IFLA SL Newsletter

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Information Literacy in Italy

By Paolo Odasso,

In the middle of the nineties, for the first time, a pilot project with the goal of introducing Information Literacy (IL) took place in an Italian upper secondary school, the Abba School, near Milan in the North of Italy. Thanks to the cooperation of an enterprising school librarian and some teachers this experimentation gained a strong reputation and produced good documentation with a detailed report amazingly titled  Sorry, where do I have to go if I want to find vinagre”? which had a deep impact on the community of Italian teachers/school librarians (SLans).  Also during the same period in Brescia (near Milan) there was a crowded and successful national meeting, supported by the Italian Section of School Librarian Association, in which IL and the new educational activities were introduced to the Italian school libraries. 

In spite of this timely introduction, IL in Italy involved mostly SLans and didn’t have the strength to involve the Italian teachers, even less the National Educational Authorities: in other words IL didn’t become part of the National Curriculum. Not in the nineties, nor nowadays.

The Italian Education System copes with the challenges of the Internet and information overload in the information society by focusing its attention on promoting ICT literacy but not IL. The interest in IL therefore kept on being mainly theoretical, with very few applications in the everyday activities of Italian schools.     

An important role in strengthening the interest in the theoretical knowledge of the IL was played by the University of Padua, with a master-course open to teachers and Slans. The same University in 2002 organized the first international meeting specifically dedicated to IL whose proceedings were collected in a book, with the Popperian title To stumble on the problem. 

A good way to legitimate IL with Italian teachers has been to connect IL with the educational heritage of learning through the process of research, especially through the well-known tradition which comes from philosophers/pedagogues like J. Dewey, J. Bruner, A.D. Ausubel,  etc. The novelty of IL has therefore be seen mainly as a development of the constructivist approach by taking into account the new educational problems coming out from the challenges of the Internet and information society.

Two main reasons hinder now the spread of IL among Italian schools.

First of all the Italian teachers initial training at University prepares them for a teacher-centred approach with frontal lessons but much with less work as a mentor, tutors with a student-centred approach focused on promoting learning by research-activities.  

Secondly both SL and Slan have, in Italy, a very precarious existence. There isn’t a National Law that guarantees the presence of a specialized Slan with a specific role in any of the 10,000 Italian schools. 

It’s not easy to predict the future of IL educational activities in Italian schools and SLs without the strong involvement of teachers of curriculum-disciplines.

These difficulties call for further research into the relationship between the two aspects which are at the centre of the international educational debate and also of IL: “information” from one side and “learning-education” (in Italian we use the term “formation”) from the other one. 

One of the most important changes in the educational system is in fact the shift of focus from having knowledge to being competent, from having information to being information literate. The stress is on the word to be, to become, not to have.  If the rationale of IL is to promote an autonomous lifelong learner the main duty of most educational systems is not only to guarantee the access to information but to guarantee the educational success for every learner.

From this point of view to complete this outline of  IL in Italy it is useful to mention a survey that was performed by IRRE Piemonte, a Regional Institute for Educational Research of the Ministry of Education whose summary has been reported in the before-mentioned “To stumble on the problem”. In this survey to perform IL activities in a SL means to face the educational problem of transforming the “information” into “meanings”. It means helping learners to metabolize the new information into personal knowledge, competence and wisdom, to change quantity of information into quality of “meanings”. The focus is less in the concept of “information” and more in the concept of “formation”, which is the modern translation of the word paideia in the old Greek Language, or the word “bildung” in the modern German Language.

All that means that in a SL it is important the mediation through which the information become personally meaningful to the learner, starting with the first step from so-called “cognitive conflict” through the meta-cognitive conceptual maps with which to link the meanings with the personalization of meanings. It also important understanding how this process can have different paths according to the different epistemology of the disciplines. In some learning activities the IL can start with a problem and end with a solution. In others it can start with a non-problem and end with a problem etc.

This final consideration means that in order to spread IL in an Italian SL the cooperation of information-expert (librarian) with the meanings-expert (teacher of the disciple) is not only important but also absolutely necessary.


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

Education for Italian School Librarians and Documentalists (SL&D)

By Paolo Odasso

AIB Public Libraries National Committee


The most important initiatives in the field of Education for School Librarians and Documentalist (SL&D) in Italy, during the last years, are the following ones:

1. The “Il progetto Biblioteche nelle scuole” (The Project Libraries in the Schools) run by the National Ministry of Education http://www.istruzione.it/

2. The project GOLD financed by INDIRE (National Institute for Documentation of Innovation of Educational Research) http://www.indire.it/

3. The project WINIRIDE promoted and financed also by INDIRE

4. The Corso di Perfezionamento “Formazione del docente documentalista scolastico” (a Specialization course for SL&D run by the University of Padova (http://www.unipd.it/)

The above mentioned initiatives are at a national level. It’s also important to remember there are different regional and local initiatives with many training courses and counselling activities for SL&D. Some of them are organised by Local Educational Authorities, some others by the IRRE. There are 20 Regional Institutes for Educational Research of the Ministry of Education operating with the mission to support Italian schools to improve the quality of learning.

Before summarizing these initiatives it must be remembered that in Italy, even if the majority of the State schools, from primary to upper secondary, has its own School Library and Resource Centre (SLRC), there isn’t a National Parliament law that guarantees their existence, nor that the SL&D profession is in anyone of them. As a consequence there is not a upper secondary diploma or a University degree for SL&D but only training or specialisation courses for in-service teachers who, while working for the SLRC of their own schools, want to improve the quality of their job through volunteer participation.


1. The “Project Libraries in the schools” (“Il progetto Biblioteche nelle scuole”) http://www.istruzione.it/innovazione/progetti/biblioteche-nelle-scuole.shtml, at the moment, is surely the most important in Italy, both for the big amount of money invested and for the number of teachers and SL&D involved. This project started in the year 2004 with the support of three National Ministry – the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Technological Innovation, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage – and in cooperation with the Central Institute for the Unique Catalogue (ICCU). The main goal of the project is to begin a process of networked cataloguing in order to integrate the catalogues of 500 Italian schools inside the National Library Service (SBN http://www.iccu.sbn.it/sbn.htm) and to promote the future use of the national system of Inter Library Loan among the Italian schools and teachers. This acknowledges the growing importance of the access to information for the educational activities and is the main rationale for this project that is supposed to last three years. Thanks to the project about 500 SL&D will be engaged in a process of training in order to become expert users of two national client-server software, one in the North (www.sebina.it/Sebina.htm), and the other one in the South of Italy (www.iccu.sbn.it/sbnunix.htm).

2. The project GOLD (Global On line Documentation, www.gold.indire.it ) financed by the INDIRE (www.indire.it) which is a National Institution of the Ministry of Education, is a project of “knowledge management” of the Italian school system, the most important public initiative in the field of educational “best practices documentation”. GOLD started in the year 2002 with the cooperation of three main subjects: INDIRE, the Ministry of Education, the 20 Regional IRRE. In many regions also other organisations give their support to the implementation of GOLD: the Universities and some Teachers Professional Associations. This project is strictly dependent on the changes of educational systems both at international and at the national level. How to develop “lifelong learning” and how to help learners to build up and strengthen “multi-literacies”, “key-competencies” more than the traditional delivering of a “closed body of information/knowledge” are the main focus and challenges that all the educational systems have to cope with, as we can see from many international benchmarking surveys, like OECD_PISA. In Italy the school system is challenged by another reason. After the year 2000 all the Italian schools became autonomous and a new decentralised system took off. As a consequence of these important changes, all the Italian schools have, by law, at the same time the duty to perform “action-research” activities and finally to document, capitalize and organise the new information and knowledge produced. Teachers and/or SL&D, according to GOLD, are therefore encouraged (with money for any of the best practice awarded and with local training courses) to select the most significant experiences of their school and then, by following National Guidelines produced by INDIRE-IRRE system, http://gold.bdp.it/nazionale/documentare/Linee_guida/linee1.htm to produce primary and secondary documents both for their own SLRC and for the national on line catalogue, that is GOLD. By FTP, the educational electronic documentation moves from the local SRLC administrated by the SL&D to the regional database administrated by the 20 IRRE, to the national database administrated by the INDIRE. GOLD therefore became the most important Italian on line catalogue for educational grey materials, a database where it is possible to find out both educational processes and learning objects. Among many different important aspects it must be called upon the attention over the fact that for secondary documentation GOLD makes use of one of most important European Educational Thesaurus, the European Treasury Brower http://www.eun.org/eun.org2/eun/en/Celebrate_LearningObjects/entry_page.cfm?id_area=14 a which is useful pathway for possible future developments toward a European educational data base.

3. The Project WINIRIDE http://www.winiride.it/ is dedicated to process of cooperative cataloguing among Italian SLRCs. This project started in the last decade of the last century. Thanks to the cooperation of INDIRE, the Ministry of Education and the 20 IRRE during the last few years, free software, called WINIRIDE (which is a development for schools of the UNESCO WIN-ISIS) has been offered to all the 10,700 Italian schools. The peculiarity of this software is that it is specifically suited for a SLRC, because it pays a lot of attention to semantic aspects of cataloguing and extremely useful for inexpert users like students. Not only CDD, but also abstracts, different possibilities to link multimedia information, different international, national and local thesauri (EET, http://www.eurydice.org/TeeForm/FrameSet_EN.htm LGI etc.) are included. To promote the use of this software and in order to learn how to use and to exploit its educational potentials, many IRRE organised training courses for SL&D. Some of them (see IRRE Piemonte http://www.winiride.it/piemonte/ ) at the end the courses gave birth to a regional SLRC OPAC. One of the most important aspects of these IRRE courses is the focus on the necessity – due to the great explosion of OPACs and the Internet. – for a SLRC to develop its own specific identity, in a dialectic of distinction/cooperation with other types of libraries. According to this assumption, the mission of SLRC is not simply that of guaranteeing access to information for everyone, that of “in-forming”, like other kind of libraries have to do. It is instead to give birth to an educational laboratory, to recognize that its own mission is strictly dependent on the mission of the school. As far as students are concerned its function is therefore that of “trans-forming” the learner into an expert user and as far as teachers are concerned its function is that of “trans-forming” the information produced by their professional activities into real resources through knowledge management policies.

4. The Corso di Perfezionamento “Formazione del docente documentalista scolastico” (a Specialization course for SL&D run by the University of Padova http://www.unipd.it/corsi_perfezionamento/scheda/676.htm) is surely one of the most important initiative developed in Italy during the last years. Many Italian teachers, from primary to upper secondary schools, went to Padova and took part in annual courses. Some of them are also e-learning and/or blended courses. It must be remembered that, connected with these courses, one of the most important initiatives organised by the University of Padova in 2003 was the first international meeting for Italian SL&D’s about the issue of the Educational Research in SLRC and different approaches to Information Literacy.

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