Servicing at a Distance

By Heather Kelsall

While many T/Ls have experienced their own professional training in an off-campus, external mode, not many have had to teach information skills via radio frequency to students sitting hundreds of miles away from any library.

At a recent visit to the Charleville School of Distance Education, I spent the day with Margaret Rose, the T /L in charge of the library which services the resource-based needs of some 400+ students from pre-school to year 10. Describing it as 'one huge interruption' and 'erratic' does not make it sound too unusual for the many of us who work in busy understaffed libraries. However, when you consider that it is rare for Margaret's students to visit the library and yet she still describes her day in this way, you begin to get a picture of the unique challenges facing the T /Ls who service educational needs to an 'unseen' client group.

The school is located in the grounds of Charleville State High School and the two educational institutions share many facilities including the library. The library services 300+ day students and is staffed on a similar basis: one T /L and a Library Aide. The two libraries have different funding but they do share most resources. As the Distance Ed. students have items out for longer periods of time, some resources become temporarily 'off limits' to the other students.

Margaret's day starts with a check of her schedule lessons on-air for the day. At around 9.30 she starts issuing the books selected by teachers and students for mailing the following day. The mail-out day each week includes resources for assignment/ project activities, extension material for weak/strong areas, and some recreational reading. The Queensland Department of Education covers costs of one mail-out and return per week to each child.

There are the usual administrative tasks to handle next: cataloguing and processing new resources, database entry, and managing the overdues list, interspersed with teacher requests as resources are selected for the following days. The L/ A assists with processing and parcelling of resources for dispatch to around 80 students each day ... not to mention the endless re-shelving! The 1997 introduction of the Scholastic Book Club and $1,000 worth of orders each month now adds extra mail to Margaret's busy schedule.

With years 1 and 2 due for a library lesson, Margaret has chosen a storybook appropriate for the current theme: rules. Until the technician actually has her and the students on-air, Margaret is never sure if her class for the day will be four, eight or fifteen students! Once the roll is marked and the lesson begins, each student response is marked on a sheet which Margaret keeps to monitor student input and interaction over the year. The lesson is reliant not only on Margaret's organisation and the story, but also on the frequency remaining on-air and students remembering to press the button when it's their turn to speak.

While students may receive as little as 30 minutes library instruction on-air per term, Margaret picks up extra lessons when teachers,are away from the school running workshops for students elsewhere. She uses this time for various aspects of information skilling: research, note taking, report writing, etc.

This is Margaret's second year at Charleville Distance Ed. and while she feels she has much to offer students in remote areas, she does miss the face-to-face interaction with her student group. She also wishes she had more time for information skilling and teaching.

Margaret's procedural organisation and her dedication to supplying the 'right' resources has been an inspiration and confirms that T /Ls are very special professionals.

Heather Kelsall