IFLA SL Newsletter

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Germany on its way: The School Library + Information Literacy – The perfect combination

By Dr. Ronald Schneider and Eva von Jordan-Bonin

Germany’s public libraries as well as school libraries have enforced their commitment to the objective of media literacy and information literacy promotion in recent years. Also, more and more school teachers are considering media and information literacy skills as a goal of interdisciplinary learning in their teaching and project work – even more since the 2002 PISA study shocked the country by pointing out the shortcomings of the education system. By helping students to locate, comprehend and evaluate information for all classes the school library is obviously the perfect place to acquire and practice information literacy. With its media variety, the school library can also bridge the gap between educational goals and the more personal interests and preferences of children and young adults, given that the school library is well equipped, easily accessible and professionally managed.

So far this has been the problem of the German school library system: only 15% of German schools have school libraries that meet professional standards. There is neither a standardized vocational training for school librarians, nor advanced training courses or postgraduate studies for teachers in school library management.

However, since the publication of the PISA study, things have begun to change:

          German schools will gradually be turned into all-day schools, with different focal points set by the respective Federal States.

          Teachers have begun to rethink their roles and to see themselves as their students’ study partners and learning counsellors rather than to continue the old ex-cathedra teaching method.

          Students will be taught and encouraged to practice independent and self-motivated study using all types of media from an early age on.

These goals, however, cannot be achieved without providing modern and well-equipped school libraries. Fortunately, this understanding is on the advance. To support and promote it, the Deutsche Bibliotheksverband (German Library Association) convened a panel of experts in 2003, which processes and manages developments concerning schools and libraries and communicate these issues to professional circles, in order to prevent the German school library system from stagnation and retrogression. The commission “Library & School” consists of teachers and librarians alike. Since its founding it has already tackled numerous tasks and completed some of them.

There is a great need for further training opportunities. For teachers as a target group they are essential because school libraries and their use are still not a part of the teacher’s training. That is why since 2004 the panel of experts has organized advanced training courses throughout Germany, each course lasting one to two days. The courses are primarily directed at teachers but also parents and other volunteers take part. The objective is to support and promote the further development of school libraries and the cooperation between public libraries and schools in Germany. The need for these courses has grown so quickly (the number of schools interested in library skills have risen enormously over the last years) that the commission can barely meet the demand, although they have already started to work with other partners.

To provide primary resources on a professional level and to assure access to a wide range of school library-related issues to a larger audience, using modern information technology was the obvious suggestion of the commission. In 2004 it launched www.schulmediothek.de, a heavily used web portal offering continuously updated recommendations and support for school library officials, answers to practical questions as well as teaching examples.

The web portal allows the library commission to communicate recent developments and professional standards throughout the country and to present the most promising solutions to everyone who is involved in school library work. The web portal contributes to the promotion of information literacy skills in two ways:

          The simple and appealing navigation provided assures accessibility also to school library officials who might still feel inhibited to use electronic media as a source of professional information

          The rich variety of day-to-day school library work experience presented online as well as examples of cooperation between schools and public libraries offer a wealth of examples illustrating the promotion of reading competence, information literacy and media usage skills.

“School library + Information literacy: The perfect combination” will continue to be the focal point of interest of the commission in the upcoming years. An exemplary school library curriculum is currently being created. This “spiral curriculum concept” will include numerous best practice case studies, and will further contribute to promote information literacy as an indispensable learning goal and also to underline the unique possibilities school libraries offer to achieve this goal.


January 14, 2007 Posted by | 4. Issue 43, 5. Theme 43: Information Literacy, Germany | 1 Comment

Training working techniques in the school library

Guenter Schlamp
Lag Schulbibliotheken in Hessen


Fifteen years ago there was a lot of discussion about functional illiteracy in Germany. A radio reporter had pupils in Frankfurt Main read a newspaper article and then asked them about the contents. Conclusion: pupils no longer understand what they read.

It was also about fifteen years ago at the beginning of the nineties, that Hilmar Hoffmann, then Head of the Culture Department in Frankfurt,  pointed out, that, because of similar findings, the USA had started running programmes to improve pupils’ literacy. He appealed to those responsible for German education policy to run similar programmes.

What was then called functional illiteracy is not much different from what we now call lack of literacy. The PISA results are confirmation for the USA and other Anglo-Saxon countries who took a similar course of action, that their  training programmes were successful.

American school libraries play an important role in improving literacy. There are catalogues of detailed educational aims for all school years, which define which skills are to be trained.  These include all the steps of a research process from the wording of the task to the displaying of the results either as paper, wall news-sheet or HTML document. Getting to know how to use the library is, of course, also part of the training. “Go look it up in the card catalogue!” is a sentence which haunts American students day and night, as a former pupil told me, who was in the USA as an exchange student. She found this training very formalistic  – a process of small steps.

When leafing through American library periodicals you get the impression that it only seems to be about literacy.  Cosy corners and pleasure reading are not a priority.

Now, it is not necessary to go over the top, but the school  library is the right place to teach literacy. School libraries should progress from rooms with many books which are seldom used to workshops where students learn how to work with books and other media. The library teachers, school librarians, are the right people to moderate this process, working closely together with teachers from the various departments. The school library must be seen as an “active” library, not as an “intellectual filling station”.

I have brought some books on working techniques to my recent workshop for teachers and teacher-librarians. These books should be available in the library. It is advisable to have several copies or even class sets of some of them.

Software is ideal for the research process – for example Research Planner which is supplied with Microsoft Encarta, and Mind Manager, a program for creating mind maps.

It seems to me that in class more emphasis is placed on the results.

How often do you hear in Music, Biology or History “Prepare a paper!”

But who takes responsibility for the process? Who encourages the students to think very carefully about how they should do their research? In the past articles were copied from an encyclopaedia; nowadays students just click a few times and print.

For the research process itself a model was presented which has been developed with American models in mind (Big6 et al.). Each step must be accompanied by information and work sheets and also by evaluation sheets. Therefore, as a last step in the research process, over and above the presentation itself, the students are required to reflect on the process. This step can, of course, be dropped, when the students have acquired a certain degree of competence.

A school library, which is prepared to take on this task, becomes an indispensable part of the school. It can afford to stay a “BIBLIOthek”.

Reading Research has coined the phrase “Readers are better viewers.” This is based on the findings of neurologists who have examined the different ways the brain processes texts and television pictures. Experienced readers are more successful at surfing on the sea of digital information. Research into learning using the computer and the internet is beginning to produce similar results. 

Internet adresses:

www.kindred.k12.nd.us/CyLib/B6.html   Big6, the most well-known program for

in­formation literacy

www.isd77.k12.mn.us/resources/infocurr/infolit.html   examples for a curriculu

This paper and including the ppt-presentation are available in German language.

January 14, 2007 Posted by | 4. Issue 43, 5. Theme 43: Information Literacy, Germany | Leave a comment