Galileo, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Katherine Johnson (of Hidden Figures fame) are familiar names to many people, in their status as movers and shakers of modern scientific inquiry. Few people, however, know that there’s also a father of library science. Back in 1921, S.R. Ranganathan composed five fundamental tenets that collectively guide library management and practice:
Books are for use.
For every book its reader.
For every reader their book.
Save the time of the reader.
The library is a growing organism.
Various iterations of these enduring laws have been developed since their original inception, reflective of a shifting information landscape and a more complex digital environment. Ranganathan reminds us, though, that libraries can and should offer something to everyone – that they’re inclusive environments that welcome different people for varied reasons. Our primary job in the Ron Harden Library is to ensure each student and each staff member feels a right to assume ownership of this community space, secure in their sense of belonging and in the constancy of our professional commitment to their reading and researching endeavours.
Ranganathan’s fourth and fifth laws bring to mind the vital work of our esteemed library technician, Mrs Christine Sultana, and the Information Technology staff with whom we share the space. The visual displays created periodically throughout the year are the product of Mrs Sultana’s creative energies, and convey kaleidoscopic arrays of book covers, signage, themed collages and homely simulations that enliven our spaces. That’s even before Advent comes around and she single-handedly transforms the space into a celebratory wonderland that ignites anticipation of impending celebrations of faith and the gift of an extended holiday – during which we can hopefully travel!
And the IT staff? In a word, saviours! Not a day elapses when they aren’t rescuing staff and students from the indignities of digital bewilderment and dysfunction. They execute their acumen with enormous grace, acknowledging the imperatives of technology in the day-to-day functioning of all of us, through their kindness and patience. This year we farewelled Ms Lisa Black who departed Bethany to embark on a new professional adventure. We are, however, blessed with Mr Hendra, our new School IT Officer (SIO), whose good nature and expertise have been an asset to our social and professional space.
Through our day-to-day work in the library, themes emerge that define the dynamic between librarians, the library spaces, and the people we serve – both the students and the staff. If we were asked to highlight a singular theme, my choice would be the recurring utterance of the following expression among our students: “I didn’t know that…”.
Our interactions with our students have revealed areas of both need and capacity. Bethany’s young women bring an energetic inquisitiveness with them when they visit the library, and the synergies born from that give us opportunities to teach and refine their information-seeking and digital skills, whether it be for formal assessments, classwork or reading for enjoyment. The “I didn’t know that” exclamation encapsulates those ‘aha’ moments: epiphanies of realisation that morph into transferable and lifelong information skills they will carry with them into TAFE and university, and in their complementary interactions with public librarians and public collections.
I didn’t know that…
- we have an online catalogue that helps me locate what I’m looking for efficiently
- I can perform a variety of searches on that catalogue depending on the level of knowledge I bring to the search and how certain I am about what I’m looking for
- we have access to an extensive collection of eBooks that I can access any time for free
- I can also find audiobooks within the eBook collection that I might like to listen to, and some have eBook partners so I can read and listen at the same time
- I can download the SORA app onto my device and access that collection with ease
- our physical collection contains many hidden gems and I’m bound to find something I will enjoy reading if I take the time to browse or ask for help
- my librarians can assist me with complex research tasks
- referencing isn’t just about citing sources to obtain a good mark; it’s about protecting the free flow of quality information so crucial to a healthy democracy.
These represent a small sample of the fundamental information skills our students have embraced this year with passion and agility. That’s before we dig deeper into the broadening array of multi-literacies of our information-rich age: information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy – and their accompanying subsets of skills that are vital for personal, social and academic survival.
At time of writing, I have just emerged from engaging with a symposium of academics and professional journalists convened by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The emphasis was on the importance of fact-checking and verification to ensure the preservation of truth in a post-truth world littered with misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, amateur citizen journalists and social media platforms. Digital technology, like any technology, can be a force for good and evil in our lives, depending on how we harness it. The act of critical reading, so important to the preservation of our minds and our language, can be enhanced by contemporary technologies, but also stifled by the distractions they present. The solution lies with balance, not eradication. Bethany’s library offers both technology-rich and technology-free spaces where students can recapture a sense of who they are – and their connection with humanity and its truths – when they’re not positioned behind a device or computer screen.
Our shared aspirations for our students beyond Bethany? That they value the act of reading for pleasure for all its power to ignite empathy and cognitive development, to fill voids of aloneness, to appreciate the artistry of language, to see themselves reflected in the worlds of others – well into their adulthoods. And that they continue to develop their own agency and competence in locating, managing and repurposing information as they graduate to higher levels of education. That they apply their powers of critical thinking to filter and regard truth in a world where truth is challenged. That they assume ongoing responsibility for digital citizenship and its associated ethics. And finally, that they always feel confident navigating toward and within physical and digital pathways toward crucial information sources.
Mrs Jennifer Simonetta and Mrs Damienne Forrester