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Faculty present findings on inclusive school libraries at international congress

Posted August 26, 2016
By Terra Dankowski
Reposted with permission from American Libraries Magazine.
Photo: Top row (left to right): Lesley Farmer, Gertrude C. Umunnakwe, Emmanuel U. Anyanwu, Valérie Glass, Isabel Mendinhos. Seated (left to right): Clayton Copeland, Karen Gavigan, and Elizabeth Burns.

Dr. Clayton Copeland and Dr. Karen Gavigan, faculty of the School of Library and Information Science, attended the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress held in Columbus, Ohio, August 13-19. The reprinted article summarizes their participation in a session on August 18.

What’s the best way to provide resources, instruction, and librarianship to both typically and differently able students?

At “Inclusionary Practices to Support School Libraries,” a Thursday morning session at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress, librarians from Nigeria, France, Portugal, and the United States attempted to answer this question by examining inclusionary and accessibility strategies in school libraries.

Clayton Copeland and Karen Gavigan, both instructors at the University of South Carolina School of Information Science, shared findings from a middle-school classroom they observed in a rural, low-income area of the southeastern US. They spoke of Miss Sally, the librarian who cultivated a love for library time among her typically and differently able students.

“It is a well-tooled librarian who is able to create an inclusive and accessible environment,” Copeland said. “Individualize, don’t generalize,” was Copeland’s advice for inclusivity.

Copeland and Gavigan say that Miss Sally’s differently able students began to feel safe and equal in the setting she created, and her typically able students began to form relationships with them outside of the library, on field trips and at school sporting events. 

Copeland and Gavigan noted that one challenge to creating such an environment is a hesitation and fear among librarians about knowing what “developmentally appropriate teaching strategies” are for students.

Valérie Glass, of the Association des Professeurs Documentalistes de l’Éducation Nationale in Paris, also studied how programs and activities in schools can reach students of different abilities and backgrounds. “There’s an inclusive dimension enshrined in most French educational acts,” said Glass.

Her research found that key to creating an inclusive environment is adopting a wide range of resources and library materials for different abilities. Glass suggested video games, manga, and magazines as items to attract differently able students.

She also emphasized the importance of tailored support and multidisciplinary work to reach all types of learners.  An example of this is a web radio class where “each student can have a role” in producing the show, Glass said.

Isabel Mendinhos, of the School Library Network in Lisbon, Portugal, found out that very little was being done in her country with regard to special needs educational services. Her organization sought to provide schools with adequate resources in accessible formats, and bring some measure of consistency, adequacy, involvement, and sustainability to the collaborative work between school librarians and special education teachers.

The program, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, reached 7,309 students across 72 districts and brought more inclusive teaching materials—such as worksheets, puzzles, subtitled videos, and multisensory books—to schools.  As a result, librarians noticed changes in attitudes among students, and special needs students started using the library by their own initiative.

Mendinhos said that some factors that made her program successful were training, family involvement, school principal support, partnerships, and resource sharing.

While the session reaffirmed that school libraries and librarians do essential work, the defunding of school libraries was the inspiration for a paper by Elizabeth Burns, assistant professor for teaching and learning at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Burns decided to focus her research on school library advocacy success, and surveyed 815 school librarians across 17 states, asking participants to self-report their advocacy activities.

Activities included speaking at school board and PTA meetings, reading and distributing literature, attending a library legislative demonstration, and organizing meetings with administration. While Burns noted that there were high numbers and participation in activities, she noted that there is more room for advocacy. “Those who are working within school communities are seeing a shift in perception,” she said.

Emmanuel U. Anyanwu of Federal Polytechnic Nekede, and Gertrude C. Umunnakwe of the Federal University of Technology Owerri, both located in Nigeria, examined the role of stakeholders and the Ministry of Education in the implementation of school library guidelines (SLG) in their country. Some current challenges to SLG implementation are the lack of inspection of schools, the recruitment of nonqualified teachers and librarians, an indifferent attitude by the government, and proliferation of private schools in Nigeria.

Even given these obstacles, Anyanwu said there are certain strategies for attracting stakeholders to your cause, such as lobbying and advocacy, naming school buildings in honor of donors, and revisiting the activities of the school library section of the Nigerian Library Association. 

“I think you’re seeing a culture of inclusion today,” said Lesley Farmer, chair of IFLA’s School Libraries Section and professor of library media at California State University, Long Beach. “And it requires risk-taking.”

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