SCISConnections

Practical curriculum opportunities and the library catalogue

The school library as place and space

The school library is often viewed by staff, students and the school community as a dedicated physical space that provides access to a physical collection of quality resources, teaching spaces and spaces for quiet academic study. However, it is also a community space for teachers, students and even community members to pursue individual leisure activities; as a safe haven from the terrors of the schoolyard; and for senior administrators to use as a venue for meetings or other gatherings such as staff professional development. Increasingly, the library is also a portal to virtual resources and services, where the teacher librarian (TL) provides curriculum design and teaching support for the integration of ICTs and online resources into curriculum programs across the school. As a space, the library is now fragmented into physical and virtual, real time and asynchronous, providing unlimited boundaries for the community it serves.

School libraries also represent a huge monetary investment for the school in terms of physical space, the hiring of professional and non-professional staff, the technology required to access the library’s resources and the ongoing maintenance of the collection, including physical, electronic and virtual materials. Most school libraries also house an integrated library system or automated catalogue to manage resources. In many cases this catalogue is also connected to an automated loan device, the school’s student information system (SIS), the school intranet, the internet and a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, BlackBoard or LAMS. All in all, the library represents one of the largest investments made by the school and this investment is ongoing if teachers and students are going to have access to quality, up-to-date learning and teaching materials. For many principals struggling with reduced budgets and increasing costs, it is often difficult to justify this ongoing expenditure, particularly when the myth that everything is readily and easily available on the internet is alive and well. As a result, TLs spend a lot of their time trying to justify the value of the library as a space that is essential for the school’s teaching and learning program. They collect statistics; market themselves to principals, teachers and students; and waste considerable time trying to convince everyone that what they do is much more than the management of the physical space and its contents.

One way of marketing the library as a real-world, information agency that can be used in teaching and learning programs is via the technology that library personnel use to manage this increasingly fragmented space. In senior high schools running IT courses, particularly at the upper secondary level, the school library contains an integrated library catalogue that represents an ideal teaching resource and one that is part of a real, operational workplace. Most library catalogues are integrated, relational databases that also connect to the school intranet, the internet and a range of other mobile devices (Dougherty, 2009). Perhaps it is time for TLs to look at their main management tool from another perspective and consider using it in collaborative curriculum programs as a working example for IT teachers to use with their classes.

The library catalogue – what is it?

Library catalogues use relational databases that include a variety of interconnected modules which allow information managers and users to pull information together based on queries. In this way the user can see information housed in different sections of the database on a single screen. In schools the integrated library catalogue (ILC) or integrated library management system (ILMS) is still viewed as a tool for the ‘intelligent and convenient access to catalogue data, ie effective access points which translate user needs with great precision and multilayered end user interfaces which can be adjusted to different levels of user sophistication’ (Hofmann 1995, p 5). Integrated library systems have been around in schools since the 1980s and are sometimes equated with 'old technology'. This perception is inaccurate as today’s ILC ‘is a multifunction Web-based multimedia content information management system' that creates links between bibliographic citations and the content they represent (Deddens, 2002). This linkage to content includes text, multimedia, websites and mobile devices. The ILC contains different access points, multiple modules, utilises metadata to manage large numbers of records and has multiple reporting functions. These catalogues can be set up to contain both open and locked or password protected areas and they can be used to manage information about the location of items catalogued, status, user access, a detailed item description, format and the deletion of items. The database also contains most if not all ordering and acquisition information. This latter functionality is rarely used by schools which often create or buy in other software to store and retrieve this type of data, even though it can be accessed from the ILC. The library catalogue also contains information about the users or clientele and their borrowing history and is usually connected into the school's intranet and other systems such as the student information system (SIS). On top of all this the ILC may also be connected to the wider world through the internet and provide 24/7 learning support and access to recommended online resources or electronic resources subscribed to by the school.

The size of the school and how the functionality of the ILC is being utilised will determine just how representative this technology is of other workplaces. A school making full use of its ILC will have all resources including furniture; class sets; 'old' technology resources such as video recorders and TVs; and 'newer' technology such as laptops, e-book readers, interactive whiteboards, USB sticks and digital cameras as catalogued items. In this scenario the ILC becomes a multifunctional catalogue where details such as cost, insurance, suppliers, date of purchase, location and status for all items are recorded and readily available. When a school uses the ILC in this way, all items are added to the catalogue using a consistent accessioning or acquisition process which includes security measures that identify the item as belonging to a particular school. Everything in the school appears in the catalogue, although most items will not be located in the library. In this scenario, audit reports can be generated easily for senior administration and stock takes for all resources in the school can be carried out on a regular basis, an essential process for resource-poor schools which need to get maximum value and longevity for everything they purchase.

Database design work
Database design work
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The library catalogue as a teaching-learning tool

The school library is an example of how systems work in the workplace and presents an ideal starting place for students doing IT courses in upper secondary. No matter how extensively the ILC is being utilised in a school, it represents a fully operational information management system comprising a number of electronic and/or traditional subsystems.

Some ILC suppliers, eg Softlink, supply CDs with sample copies of their software for prospective buyers to trial before purchase. If the supplier is willing to include these in the purchase price of the ILC, then IT teachers have a ready-made database to use in the classroom. They also have library personnel available to work with students in a variety of collaborative teaching programs and a range of items representing multiple formats as data to populate their database. Learning how a relational database works and how it is set up using a real-life example represents an intense, hands-on experience. Working with a real database is an example of modelling best practice and will help students make the conceptual connections required before they attempt to create their own databases. Creating a working database in this way also provides teaching opportunities for IT students to learn about searching electronic media, and hence the internet, from a different perspective. It will give them a new appreciation of how search methodology is closely related to the structure of the database and the importance of user accessibility.

The importance of user access can also be linked to teaching programs in Web design, since the modern ILC uses a Web-based interface and is often linked to the internet. Layout, use of colour, disability access, branding and the way content is displayed are all areas for consideration when designing Web-based programs. Navigation, the amount of interconnectivity and access points for the user are also demonstrable using the ILC. Students can use their school library as an introduction and working example of systems architecture and how networks function to provide a seamless environment for the user. They can use the ILC to describe and graphically represent how the library as a system is made up of a number of subsystems, electronic and traditional. Using the library as an exemplar also provides opportunities for students to study network structures using the school as an example and the ILC as an entry point. All these learning opportunities can be provided in a safe environment, ie one that is within the closed boundaries of the school and using a CD instead of the real ILC.

Using a LMS as a teaching tool
Using a LMS as a teaching tool
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Other benefits

The teaching-learning opportunities for students to create a living database and explore the complexities of information management by using the ILC allow them to apply theory to practice before they design and set up their own databases. A major benefit for school library personnel is the change in perception by students and staff of what a modern library represents: a complex information management system that should be the hub of the school. Using the ILC in this manner will raise the status of the library from being a repository for books to an integral, multifunctional tool. When viewed in this light the ILC can become an essential component of the school’s corporate system (Maquignaz & Miller, 2004) that is used to run the school rather than a separate system that is used solely for the management of a repository of books. The monetary investment in this expensive technology suddenly becomes eminently worthwhile.

Another, more subtle benefit of using the ILC in this way relates to the sustainability of the library and information profession which is currently faced with an aging workforce (Combes, Hanisch, Carroll, & Hughes, 2011). There is no clear career pathway or understanding in schools that leads young people into the Information Science (IS) profession. Students and staff have a limited knowledge of the expanding opportunities available in a profession that is being driven by developments in technology and the issues that surround the management of massive amounts of information. The need for business and global corporations, researchers and government to develop information systems that allow for the free flow of information within organisations, provide an easily accessible audit trail and archive for corporate memory, is now becoming apparent, particularly when vast amounts of digital information are being generated daily. While the word librarian may never appear in a job title or application, it is the IS skill set that is required to manage information and provide access to clients. Hence, there are systems librarians, e-services information managers, document controllers and digital record managers to name a few. This recognition of the importance of information management outside the traditional concept of a library has led to a profession that offers a wide variety of jobs and as technology continues to push the boundaries, so new jobs in information management are generated. Using the ILC as a teaching-learning tool introduces potential students to the field of Information Science and gives them a better conceptual understanding of what a library or information agency involves in the twenty-first century.

Using the ILC as a working example of a relational database in secondary IT programs also has other benefits for the next generation of IT developers. Students will gain a working knowledge of systems architecture from the user’s point of view. IT systems development that does not consider the user during the programming phase often produces increasingly complex systems where access to information is difficult for employees with limited computer skills. Computer and IT courses at university level focus on graduating students who have studied IT theory and acquired technical knowledge and skills, rather than developing systems that consider the user first. Early exposure to the ILC as a user oriented system may give future IT developers a different perspective and broader understanding of how systems are applied in the workplace before they enter university.

Conclusion

The ILC is an expensive resource for any school. It is an essential teaching-learning tool for all students as it represents a safe environment where students can learn search skills which are transferable when using the internet as an information resource. However, it can also be used as a practical tool in IT curriculum programs as an example of an operational relational database in a workplace setting. The fundamentals of Web design, systems architecture and how networks function are other curriculum applications demonstrated by the ILC. The ILC can also be used as a central information management tool across the school to manage all resources. Using the ILC in this way raises the status of the library and library personnel, and places the library and the technology used to manage what is an increasingly complex and fragmented space squarely in the middle of the core business of the school. The library and the ILC become integral to both the corporate organisation and resource management of the school, as well as teaching and learning curriculum programs.

References

Combes, B, Hanisch, J, Carroll, M & Hughes, H 2011, Student voices: Re-conceptualising and re-positioning Australian library and information science education for the twenty-first century. The International Information & Library Review, 43(3), 137-143.

Deddens, M 2002, Overview of integrated library systems. EDUCAUSE. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/DEC0201.pdf.

Dougherty, W 2009, Integrated Library Systems: Where Are They Going? Where Are We Going? The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(5), 482-485.

Hofmann, U 1995, Developing a strategic planning framework for information technologies for libraries. Library Management, 16(2), 4–14.

Maquignaz, L & Miller, J 2004, The centrality of the integrated library management system: A strategic view of information management in an e-service environment. Twelfth VALA Biennial Conference and Exhibition, Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from www.vala.org.au/vala2004/2004pdfs/02MaqMil.PDF.

 

Barbara Combes

Barbara Combes

Lecturer, School of Information Studies, Charles Sturt University;
President WA Operations, WASLA;
Vice President Advocacy and Promotion, IASL