Today’s topic is something I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about for a very long time. This is something that I have been concerned about even before I decided to pursue a career in librarianship because it’s an issue that has affected me in my journey through the Irish education system. I want to talk about the lack of libraries in schools and, with it, the lack of digital literacy training.
The School Library Association has pointed out that the situation in Ireland is “highly unsatisfactory.” As it stands there is no statutory recognition for school libraries and no specific budgetary focus to maintain libraries on a national level. SLARI points out that in many cases libraries are provided by, “boards of management, school principals, teachers, librarians and parents who through dedication, fund-raising, hard work and sheer determination have managed to provide a high quality library service in a relatively small number of schools throughout the country.” Unfortunately not every school in Ireland has such dedicated members of staff and parents. Actually, more to the point, not every school has staff or parents with the time or money in the present climate to provide these services and therefore it is likely that students are receiving different degrees of education.
Many studies have shown the success of school libraries in relation to literacy levels with increased student performance in areas like reading and writing. We can see these results in the very successful Irish initiative the JCSP Demonstration Library Project which has expanded since it’s introduction in 2002. However, there is no overall call for libraries to be established in secondary schools around the country. The drop-off in engagement with libraries during teenage years is a well known phenomenon and I believe this lack of engagement leads to issues at university level. By the time students get to college the library can seem an intimidating place and although college libraries do offer support in the form of tours and liaison, it is a time in life that is very over-whelming anyway and it can all be a bit too much to take in. On a personal note this was a huge issue for me in my first years at college and I think that I lost a lot of confidence in myself as a student. I completely understand the need for us to learn some things by rote the way we do in secondary school but there is a rather large imbalance in the way that you learn things off in secondary school and the way you research for college. I truly believe the presence of a school library and some form of research as part of the curriculum would be hugely beneficial to many Irish students.
However, these issues are not the biggest issues I perceive in relation to the lack of school libraries. I have spoken in the past about how technology has changed the way we work as librarians. Technology has made its mark on schools too. There are new and improved teacher resources, e.g. smart boards etc. I know that there are computer science classes and that students use the internet and teachers use web resources but I still see some gaping holes in this area of education. Students today are so-called ‘digital natives’ but does this mean that they shouldn’t be taught digital literacy. There seems to be this false idea that because these children are growing up with computers and other technology that they intrinsically know all there is to know. We all grow up with a native language and yet we are still taught about English or Irish in school. I was recently speaking to two younger members of my family, both in 5th yr of secondary school, both had been given one talk about social media and cyber bullying. One hour, one day. That’s it!?! They had some idea of copyright from business class and they had never heard of creative commons. These are kids that are on the internet in their spare time, posting things to Facebook, using Twitter and yet they know relatively little about the issues of intellectual property. It is also quite clear from just looking at Facebook that there are many young kids out there that really do not grasp the reality of what it means to be posting pictures of themselves online. I find it quite scary that these kids are growing up in an online environment and yet they don’t really know how to use the internet. There is research to support my opinions that teenagers do not know how to use the internet effectively and don’t evaluate the information they are receiving. Here is a link to one such survey. I don’t blame teacher’s as they do all they can with limited time and resources they have. The answer will only come in the form of a change in the system from the top levels. There has to be an overall national initiative to bring education in this area to every student in Ireland. I know that librarians have the skills to bridge this gap and if given the opportunity I think school librarians could make a huge difference.
These skills are hugely important in later life and teenagers need to know how to navigate the digital world effectively.
In summary, school libraries can:
1. Increase interest in reading.
2. Increase reading and writing skills.
3. Make sure that students have some familiarity with libraries and research before starting in third level.
4. Teach about intellectual property and evaluating resources.
5. Tackle the issues that students of today deal with, like social media, cyber bullying and how to manage their online presence
to name but a few. Hopefully, some schools, parents and public libraries are taking the opportunity to tackle some of these issues but I believe that we need the Irish education system to do something about this and I think school libraries are the answer.
For more reading on the topic: