E-volving libraries: the best of the past, the promise of the future

The Quebec Library Association recently celebrated its 75th anniversary with a gala as part its annual conference. CLA Montreal Chapter President Alexandra Yarrow attended the event and the QLA conference that followed.


The Gala celebration for the 75th anniversary of ABQLA (L’association des bibliothécaires du Québec / Québec Library Association) was held on May 3rd 2007 at the Ritz Carlton Montréal. Dr. Peter McNally of McGill’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies and Giller Prize founder Jack Rabinovitch entertained us with anecdotes about the history of ABQLA and the history of the Giller Prize in Canada, respectively. Dr. McNally and Rosemary Cochrane gathered some highlights from the past 75 years. Here are a few of my favourites:

Did you know that ABQLA…..
  • was established in 1932 during a meeting of people interested in library work held in the Assembly Hall of the Bell Telephone Company?
  • co-published a List of Periodicals recording thousands of titles, until the National Library took over the task in the 1970’s?
  • submitted to the Quebec government in 1938 a memo relating to the foundation of urban and rural school libraries responding to the requirements of local communities?
  • started its Bulletin in 1939?
  • was involved in providing books to soldiers and military officers during the Second World War?
  • held its first annual conference in 1945?
  • helped galvanise legislation about public libraries in the province after reporting about the situation of rural libraries in the province in 1948?
  • was instrumental in developing the text of the Quebec Public Libraries Act in 1959?
  • suggested that the province create at French-language university level library school in 1960, and also made recommendations that led to the formation of the CEGEP Library Technicians Program in 1964?
  • held its first Holiday fund-raising party for CODE in partnership with other library associations in 1984?
  • published the Survey of Anglophone School Libraries in Quebec in 2001-2002?
  • rallied to the cause for La Coalition en faveur des bibliothèques scolaires in 2003?
At the annual conference, I was fortunate to hear a few amazing speakers. Here are a few highlights. (The presentations are available on the QLA Web site.)

Challenging times: Changing notions of libraries and literacy

Linda Shohet, founder and director of The Centre for Literacy of Quebec, spoke about the history of literacy and current literacy trends in Canada, Quebec and Montreal.

Shohet drew on a rich history of universal education and access to information, and highlighted the importance of the International Literacy Year, in 1990, to help push literacy onto the global agenda. The International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey developed scales for literacy, and helped get word out that up to half of North America’s adults had some difficulties with the printed word.

Shohet closed by talking about the most important links to developing literacy skills: family influences (including socio-economic status), community values and peers, the concept of reading for pleasure (as opposed to reading for function) and libraries! We are a crucial step on the path to a literate society, and have an important role to play in supporting communities and individuals learning to read and improve literacy skills.

In the question period, Shohet was asked about special literacy collections for libraries: she mentioned the Quick Reads series from Random House as an excellent example of a series of fiction and non-fiction titles at lower reading levels.

Information literacy skills: training in Canada's public libraries

Dr. Heidi Julien, an associate professor at the University of Alberta's School of Library and Information Studies, shared with us her research information literacy in Canada’s public and academic libraries.

The results of a National Survey of Public Libraries revealed that information literacy is not a priority in public libraries but respondents agreed that teaching these skills is a legitimate role for public librarians. Dr. Julien took us on a guided (and anonymous!) tour of libraries surveyed, pointing out to us the various positive and negative spaces libraries had created for Internet workstations: most of the time, customers were not encourages to inhabit the space, and only two libraries surveyed had dedicated spaces for information literacy training.

In Dr. Julien’s study, users were asked about their proficiency using the computers to find information; most described themselves as being comfortable or experienced. Dr. Julien pointed out that experience does develop confidence, but does not build information literacy skills! An enthusiastic discussion ensued after Dr. Julien’s talk, revolving around how best to serve computer users, training available in our libraries, and the fact that training skills should be a part of library school core competencies. Many librarians are thrown into teaching information literacy skills in university courses or at a public library workshop without any prior experience or instruction.

School libraries and learning outcomes: making them a class act

Dr. Ross Todd, associate professor in the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and Director of the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) spoke about adolescent information seeking and use. He drew on his extensive research to talk about how to make school libraries a class act.

The first step is to take action! Librarians have a transformational role to play in schools, and it is precisely this role that is most valued by students. We can help take them from the process of learning to read to the process of reading to learn.

Dr. Todd encouraged us to move beyond the common practise for school librarians, who often help kids “find the stuff.” This approach tends to involve the phrase “this is your independent project” whenever we are asked for help analysing facts and developing ideas. Dr. Todd encourages us instead to emphasise the processes of “what to do with the stuff.” In other words, Dr. Todd has found that in school libraries where the focus is on building the “intellectual scaffolding to construct knowledge”, and engaging with subject material, students were able to move beyond what Dr. Todd calls additive approaches to learning (stringing facts together in reports) towards integrative approaches to learning. In an integrative process, a student is able to move beyond gathering facts to build explanations, address discrepancies in facts and interpret results to establish a personal conclusion.

Remarked Dr. Todd, “school libraries should be zones of intellectual development,” zones of intervention, places where there is room for sustained dialogue. He ended with an inspiring quote from the American poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, about the amount of information in our modern world:
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Falls from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Reading Becomes You

Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Dean of the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, spoke over lunchg about some of the research for Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community, her newly published book about reading for pleasure.

Talking to passionate readers, she heard statements that many of us can sympathise with: reading is a part of our identity, a necessity in life. She told us how readers, contrary to popular stereotypes, are more likely to be socially engaged. Non-readers may often use the excuse that they don’t have time to read, but Sheldrick told us that studies show that what non-readers report doing more than readers is… napping!

She also talked about some of our favourite books, and some misconceptions about “series” books: many of the readers she interviewed named series titles as some of their favourites (Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys…) but series have often received negative press, from librarians, teachers and the media. She told us a really great story about a little girl who extracted herself from a dangerous situation: when the police asked her how she knew to signal for help, she said, “I just did what Nancy would have done!”

Creating a community and collection connection: promoting your readers' advisory service

The last session I attended was about “Creating a Community and Collection Connection: Promoting Your Readers’ Advisory Service”, with Sharron Smith, the Readers’ Advisory (RA) Librarian at Kitchener Public Library. She talked about taking RA services from a passive approach (genre collections, booklists, displays) to a more active approach – kicking it up a notch! This could involve roving RA, offering “added value”, electronic newsletters, RSS, blogs and IM and social book-sharing tools (such as www.shelfari.com or www.gurulib.com).

One comment she made that really struck me was that she never lets a reader leave the library empty-handed – even if the book they asked about is not available, she makes sure that the person leaves with something. She also talked about “takin’ it to the street” – moving beyond the library walls to connect with readers through local media (newspaper, radio, TV) and partnerships (suggestions included local book clubs and bookstores, service agencies, church groups or the Welcome Wagon).


Editor's note: A session not mentioned above but of interest to CASLIS members is Rebecca Jones' Meaningful measures: defining and pursing performance measures that matter.

1 comment:

Brent said...

I love the idea of the collection connection. I think the best part of reading a good or even not so good book is the discussion. I think her thoughts about getting out into the electronic world is spot on. My wife and I recently started an online literary community called CurlingUp.com in an effort to bring the book club style of discussion online.

Please stop by and check out our site. We would love to have you!