New Impulses for School Librarys in Germany

Ten years ago in the state of Hesse a group of teachers started to overcome this stagnation and (re-)discover the school library as an important place of education. They brought several projects to life, which stimulated the development of the school libraries in this state. These projects will be described in the following text.

The impulses come from an organization, the „Landesarbeitsgemeinschaft (LAG) Schulbibliotheken in Hessen e. V.“ ( the Association of School Libraries in Hesse), which consists especially of teachers, but also of librarians and parents of school children. The LAG’s concept can be found in two formulas:
1. „Libraries from below“. Schools in Hesse are limited in their autonomy. The library teachers as well as the supporting parents have learned to use the school conference, school budget and school management rules and regulations to help initiate libraries.
2. „The active school library“ which means a library, that is orientated to learning and the curriculum. It does not just offer books to borrow, it is integrated in as many subjects as possible and offers the teachers and the students the opportunity to use the books from the library in the lessons. This is difficult to encourage, because textbooks, which can easily be used for teaching, are available for every subject in the classrooms.

As mentioned before the municipal councils seldom take their responsibilities towards school libraries seriously and hardly ever provide trained librarians. Due to this fact approx. 500 school libraries (there are 2000 schools in Hesse) are managed almost solely by teachers and volunteers from the parents. This creates a close contact between the colleagues in the staff room and also the personal teaching experience helps to form the library to the needs of teaching.
Some occasional training courses for these teachers and volunteers take place within the government training scheme. To date approx. 300 people have taken part in the workshops. The topics were for example: Lessons in the Library, The Organization of Reading Parties, The Use of Internet, The Making of Videofilms to Support Reading, Visits to Swiss and Danish Schools. The re-birth of school libraries is positively influenced by the poor results of the German pupils in the international comparison studies (TIMMS, OECD-Studies). The parents became unsure, because, up till then, the highly selective German school system was considered excellent. Even the economical newspapers are pre-occupied with the decreasing ability to read.

The new media will also be integrated into the „active school library“, whether by the production of personal videoclips, e.g. about books, or by the use of internet as a supplement information media to books.
The „active school library“ is not only a learning centre but also a cultural and communications centre at the school. The library is the place for overnight-read-a-thons, creative writing workshops or authors’ visits and can also be used in the breaks. The LAG mainly produces ideas. It connects the school library with a lot of fields of schooling: the encouragement of reading in the primary and junior schools, reading training for pupils of senior schools, reading matter for foreign language lessons, co-operation in the all-day schooling offer and help with lunch-time supervision, books for the younger reader for German lessons and training in the use of media. It brings the school libraries to the attention of teachers, school management, education authorities and their advisors and heads of department. Countless discussions, letters and readers’ letters are necessary to achieve this. The library in German schools is not considered a well-loved habit. The generation of teachers and politicians between 30 and 50 years old did not have this facility during their schooling and, therefore, do not understand the point of issue so well, which results in a catch-22 situation. The LAG carries out the biennial Hessian School Library Day with varying themes. Study groups for stimulating reading or for questions about organization and the use of libraries for learning purposes, school or book-shop info-stands, lectures and readings. Guests, who continually take part tour around the Hessian school libraries, as each time a different school acts as host. The highlight of the day is the presentation of a small award for the best ideas in the field of reading in schools, the „Hessian Bookcase“. For example one idea was a „reading carpet“, which would always be rolled out, when reading activities are planned and one winner was a music teacher, who wrote and sang rousing reading songs with his class.
The LAG managed to win over the ministry of education into buying an Austrian cataloguing software programme, which is used in approx. 400 schools. No other German state has such a facility available.
The first project, that the LAG organized was called „The Library in the Box“, which consisted of reference books on interesting teaching subjects stored in practical, attractive, wooden boxes. The project’s booklists (on disks) are also suggestions for a stock of books for small libraries. Such wooden boxes have a long tradition in Hesse. In the nineteen-twenties books from the town and city libraries were transported in such boxes to the shopkeepers in the surrounding villages, so that the villagers could borrow books at the same time as doing their shopping. The boxes can be borrowed and have already been used in over 500 classrooms and school libraries.
An information service for school libraries has been made available on www.schulbibliotheken.de . Among other things it contains a mailing list and reading tips.
An articulated lorry owned by the ministry of education, which is called the „Kulturmobil“ (culture vehicle) was also initiated by the LAG.

G. Schlamp 1999