School Libraries in the Digital Age

SchoolNet SA has created a new professional development course called School Libraries in the Digital Age. It explores learning technologies and online tools to enable the setup of digital libraries in the most effective way possible. The authors of the course were aware that the National Guidelines for School Library and Education Services specify the use of Information and Communication Technologies, which are now referred to as “digital tools and resources”. 

 The course consists of five modules, entitled: 

1. Going Digital; 

2. The Effective Use of Digital Resources; 

3. Communication, Marketing and Social media; 

4. Digital Literacy; and 

5. Planning for Digitization. 

The first training session was conducted for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education’s Education Library, Information and Technology Services (ELITS) in December 2017. The KZN participants were very pleasantly surprised at how well the design and content resonated with their expectations; they were particularly receptive to the opportunity to discuss the course content.

Hlengiwe Mfeka and Senzo Ngcobo were the SchoolNet facilitators. They used the KWL chart (what I Know, what I Want to know and what I have Learnt) to provide the chance to share previous knowledge and experiences around digital libraries. As participants worked in groups, the activity ignited a spirit of collaboration – they enjoyed sharing their personal experiences and this strategy was used throughout the course. 

Some comments shared by the participants after the first day:
“I liked the table we completed on the admin. Processes which served as an analysis such that it interrogated who, why, where, when and how – sometimes we overlook these things when we interact and support school librarians. Now we know the right questions to ask…”

“I’m impressed by this course, it is one of a kind, the manner in which the content aligns with what we do as librarians – it has a good foundation basis” 

Analysing line items in the budget sample prompted some interesting discussions, illuminated the participants’ thinking around digital libraries. One of the longest debates was about the inclusion of bar code labels and spine labels, which emanated from the following scenario: 

Your Principal has asked you to draw up a budget proposal to digitise the school library. The school library has all the traditional basics. It now needs to be automated to better serve the needs of the school. He has said you can spend R50 000! See the sample budget to give you an idea of the costs related to computerisation. 

The group, especially ELITS management appreciated the activity around evaluating school library automation software which presented a useful opportunity for knowledge sharing when the groups  gave their feedback. Most groups rated Edadmin, Libwin and Oliver as the preferred programmes with the most features; whereas Papyrus was poorly rated and it was noted that SLIMS involved hidden costs. A range of training strategies were used on the course including a Gallery Walk which exposed participants to different scenarios which required the higher order skill of making informed choices. This linked well with the previous activity as it tapped into the participants’ acquired knowledge of automated software. 

During the unpacking the four C’s of 21st century learning (collaboration, communication, critical thinking & creativity) the focus was on the additional and very pertinent C for curation. Evaluating online resources is crucial for the effective management of the range of information available via the net – so it was interesting that many of the group were learning about 21st century skills for the first time. Advanced searching techniques were experienced with participants being exposed to sophisticated methods of evaluating digital resources, misinformation and fake news.

Remaining topics that were covered in this session included online databases, academic databases and search engine websites, E-books and digital storytelling and particularly contributing to the African storybook website.

In summary, and from the feedback from participants, the workshop was a great success. SchoolNet is looking forward to rolling out this course in other provinces in the next few months.

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