Sunday, September 13, 2009

More about Information Services

CMIS, part of the Western Australian Department of Education, provides set of guidelines and indicators for the evaluation of school library services at http://www.det.wa.edu.au/education/cmis/eval/library/domains/index.htm
These indicators cover "Learners and Learning", "Teachers and Teaching" and "Providing Access to Information". They include such guidelines as "School-wide programs address the skills of information literacy through resource-based inquiry learning", "Teachers are provided with reference and inquiry services to support the curriculum" and "The retrieval of information is facilitated by clear and and inviting labeling and signposting".
Firstly, I think it's great to have these indicators in black and white. It makes sense to have a document which clearly outlines the standards to which the library aspires, and it is wonderful to have something to point colleagues and leadership within the school to, in case they're not sure about the full extent of the library's services.
However, I can imagine some barriers that would prevent teacher librarians from undertaking an evaluation of their services using this document. School libraries are often under-staffed and under-financed. It may be difficult to spare the time and resources needed to evaluate comprehensively. But an even more difficult situation is when the teacher librarian finds her or himself in a school in which their role is undervalued or not supported. The school leadership may have a hard time accepting the validity of some of the indicators, and may not support any attempt by the teacher librarian to expand their services in line with these guidelines.
For example, "Time is allocated within the timetable for teachers to work cooperatively with the teacher librarian in the development of resource-based units of work". Some principals may find this hard to swallow, and may wonder how they are expected to find this time to allocate. They may therefore not be very open to hearing the results of an evaluation which point out this problem.
The next issue that ETL501 Topic 5 addresses is "the reference interview". It sounds very special, but basically just means the process by which the librarian gets as much information as possible about what help the client needs. What do they want to know? What depth of information do they need? Do they need instruction or guidance in information searching techniques? Even if the tools change (think digital reference desks), communication between the client and the librarian is essential to a successful outcome.
The concept of a school or public library is a wonderful thing. A freely available resource, with access to information and professional help for all! I think the communication between client and librarian has been successful when: the client feels happy that they have been heard, the librarian feels happy that they have "enough to go on", and the client ends up learning something (either about the question itself, or about searching for the answers).
Do school libraries have the budget and staff to provide satisfactory reference services to their clients? Suppose the school library decided to provide a digital reference service. Would it be feasible? Would students use it?
There's more to this topic, but I'm going to stop here for now. (This is a big topic!)

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