Developments in the field of telecommunications and computing have resulted in completely new ways of disseminating information and knowledge, as well as changing methods of education. The importance of public libraries as providers of infrastructure and as brokers of information is evident. All should be able to participate in distance education from their nearest public library. Brigitte Kühne introduces the DERAL Project.
Developments in the field of telecommunications and computing have resulted in completely new ways of disseminating information and knowledge, as well as changing methods of education. We have also come to realise that, with the frenetic pace of technological change, skills acquired in youth are no longer sufficient to ensure either employment or comfort in the surrounding world. The explosive growth and very rapid technical evolution of Internet based technologies offers a promising overall platform for delivery of information, knowledge and learning. The importance of public libraries as providers of infrastructure and as brokers of information is once again evident in the whole of Europe, and all who want to participate in lifelong learning or who want to educate themselves in any subject in order to be able to follow the development in a changing society should be able to participate in distance education from their nearest public library once the tools for such distance education have been developed.
Our intention in the DERAL-project is to find guidelines for public libraries and librarians in the different European countries. Active learning and the use of information technology for educational purposes has to be supported, and therefore programmes for interactive learning have to be developed. If these programmes are developed to suit public library environments no part of a population needs to be excluded, everybody can participate.
Public libraries will play a very active role in building the new information society. It means however that librarians must be educated for a new, tutoring, role and that the libraries must be equipped with supporting reference material, specific for the different courses that are needed or wanted by the inhabitants of this area. To investigate this is part of the project.
No extensive analysis of user requirements have been done so far, but "everybody" seems to be concerned about life-long learning, how to raise one's educational level, how to be able to participate in the "information society" etc. The European Commission in their comments on the V Framework Programme wrote in their "Draft for Large Scale Consulting" in October 1997: ".. the success of the information society in the EU is critically dependent on effective delivery of life-long learning to all its citizens and that a large scale European-wide action is needed in order to bring together the expertise available within the Member States." and "... there will be a growing need for distance learning services addressing large user groups."
From a pilot project in the Kalmar County we knew after a questionnaire that public library staff wanted to know more about computers, IT, and Internet and how these things could be used in library service. Through follow up questionnaires, also in other parts of Sweden, we know that library staff want more than basic education in these matters. They want it in order to serve library visitors better and to help them in their information seeking. This could be extended to people who want to participate in life-long learning and/or distance education.
The DERAL-project was proposed under the European Union Telematics for Libraries programme, fourth framework. It belongs to Action Line C: Library services for access to networked information resources; Call Topic 12: Integrating library services with distance learning. It is funded with 368,000 ECU.
The pilot project in Kalmar, Sweden
In 1995-96 the Kalmar County Library carried out an Internet- based information technology project, called "Telematics for librarians" together with the University College of Kalmar and partfunded by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs. In the pilot project the participants learnt about computers and telematics via Internet and e-mail ("learning by doing"). The subject was the new technology of media/IT in regard to librarians and libraries. The aim was to link the twelve main libraries in the County together, partly to be able to help each other in information seeking and partly in order to be able to be used for distance education via the Internet. The participants benefited from the course by using the Internet as a tool for education. The long-term aim was to improve the service to the public, but in the short term the team stimulated an internal discussion of the likely consequences of the development of new forms of media. Participants were interested in the possible extension of the role of librarians to being tutors to the people who participate in courses brought to libraries. At the end of 1997 a similar course started together with the Swedish DIK-förbund, the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, the Universities of Lund, Uppsala and Umeå and the BHS in Borås. (Brigitte Kühne is a member of the working group for this project.) This course is offered to all librarians in Sweden and has had very good results. The course has been doubled several times since the start.
See <http://www.mc.hik.se/EDIT/studion.html> for the University College of Kalmar and <http://www.dds.se/distans/> for the DIK-course.
Recent European Union reports have recognised that libraries, especially public libraries with their network of some 70.000 branches (figures differ, depending on how to define a "branch library") throughout Europe, can help society to meet key challenges. It is thereby important to identify barriers or problems in the transition to the Information Society and their implications for libraries. We need:
In the DERAL-project we have chosen rural areas in Sweden (the Kalmar County in the south-eastern part of Sweden, a part that is known for having among the lowest average education level in the whole country and also being at the lowest level of average income in the whole country), in Spain (the North East of Spain), in Austria (public libraries in the Wiener Neustadt, in Nieder- and in Oberoesterreich), in Northern Ireland - the county of North Antrim, a primarily rural area with many small towns and villages and in Ireland the region outside Dublin. These regions have quite different but complementing experiences in public libraries´ roles in ordinary peoples´ lives in educational matters: Austria has not much experience at all; Huesca will soon have a digital library, but no experience in how this could be used in distance education; Northern Ireland has much experience in distance education, but not involving public libraries, Ireland has experience in distance education with the participation of public libraries but wants more and the Kalmar county has experience in distance learning for public library staff, but not for ordinary library visitors.
In the DERAL project it is our aim to develop a module or a set of guidelines which is applicable to different topics for learning when public libraries in rural areas are to be involved in distance learning for visitors to their libraries.
After we had looked at the ,,State of the art" and gathered information from the different participating regions we equipped the participating public libraries with PC:s, printers, scanners etc. and connected them to the Internet. We have trained the staff and have also connected them together in discussion groups via e-mail, teaching them how to use the multimedia resources. In this way we want to create a platform based on Internet for international co-operation between public librarians who want to share experiences in distance education, exchange opinions and ideas, and get access to expert advice and training.
The DERAL homepage is found at: <http://deral.infc.ulst.ac.uk>
We will then catalogue distance learning resources which are currently available on-line - we will create an interface of resources which are available on the Web. We want to test hardware and software for educational purposes if these are suitable for distance education via public libraries.
Finally we will develop the guidelines for public librarians and visitors to public libraries.
We have seen the first problems. Some of them are on a large scale: still insufficient education with librarians, technical problems, library directors´ unwillingness, economy, etc, while others are smaller: where to put the PC in the library, type of furniture, how many supplementing books, lack of time, etc.
The DERAL-project started at May 13, 1998, with a kick-off meeting in Kalmar, Sweden, and will be finished after 27 months with a as complete as possible set of guideline for public librarians and visitors to public libraries. So far we have arranged workshops in most of the participating countries in order to educate library staff, to market the project to education providers and to inform people who want to follow distance courses.
In the project there are different workpackages that contain for instance:
If you have any comments on this article, please contact the editors (email@example.com).
Dr. Brigitte Kühne
Kalmar Läns Bibliotek
For citation purposes:
Dr. Brigitte Kühne, "DERAL - Distance Education in Rural Areas via Libraries," Exploit Interactive, issue 1, 10 April 1999
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