Part A – Overview the library or information agency
This placement was undertaken at a Pre-K3 – Grade 12 international school in Beijing, China.
The School has a diverse, multi-lingual population of almost 2000 students, catering for families from over 50 countries, speaking over 60 languages. English is the medium of instruction but the mother tongue of few. Most of the clientele are Asian in culture, if not in passport nationality. The Elementary Library services about 800 students aged three to 12, with parents also being regular and vocal users of the library. The Library is a meeting place for the wider School community, as well as students and teachers, as evidenced by the noise level and constant stream of people in the library at any given time.
The community as a whole is extremely well educated and the parent body hold education in high regard. Reading widely is valued and expected by teachers and parents alike. As a result, most students, even ESOL ones, are voracious readers with strong opinions. Middle and high school students often use the Elementary library, especially those with special learning needs or English as an additional language.
The Library Media Centre has two full time teacher librarians (TLs), two full time Technology Integrators (TIs), one full time library assistant (LA), one full time library technician (LT) and two part time LAs.
The TLs take responsibility for half of the ES each – one teaches Pre-K3 through Grade 2 (Lower Elementary School, LES), the other teaches Grades 3-5 (Upper Elementary School, UES). The LES TL has a teaching workload of 19 classes and five grade level meetings, the UES TL 21 classes and three grade level meetings.
The TIs, split across the School in the same manner as the TLs, tend to view themselves as their own department and are housed in an office above the library. That physical delineation makes it pretty clear to the rest of the staff that the roles of the TIs and TLs are separate, even though the four teachers make every effort to work collaboratively to deliver a great information literacy programme.
The LAs take responsibility for all areas of circulation: borrowing, checkouts, reshelving, and general resource maintenance. They also execute the TLs ideas for displays in and outside the library because one of the LAs is a graphic designer by trade.
The LT works primarily in the TRC and therefore technically comes under the jurisdiction of the ES Curriculum Leader rather than the TLs. This has caused some friction and mismanagement. The TLs believe that this situation could be resolved if they became the line manager for the LT in the new school year.
Additional to the paid staff, there is also a rotating roster of over 20 parent volunteers who reshelve and repair books. Their help is especially invaluable with the Mother Tongue section of the collection.
The library’s collection is divided into two sub-collections – the Elementary School (ES) library and the Teacher Resource Centre (TRC). Both are catalogued independently of each other using Destiny (Follett). Each sub-collection holds approximately 24,000 titles.
The TRC consists of guided reading sets, professional resources across all curriculum areas, and Big Books. The ES collection, both online and in print, is diverse and large, reflecting the multilingual, wide user range. The TLs use a wide variety of professional collection devices such as magazines like Book List, worldwide awards and Follett suggested lists to build the collection. Due to Chinese government regulation, developing the collection is subject to many challenges. This is especially evident with online content such as eBooks and digital magazine subscriptions.
The separation of the two library collections makes navigation of the library catalogues much easier for users in multiple ways. Primarily, it is easier for students to navigate the catalogue if there is only resources that are applicable to them. Secondly, as the TRC is accessed by, and solely intended for, teachers, teaching assistants and administrators, it makes sense for it to be a separate collection. Lastly, the separation of the collections allows for a very clear workload allocation for the Library Technician – she is solely responsible for the TRC.
The ES collection is very heavily weighted towards North American literature for several reasons. One, there has always and only ever been North American TLs employed who have therefore naturally relied upon their cultural bias when ordering resources. Secondly, the highest nationality of students is North American so building a collection around them seems logical. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Follett is based in the US and their outstanding ordering and cataloguing services make adding to the library’s collection an almost seamless process.
Use of technology
Whilst the bulk of classroom technology instruction is the responsibility of the two Technology Integrators, the library has much exciting technology at its disposal. There are data projectors, smart boards and document cameras at each teaching station in the library, all used in some way every lesson. The School pays thousands of dollars a year to have their internet routed through Hong Kong so that the community can have full access to the online world, without being hampered by the government’s ‘Great Firewall of China’. While this may seem odd to educators in Australia, the relief a teacher can feel knowing that they can access anything they want online is actually extremely important.
Having said that, there are still areas of technology for which the School has not found a workaround. For example, around 80% of downloadable ebooks are blocked. The School is trialling Overdrive with mixed results.
Students are explicitly taught to use the OPAC, with the UES students utilising Follett’s Destiny Quest regularly to interact with one another as well for the more traditional book searching role. All students from Kindergarten are exposed to, or regularly use, a variety of databases on either the bank of eight library OPACs or their personal laptops (the School is 1:1 laptops from Grade 2). All students in the ES use the trolley of 25 iPads in their library lessons at least once every three weeks.
Despite this incredible exposure to the latest and greatest educational technology, students and teachers still need a tremendous amount of support in using it effectively. This is especially true in the case of using the OPAC. Part of this issue comes from the lack of intuitiveness on behalf of the catalogue itself. There is no “did you mean…” guides like in some of the student friendly search engines.