IFLA SL Newsletter

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Training Estonian School Librarians

By Jaanus Kõuts

Estonian Librarians Association

– Section of School Libraries

Estonia with its population of 1.35 million is smaller than a district of some big cities. In spite of that, in the Estonian language approximately 3000 books, 250 magazines and 100 newspapers are published every year. The sustainability of a small nation and its culture are highly dependent on education being in the mother tongue.

In the last academic year (2004/05), there were 603 schools of different types all together in Estonia. 502 (83,25%) of them were schools where children were taught in the Estonian language.

The statistics offered by the school libraries themselves show that a library exists at least in 474 schools – 78.6 % of the total amount of schools. Such a multitude exists for historical reasons and because of the Law of Basic and Secondary School, which states that every school must have a library.

In Estonia, library is considered as such only, if besides the teaching materials collection, it also has the main collection. Still there are a number of schools which do not have a library in that sense. During the last years there has developed a practice to join local public and school libraries, which causes a lot of discussions in the library community.

In 474 libraries there are 605 school librarians. 358 (59%) of them have higher education on library and/or information science. This amount is a result of Estonian library education that has evolved its traditions during last 80 years. Higher education on library field can be obtained in two institutions: Tallinn University Department of Information Studies and University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy Department of Library and Information Science. In curricula, there was no specific course about school libraries and the learning environment until 2003. Since this time the 3rd year students of librarianship have this subject for 1.5 ECTS in Viljandi. Both institutions practice continuing training, offering possibility to obtain professional knowledge in the field of librarianship. The specific courses for school librarians have been provided at The Open University Center for Continuing Education of Tallinn University since 2005. The two courses consist of following topics: psychology, creating learning environment, co-operation with teachers, information searching, creating databases anf practical skills. These courses are gaining popularity, because the need to improve professional knowledge is emerging. University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy Department of Continuing Education starts the first course in summer 2006. There is also a course for school librarians offered by one counseling company.

The professional level of school librarians varies widely and this reflects seemingly in the functioning of the library. Good professional knowledge of staff is usually the prerequisite for maintaining the library well. But there are also opposite examples, which show that running a good library depends more on personal motivation.

In a school library there are a number of different duties that all require a great variety of knowledge and skills which change with time.

For example 375 libraries of 474 have at least one computer – it makes 79%. The automated library software is used at 169 libraries (36%). So there is need for courses on the topics of information technology and library software. And these courses have to be at a very good level and in very understandable language. Group workshops at a summer seminar pointed out the need for training in following topics (top 5): information technology, librarianship, pedagogics, cultural history and children’s literature.

During Soviet occupation the school network was used to support ideology and therefore also the school libraries were under the special attention of the state. The work of school libraries was coordinated by methodological center, that organized regular training. After the Re-Independence on 1991 the center was closed and there is no institution dealing with school libraries at state level anymore. Most active school librarians formed a section of school libraries to the Estonian Librarian Association in 1998 and among the goals of it are to propose the creation of a methodological center and to organize continuing education.

There have been two information days and a summer seminar every year. The topics of the information days during last two years have been development of information technology in the school library; management of the school library; the co-operation with the publishers of teaching materials and a skills day – form practician to practician. These information days are popular, because the program is well-prepared, lectures are of a high standard and the participation fee is low (ca 7 euros per person). Summer seminars last 3 days and the number of participants has been restricted to 60. The topics of the two last years have been: “The role of school library in evolving pupil’s general competence” (2005); “Professional standard of librarian – a challenge to develop librarians personal identity, general and main competencies” (2004). In 2003 there was an international summer seminar about learning centers with colleges from Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Sweden.

The section has also created “The Job Management Fundamentals for School Library”, which is a valid decree of Ministry of Education since 2001.

The section has published three books: “The Pupil, the Book, the Library” (2001), “The Handbook of School Librarian” (2001) and “The Library as the Learning Center – it’s Role and Aims in Learning Process” (2003).

The representative of the section was a member the Professional standard working group.

Since 2002 the section has in co-operation with Ministry of Education carried out evaluation of school libraries. This action helps to map the situation of school libraries and inform the Ministry of Education and local authorities. The report of the commission will be available soon and it will also point out the topics where the heads of the libraries most need the education.

The articles about Estonian school libraries are published in magazine “Raamatukogu” (“Library”) and there is a lot of valuable information about school libraries on the Internet. The Estonian school librarian community uses the mailing list to communicate, to share knowledge and tips, to ask for help and advice. There were 224 members in the list in April 2006.

In conclusion it has to be declared that man can educate only oneself – nobody else can “upload” the knowledge to one’s head. What the others can do is to create the suitable environment and possibilities for the development. So let us help the colleagues to find motivation and let us create the possibilities for developing. I think this is an important part of our mission.


January 14, 2007 Posted by | 2. Issue 42, 3. Theme:42: SL-education, Estonia | Leave a comment