ASLA XIV... From the Delegates Perspective

By Pru Mitchell

ASLA seems like a distant dream as we all struggle wih computers, printers, scanners and end of year deadlines.

Freemantle provided a delightful setting with fantastic restaurants, coffee shops and historical venues. Each day's Keynote Address was held in the recently decorated Town Hall and the following workshops/papers at either the Esplanade Hotel or St. Patrick's Primary School. Dr. Carmen Lawrence (Member for Freemantle) opened the Conference Sunday afternoon and delegates were then entertained by Prof. Mike Eisenberg from Syracuse University who gave the SCIS Oration entitled Library and information professionals for the 21st century: ensuring that students are receptive users of information. With the atmosphere set and over 400 T /Ls ready to share ..... .

Pru Mitchell, La Salle College, Perth found that Bev Blackwell's Workshop on Redesigning subject access for the future sparked reactions that other T/Ls could find interesting.

No-one was surprised to find that technology was a major topic at ASLA. What I didn't expect was to come away with the issue of automated library catalogues firmly back on the agenda: I thought that topic had been dealt with and filed.

Bev Blackwell's session sparked some reflection on what we are doing in our automated catalogues, and where we might be headed. Few T /Ls have an opportunity to specialise in cataloguing, neither are we privy to cataloguing debates taking place in the wider librarianship profession. I appreciated the opportunity to hear a cataloguer detail the issues she faced in providing catalogue data for state and national databases, and her thoughts of how subject access could be improved.

In an hour there was little opportunity for more than posing the questions. What is the role of subdivision s in subject headings? Can we simplify these subdivisions? What improvements do we want in the way the OPACs work? Why can't automated systems search across subject headings? How do we teach users to make the best use of OPACs for subject access? What about subject access to fiction, forms of text and genre? Do we still need a subject headings list? Has the time come to introduce descriptors to improve subject access?

With the age of automation it has been easy to let some of the fundamental cataloguing principles slip, particularly in the area of subject access. Bev revisited the importance of using the most specific subject heading for an item, and of resisting the temptation to add subject headings to a work which does not that subject. This crucial balance between maximising recall of items and ensuring the relevance of the item to the subject searched, brought to mind the frustration of searching the Internet. Many of the Internet search engines are less sophisticated than our automated library catalogues, and this combined with the sheer volume of data, often returns a level of 'search frustration'.

Dr. Dale Spender gave the Keynote Address on Tuesday morning. Gillian Unicomb, The Friends' School, Hobart found her view on the Internet challenging ...

Dale Spender, author of "Nattering on the net" had some sobering things to say about the future of learning. Indisputably the way forward is via the computer and modem. In the electronics world, males excel. 94% of Internet users are male, and 99% of the hardware is developed and owned by men. Is it any wonder that male values and cultural mores are entrenched in this medium? Ironically females have finally risen to the top in the print-based system. But just as girls have made this peak the goal-posts have moved and in this brave new frontier computer world it's all about jumping in, risk taking and conquests. Girls, the risk assessors are once again being crowded out. What impact does this have on us as T /Ls?

Ashley Freeman, Lecturer: Charles Sturt University was impressed that the Conference provided a forum for cataloguing issues to be discussed:

ASLA XIV was a conference with a number of strengths. Among them the attention holding, thought provoking and on occasions provocative keynote speakers; the high number of workshops given by practicing T /Ls at the forefront of some aspects of teacher librarianship; and the discussion of issues and trends with colleagues from across Australia and New Zealand. A personal highlight was the number of sessions relating to cataloguing. Workshops such as Bev Blackwell's Redesigning subject access for the future and Lance Deveson's Voyager, drew good numbers and addressed key concerns in an area which often receives little attention at conferences.

The first two days of the Conference highlighted technology, learning and information access. Sandra Naude, St. Hilda's School, Perth presented two Papers: here Annette Chalmers (St. Peter's College, Adelaide) shares her response -

No matter what stage a school has reached in the planning and implementation of CD-ROM services and Internet access, Sandra Naude's two sessions were invaluable:

  • Bringing the superhighway into your library and ensuring the curriculum directs the traffic and
  • CD-ROM technology: How did I manage without it?

Sandra gave generously from her experiences emphasising the importance of obtaining expert advice when planning school-wide networks and the need to be especially careful in checking and querying tenders and in selecting an Internet service provider. Just as her separate sessions complemented each other so too, as her comments illustrated, do the technologies. Appropriate use is essential, e.g.:

  • CD-ROMs such as Auslit, Austrom, Sage and World Magazine Index are cost effective because they cut down the time spent searching on-line.
  • CD-ROMs can be accessed speedily and easily whereas there is some uncertainty about being able to make on-line connections at particular times.
  • While it is impossible to have everything in the Library to meet client needs, the Internet provides access to everything. As Sandra said: "Use of the Internet is now part of our lifelong learning skills."

Karen Bonnano, Queensland Library and Information Services sends her report on the Paper presented by Shelda Debowski: Effect of new technologies on the role of the teacher librarian.

Teacher librarians must adapt to the new technologies. We must have: commitment and interest; sufficient funding; appropriate technology to match expectations; ability to integrate new demands into old patterns; paths available and an understanding that there is a price to pay. Our role will be reviewed and considered in light of the changes in technological application to the curriculum.

Three major roles will emerge: (1) Resource consultant; (2) educator; and (3) resource manager.

  1. Resource consultant: We will need to ensure that the collection is of a high calibre, user needs are reflected, promotion of the collection to users is happening, maximum use of the collection is facilitated and the collection and the user are linked as much as possible. New technologies will assist the resource consultant to achieve the above. They will require online or CD-ROM tools to select and evaluate the collection effectively and efficiently. Facilities and utilities of automation systems need to be used to the optimum. Dissemination of information to users can be e-mailed, downloaded and circulated. Information networking is a crucial factor in this exercise as T /Ls adapt to the new technologies. Traditional systems, eg: Vertical File, and old working patterns may be cast aside or re-engineered to meet client needs. 
  2. Educator: Major escalation in the educational role of the T/L will occur. Online cataloguing, CD-ROM facilities, Internet access, specific software and networking access will form a major part in the changing role. Questions arise: Can we manage it all? Shall we manage it all? Our teaching strategies will be with small group work, individual guidance, providing feedback on a process, monitoring effort, being a mentor and/ or model and training students as monitors.
  3. Resource manager: We must realise that the traditional role will be challenged and there will be costs involved in the change. The T /L needs to maintain a basic service and consider challenges each year to remain professionally abreast of the technological innovations. For example: aim to learn one new system (CD-ROM or online service), aim to understand the operations of an automated module and develop skills in computer software applications to assist you in professional presentations.

Teacher librarians as school leaders was presented twice on Monday. Rowena Shaw, The Southport School, Queensland found this workshop had much to offer primary school librarians.

The eye-catching title appealed straight away when I perused the choice of sessions. Maybe the attraction was that subconsciously I've always thought of T /Ls as natural leaders within the school community -and wanted to have it affirmed! I was not disappointed. P

amela Paton and Peter Wilson chose to highlight our multi-facted talents through a stimulating interview situation. Within groups of five, we were presented with a description of Citywell Senior High School who needed to employ a new Head of Library, plus C.V.s of four short-listed applicants.

What followed was a logically approached, clear dissection of each applicant's experience and qualifications and their suitability for the position. We then ranked each one in our own order of preference, and it was amazing to discover the similarities between our choices. The ensuing discussion then clarified areas of concern we had about the final choices, and a decision was reached.

If this ability to analyse, interpret and rationally discuss such an important issue and reach a satisfactory conclusion is present in T /Ls as a group, then they are certainly worthy of recognition as leaders to a greater degree than perhaps some are presently.

Nadia Wheatley gave the Keynote Address on Wednesday: Writing for young Australians 1980-2010: an author's perspective. From Xavier College, Melbourne Janie Gibson sends her report ....

Wheatley provided perhaps the most thought provoking comments, especially coming the day after Dale Spender's talk on the Net. Initially it seemed fairly negative but as she developed her points about 'rights' and the effects technology might have on them, it re-emphasised for me the issues of copying, downloading and rearranging that some students find easy to do these days. While the problems are not new in themselves, many students and even some staff are not fully cognisant of the impact of their actions. Many students seem to feel now as they did initially with photocopying, that if they print out, download or copy to disk the information they find, that is all they need to do. Change a heading here and there or insert a paragraph and the assignment is complete!

As did Spender, Wheatley raised the issue of 'right' of the author to write and publish on the Internet. She brought to our attention just how easy it is now to download a 'book' or 'work' and then with a keystroke or two, alter it so that it is effectively no longer the original work or intention of the author. Over the years librarians may have occasionally censored the odd print copy, whereas now it is possible to alter an 'unacceptable' work globally. She also stressed the rights of authors and illustrators to receive a fair monetary return for their labour. Just because the work is being used for education should not mean that authors 'give their work away'. Just like other professions who are paid fees for service, so should authors expect a fair return.

Her second example focused on the way in which electronic media can alter historical accuracy, emphasising the need for teachers and students to have access and make use of authentic material or documents. She posed the question of how are we to know whether what we are getting is the original work or intention of the author if it can be changed so easily electronically, or when CD-ROM producers may be more concerned with effects rather than accuracy. Here surely is a good opportunity for makers of CD-ROMs to put source documents on disk, so that students can quickly access them and be sure of accuracy in the future.

Pru Mitchell


La Salle College