The Problem with “School Librarians” in Mauritius

As its name suggests, a school librarian is a librarian who works in a school library. In Western countries, a school librarian is often being referred to as a teacher librarian or a School Media Information Specialist. Whatever the terms used, a school librarian is supposed to be responsible for performing the four main activities which follows:-

  • Teacher that is, assisting the children and/or students with the reading and selection of books as well as performing school work.
  • Instructional Partner that is, collaborating with teachers in order to promote information literacy and critical thinking amongst students.
  • Information Specialist that is, maintaining the collection and making available a variety of materials that is required in the school curriculum.
  • Program Administrator that is, maintaining the library budget and making the library a welcoming place for students.

In Western countries, a school librarian is often referred to as a teacher librarian since in addition to being a teacher the person would also possess a degree in library science. This is as totally opposed to the Mauritian context where school librarians or rather school library officers only possess a library science qualification.

In the Mauritian context, the school librarian’s importance has often been overlooked. The problem lies in the qualification and job description of these school librarians as set out by the authorities. Firstly, in most of our schools in Mauritius, there are only library clerks and/or library officers and no school librarians per se. Secondly, the qualifications of most of these school library clerks and/or officers are much lower than that of a typical school librarian. Thirdly, their job seems to involve only part of what a school librarian is supposed to do. Typically, a school librarian or rather school library officer in Mauritius would only be responsible in making available the necessary materials required for the school curriculum to the students. The promotion of information literacy, for example, which is one of the most important tasks that needs to be carried out by the school librarian is being totally ignored. To be information literate is in fact a primary prerequisite that is required in the educational development of an individual. A person is said to be information literate when that person is able to recognise a need for information, be able to locate that information and efficiently and effectively use the required information (ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, Final Report).

What is therefore required is a redefinition of the job description of the school librarian in Mauritius, the recruitment of appropriate school librarians with the appropriate qualifications and more collaboration between the teachers and the school librarians in the future. The appropriate measures taken will help to give a new image to the school librarian in Mauritius and to the library profession in general.

Helena Lam

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The Success-Story of a Beach Library

Library and information services managers must think out of the box and challenge the status quo. Instead of waiting for patrons to visit our libraries, we must leave no stone unturned to devise innovative ways of reaching people.

One such success- story is the beach library set up by public libraries on sandy beaches in the Netherlands (Holland) since 2005.  This innovative experiment was based on the premise that ‘if people do not want to come to the library, we will visit them. We want to surprise them.’ The target group was vacationers in two coastal provinces.

Initially, there was some resistance from politicians who feared that nobody would return library materials borrowed from the beach library. Thus, it would represent wastage of taxpayers’ money. But this fear proved to be unjustified. The project worked in a marvelous way and made a lot of happy users due to the fact that it was based on TRUST.

ProBiblio – a public library service provider which acts as the coordinator of this endeavour has reported that it has given up all library rules and regulations, i.e no fees, no fines, no library cards and no I.Ds in order to make things as easy as possible. All one needs to do is to sign one’s name and give one’s address. Every year, an average of 25,000 visitors are registered. The circulation figures reach some 15,000 items. Only 1 % of borrowed materials are not returned. The beach library is operational during the six weeks vacation period only.

Indeed, there is food for thought for our public librarians and policy makers. Can’t our Beach Authority, Tourism Authority, District Councils and librarians chalk out a common strategy together ? Is it too demanding ?

I.Ramjaun