International Association
of School Librarianship

The International Association of School Librarianship:
First Annual Conference, London, 29th-31st July 1972

W. W. Ovens, Hon. Assistant Secretary, School Library Association
Reprinted from The School Librarian, 1972.

With permission from the School Library Association.

In 1962 Miss Margot Nilson of Sweden and Miss Carolyn Whitenack of the USA discussed, during the meeting of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession held in Stockholm, the possibility of forming an international association of school librarians. In 1964 a meeting of WCOTP delegates interested in school libraries was held in Paris, but it was not until 1967 in Vancouver that an international steering committee was set up under the chairmanship of Dr Jean Lowrie to consider a worldwide survey of school libraries and to plan a programme for the Dublin meeting of WCOTP in 1968. In Dublin in 1968, in Abidjan in 1969, and in Sydney in 1970 meetings of school librarians were held during the WCOTP conferences. In Jamaica in 1971 the International Association of School Librarianship was formally inaugurated, officers were elected and a constitution was adopted. So in 1972, in London, the first annual conference of the International Association of School Librarianship was held at the Sidney Webb College from the 29th to the 3lst July.

There were 153 registered members of the conference and 24 countries were represented. The School Library Association of the UK was host and the IASL President, Dr Jean Lowrie, in her address of welcome, expressed appreciation of the work of the SLA in organizing the three-day conference. She also thanked Miss Sheila Wood, Hon. Secretary of the International Subcommittee of the Joint Four, for her great help. Miss Wood kindly represented the SLA at the earlier international meetings of school librarians mentioned above.

In her opening remarks, the President spoke of "this historical moment", the real beginning of the IASL. It was appropriate that the meeting should take place in International Book Year. She hoped the association would encourage the development of school libraries throughout the world. There were at the conference representatives from the Library Association of Australia, the Hawaiian Association of School Librarians, the British Council, Ceylon, Nigeria, Turkey, Jordan, Mauritius, British Honduras, Uganda, Tanzania, the International Federation of Library Associations, the Library Association of the UK among others. Dr Lowrie concluded by pointing out that, in helping to bring books and users together, the association could foster international brotherhood.

Mr C. W. Morris, Chairman of the SLA, read a message of welcome from Dr Lincoln Ralphs, the SLA President. In adding his own welcome he re-called that in 1938 he was privileged to offer the greetings of the young SLA to the School Libraries Section of the American Library Association at its winter meeting in Chicago. Today was a proud and happy day for the SLA, which in the thirty-six years of its existence had maintained its independence and, though small, had made its influence widely felt.

The conference took the usual pattern of addresses and discussions, with an afternoon of visits to schools. The SLA gave a wine and cheese party on the first evening, the British Printing Corporation a cocktail party on the second, and the conference ended with a dinner at which Mr Edward Blishen spoke with inimitable charm about his days as a pupil-librarian and later as a teacher-librarian.

Publications of the SLA and of the Youth Libraries Group of the Library Association were on sale, and Don Gresswell Ltd. had a book exhibition that mirrored the recent SLA publication The World in Stories. The librarian of the Sidney Webb College, Miss Barbara Williams, put the college library at the disposal of the conference and displayed excellent exhibitions of books about London, books about foreign countries, books for immigrant children, and a delightful display of teaching material in support of a project on Tutankhamen by a student of the college. Time was provided for members to show fims about school libraries in their own countries, and to discuss the provision of media other than books. A most important aspect of the programme was the opportunity given for informal discussion outside the regular sessions.

Dr Ruth Wong from Singapore, the first of three main speakers, spoke of the difficulties of setting up school libraries in underdeveloped countries. There was as yet little appreciation of the need, and the textbook was still considered the main tool of learning. Poor facilities for book production and a lack of authors and translators made it difficult to supplement the textbook with library books. There were very few trained librarians; indeed, many of the teachers were untrained. While some countries talked of other media replacing the book, the crying need in the developing countries was for the book first; the cost of the other media was, in any case, beyond their resources. Since 1969 the Singapore Curriculum Development section of the Education Department had promoted school libraries, offering advice, booklists and book services. A course in school librarianship was an option in teacher training colleges.

Mr John Ward of Australia urged organizations of school librarians to press governments to spend more money on school libraries. Those concerned with the problem were most likely to know the needs, but it was necessary for school librarians to meet at local, state and national level those who held the purse strings. School librarians must set standards based on educational needs. If they did not, those set by governments would conform to a price. Not only must school librarians meet the administrators, they must discuss their needs with other educational organizations, communicate among themselves by means of news letters and bulletins, and send articles and information to educational journals. It was outgoing methods of this kind that would help in the development of school libraries.

Miss Gwen North of Canada gave an illustrated talk on the importance of the school library as she saw it in her day-to-day work in a Calgary High School. Her task was to bring the student and the book together. A good library was essential if students were to be encouraged to think for themselves. The school librarian was not a mere custodian of books, a dispenser of materials, but an educator, deeply involved in implementing modern educational methods. Students reading the same text, learning from the same book, were not being allowed to develop their own interests. There was no point in breaking down the traditional classroom situation without making available a library that would be a force for educational excellence. The school library should be a specialized library supporting the curriculum, but it should also support the wider interests of the students. In her opinion classroom or subject libraries were ineffective. The school library should be a resource centre, centrally located, freely available -- even for concerts and meetings -- and large enough to hold half the school population. A full-time teacher-librarian was essential to its most effective use and the librarian should co-operate with the rest of the teaching staff in designing a programme for the students' self education. Although a resource centre was needed, books were still the heart of the information media.

The discussion groups considered problems experienced by the various countries in relation to the points made by the speakers. Among the subjects discussed in one group, made up of representatives from Australia, USA, Canada, Tanzania, Holland, and the UK, were school library provision and finance, the development of resource centres, and the provision of audiovisual material. The Federal Government of Australia was prepared to give grants for the building of school libraries but not for stocking them. In Holland and in most other European countries there were few school libraries and where they did exist, book grants might be as low as 8p or 9p per student per annum.

The provision of books for indigenous peoples whose first language was not English was also discussed. One of the major difficulties was the middle class and parochial nature of much that was available. A corollary was the shortage of books in translation from other languages.

The staffing of school libraries and the status and qualifications of the school librarian were touched on. Many delegates thought that more should be done in teacher training colleges to make young teachers aware of the importance of the library in a school. All agreed that much depended on the personality of the school librarian.

At the plenary session held to hear reports from the discussion groups, suggestions for action were put forward for consideration by the executive committee of the association: that influence should be brought to bear on publishers in the developed countries to encourage them to help the few publishers in the under-developed countries; that teacher training colleges should be encouraged to include in their programmes the individual use of books and other media; that closer contacts should be made with editors of journals of educational associations in all countries, so that a visitor might readily obtain information about sources of material and school libraries.

The first IASL annual business meeting was held on the last morning of the conference. It was announced that membership would be on an annual basis, the year to be the calendar year. Membership could be personal at 5 dollars; or associate (for associations of school librarians) at a fee according to the size of the association -- 10 dollars for up to 100 members and one cent per member beyond that number; or contributory (for organizations wishing to be associated with the IASL) at 50 dollars. A personal member would have one vote and an associate member voting rights according to the size of its membership.

It was announced that the 1973 conference would be held in Nairobi and the 1974 conference in Singapore.

Mr Ward informed the conference that Dr Lowrie was to be the next President of the American Library Association. This was the first time that someone whose main interest was in school libraries had been so honoured.

The conference was most successful, not least because of the opportunities it afforded to meet and talk to people from many different countries. The general impression would be that there is no difference in kind, only a difference in degree, in the problems all countries are meeting in developing their school libraries.

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