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Educational Function of Libraries

Barents Library School I September 8–13, 1998

Educational Function of Libraries / Tikunova I.P. // Проект «Библиотечная школа Баренцева региона» : сб. материалов. − Архангельск, 1999. − С. 108-115. – The translation is made by redactors of the digest.

Since time immemorial library as a social institution fulfills educational function. On the one hand, being called to store the knowledge acquired by mankind through the centuries, and on the other hand, to provide a free access to it, library plays the most important role in education and self-education.

With the appearance of public and people's libraries educational function has become one of the main functions, because these libraries were originally organized to promote education, to raise the level of people's culture, including that of reading.

In the 1920s in Russia there appeared the so called «Izba-chitalnya», meaning «reading huts», and their main task was to teach people read and write, to finish with illiteracy. Later regular libraries which developed in their place, became true champions of communist party ideology among the population, they helped the party to spread communist ideas as widely as possible.

At present the educational function is also one of the essential tasks in a library. I am going to analyze the main directions of the educational activities in the libraries of the Arkhangelsk Region.

Lately the main tool of educational influence on a reader was a library book. First, it is a reliable source of knowledge, a lasting and easy to use informational document. Second, books make people think and teach them. Following author's ideas people learn the fundamentals of logic and rhetoric, train their brain and memory. Later they try to find pros and contras and form their own attitude, thus developing their intellectual potential. Third, a book, being a work of art, influences its reader emotionally. Compassion makes a reader solve some moral problems together with its heroes, think of and formulate their attitude to some difficult issues of life. Thus, a book does not only teach people, but also enriches their inner world, educating their souls, making them true personalities.

The pedagogical effect of a book depends a lot on the cultural background of a person. In ideal, a library should deal with those who already can apprehend information in any form. In practice, libraries, especially children's libraries, have to teach their readers how to use the library and bibliographic sources on their own, to choose among them; libraries have to teach them the reading culture, considering those tasks to be the most important.

There has appeared a tradition to arrange excursions of nursery schoolchildren and first grade pupils to the nearest library, sometimes it is their first acquaintance with a library. To continue and to strengthen the relations between the children and the library librarians make their excursion look like a theatre performance, a fairy tale, a journey, or a game. Their favorite heroes from books and films ask them funny questions, make riddles and arrange competitions of all kinds. Playing together, children easily learn the simple rules of using a library and are eager to come here again and again.

For older pupils librarians have special programmes of teaching them library science and bibliography at special lessons. Children are taught book and library history, the types of publications, they are taught to use handbooks, to use bibliographies and catalogues, to work with a book.

Grown-ups get information on the library rules, on the search for books, while talking individually with a librarian. Unfortunately, the lack of technical equipment prevents us to teach to use new informational technologies in our libraries.

To promote the culture of reading it is very important to arrange all kinds of readers' conferences and discussions of books. They help to teach people to analyze things, to express their own attitude, to compare it to other peoples' opinions and contribute a lot to their studies of the sources.

The other traditional direction in educational function of a library is enlightenment. It is aimed at the development of a personality, at the raising its cultural level, at the widening its inner horizons. This is achieved through a very wide range of library activities: lectures, literary surveys, literary parties and meetings with famous people, competitions, games which add a lot to the patriotic, ecological and esthetic education of people.

Activities aiming at patriotic education are generally based on the history of the Arkhangelsk Region and of Russia. We acquaint people with the daily life and culture of our ancestors; we help them to revive traditions of the Pomor population and indigenous peoples of the North. The most popular are the folklore groups meetings and visits, celebrations of traditional and church holidays; exhibitions of pictures and photographs by local people, of things made by craftsmen; regional history lessons at schools; meeting with famous people living in the neighbourhood; games and quizzes based on local history and traditions; literary and musical evenings devoted to works of local authors, musicians, storytellers; premieres of new regional publications.

Besides we have an interesting experience of arranging district children's competitions based on local material in Primorsky and Pinezhsky Districts and of having a regional competition of this kind organized by the Regional Children's Library named after Gaidar. Very popular are family parties called «Let's remember our customs, let's remember our past» when couples who have lived together for many years are invited to celebrate their jubilees in libraries in Vinogradovsky District, they also have «A day of Round Pie» when people are talking of everything connected with bread and northern pies and tarts and actually bring and try them at the party.

Ecological activities in the library are not only aimed at the showing the environmental situation, pollution and possible future catastrophes, but they teach people the fundamentals of life and work safety, of purifying their bodies and of healthy life habits, they organize local communities to work together to protect the environment. The central library in Pinega, for example, arranged several round table discussions with the local authorities in charge of the environment protection and members of protection societies and local people on some burning issues of the ecological situation. In Kotlas central library they have had a series of meetings devoted to life without medicines; in Severodvinsk municipal central library system they have several clubs of nature lovers: «Man and Nature», «Fauna», «Together».

Original game was invented in a children's library № 8 of the Arkhangelsk Central Library System which was called «Elections to the Animals' Parliament».Those who wished, could take part in it. It was enough to come to the library, to put your card into the polling box with the name of the animal and a short account of one's choice. Enthusiasts could draw a picture, write a story or an article, and make some souvenir or embroidery to support their «candidates».

It is more difficult to arrange activities in support of moral education. Librarians often organize reading conferences, discussions of the books, talks and disputes on moral problems or on books of high moral standards at the youth clubs and organizations. It is necessary to note that major part of all environmental and patriotic education activities of the library is also of great importance as means of influencing the morale of the people, as they all teach them to love their motherland, its nature, which means they teach the main law of morality.

Aesthetic education is supported by musical evenings, sometimes devoted to Russian romances, «chastushkas» (a kind of limericks, rhymed and sung spontaneously), songs of the war time, or devoted to classical music by Russian and foreign composers; librarians arrange art exhibitions of local painters and craftsmen; imaginary excursions to the world's famous museums; book illustrations exhibitions, book surveys and talks on the works by outstanding authors; literary club meetings and competitions of children's art.

I must specially note Children's Art and Literature Festival held in Mezen' District by librarians of Children's Library. Children from 5 to 15 took part in it; the terms of the Competition required not only writing but also arranging the compositions as if they were books, though of course parents were allowed to participate as co-authors and co-publishers.

The other important direction of the educational function of a library is that of   entertaining people, especially in village and children libraries.

There are many reasons for such activities – the lack of other institutions which are to arrange people's leisure - time, the wish to attract more users to the library, and even requests of the people living there. There are no limits for the fantasy of librarians working in this field: all kinds of celebration parties, weekend and humour parties, competitions and theatre performances, hobby groups and clubs for women and elderly people, children and teenagers, study courses of all kinds for book lovers, gardeners, young historians, authors, philosophers etc. Children's libraries make programmes of arranging summer vacations time of schoolchildren. All these entertainment activities have one thing in common: being arranged by a library and in a library they are all based on books. Because the main task of a library is to give people access to reading, to bring up young people to respect knowledge and to cultivate in them the need to spend their leisure more beneficially.

Most of the city and district libraries arrange some education for their users. The Central Library in the town of Nyandoma has a German lan­guage study group for children, in the Central Municipal Library of Severodvinsk the University of Humanities is opened and a School of early intellectual development is functioning.

Working in close cooperation with schools, libraries take part in the teaching process: collect literature that can be of use for classes, arrange displays of books on some lessons' topics, make bibliographies and even work out the lessons and special courses in literature, history, regional studies, world fiction, which are included into new school programmes. As an example I can mention a programme called «Books on Regional Studies for Out-of-Class Reading for Second and Third Grade Pupils» which was worked out in the Regional Children's Library named after Gaidar; a course of lectures on the world's classics for the senior forms was prepared in the Arkhangelsk Regional Dobrolyubov Library.

And what are the objects of the library educational activities? The first one is a librarian himself. Being a keeper and a promoter of book treasures, a librarian can't fail to know books very well. Getting ready for all kinds of talks and discussions, sharing his views with readers and authors he or she inevitably becomes richer intellectually and spiritually. The other object of education in a library is its user.

Here are some characteristics of the teaching methods which are widely used in a library. First, unlike in school, in a library all the activities are short, they are meant for both, children and grown-ups, and the educational impact is based on free relations of a librarian and a customer. Second, immediate impact is possible only if a reader wishes it, if he or she has time for it, and what's more important, if he or she is interested in the subject, in reading in general, if he or she respects a library and a librarian. In other words, the library educational function is based on the principle of free will and reader's active need of learning. Third, library pedagogics is characterized by a situation when the object and the subject of pedagogical impact can easily change their places, because the user sometimes has a profound knowledge of the topic, as a personality he is very interesting and deep, and he shares his intellectual wealth with a librarian. Their relationship can be very beneficial for both of them. All the above-said pedagogical methods used in a library correspond to the so-called pedagogic of cooperation, which is aimed at educating a self reliable person, active in his or her efforts to search for the necessary information, to comprehend the information found, to use the library on his own.

All the methods of library pedagogic can be divided into several groups according to different criteria. If we take into consideration the type of a library impact on a user, we can easily distinguish between direct methods (person to person talk, discussions of books, articles, informational documents, exchanging opinions and informational bibliographies), and indirect (such as book displays, collection and catalogues arrangement to ensure a free access, the size of the electronic databases). The effectiveness of library methods depends on many aspects: whether they are scientifically based, whether they take into account the personalities of readers and librarians, whether any linguistic, technical and other devices are used, etc.

Sometimes, the effectiveness is reached spontaneously, intuitively but it is always purposeful and initially comprehended by a librarian.

Depending on the kind of information used, the methods of pedagogical influence are divided into 2 groups: those which are based on the primary information, and those which are based on the secondary (bibliographic) information. The latter (book surveys, lists of books to recommend, indexes, catalogues) are also of a great pedagogical potential and make an important part of library pedagogic.

As for the orientation of the pedagogical impact, we can mark out those which influence a user in one direction (book displays, catalogues and indexes, talks on books, lectures and other activities) and those which are of mutual influence (talks on books, inviting to prepare for some activity, etc).

Taking into consideration the number of the participants, we can divide all the methods into individual influence methods, group influence and mass influence.

Naturally, library pedagogical influence is achieved mostly in the processes where a reader and a librarian communicate, because while communicating directly it is easier to evaluate the user's culture of reading, his broad-mindedness, the depth of his moral convictions, to define or help to develop his interests, a system in reading, to help a user choose among the books. In spite of a short-time communications, their contacts are syste­matic which makes communications dynamic and effective.

The effectiveness of a librarian's pedagogical influence depends much on his or her communicative abilities, on his or her talent of psychological and pedagogical influence on different groups of readers. It is important during the first visit to the library that a user had a feeling of comfort and attractiveness in the eyes of a librarian. That is why a librarian should master some psychological methods which help to reach mutual understanding, some positive subconscious reactions of different groups of users. The librarians of the Arkhangelsk Region have had a chance of getting special training at seminars and training sessions.

Very important are indirect methods of pedagogical influence of a library on a user. Before addressing a librarian, a user gets his impression of a library from its interior design, the simplicity of orientation in it, and later from the arrangement of book collection and catalogues, access to all kinds of information. The intensity of such influence depends on a user's culture of reading and his interests, on a librarian's professionalism, on the use of linguistic, technical and artistic devices. For example, children's libraries should have a richer interior design: nice looking, illustrated cata­logues and book lists, funny toys, special furniture, places for games and maybe a couple of small animals residing there.

The method of guiding user's choice in reading can't be overestimated when a librarian deals with an unprepared reader, no matter if he is a child or a grown-up. The essence of this method lies in helping readers to get books in consecutive order. The less educated is the person, the more is the need for such reading.

One of the main devices in guiding the choice of books is «the method of switching» or «a theory of bridges», when the interference in the choice of reading is very active on a librarian's side, a librarian might exchange one book for another of the same author, to exchange books to different genres and types which she or he considers more useful for the user. Such switches are possible only in genres or topics to give a reader an idea of other genres and types of literature existing, to widen a user's horizons.

It is effective only when a librarian takes into consideration the user's psychological peculiarities of fiction perception. A librarian should be very careful to use this method, because active interference annoys people, who usually underestimate a librarian's opinion. «The method of switching» is never used when dealing with a reader who has a habit of choosing his books on his own.

The leading method of guiding the choice of books is an individual talk with recommendations. In our library practice we have worked out several types of such recommendations talks: «a book as a bait», «a book just for you», «identification» (when a reader «baits» identifying himself with a book hero), «personification» (when a reference is made to some influential person and his preference of the book).

Library pedagogical influence, as you understand, is not limited by individual communications of a librarian and a user, it is achieved by other forms of library activities: group or mass activities. Working with different groups of readers, forming such groups, it is important to take into consideration social and psychological peculiarities of the users. The widely used principles of differentiating users are the age, education, gender prin­ciples, and also they might be health, income, cultural background, interests. Talking of groups, we can work with school classes, staffs of some companies or institutions, hobby groups.

There are a great number of forms of working with a group that is mass forms of work. Traditional, classical library activity is a talk, a book survey, a readers' conference and book discussion, a party on some special topic. Information Day. Our libraries keep working on new forms of library activities. One of methods is to add new contents into an old form of social work. For example, a literary evening programme might include a quiz, or a game, or a competition, there might be tests or questionnaires, a video film or a theatre performance; club meetings are usually accompanied with a cup of tea. Another method is to use forms of work from some other spheres of activity, adding some library elements. Thus, all kinds of TV shows are copied now in our libraries, but librarians never fail to give a book survey on the theme of the show, and both, the users and librarians while preparing for the show, read a great number of books for it. Press conferences and round table talks, political discussions and book auctions, imaginary trips and excursions, business games and literary law hearings, reader's benefices, lessons in regional history or literature and many other forms were borrowed by librarians.

In conclusion I'd like to note again that a library a compound body, it is a social institution aimed at several external functions: informational, pedagogical, memorial, recreational, etc. They all are interconnected and when a library loses one of those functions, it inevitably influences others. On the other hand, this mutual penetration of external social functions form a powerful flow of influence of a library on people which means a library continues playing a very important role in society's life.


The translation is made by redactors of the digest

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