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On evaluating the effectiveness of school libraries
by R. Lemaire
The journal Médiathèques publiques has performed a useful service in publishing our colleague Cossette's article, but a better introduction might perhaps have been found to the problems involved. Does his analysis represent anything more than a highly tendentious defence of the corporate rights of school librarians in Quebec - so much so indeed that it begs the main issues? The title of the article announces 'a theoretical and methodological framework', but it would also have been useful to have given thought to a practical assessment of libraries and their effectiveness, for instance by transposing to the school context the remarks contained in the essays of Barry Totterdall and Jean Bird, thereby ensuring that the substantive issues would not be so easily sidestepped. Michel Bouvy is right in saying that in the French literature devoted to the library science these questions are seldom dealt with. But-it is indisputable that in France they do not arise in the same way as in the English-speaking countries, where libraries have the good fortune to be viewed as institutions in their own right. I wish here to consider two points with reference to the article in question: firstly, the systems approach employed by Cossette to evaluate the effectiveness of school libraries, and, secondly, relations between the librarian and the teacher.
But, first of all, why is so little attention given to these matters in France? The question of the effectiveness of work, whatever the type of work involved, does not arise much in a bureaucratic society: when the creative scope open to the executant is limited he puts the responsibility on the shoulders of those who give the orders. For instance - and this runs counter to what Cossette says - without a minimum of inputs the librarian will do nothing; such is the position of school libraries in France. In a centralized education system like the French, in the absence of official instructions formally issued from above by higher authority, based on educational studies and justified by recognized objectives, the very idea of a school library cannot emerge. When the financial administration system imposes its own viewpoint in the teeth of real, everyday experience, the librarian (any librarian, particularly a municipal one) is made to feel that he is above all an administrator who is expected to toe the line rather than be effective. To aggravate (and explain) the situation, the librarian's education, itself provided in a form that affords little scope for creativity, critical ability or innovation, leads him, moreover, to see the be all and end all of his work as compliance with the thoughts (or rather, in many cases, the habits) of his superiors, highly anonymous though they are. In a word, he bows down under the weight of history without being aware of it. In this context, would there not be a risk, in measuring the effectiveness of a practice, of upsetting the applecart? Thus it is that absurb situations remain institutionalized: for instance, the fact that, not counting six experiments for the whole of France, there is no evidence of any official concern about libraries at the primary-school level. Is it in order to justify this state of affairs that in the research conducted by the INRP (National Institute for Educational Research), especially in the social sciences, education visits are treated as the 'cornerstone of educational methodology', as though children learned only through their senses, through physical activity and through getting out and about (within a limited radius). Is it reasonable thus to reduce documentary research, if not to naught, at least to a secondary role? More of this anon.
If teachers do not feel themselves to be documentalists it is because they too reproduce the education they have received: an education not dependent on books, consisting in the reproduction of a form of oral communication that alone is considered to be effective by traditional educationists. Cossette puts the problems well, but in a social and administrative context that is not ours. One might go so far as to say that the question of the evaluation of the effectiveness of libraries does not arise at the primary level in France as there are no school libraries in France! All is not lost, however: underdeveloped areas have been known to skip a stage and to go straight on to achieve modernization. Consequently, it is not a waste of time to talk about it, but we can do so only if we first accept the premise that a library, a documentation centre, is essential in a school for the development of knowledge. What may seem self-evident is not recognized by teachers for the simple reason that, in my experience, they themselves do not frequent libraries for their own research. Thus the process described by Bourdieu has long been perpetuated.
Why does Cossette make use of systems analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of a library? Evaluation belongs to an order - that of values in which the method used has nothing to tell us, whether it be that of systems analysis or of Cartesianism, whereas systems analysis is concerned with form but say nothing about the normative order. It does, however, have the merit of recalling the existence of goals that other methods have all too easily disregarded. Systems analysis meets the desire for a total analysis of the object under consideration and to that end builds upon the basic hypotheses that provide bearings for establishing the main lines of investigation (what Kuhn calls paradigms). It goes beyond the paradigm of mechanics, for which structure, endowed with permanence, provided an explanation, produced causes and effects and was linked to function. It adds the temporal dimension, observing that structure does not remain permanent, constant, but that time and history modify it through change (evolution). Systems analysis also seeks to take in the dialectic between function and evolution, which was the task of structuralism, but it feels that the latter neglects the two dimensions of the teleological hypothesis and responsiveness to the environment. This brief summary shows that systems analysis does not deny the merits of other methods but finds them inadequate in that they provide an incomplete analysis of the variables involved. Cossette rightly disregards the problem raised by the application of a scientific method to what is known as the 'human sciences' It is indeed true that the human sciences are marked by the same formal logic as physics or astronomy. If a comprehensive analysis is to be made of libraries, attention needs to be given to causes and effects in a school library, in other words a study of how it works and how it develops with each operation, and a study of both together. But what interests the present writer is to being out, more clearly than Cossette, or so at least I hope, the practical aspect of the use of systems theory.
The originality of that theory lies, first and foremost, in its emphasizing the fact that the structure of the library reflects neither what it does nor its history but the dictates of its planned goal. Let us say that its 'course' has been set and that we can judge its effectiveness only in relation to its end-purpose. Goals have always been a problem in scientific thinking. Systems analysis starts out by affirming, however, that to perceive an object is to assign goals to it, to turn it into a plan. Hence the extreme importance attached by systems analysis to the question 'Why a school library?' Cossette replies clearly and repeatedly to this question, but he does not take a critical look at his own reply. For him it is self-evident (by definition unproved), a postulate, that the school library must cater to 'the requirements of the users'. I shall come back to this explicit value that systems analysis brings out into the open but whose quality it cannot tell us anything about, being incapable of creating justificatory values.
To this teleological hypothesis systems analysis adds a second dimension: responsiveness to the environment. The library is not a closed system, neither as regards its premises nor as regards the school and the education system. In actual fact, at the present time it does not constitute an organized subsystem: its functions and objectives are too watered down and all too often lacking. Were it to come into being in institutional form systems analysis would refuse to circumscribe it within stable boundaries (as structuralism would do) or within corporative ones, as Cossette does. The object under consideration is a plan or ultimate design that is introduced into a surrounding system and has relations with all the components of the system, which in the case of the school library includes the teachers, the pupils, the financial services, the parents and the school inspectors. All these variable components need to be seen in relation to one another before its effectiveness can be measured. As they differ with time and place no standard of effectiveness can be defined as a universal yardstick. It might even be said that a system existing at a specific time and place can be analysed only by way of self-evaluation against standards that the analyst has consciously adopted beforehand. Cossette says nothing of this aspect, but it reveals the difficulties that will be encountered in France by champions of systems analysis who have to work in an institution as hypercentralized as is that of our national education system, in which any exception is regarded as abnormal (illegal). Systems analysis proceeds from a desire for rationality in action (praxeology, which has produced PPBS - or its French equivalent, RCB - etc.), but it is silent about goal determination, which has to do with values, intentions and policy. A modern version of the pursuit of effectiveness, it reveals the importance of what is left unstated in implicit choices.
Cossette is not very clear about 'object analysis'. Systems analysis is directed towards modelling, in other words towards a particular way of organizing concepts that is an artificial product of the mind intended not so much to explain - which would affect decision-making and encroach upon the decision-maker's freedom - as to represent a dynamic situation. Cossette, on the other hand, falls back on the most uninspired kind of behaviorism in the form of a submission to visible forms of behaviour and to the 'operational and measurable nature' of objectives, as though 'facts' or 'findings' were established once and for all and were not answers shaped by the questions that elicit them. This is to deny the decisive contribution of the information theories that contend that a datum is but an available peg on which to hang the information that brings it to life. Recorded observations are to be seen as traces pregnant with meaning, allowing of 'revisionist interpretations' in accordance with the time, place and context. The phenomenological absolutism dear to positivism has had its day; it cannot be combined with Systems analysis.
It does, however, fit in with Cossette's oft-repeated postulate that the library is 'user-oriented', that it must 'satisfy the requirements of users' (p.29), that the librarian must 'see to it that the library adequately meets the needs of its users' (p.28). These recommendations, says Cossette, are rooted in 'a consensus among evaluation specialists'. One could wish that those who make them were the people who define the library's planned objectives rather than technicians, for it is not the latter's business to determine the normative thrust of the choice. Viewed in this light, effectiveness would appear to be evidenced through success. This is not to be denied, but it is not of any interest unless one has judged the nature of the success and can exercise some control over it. The reader in the library is like a customer in a supermarket; does that mean that the librarian should take a leaf from the book of the advertising agent to attend to these 'needs'? If 'the quality of the services provided' in response to the 'requirements of users' is adopted as a criterion of effectiveness librarians and teachers alike become purveyors of a culture whose standards - but whence do they spring? - are alien to them. In pedagogy, however, - and not only etymologically - the aim is to guide children somewhere. Is it unreasonable to ask that the teacher be given some idea as to their destination? The postulate put forward by Cossette cannot be disputed, since it is a decision based on a choice. How many French librarians are prepared to embrace it wholeheartedly? Personally, I find this attitude rather hypocritical and so engineered as to allow the 'mass' of the people to think that they are 'free in freely subscribing to the only dominant values proposed'. This is ideology in action. To refer to the comforting myth of a natural state, regarded as the original, pristine reality and served up as a necessary starting-point, in a way of relegating to the background any form of construction and cultural, social organization. If Cossette, for his part, does not dwell on this and does not impugn such a principle, it is be- cause it would in fact entail an unwonted social effort to see things as they really are - an effort that teachers, more perhaps than other members of society, might achieve. The flaw in behaviourism is that it conceals values under the cloak of 'the natural'. Although they carry weight with the common man, tangible, perceived realities are deceptive. The whole of science goes against the grain of common sense. Cossette is wrong in thinking that there exist 'objective truths' (p.31). If there were, there would be no historical development of science. Bringing in statistics does not contribute anything to the argument, no matter how 'strict and systematic' (p.31) the interpretation given of them. An indicator of quality cannot be transformed into an indicator of quantity. Evaluation, whether of effectiveness or of anything else, must start off by establishing its qualitative standards. For instance, librarians must find their own answer to the question 'Why, to what end, do you spend your working life acquiring certain books and conveniently placing them at the disposal of other people?' Only when they have answered this question will it be possible to establish an 'evaluation model'. From objectives and what determines them he goes on to inputs (p.31), about which he says that they are not exclusively material (but unfortunately, librarians, like many others, are not exposed in their work to any ideological considerations), and then to outputs, enumerating them as fully as possible.
This criticism directed at methodological formulation is in no way original today (except perhaps where education is concerned). It is levelled in this particular instance at an over-conventional approach to the school library, but it possesses a general value. It must be seen as a reaction against a scientistic positivism that, it is true, 'worked' but refused to entertain philosophical questions concerning the foundations of scientific praxis. The librarian, especially if he avails himself of systems theory, must recognize the wherefore of his acts, in other words their ultimate goal. Rather than put into practice what has been learnt, he must adapt his acts to a future design. Cossette ends up by throwing up his hands, not because the method is ineffective but because the normative content has not been mastered: 'At the present time no model exists that makes it possible to determine objectively the value or benefits of a documentation centre' (p.29).
In fact, advertising creates the consumer; the 'paths of persuasion' are clearly marked out now, 'needs' are neither spontaneous nor natural. Sociocultural dynamics cannot disregard the constant pressure brought to bear on the public's choices. Similarly, and conversely, the teacher's (and the librarian's) entire life is marked by a series of moral acts: the choice of books and their content, the adoption of methods and types of classification and the degree of control exercised over the children correspond to so many decisions prior to any direct intervention that encroach upon the freedom that Cossette would have us believe is total. Children, without knowing it, go into the library as into a constructed world, already highly goal-oriented; they are caught in a net of determinations to which they are exposed without being aware of it and to which they adapt. Extremely well-meaning librarians, heedful of the requirements of the users, perceive them, it is true, but translated into their own personal terms, and when they endeavour to be wholly 'objective' it is often too late. They do not escape the fate of the educator, whose task is to attain objectives, in other words to direct the child towards goals. For the librarian and the educator alike, living means complying with a series of moral prescriptions. Systems analysis calls into question the myth of scientific neutrality: effectiveness is evaluated through the agency of an evaluator. The analysis advocated by Cossette makes it necessary to specify from whose point of view a particular way of proceeding may be considered to be the best - the librarian's? the child's? future society's? Consequently, it will never be able to say what is the most effective way, as there are no beneficial results that do not, for other people or at another time, have baneful consequences.
Systems analysis, an aid to investigation and the most powerful at present available leaves us alone with our problems, with those for which we must take responsibility. I am referring to the documentary function of a children's library at primary school.
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Cossette considers libraries to be documentation units that collect, organize, locate and disseminate recorded information for the purpose of communicating knowledge to their users. This is a fair organic definition, but it rests on values that are not shared by everyone.
For instance: experience has shown me that the school library can be regarded by teachers as a place of banishment (there are some where a life of ease can be led) for pupils who are undesirable, cantankerous, under punishment or too far ahead because they are too quick for the so-called 'normal' pace of the others; or an Illichean place of solitude, a societal safety valve. Admittedly, reference books of a 'serious' kind must necessarily be found there, but to encourage users to browse. I have also encountered this attitude among librarians keen on comics and apt to brood on the post-1968 persistent memory of the boredom they suffered at school. Such an attitude can be condemned, but ignoring it will not make it go away. It probably derives from a fear of the library viewed as a colossal accumulation of knowledge, constantly reminding teachers of their shortcomings in relation to the quantitative conception of teaching founded essentially on memorization that the school, like the media, puts forward as a model.
Conversely, the librarian or the teacher will not make the documentation centre into a place without works of 'fiction'. Hence it will contain books of tales, albums and novels; they will not be there because of their possible contribution to the development of the life of the imagination, however, but because the continuous reading of a book, any book, from cover to cover is considered to be an excellent way of developing concentration. Our educational institutions are frequently obsessed with the idea that books are not ends in themselves but means of developing an ability, such as the ability to read (in the sense of spelling out words). Accordingly, reading, writing and arithmetic (the 'three Rs') are regarded as the fundamentals of education although they are but tools, without any thought being given to the most important matter of content, of that which confers 'meaning'. What we have here is a narrowly functionalist way of thinking into which values do not enter, making it possible to work with bland examples in the supposedly inane - or indeed 'infantile' - world of the child, who is thought to be more interested in daddy's pipe than in fear, justice or death. Many teachers think that in the final analysis children do not 'learn' much from reading stories or novels but that the activity is useful for the technical exercise of reading. They believe neither in the value of books specifically for children nor in the role played by books in the process of socialization. Why otherwise would they so often display such indifference towards new publications, justifying themselves by the memory of their own exemplary schooldays (viewed through rose-coloured glasses) or by the conformism of literature textbooks transposed from adults to children, resulting in both cases in a misassessment of the interests and motivations of children in their search for reading matter.
How could it be thought that children 'learn' nothing from the descriptions of feats of valour, acts of courage or villainy and attitudes to life portrayed to them? It is the whole problem of the child's socialization that is neglected or denied, that of the child's integration into adult society, his status and the social and intellectual equipment with which he should be provided in order to create the society in which he will be an adult. For this reason, the task of selecting works of literature to be placed in a library is far from being of minor importance. It is closely connected with pedagogical objectives, identified here with educational and cultural objectives. Is it not one of the school's tasks to play a part in charting the way to the society of tomorrow? And why should responsibility here rest more with teachers than with librarians? However, it is certain that, in France especially, cultural other than educational objectives are implicitly inflated, not to mention that they are formulated in such grandiloquent terms that they have hardly any relationship with reality. What is remote from life is not the school, which is part and parcel of the social fabric, but the excessively vague aims assigned to it by those who should be expressing those aims more forcefully and in precise terms. It is as though no one wanted openly to recognize the moral dimension, all-important though it is in the lives of educators. This is what lies behind the overindulgent, uncommitted comments made by critics about literature for the young, and this is also what lies behind a type of literature in which there is a thriving trade but which is lifeless or demagogic (of the 'Famous Five' variety). Selecting a collection of works of fiction and regularly renewing it is tantamount to provoking moral attitudes and moral behaviour; it means taking on educational responsibilities. It is hard to see any reason why the teacher should assume them with more competence than the librarian. But this is only part of it. There is work to be done on the subject of and in connection with books, not to promote reading but as a critical follow-up to the ideas expressed, and here both must participate. But to what ends? It is here that the vagueness gives cause for concern, if neither of them knows where he is going. Hence any improvement in the effectiveness of the education system (and a fortiori of the school library) will necessitate greater awareness on the part of teachers of the values for whose sake a society takes the trouble to maintain and reproduce itself, for, as will be seen, it is society that generates the 'requirements of the users'. But this will be possible only if the whole of society - and not just the isolated little moral world of education, no matter how well-intentioned - resolves to awaken that awareness. We seem to have a long way to go!
A far simpler issue, because it lies outside the normative sphere, would seem to be that of reference books, which, according to Cossette, give the documentation centre its distinctive and indeed specific character. The ground is well marked out here by the fact that the classification of school subjects is in line with that used by librarians (Dewey or UDC). Is there a particularly sharp division here between the specific work of the librarian, whose job is to cater to needs, and that of the teacher, who is responsible for or reveals the 'requirements of the users', in this case pupils? This division of labour seems to be a true reflection of accepted practice, not that it actually happens, since, in my experience, there are not many qualified librarians in primary schools, but it is evidenced in the behaviour of teachers who, either in their class or in a library outside the school, call on the services of a librarian - not that they do so very often. Generally they stand aside and remain silent while the librarian is speaking, as though the class had been taken over by another form of knowledge (or power) represented by the librarian and his books. This has always seemed to me to be an invidious situation, and, unlike Cossette, I do not think it makes for effectiveness. My ideal would be an organic approach such that every primary-school teacher would be capable of running his library both as a librarian and as a teacher. Versatility seems to me to be particularly necessary in libraries, and specialization a dangerous limitation.
How does the problem present itself? In terms of having access to didactic learning, to that which is provided by the teaching not of English or arithmetic but of those subjects now known as 'general cultural subjects', whether they be of a biological or technological nature or related to the acquisition of social knowledge (human sciences). Through them, teachers seek to encourage discovery, understanding and expression. This last-mentioned faculty is certainly very indicative of success and is an important factor in the evaluation of effectiveness. But the starting-point is no less decisive: what is the nature of the pupils' requirements? The most 'modern' type of teaching, that based on activity methods, is designed to ensure that 'the child's interests are catered for'. Cossette makes this a criterion of effectiveness, but what is the unit of measurement? It has of course become a commonplace in the literature that the study of general cultural subjects should always begin with a 'phase of self-directed activity' in which the lines of approach are identified by the children themselves as a matter of free choice. But has the socio-political aspect of the matter been properly identified? What determines the tastes, choices and needs of children? Not, to any significant extent, their individual psychology, so psychologists assure us, since desires, impulses and aspirations are in only a very small degree predirected towards specific objects and derive far more from the social structures in which the children find themselves. It is for this reason that needs appear to be very relative and to vary according to time and social context. It is well known that the need for a particular piece of information makes itself felt only in so far as there is some chance of its being met fairly rapidly. In our time, in our societies, Galbraith has asserted that production generates need. This is also true of information. The numerous messages put out through every channel including advertising, inspire our children's demands and dictate their questions. 'However, this advertising is strongly conditioned by the society that produces it. Our children's questions do not fall from the (pedagogically) pure heaven of childhood innocence; they are subject to social, or more precisely political, pressures that at the present time reflect no interest in needs connected with the community, the environment or working conditions but are the logical expression of a system that is primarily productive, that is to say economic. It is certain that the school should be a system that is fully open to its surroundings, but what if those surroundings block the way by insidiously imposing a welter of information such that the ideological wood cannot be seen for the trees? The truth of the matter is that the 'real' questions, those bound up with man's existence and destiny - and they are questions that children do worry about (at their own level - do not admit of an answer as far as the teacher is concerned. They will not be raised in class, where only questions that can be satisfactorily answered within the framework of formal education will be taken up. Children are aware of this and toe the line, learning very early on to avoid social taboos in response to the teacher's wishes. Although the latter thinks he is being anti-authoritarian in refusing to lay down pre-ordained channels for the subjects the children are to study and in creating the impression that the work of (re)construction is to be performed by them he merely consolidates, within a preconceived ideological framework, the standard answers to imposed questions. In view of the quantity of information provided, we can be sure that the bidding will go up and up, but the coinage will be counterfeit. The individual - the child - is alone against proliferating society. Is it not the teacher's educational responsibility to be at his side as he enters those perplexing areas whence tomorrow's history and innovations will necessarily spring?
In French educational literature not many works have been devoted to the motivation of the child. Are we to believe, along with P. Gruson, that a State that assumes responsibility for education cannot create a system capable of dispensing it? But the teacher gets on with his work. His means are two-fold: work may be done in the classroom, for instance finding ways of tackling a subject by means of research and making a partial round-up of what the pupils already know, or the class may go out to a place where they can see the real thing they are studying - such as a workshop, lake, forest or shop - or to the library, the latter being regarded as a representation of reality. The question of the relative merits of these two methods does not seem to have been even broached, either by Cossette or by the educationists, which is not right. Official recommendations themselves, under the sway of an activistic way of looking at so-called modern methods, tend to glorify and assign the highest priority to concrete reality, perhaps without taking stock of all the epistemological difficulties involved. For the social sciences INRP advocates educational visits as the 'cornerstone' of general cultural subjects. The source of knowledge is considered to lie in what the child sees, touches and personally observes, through 'concrete' experience, at the baker's, the grocer's, the supermarket or the petrol station, regarded as true schools of learning. Within such a conception the library clearly has a secondary role (either as a means of going further ('extension') or as a means of verification) but is never felt to be of central importance, continuing to be seen as a tool for completing what has already been started, never for initiating; in a word, an 'abstract' substitute. There are two possible objections that can be raised to this emphasis on the 'concrete'. In practice, it is commonly to be seen that the teacher, in his day-to-day work, does not fully base his instruction on this way of acquiring knowledge; he generally regards the educational visit as an exceptional teaching method. If asked to explain this, he might plead not only material problems (if the information he wishes to communicate is not available in the immediate environment) but also problems of method. Epistemologically, he could point out that observed reality, even in vivo, is never anything more than a representation and is shaped and coloured by previous theories; he could dispute the assertion that an observation can be 'objective' when it takes the form of a datum dispensed in a standardized package. Without wishing to go too deeply into the subject, which is vast and entails a long chain of philosophical transformations, I would hold that the teacher must not refuse himself the right to subscribe to a philosophy that rejects positivism while accepting that the observer himself influences his observation and his interpretations of phenomena. Leaving aside the philosophical standpoint that I have done no more than suggest here, what is important is that the library too, through its books and documents, offers an accessible reality no less real or significant than so-called 'concrete' reality and that, consequently, it may be considered to possess the same degree of potential effectiveness. The librarian is a custodian of knowledge like the teacher; he can lead children to books, just as the teacher leads them out on a study visit. In reality, each is as much an educator as the other. This remark may appear surprising, considering how entrenched is the commonsensical idea that nothing separates linguistic signs from extra-linguistic reality - whereas the linking of them (the referential function) 'brings the sign into relationship not directly with the world of real things but with the world as perceived through the ideological formations of a given culture' - an idea based on the belief that there exists an unchanging truth, that it is in no way dependent on social values and that representations are not ultimately always shaped by social, mental and ideological conceptions.
It would be wise not to regard the two forms of out-of-class learning as mutually exclusive. This, unfortunately, is how they are seen by the 'concrete reality' fanatics, who forget the language is itself a conceptualization, that visible reality is often trivial and misleading and that the purpose of education is not to itemize the tangible world but to develop abstract reasoning. Without dismissing the educational value of the study visit, let us turn our attention to what, pedagogically speaking, can be achieved in a library.
For the teacher, three purposes are to be served by the acquisition of knowledge. First, he wants the child to be capable of reaching accurate conclusions; secondly, he wants accuracy to go hand in hand with creative potential so that, ideally, the subject of study may be viewed as comprehensively as possible; and, thirdly, he wishes the child to be capable of giving an account of his or her conclusions, which presupposes the ability to organize them. To achieve these ends the teacher makes use of the resources of the library. There he encounters the librarian, to whom Cossette assigns a neutral, back-up or supporting role. In the opinion of the present writer, the teacher's work continues in the library, and if the librarian does not possess organic knowledge of the teacher's aims he is not likely to be very effective. Let us take a close look at what happens.
The research topic is either devised by the pupil or laid down, proposed, by the teacher, as we have seen. The research is carried out collectively, in groups, or individually. The teacher may suggest a visit to the baker's bake-house, but the child may be interested in observing owls, which, of course, being active at night, can hardly be seen during the daytime (nor, for that matter, can the baker). Then again, the child may want to study the metamorphosis of the chrysalis, which can easily be seen in certain circumstances, or to hear from small children to whose plight attention has been drawn by a television programme the previous evening, but they may not be near at hand. Arousing in children a desire to undertake a study visit may be neither easy nor natural for the teacher and may present problems for the champions of ?concrete reality'. In contrast, the library, organized for the purpose, will always respond to the call of curiosity - if at least it is well-stocked and well-arranged.
The choosing of books would tend to be the responsibility of the teacher rather than the librarian. Who, if not the teacher, is familiar with the motivations of children, with the 'requirements of the users'? Unless, that is, the librarians themselves lend a hand in class.
Classification, on the other hand, would tend to be more the responsibility of librarians. But will this be acceptable to teachers influenced by Piaget, who is an authority on the genetic development of the child? At what age will a child in a library understand (not 'learn') decimal classification (Dewey or UDC? The first step is to translate (traduce) scientific abstraction and to speak of 'stones' where the classification is 'geology', of 'animals' in the place of 'zoology' and of 'stars' in that of 'astronomy'. At what age can a child without too much difficulty classify bees and elephants as animals, the earth and the sun as belonging to the solar system? It will of course be said that it is the teacher's job to teach the principles of such classifications (which apparently he seldom does). Unfortunately, Piaget shows that nature cannot be forced and that certain logical connections can be made only at certain stages. It is then discovered that in this regard the teacher and the librarian are but in the infancy of their art and that, properly, what they should do is devise classifications according to level of psychological ability, without such classifications being an obstacle to future work, to the inevitable learning process, or to the developing capacity for abstraction. The ultimate objective here would be to understand and memorize the Dewey decimal classification or UDC and, if possible, at the same time to subject it to a critical appraisal. This question is little studied, either by librarians or by teachers, although it needs to be approached jointly by them.
What is the nature of the operation of classification? The human mind has an innate tendency to classify. Classification is an essential manifestation of intellectual activity, a means for man of introducing order into his perception of the universe. An inventory of perceived objects is not a mere labelling or an enumeration but a putting in order effected by the power of language. This cataloguing of nature, this science and labour of arrangement, involves a search for similarities, an attempt to reduce what is perceived to resemblances such that what is essential can be identified and singled out. Classifying means eliminating 'egocentric particulars' and removing the nonce element from present perception, from immediate sensory experience, in order to arrive at universal concepts, the first tentative forms of concepts that can later be integrated into a scientific construct. Classifying means, ultimately, seeking in diversity the simplicity and unity of 'permanent objects', identifiable through the recognition of relationships within the perceptual world.
Classes are sets of objects sharing common attributes. Their nature lies at the origin of the problems before us here: what separates the adult from the child in this sphere is that the former, librarian or teacher, possesses a ready-made, universal, independent system of classification, whereas the latter, the pupil, conducts his thinking (which, as has already been noted, proceeds essentially by way of comparison) without taking account of the adult's instrument, which is inaccessible to him. The problem to be tackled, that of classification, is not the sole responsibility of the librarian: the solution found to it will define the work of the teacher too.
The adult's system of classification appears to be the outcome of a logical exercise. It claims to be rationally justified, on the basis of the validity of the criteria employed. However, history, when it reveals the changes undergone throughout the centuries by the different types of classification, also reveals that they are linked to the state of science at the time, which imposes the paradigm accepted by the scientific community, making it socially necessary, while its scientific validity depends solely on a dated, historical consensus. The adult pits (the superior weight of) his fully developed logic against the developing logic of the child: this is the pedagogical act through which individual meaning and the social order meet. Classification, although universal, is only relative.
Psychologists have studied ways of measuring the child's ability to perceive resemblances, and many of their tests require the subject to look for similarities. The conclusion they have reached is that at the age of ten the capacity for classification undergoes considerable change (is this evidence that socialization is almost complete?). Before that age children seem to perceive differences more easily than resemblances, to recognize first colour, then form, and then, later, function. Children learn to classify by bringing into play organizing activity to operate on the raw data of experience. If a teacher wishes to enable a child to use a library effectively he must aim at making the child's thinking increasingly independent of concrete images through the discovery of relationships that will make it possible to create practical, usable categories.
The librarian does not receive a fully trained pupil in his library. On the contrary, as new 'users' go searching for information they slowly develop the ability to classify, and the librarian needs to keep track of the children's new or emerging skills so that he can help them on to the next stage, the goal being to master the classification system to one decimal place by fifth grade.
Three sources of information thus complement one another in subtle ways: the alphabetical list of entry-words, the list of subjects covered, and the hierarchical classification. The first is documentary, the second pedagogic, the third social. The librarian and the teacher both use them in two ways: inductively, by moving up to increasingly general designations (from 'money' to the category 'economics'), or deductively, from the general category 'animals' down to species, by way of the phylum, family and genus. This to-and-for movement between units of classification is a source of both creativity and guidance. It would therefore be a mistake for the school librarian to confine himself to a technical approach that he might consider to be a specific feature of his work. The tools he places at children's disposal cannot yet be used by them: the goal is to link together two extremes informal classification and decimal classification. Conceivably, this work of classification, which is that of generalization and imaginative creativity, will be more readily accomplished in class or in the library, if there is one, than on a study visit outside. It represents an eminently intellectual task that disregards trivia and superficiality, going on to reveal the shaping ideas that explain reality.
Let us consider a child who has come to a library to find out what he can about 'the owl'. While browsing, rummaging through the 'Bibliothèque de travail' (B.T.) series, he comes across a booklet on the subject. Should he copy from it? And what? The teacher has specified the subject of the paper to be prepared - 'The life of the owl' - but what the child finds difficult is making his essay relevant to that subject. The book mixes up all kinds of different information about the appearance of the owl, its constitution, its usefulness, etc. The role of the teacher and the librarian is to teach the child to read in such a way that he can communicate what he has read, which means starting off by noting what is relevant. The B.T. series is well produced and, through its lay-out, lends itself to rapid reading. The child can read through the titles to pick out the 'useful' ones: 'Hunting, rearing its young, nesting, etc.'. While learning, the child simultaneously develops a method. The teacher first checks that the child is singling out what is useful and then provides assistance in going from the particular to the general. He easily gets a 9-year old to understand that nesting is a particular way of building a home, that hunting is a particular way of working, and that the rearing of young birds is a particular way of reproducing. This access to generality provides a methodological framework that has other applications, serving as a source of patterns of interpretation for the preparation of other essays. This search for common formal structures, these isomorphisms, applicable in different forms to situations that do not at first seem comparable and to different kinds of phenomena, is an essential factor in measuring effectiveness. It would be difficult, however, to provide an evaluation of it. Lack of success is not tantamount to an admission of failure The school is a place of learning whose practical effects can be measured only in the long term, when the child has become an adult.
Successfully evaluating the effectiveness of a school library depends only to a small extent on the librarian's efforts and more on the precision of the educational objectives the team of educators, including the librarian, wishes to pursue. In no case are librarians passive tools in schools, at the service of the teachers. They too are educators, and, through their efforts to develop the child's ability to classify, they play a central part in building up the child's thinking. It is true, however, that they must beware of the danger of bibliolatry. Life is not learnt in books., but it is in books that it is conceptualized.
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