More than 200 Lithuanian school librarians traveled to their capital, Vilnius, on August 8 to attend their first national meeting, “New Generation of a School Library.” Speakers from Lithuania and Russia, and as far flung as Italy, Malaysia, the U.S., and Qatar, gathered to discuss the challenges facing education and school libraries—and to help government officials understand their value in schools.
Lithuanian government officials and public librarians also attended the daylong event. Two school librarians, Aldona Paulauskiene of Gabija Gymnasium, a public high school in Mazeikiai, and Snaiguole Raguckiene, described their work with students and teachers to promote research. Gabriele Bubokaite, a student at Paulauskiene’s school, and Algirdas Dvarionas, a student at the University of Vilnius, spoke at the “Future of the School Library through the Eyes of the Student” session, giving their positive predictions about the fate of the profession, saying they were grateful for the introduction to information they received and look forward to continuing to use their libraries.
The two students contradicted an earlier speaker from a government library who felt that libraries could be replaced by technology—an argument often heard in the U.S. But when questioned further, he admitted he read books to his daughters at night. A public librarian from the M. Miskiniai Public Library, spoke about the “Learning by Playing” project, a series of electronic games developed to help kids overcome some of learning problems and to encourage them to stay in school. It teaches concepts in math and other subjects and has a testing component so that students understand when they need to review content and improve their post-test scores.
The conference ended with Valdas Kaminskas, a Lithuanian education consultant, who helped divide librarians into five regions of the country and asked them to volunteer to lead the creation of a new school library association in their area. A formal association would allow school librarians as a group to apply for available funds to hold national meetings and to participate in international conferences.
Unlike the U.S. and many other countries, Lithuania mandates a school library and a school librarian in every school from elementary through high school (which they call gymnasium), and in all vocational schools. But since school librarians have so far lacked a formal organization, they’ve been excluded from applying for national and international funds for special projects that are available for teachers and public librarians who are organized under the Lithuanian Library Association. Public librarians fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, while school librarians fall under the Ministry of Education.
The conference was videotaped by the Education Development Center, a unit of the Ministry of
Education, and all 17 presentations are available to school librarians through the center. The presentations were translated during the conference, but are available in Lithuanian in the videos.
The goal was to bring school librarians and government officials together to learn about each other and find solutions to mutual problems such as recognizing that school librarians are teachers, too. For those who traveled from the U.S., it proved that the problems—and possibility solutions—of school librarians in Lithuania are similar to ours: a lack of recognition of the role of school librarians in student learning and the importance of the school library in teaching and learning.
American school librarians often have little success getting principals to attend their state association meetings, and government officials attend only when they receive an award—often sending a representative to accept the honor rather than attend themselves.
Kaminskas supervised the “New Generation of a School Library” conference, and co-sponsors for the event included Giedrius Vaidelis, director of the Lithuanian
Education Development Center, and Irena Kiviene, director of the Vilnius University Library. Barbara Ford, director of the Mortensen Center for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois, gave the keynote presentation, “Global Reach, Local Touch,” which explained the importance of school librarians adopting a global presence. Ford spoke about her center’s program for international visitors and encouraged attendees to apply. She also suggested that the Lithuanian and U.S. governments assist in these type of international meetings.
Other international speakers included Diljit Singh, president of the International Association of School Librarianship and professor at the University of Malaya in Malaysia; Barbara Immroth, professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin; Luisa Marquart, professor at Italy’s Roma Tre University; and Tatiana Zhukova, president of the Russian School Library Association. These presenters sent their papers in advance to help the interpreters, and they will be available online.
Blanche Woolls is a professor Emerita at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science and Consulting Editor of ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited