal-points such as Netvibes and Pageflakes. They were introduced to a part of the new society where librarians together can produce and share information. Participants used all kinds of social software, and at the last gathering there was a show of all the blogs, Wikis and screencast the attendees had produces during the last ten months.
If the school libraries in the future shall have any change to survive, I think it is important for them to be “retooled” (thanks, Joyce Valenza, for this contribution): to be able to give their customers (teachers and students) help in  
selecting, using and advising about the new tools for production in the Web 2.0 world.

As you may know, Norway is a long country: more than 2500 km from north to south! Therefore our course was constructed as follows: there were three kinds of participants: some were present in Oslo, others listened and participated in real time from their home or work computers, and the last group enjoyed the talks via MP3 files and PowerPoint presentations asynchronously. A wiki set-up collected all information on every topic, and offered instruction ion before – during – and after the monthly meetings. In the morning we normally enjoyed talks from interesting speakers sitting in Scandinavia, Spain, or even America via our virtual meeting room. We used a cheap OPAL-room where we are able to transmit via the Internet both audio and PowerPoint, using chat at the same time.

 Attendees could decide just a few days before the monthly events how they wanted to participate: face-to-face, virtually or asynchronously; they also chose whether to follow only one event, several events or all. We learned that half of the attendees enjoyed all ten sessions; the rest attended between one to eight days. In the beginning, many were interested in attending the course in Oslo in person, but after a few events more and more preferred to stay at home to join virtually in realtime. We had attendees from all corners of our remote country on this course, many sitting on small islands and other remote places, enjoying the Web 2.0 tools for the first time.


What Did We Learn in Norway from the Web 2.0 School?

We are now able – very cheaply – to set up a system where we can educate and work together over long distance in real time. We are able to have attendees from all our small islands who can stay at home enjoying their course without having expenses travelling up to 2500 km!

Attendees can choose the days they can afford and have time for, and they can communicate with their colleagues who are interested in learning and training about the same topics. To record we used a simple and cheap microphone (Logitech AK 5370, about $50) and the free software Audacity (or iSound, about $30). The web room is an OPAL-room for $250 per year, which offers 24 seats. All recordings were edited and transferred to MP3-files for better performance after the event in the free program Audacity.

This course will be continued this fall and spring of 2009. Additionally, we are now focusing on a ten-month course for school librarians AND teachers working together to play and interact with Web 2.0 technology in order to prepare them to incorporate these tools for their own teaching as well as supporting their pupils from K-16 schools in Norway.

What about the International Situation?

Why could we use this experience? First of all, to offer international events virtually for “all the rest of us” who are NOT able/willing to come to the event. Preparing a conference is hard work, I know, but think about how you could have some (if not all) of the presentations recorded and stored as MP-3 sound files to download. On SlideShare PowerPoint shows and MP3 files can be “glued together” to give access for free! Cost and ease of use are no longer an argument for not recording events.

We should bring in speakers from the whole world via the net (Webinars like the OPALroom or even the free program SKYPE is very useful) to bring down the expenses (avoiding travel and accommodation costs) for setting up events, and then invite “the rest of us” virtually for a low price – or for free sometimes! ASLA in Australia is setting up a free NING at http://aslaonline.ning.com for debate before their third virtual conference, which is a good start!

 So I am looking forward to join coming events together with thousands of other school librarians around the world as  virtual attendees to listen and enjoying the speakers in real time or asynchronously via podcasts – and to participate virtually

. And perhaps I would like to pay a little fee to be there, if you would not like to give this to us for free?Read more about: “You Should Record Everything You Do or Say” by Leesa Barnes
and comment on this article at
this blog. 

About Niels Damgaard

Niels Damgaard is currently Senior Adviser on School Libraries and Web 2.0 in the Norwegian Resource Centre for Libraries (Biblioteksentralen AL). He has taught and worked as a site school librarian for fifteen years in Denmark, Greenland and Norway. For the past twelve years he has been busy setting up courses together with the University of Agder (UIA) for teachers running school libraries in Norway, and in the last four year more than 400 librarians and teachers running school libraries in secondary schools have been taking his own courses. Niels edited the IFLA section 11 Newsletter from 2005 to 2007, and won the Newsletter of the Year Award in 2006. He finds his inspiration from worldwide networks such as the WebHeads, the EVO (The Electronic village), The WebAcademy, 23-things and other places, where he can study Web 2.0 for free.

July 30, 2008 - Posted by | Issue 46, Norway, Uncategorized, Web 2.0 | , ,


  1. Hi Niels
    I was very excited to read your progress in developing online learning for school library personnel. It sounds like you have taken a “big picture” approach to addressing issues of distance, accessibility and professional development needs.

    As for international access….. this is a serious issue for me as I see the need to reach frontline school library professionals with information, ideas and innovations shared by colleagues around the world. And with the technology available today, there is really no excuse for not moving forward in this way. I have challenged the International Association for School Librarianship (IASL) to re-consider its tradition of mostly face-to-face conferences and consider virtual conferences and new technologies as delivery methods.

    I sent a message to the President of IASL and to the IASL listserv questionning why we only have face-to-face conferences and the response has been overwhelming as many people have entered the conversation. Your experiences with professionals in Norway shows it can be done and ask “Why not the whole world?”

    I will keep you newsletter as one of my bookmarks and check in with your progress.


    Ray Doiron
    Faculty of Education
    University of Prince Edward Island

    Comment by Ray Doiron | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  2. Posted for Luisa Marquardt, Italy

    Dear Ray,

    Niels Damgaard (Senior Adviser for School
    Libraries and Web 2.0, Biblioteksentralen, Oslo), in his “How School Librarians Could Work Better Together Worldwide” (IFLA SLRCs Newsletter, n.46/July 2008:
    pp. 6-8), poses the question: “What is offered to the thousands of ordinary school librarians during and after these international events?”.

    Then he suggests to use more extensively new tools and enviroments 2.0, and reports good practice in this field.

    I agree with him and you in a large part (about the environmental awareness, too), but not completely. I’ll briefly try to explain why (from my point of view, of course!).

    1) The advantage of web-conferences etc. is undoubtful. Anyway face-to-face meetings do help, especially when English (for instance) is not the native language for most public. The risk of misunderstandings (both when writing, much more when conferencing with very different accents and
    pronounciations) is high. The possibility of asking a speaker, a presenter for an explanation,supplementary information etc., the opportunity of sharing more information is quite different during a F2F meeting than when you have to close a connection for technical or budget problems.

    2) It’s up an attendee’s personal and professional awareness (or consciousness) to share and spread the information after a meeting.
    This is what I try to do after a meeting. For instance, I took part in IASL 2006 Conference in Lisbon. After that, I wrote reports and articles, I spoke in hundreds of meetings and seminars in many parts of Italy: as in cities, as in little schools in villages up to the mountains. My sponsor (a governmental one) paid for that participation of mine in Portugal, but hundreds of schoollibrarians/teachers/teacher-librarians etc. could benefit from my experience.In the above mentioned IFLA SLRCs Newsletter you find also a report “Netherlands Happenings” about “Italian LIS Students Visit Netherlands”: for the students (and not only for them!) experiencing a part of the Dutch library world and meeting colleagues was really stimulating, an enrichment
    for different dimensions (cognitive, emotional etc.).

    3) International meetings bring an international flavour into our profession and relationships; they often “give the kick-off” of new projects and initiatives; they can stimulate the local administration in investing in school library services or in professional development. The meeting in Wels (Austria) is a meaningful example (at least, for Europeans): during that intensive meeting – where issues about reading and information literacy were widely discussed -, many European colleagues had the possibility (that was generously offered by the Austrians)
    for also discussing issues about the enhancement of school librarianship in Europe (e.g., see: H. Barrett, “Wels – an ENSIL meeting of the year”, IFLA SLRCs Newsletter 44/June 2007, p. 11). I think that all the participant went back to their countries with new ideas and visions (or confirmed that they’re on the right track).

    4) About Cds, proceedings etc., the Associations might endorse an open access policy, or at lest, a “moving wall” policy (publishing the papers on-line, e.g., after 5 years).

    5) There is also the untangible value of a personal relationship: there is alwasys something special when I exchange messages, ideas, papers etc. with colleagues whom I worked with during a seminar or who “survived” my hospitality and my messy, bookish and cattish home. I still have extraordinary memories of how hard Helen Boelens and I worked last December at her home preparing posters for an EU info-workshop (with the wonderful help of a special PEA, her husband, Dr Otto). We couldn’t apply for funding for that project, but the way we worked together can’t be deleted.These aspects may sound for somebody “less
    professional” or “too romantic” ones: I think they are simply related to our dimension of human beings. Furthermore, enthusiasm is recognized as a core competence and it’s also stricly related to the way we share ideas, practice etc.

    Unfortunately, I can’t afford the IFLA WLIC in Quebec City (it’s a real miracle I’ll be taking part to the IASL 2008!). In case you’ll go, don’t miss to share it with us! :-):-)

    Best wishes,

    Comment by Luisa Marquardt | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  3. Posted for Helen Boelens, The Netherlands

    Dear colleagues,
    I would like to add my ten cents worth to this discussion.

    As some of you already know, my current research is investigating school libraries throughout Europe, in a total of 63 different countries where people speak about 51 different local and national languages. This research is about school librarians – the people who go to school every morning and open the library for the children and staff of their school. They work under many different (sometimes very difficult) circumstances – some extremely poor – nevertheless during face-to-face interviews and from a mountain of correspondence which I have received, I realise that these people have a real commitment to school librarianship and to the children and staff in their schools. They want to learn more about what is happening in the school library world, and how they can improve their own situation, to the benefit of children and teachers.

    I believe that local, national and international conferences, whether they are on-line or not, should have a balance between academics who present their research, and the average school librarian who knows what is really happening on the school floor. Of course, all these people benefit from conferences in different forms. During interviews, I have also learned that some school librarians think that they are not welcome at international conferences … that you have to be someone “special” in order to attend. Then, also, there is the question of the conference fee, which needs to be paid for. Conferences should be affordable and open to all who are interested in our wonderful profession. They should not just be for the elite. As I have tried to explain in my paper which will be presented at the IASL Conference in California shortly, cross-language, cross-border, cross-culture communication is essential, in order to promote our work.

    Also, my research shows that some school libraries in poorer countries throughout Europe only have one computer in the library. I can image that difficulties could arise if this PC is being used for online conferences. The library administration would have to be put to one side :-).

    Although the following comments are not particularly relevant to the topic which is being discussed, I think they should be taken into account. They are about the realities of school librarianship in Europe. Luisa Marquardt has already explained in her comments on this subject that after attending international conferences, she travels throughout Italy, visiting sometimes small communities, explaining to Italian school librarians and teachers, in their own language, what is happening in the international school library world. She has spent an enormous amount of time doing this, with very little help from subsidies and often at her own expense. Lourense Das, the Director Europe of the IASL does this also – travelling to different countries to promote school librarianship, often at her own expense.

    Just for the record, I am currently completeing my Ph.D. via a part-time E-learning programme. I still go to school and open the door of my beautiful library at 8.30am every morning. Most important of all, the children love the library and use it in a good way.

    I eagerly look forward to your comments.

    A last question – how many working school librarians are taking part in the California Conference? What is the ratio between academics and working school librarians? – a difficult question, but I would like to receive an answer. The reality of day to day school librarianship is very important.

    Vriendelijke groet (Friendly greetings)|

    Helen Boelens,
    Kalsbeek College,
    Woerden. The Netherlands.

    Comment by Helen Boelens | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  4. To all:

    Prior to this discussion I asked myself repeatedly why do companies use “Second Life” for their conferences when they can just have a conference in a room? Why do companies have these “Second Life” conferences in a room with people participating on-line when they are sitting next to each other? I also asked myself why is using “Second Life” considered being information literate? Now I know why. You can have a virtual meeting in any country using any language broadcast around the world. So now I ask myself, “what is so terrible about that?”

    I enjoy reading and learning many things from the threads of the IASL-LINK. What is to stop me from learning and participating even more if the conference was broadcast on-line? Perhaps the answer to this new good problem is why can’t the conference be on-line and face-to-face?

    Come on people. Was it so terrible to learn how to use a computer in the library and give up a card catalogue? Was it so terrible to put marc records on every item in the library? No, of course not. Therefore, using new technology in communicating with each other can only be good.

    Very sincerely,
    Lorraine Wiener, MA, LMT
    Inglewood High School
    Inglewood, California

    Comment by Lorraine Wiener | July 31, 2008 | Reply

  5. Dear M Boelens, and IASLers, around the world,

    My humble input into the discussions surrounding the IASL Conference attendances.
    The research being carried out in European schools sounds very interesting; some of your worst case scenarios are the norm in many other parts of the world, and many ordinary school librarians cannot even begin to consider the possiblity of a conference, not regional and certainly not international. Video conferencing – might have to mean travelling only God knows how many kilometers to the nearest big town / city, to sit around a table and talk to people you might see on a screen or only hear !!!!!!!!!!!!! Why? when that money – if at all it could be raised – could buy a few more readers for the library? No; even the regional conferences will not reach the people who need most to be reached – the very grass roots service men /women ; operating from spareclass rooms, store rooms, under trees, etc.
    I don’t pretend to have the answers. The regional conference will certainly embrace more people than these large ones – which whether we like to admit it or not are by their very nature very elitist – there is no way they can be affordable to 95% of the people who really will benefit very much from just the opportunity to sit and have a discussion, exchange ideas…

    We have used school based seminars; we have District Clusters, where school / teacher librarians in a certain vicinity have met, exchanged ideas, where people who have attended conferences/ seminars elsewhere have reported , shared the ideas…
    An analogy – those trying to encourage forestation and combat the desertification are doing it one sapling at a time; a concerted effort, over a time will make impact; appproach has to be multi pronged; offering free membership, means embracing, bringing people into the loop, meeting them regularly in some fora, annually? staying in contact, encouraging, keeping people in the know, of developments… there is no one clear annswer. The President can’t be at every regional meeting, its impossible, but regional Directors can bring the executive presence, even where conferences are not IASL, a presence could be negotiated, and thus the news will be shared and spread. We have to marshal the decision makers in the ministries. The grass roots personnel have the enthusiasm, but the clout rests elsewhere; we need both to make impact.

    Best wishes to all the conference attendees; somebody has to attend and make decisions, share ideas, May it be a fruitful time. Let the ideas spill over to non attendees

    Margaret Baffour-Awuah,
    Retired Librarian, Botswana

    Comment by Margaret Baffour-Awuah | August 1, 2008 | Reply

  6. As you have seen from the comments from Ray and others, an extensive discussion has started on IASL-Link on this issue and here are my views on this topic.
    In discussions in general it is important to examine the different points of view and respond to them. Luisa Marquardt has written very balanced comments on virtual versus life conferences and I would like to echo her words, but also would like to add a few comments as well.

    First of all, the good thing from this discussion is, that apparently conferences in general are not disputed. And that is an important aspect, because conferences whether they are life or virtual can only exist, when there are participants – people who are able but particularly willing to contribute. Let’s go in detail to that.

    It is still a fact – also in Europe – that there are school librarians who cannot (are not able to) take part in virtual conferences, for the simple reason they have no access or only very limited access to computers. In many cases these colleagues will also not be able to take part in a life conference if this conference means travelling. This means that this is not a matter of simply change a life conference into a virtual one, because for them it doesn’t make any difference. The real issue here is, if we, as a global community are willing to share our knowledge and information with others. IASL, IFLA & ENSIL and its members certainly are!! They have showed this many times by not only writing on conferences and developments in general, on the web, in open access journals, but also by travelling to many places (on own expense) to do workshops and presentations. IASL has (e.g. after the conference in Durban) organized a trip to Botswana and other places where members of its leadership have given workshops. IASL has provided virtual access to parts of conferences in the past and I’m sure will continue to do so in the future. The IASL website with its immense number of resources on school librarianship, gives free access to information and knowledge. The ENSIL community is a true free community, but dependent on the contributions of its participants and there are many who are willing to share their articles, photos and ideas with others both through the website and the list serve.

    There is another misunderstanding on life conferences, so it seems and that is that these conferences are only meant to keep ca. 50 people going to the next one. Well, let’s have a look at this too. Many associations depend on sponsorships (NOT membership fees) to survive; to be able to maintain a website, to distribute a newsletter, to give discounts on seminars and YES also on conferences. These sponsors who exhibit at the conference venue only do this, because they know, they can meet school librarians in person, show their products and built a network. From own experience I can vouch for that and I have organised a few major conferences that brought some profit for the associations to ensure (e.g.) free or cheap training programmes for grassroots librarians. These sponsors are not (but this can change in the future) interested in virtual conferences. To make it absolute clear: the money that is earned at conferences is not used to let the leadership travel to the next one. I have always paid for my travel and other costs myself as many of my colleagues are doing, especially within IASL and ENSIL.
    Furthermore there are two other very important aspects to life conferences that cannot be executed in a virtual one. Many (international) conferences organise trips to (school) libraries. These visits are vital to learn about day to day experiences from colleagues, to see and feel the obstacles they are facing, to understand their difficulties and learn about their culture. It’s impossible to do this virtually.
    Finally – also from own experience – I know that besides the sessions at conferences (whether they are life or virtual), networking during breaks, lunches and social events are crucial to build strong relationships with colleagues all over the world. This networking works completely different from virtual networking: body language says sometimes more than thousand words; you can look into someone’s eyes and despite languages difficulties understand each other. For me, these experiences have become the most important experiences in my personal and professional life and I have been able to built friendships that will last forever.

    Does this mean that I’m against virtual conferences? On the contrary! I’m very much in favour of using the new technology to organize virtual conferences and training programmes. But for me it is not a matter of simply change a life conference into a virtual one, and WHOOOPIIEE, all problems are solved.

    So, please lets make this discussion a balanced one. Develop the best strategy for the dissemination of information and knowledge within the global school library community. At this stage, this means sometimes it will be a life conference and in another situation it will be a virtual one and possibly a combined one. But for all versions it’s the same song: without participants it will never work.

    Lourense H. Das
    Consultant Meles Meles School Library Service
    Director Europe for IASL
    Coordinator ENSIL

    Comment by Lourense Das | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  7. […] Niels recently organized a training course that combined physical and virtual communication – I gave one of the introductory lectures – and he reports on the experience in the blog post How School Librarians Could Work Better Together. […]

    Pingback by PL 36/08 « Plinius | September 3, 2008 | Reply

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