International Association
of School Librarianship

27th Annual Conference - Ramat-Gan, Israel
"Education for All: Culture, Reading and Information"


Conference Invitation: pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3

Advance Information: pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3

27th Conference in Israel: Education For All - 1998 Conference Proceedings


Education for All:
Culture, Reading and Information
27th International IASL Conference
Ramat-Gan, Israel, July 1998
An Australian Experience
Judy O'Connell

Many information professionals gathered together in Israel to take part in the 27th annual conference of the International Association of School Librarianship. Gathered together this time were representatives of the profession from 25 different countries around the globe, each person bringing particular experiences from their homeland to share with us all. The difficulties and triumphs of our profession take on a truly new dimension when we begin to share our experiences with others, and take home with us a new thought, approach, philosophy, strategy or tool for continuing our work with information literacy in our own schools.

IASL has as its goal the development of literacy and cultural appreciation and the effective use of information by students, through the advancement of school libraries and media centres around the world. One key focus for conference discussion was reading and literacy for cultural promotion, ethnic integrity, and communication of values; the other key focus was information literacy -- rubrics, learning technologies, and cognitive processes.

While we in Australia have a strong tradition of school libraries, and qualified teacher librarians, this is not the case in many countries around the world. For some it is a case of severe economic problems, such as those described by Genevieve Hart of the Department of Library and Information Science, University of the Western Cape, South Africa:

"For nearly 10 years there has been no money available for school library collections, or for staffing in any way to support the use of these resources. The result of this was apparent in my visits to schools -- in some the few books that were there were either locked in cupboards or closed in a classroom that was rarely accessed."

In the same vein, Thuli Radebe, of the Department of Information Studies, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, explained the inherent difficulty of training teachers in literacy promotion, when the trainees themselves did not have a single fiction book of their own, or done any fiction reading through their own years of schooling. For others the tradition of school libraries or qualified teacher librarians are simply not part of the educational structures in the country.

The opportunity to meet with Israeli teacher librarians also highlighted another dimension to which we Australians are not accustomed. Though we were so very welcomed by all, many of us found the tense "political" perspective on issues somewhat "challenging" -- whether it was issues of conservation of water, land, or cultural identity. So while Chaim Seymour of the Department of Information Studies and Librarianship, of Bar-Ilan University in Israel mesmerised us by his explanation of the renaissance of the Hebrew national language as a living and working language for education, conversation, publication, and computing -- outside the conference we were confronted by the other side of this story.

Coming from Australia, we found it hard to ignore the many young gun-carrying youth in army uniform around the country carrying weapons with such nonchalance. One breakfast smorgasbord saw a group of IASL delegates in the Grand Hotel amazed at the need to escort a young group of "summer camp" Jewish youth from the USA to breakfast with an armed rifle in tow.

Nevertheless, the professional standards of school librarianship in Israel are very high, and well matched to our own Australian experiences, though the Big 6 approach is probably the most familiar model for teaching information skills.

Dr Ken Haycock, Executive Director of IASL, presented a thought-provoking session, "Studentsı Information Literacy Needs: Competencies for Teacher-Librarians in the Twenty-First Century". Ken described the work of the key teacher librarian organisations in Canada, alongside district administrators, to develop a comprehensive document outlining competencies for the 21st century. After a series of revisions, the final draft was approved in 1997 for use in Canada. As Ken explained, there is a significant body of research that demonstrates that a qualified teacher librarian has a positive impact on school culture and student achievement. This does not happen by chance, however. The schools in which students enjoy reading more, write better, access and use information more effectively and excel in academic content areas, are schools in which information literacy is incorporated into school and classroom programs because:

  • the program is recognised as a partnership of the principal, teacher and teacher librarian, supported by the school district and community;
  • the district insists on flexible scheduling (the teacher librarian is not the preparation time or RFF teacher for classroom colleagues);
  • the principal encourages collaboration and team teaching through this flexible schedule;
  • teachers acknowledge that the processing and use of information is a school-wide concern, for integration with classroom content instruction; and
  • the teacher librarian takes the initiative, places a priority on cooperative program planning and teaching with colleagues and encourages team planning.

From Australia, the IASL Vice President of Special Interest Groups, Dr Ross Todd, explored critical and information literacies that underpin the effective integration of Internet-based information into learning. As Ross explained, the rhetoric of transforming learning through information technology is easy to present; the implementation of the rhetoric is much more difficult, for it is a complex, time-consuming, challenging, and often a confronting process. The key challenge is empowering learners to be creative, critical and constructive users of information, which will require the development of critical literacies in three essential dimensions:

  • connecting with the world of information
    • questioning,
    • defining,
    • searching,
    • locating,
    • finding
  • interacting with the world of information
    • questioning,
    • challenging,
    • evaluating,
    • filtering,
    • analyzing,
    • organizing,
    • interpreting,
    • understanding,
    • synthesizing,
    • critiquing,
    • constructing,
    • reflecting
  • utilizing the world of information
    • applying,
    • finding help,
    • getting direction,
    • moving on,
    • solving needs,
    • making decisions,
    • developing applications,
    • implementing actions,
    • constructing solutions

Ross explained that the importance of developing these literacies -- when one considers the undifferentiated and ambiguous world of the Net -- is a matter of some urgency.

Childrenıs literature was displayed, literature was discussed, and the effect of literature on the mental, moral and physical development of a child was explored.

Israeli childrenıs author Yaffa Ganz asked and explored the question -- "Is there such a thing as literature -- adult or juvenile -- which does not advocate any value system?" The great classics present the universal struggle between personal and compelling needs and desires versus obligations to community, society, and the world. On the other hand, other books free the reader from value systems which the reader normally has to tote around -- alternative routes, temporary respite or free flight into fantasy. Either way, Yaffa explained that

"any story on any given topic will impart a sense of right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, whether the author will it or not. Let the author beware. Whenever he or she puts pen to paper, a divers array of value-systems is being activated and employed. There is no neutral ground, no objectiveı value-free writing. And since a book can be read and reread over and over again, its meanings and messages will continue to influence the reader so long as they remain anchored to a sheet of paper!"

Victoria Udoh of the Federal University of Technology, Yola, Nigeria, affirmed the "force" of the book. If childrenıs literature is indeed a medium of enrichment and socialisation through which values are transmitted to the young, then what of a culture forced to use literature "from outside" for reading? In Nigeria there are very few stories written for and about traditional African homes dealing with moral values, culture, myths, ethnic groups, valor and hard work. The dearth of relevant literature, and the use of foreign literature, is impacting on the rich cultural heritage of the people. Social norms are being destroyed and behaviour and values uncharacteristic to Nigerian mores are being brought into family homes. An extensive publishing program is proving to be essential.

Many more issues and ideas were presented and discussed during the Conference. Attending a conference at the international level is probably the most worthwhile professional experience available. In addition, the opportunity to meet the leaders in the information professional field from around the world, and the professional links made during a conference are invaluable -- education partnerships are formed, friendships established that carry on through the years, and the promise to meet again made many times over. My personal list of friends and colleagues around the globe has opened up so many opportunities for professional exchange, international classroom experiences -- and a welcome home and bed in as many countries as my plane will travel!

I believe that teacher librarians in Australia and all over the world should be active members of IASL. As a global organisation we have much to learn from each other and many ways in which we can support each other. Spread the word, and perhaps consider coming to the next international conference to be held in Alabama, USA, in 1999. Remember, information about the association and its publications, listserv, and the range of professional activities is readily available on the IASL website.

Shalom!
Judy

Judy O'Connell (Australia) is IASL newsletter editor and Curriculum Coordinator Teacher Librarian at Bethlehem College, Sydney, New South Wales.

Reprinted with permission from the IASL Newsletter, December 1998.

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