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With my feet in the mud…

By Helen Boelens


Kalsbeek College


In Australia we are very aware of the need to conserve water. As a child in Australia, I knew that drinking water came from a tank on the roof and that bath water was pumped from an artesian well, deep under the ground. Water was never wasted. Dirty water was never allowed to run down the drainpipe. It was thrown onto the thirsty plants in the garden.

When I was in my twenties, I met a kind, friendly Dutchman. We fell in love and decided to “give it a go”. After our marriage, we moved to Holland. This is a country which has too much water. I will never forget the day we moved into our new house. It was raining. There was mud everywhere. Further along the street, grubby little children, wearing warm coats and rubber boots, were playing in the mud, building dykes. They were having a lovely time.

Yes, Holland is a country which has too much water, and lots of mud. There is a wonderful Dutch expression, which roughly translated into English is “with your feet in the mud”. It means that you are involved in the daily grind, putting one foot in front of the other, making squelching footsteps through the mud, to get to the dry ground – doing the ordinary day to day tasks in order to achieve a goal.

In this article, I want to tell you about “my feet in the mud” in the School Library and Information Centre at the Kalsbeek College in Woerden, the Netherlands. After my arrival in the Netherlands, it took me quite a while to learn the language, become familiar with the Dutch children’s and adult literature, revalidate my diploma’s and find a job as a school librarian in a local secondary school. For the record, the job of teaching librarian does not (as yet) exist in the Netherlands.
During my job interview in 1998, the director of the school explained to me that the Kalsbeek College is an “ordinary” school. It is not a private school – it is government funded and has no special sources of extra income. It is not a selective school. In 2007, it has a total of 2,600 pupils and is what is known as a comprehensive high school. The director told me that I was being hired to bring the school’s library into the 21st century. So this is when I had to put on my boots and began plodding through the mud…

I began by trying to define the goals of the school library (which has now become known as the school library and information center (SLIC) ). Whilst maintaining the wonderful, traditional goals of the school library, an attempt was made to introduce computer technology, new concepts of learning and digital forms of information into the SLIC. My recent paper:

“Imagine …You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” [1] : The school library and information center at the heart of the learning process and as an integral part of the learning environment

describes how we approached this problem. This paper was presented in Dutch and English at the Kalsbeek College on 31 January 2007 and was also presented, in Italian, at the triennial national project “Biblioteche nelle Scuole” in Milan, Italy on 15 March 2007. It can be found (in English) on the ENSIL (European Network for School Libraries and Information Literacy) website www.ensil.eu .

The paper describes how the school, as a whole, has recognized the important role which the school library plays at the heart of the learning process and as an integral part of the learning environment. Step by step, in co-operation with directors and teachers throughout the school, we have been moving towards this goal. The various steps which have taken place in this process were discussed at democratic meetings within the school, and decisions were made.

The educational objectives of the school are clearly stated in the school policy statement and in all information booklets which are handed out to (prospective) pupils. Information evenings have been held for parents of pupils, in order to explain to them what we are doing and what we are hoping to achieve.

In 2002, a decision was made to build a new SLIC (400 square meters), which would incorporate the traditional values of the school library, while making provisions for new facilities for the 21st century. This was a costly decision, but the results are spectacular. We now have a facility where more than 100 pupils from all different levels within the school can read, do their homework, or make use of new forms of learning, thanks to ICT software and hardware. The SLIC is comfortable, attractive and colorful. It has an excellent collection (in traditional and digital form) in five different languages. There is an ELO (Electronic Learning Environment) and a fully automated web-based library catalogue. At the moment, federated searches are being instigated, for the storage and retrieval of information throughout the entire school. We also have special facilities for gifted pupils and pupils with learning difficulties. Last but not least, the SLIC gives compulsory, interdisciplinary instruction in information literacy to teachers and pupils.

Our success up until now can be verified by:

· Improvement in academic achievement of pupils;

· An awareness throughout the school of the advantages (and disadvantages) of new forms of learning and how these can be implemented in the SLIC (when necessary);

· An awareness that learning should be interdisciplinary and that co-operation within the school is essential;

· An awareness of the effects that the information society has had on the “ordinary” school;

· A SLIC which is nearly always full with pupils making use of the facilities. It has come to the point that we almost need a second SLIC.

· An increase in reading throughout the school. The statistics for borrowing of traditional information, by pupils and staff, have risen more than 17% in one calendar year.

The success of the KILM (Kalsbeek Information Literacy Matrix), mentioned in my paper:

“Imagine …You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” [2] : The school library and information center at the heart of the learning process and as an integral part of the learning environment

is due to a combination of:

1. Organisation and

2. Methodology

3. The integrity and vision of the school leadership.

The changes in organization include meetings between all groups within the school (establishing a democratic process) and the coordination of projects between subject areas. The methods include the interdisciplinary teaching of information literacy skills in the SLIC. The integrity and vision of the school leadership speaks for itself.

No, we have not yet reached the other side of the pool of mud. The information society in which we live is changing so rapidly. The SLIC needs to take these changes into account and, if necessary, implement them into the policy of the SLIC. The situation within the SLIC at the Kalsbeek College is not perfect. Every day we come up against problems which still have to be solved. Nevertheless, the democratic process throughout the school plays an important role in resolving these problems and implementing new ideas. Without the educational vision of the director, Dr. Jaco Schouwenaar, none of this would have been possible. This is clearly described in the paper mentioned above.

In 2003, I decided to look more closely into the problems faced by the school librarian (or teaching librarian) in the 21st century. I have become a Ph.D. research student at Middlesex University, School of Education and Lifelong Learning in London, in co-operation with the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam. My contact with the university in London is usually through E-learning. My recent papers include:

“A new kind of information specialist for a new kind of learning”

which I presented at World Library and Information Congress, 72nd IFLA General Conference and Council, in Seoul (South Korea), August 2006, can also be found on www.ensil.eu . The ideas presented in this paper are very relevant to a walk through the mud.

During my research, I have been fortunate to meet people from many different countries who are interested in school library work – librarians from different kinds of libraries, academics, researchers, politicians, and also people with commercial or economic interests. I have also met those who think that school library work is at an end –it has seen better days and is no longer necessary. It can be replaced by other kinds of services.

But these people do not plod through the mud. They are not involved in the daily life of the school or the school library. They visit the school library occasionally, carry out research, and come up with ideas and suggestions. Sometimes politics or self-interest play a role.

Their work is different from mine. I get up in the morning and am faced with the day to day realities of school library work, in positive or negative ways. I see what happens each day in the SLIC. I see the little drama’s which occur, and also see the reactions of children, on a daily basis, to new innovations in the SLIC. I put on the gumboots every morning and plod on through the mud. It may be time for a new sturdy pair of gumboots. They sell very pretty, colourful ones here in Holland!


July 2, 2007 Posted by | 6. Issue 44, 7. Theme 44, Nederland | 2 Comments


By Helen Boelens,

Throughout the world, people are in agreement about the importance of information literacy skills, as a tool for lifelong learning.  The Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning, dated 9 November 2005, was published by the participants in the High Level Colloquium on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning held at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  Many different groups of people who are interested in information literacy skills, have come into existence, for example comparative educational groups and other educators, E-learning groups, information literacy groups, lifelong learning groups, Filter groups, groups of college and university librarians, public librarians etc.  The list is long. In the opinion of the writer, many of the members of these groups, although excellent in their own fields, have very little to do with what actually goes on each day in primary or secondary schools.  They do not see what is happening on the school floor on a daily basis.

The question is: “How can young children be encouraged and inspired, at an early age, to become information literate?

In August 2006, I presented my paper entitled “A new kind of Information Specialist for a New Kind of Learning” at the World Library and Information Congress, 72nd IFLA General Conference and Council, in Seoul (South Korea). Information about this presentation can be found on www.ifla.org .  The presentation took place in a large auditorium; people from all over the world were kind enough to come and hear what I had to say. 

My paper was concerned with the goals of the modern school library and information centre.  One of these goals is instruction in interdisciplinary information literacy skills throughout the entire school, for both pupils and teachers.  At the Kalsbeek College in Woerden, the Netherlands, an attempt is being made to fulfil these goals, incorporating information literacy skills into the school curriculum. This goal is clearly mentioned in the policy statement of the school. Instruction, given by the school information specialist, takes place in the School Library and Information Centre, as part of a programme which incorporates the principles of E-learning and Project-based learning.  The school uses a matrix, known as the KILM (Kalsbeek Information Literacy Matrix), to co-ordinate the lessons.  During interdisciplinary projects, which are planned into the school programme at various times throughout the year, pupils receive information literacy instruction, which helps them to find the information which they require for a specific, interdisciplinary paper or task.  Pupils in all classes (11 – 18 years of age), at all different educational levels, receive instruction.  Each year, the matrix is extended, so that as many children as possible can benefit from the instruction.  The results up until now have been positive.

At the end of the presentation in Seoul, a very friendly school librarian from Spain came to me and said “Your school leadership sounds very enlightened”.  Another librarian from Ireland said “Your school sounds like paradise!”

When I looked at my audience and listened to their questions, I realised how difficult it is to address an audience of people who come from all over the world; from developing and developed countries.  Each person in the audience had a different definition of what a “normal” school library and information centre is, and how it can be used to teach information literacy skills to pupils. There are also many different opinions about role of the school librarian or school information specialist within the school and about the skills and academic education which this person should have.  People from developing countries must feel overwhelmed.  The faster they try to catch up with the developed world, the faster it moves on to even newer and, from their perspective, less attainable goals. I suppose they may wonder how they will ever catch up. 

As mentioned above, the teaching of information literacy skills is becoming part of the curriculum at the Kalsbeek College.  Education Innovation and Information, number 121, published in December 2005 by the International Bureau of Education, UNESCO, is entitled The Community of Practice in curriculum development is moving forward : The debate on competencies.  This article discusses the complex challenge of achieving a sound and a feasible implementation of educational innovations (such as information literacy and lifelong learning skills) into the curriculum in all schools, in both developed and developing countries. This article asks the question:  “ Can the competencies approach be a promising reality or an unreal utopia for developing countries?”  Read more about this at www.ibe.unesco.org. 

In the opinion of the writer, the problem – “How can young children be encouraged and inspired, at an early age, to become information literate? – can only be solved if people work together.  The different groups mentioned in the first paragraph need to work together towards a common goal.  Political and bureaucratic goals should be put to one side.

The Kalsbeek College is very fortunate.  It is a modern, well-equipped school with an enlightened school leadership. The school library and information centre has an excellent collection and facilities.  But the school is definitely not a paradise. The reason that the information literacy programme works as well as it does is because the school leadership, teachers, school information specialist, pupils and parents work together towards this goal. It is hard work. It takes a lot of dedication, leadership and diplomacy within the school itself, but as mentioned above, the results are positive. The School Library and Information Centre is a wonderful learning environment where pupils can learn all different kinds of skills.  The school librarians are the people who make this environment work.  Children leave the school with lifelong learning skills which they can use in their tertiary education and throughout their lives. 

In closing, I would like to draw your attention to one of my favourite quotations.  On first reading, it seems to refer to the use of pc’s (inside or outside the school):

“An instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.” 

This statement was made by Edward R. Murrow, at the RTNDA Convention in Chicago on October 15, 1958. He was referring to the new medium, television.

Helen Boelens,
Kalsbeek College,
Woerden.  The Netherlands.


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

Education for school librarians in the Netherlands

By Lourense Das
Meles Meles SMD

In 1975, for the first time in the history of library education, a special one-year post-graduate training course at BA-level started in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Soon, there were more colleges who offered this course but there were never many students. As it was very difficult to find a position in a school library and also because of new ideas on library education in general, this course was stopped halfway the nineteen-eighties.

Since then there is no fulltime training programme for school librarians available. In 1996 the LWSVO (Dutch association for school librarians) (since 2004 LWSVO-NVB) managed to develop a short continuing education course (6 full days) at the university of Amsterdam. The development of this course was very important for the profession in general as many employees working in school libraries were not trained as school librarians. A few hundred students attended this course over a period of two years. It was followed by a refresher course (one day) in 1998. In that same period a lot of commercial organizations started to develop training programmes; the quality of these courses was difficult to establish and the LWSVO was desperately searching for new possibilities.

One of them was the participation in a working group of ECABO. ECABO is the certified organization in the Netherlands for the development of vocational training programs. This working group worked on a special training course for assistant librarians. The students were supposed to be educated for jobs in a broad range of libraries : public libraries, corporate libraries, scientific libraries and special libraries, including school libraries.

Another project was the development of two new training post-graduate programmes (both 6 days) at the university of Amsterdam. One is called ‘Media-educatie en didactiek’ (Information literacy and pedagogy) and the other one ‘Leiding geven in de mediatheek’ (Management of the school library). Both courses are still running, with very good assessment results.

In cooperation with VOBID a special two-day course was developed for school librarians called ‘Zoeken in digitale bestanden’ (Information retrieval in the digital world). This course was also quite successful.

The latest project is the development of a post-graduate course at the Open University for teachers and school librarians on information literacy. This training programme is still ‘under construction’ and is expected to start later this year.

A big problem was (and still is) that the courses mentioned above and also other courses that were developed are not accredited by the government. Also the courses are quite expensive and often school administrators do not want to invest in the professional development of the school librarian. So there is still a lot of work to do!


An overview of training courses for librarians can be found on the website of NVB (The Netherlands Association for Library, Information and Knowledge Professionals): http://www.nvbonline.nl/content.php?hoofdid=229&id=1661

More information on the courses initiated by LWSVO-NVB: http://www.nvbonline.nl/content.php?hoofdid=273&id=1490

January 14, 2007 Posted by | 2. Issue 42, 3. Theme:42: SL-education, Nederland | 3 Comments