Public Libraries – Community-Based Health Clubs For the Brain and Mind?

Public libraries moved beyond just offering books long ago, but only now are demographic and scientific trends converging to sustain a more fundamental transformation in their role. A role in which they explicitly help promote cognitive health in the community, and potentially use Brain Fitness as a new framework to unify an array of lifelong learning, civic engagement, gaming, and health promotion initiatives.

A few months ago I spoke to librarians at The New York Public Library (NYPL), about “The Emerging Brain Fitness Field: Research and Implications.” I provided an introduction to how the brain works, discussed the growing research supporting how lifestyle factors contribute to lifelong cognitive health, and offered a way to navigate through this emerging and confusing field. This was part of NYPL’s first Health & Wellness Month for library staff, which in turn was an important enabler of major health events for older adults.

This experience highlights two new trends: 1) public libraries are focusing more on health & wellness promotion in order to engage older adults, 2) cognitive health or brain fitness is becoming a significant component of that promotion.

US Public Census data explains why libraries need to cater to an older audience. From 2000 to 2020, the number of Americans over the age of 55 is expected to grow from under 60 million to close to 100 million. This is due to expanded longevity and to the baby boomer generation moving up the population pyramid.

Brain health provides a unique opportunity for libraries to engage active boomers and seniors. Rohit Burman, manager of culture and public broadcasting at MetLife Foundation, explains, “Last year we identified a growing interest by boomers and seniors on brain health issues and thought that public libraries, as community and learning hubs, could play a major role. So, we decided to launch, in collaboration with the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and Libraries for the Future, a new iteration of the Fit for Life program, focused squarely on promoting brain fitness.”

The Fit for Life program supports 17 library systems from January 2009 to January 2010 that launch new initiatives to promote brain health via the following research-based lifestyle factors: diet, physical exercise, intellectual challenge, mental stimulation through new experiences, and socialization.

There are other new programs libraries are using to promote brain health. For example, the Lifelong Access Libraries Initiative, funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, is in practice an all-inclusive way for older adults to improve their brain fitness through civic engagement.

Gaming, thanks to the Nintendo Wii, is quickly emerging as a major opportunity to foster intergenerational activities. At least 18 of the 89 NYPL locations ordered Wii gaming equipment and software programs in 2008, for both in-library use and to be checked out. The American Library Association recently celebrated an official gaming day, including both board games and, yes, video games.

Brigid Cahalan, NYPL Older Adults Services Specialist, explains that Wii gaming has become one of the most popular activities to engage older adults in the libraries that offer it regularly, complementing the more serious computer classes that had long been the major attraction. She highlights, “If we want to become the hubs of learning and community activity, we need to offer new types of social activities.”

In short, libraries are already innovating to engage older adults with lifelong learning, civic engagement, gaming, health & wellness promotion. Brain fitness seems to be the glue that binds all these activities together.

This new reality raises some interesting questions for librarians, aging, and lifelong learning professionals to consider: Will public libraries become the brain gyms of the future?

Marzena Ermler, Coordinator of Professional Development at NYPL, explains the emphasis on brain health this way, “If only we could help people understand that libraries are healthy places for them to go. Learning through life is very important to maintain our brains in top shape as we get older.”

Pauline Rothstein, Ph.D., Co-editor of ALA book Longevity and Libraries: Unexpected Voices to be published in late 2009, recommends libraries to “think of brain fitness as the new concept that can help integrate disperse activities, identify additional needed resources, and explain our value to society. It makes sense to start with specific programming, and then use a new framework to evaluate a variety of library services. Public libraries need to redefine themselves away from old thinking and material objects (buildings, books, DVDs…) and focus on services: how do we educate, how do we help navigate the growing avalanche of information ‘specifically around how to keep our brains in shape?”

That evolution will require libraries to proactively listen to community expectations, and to partner with local organizations, such as seniors centers, to meet new requirements. If reshaped as Health Clubs of the Brain and the Mind, libraries would provide a critical service to an aging population and become centers of information and destinations for brain fitness programs.

Copyright (c) 2009 SharpBrains

School Library Provision and Services in Sierra Leone

Introduction

Harrod’s (2000), defined school library as an organized collection of books placed in a school for the use of teachers and pupils, but usually for pupils. It may comprise books of reference and or books for home reading and in the care of a professional librarian, or teacher-librarian. It is variously call “Instructional Materials Centre”, “Learning Centre or Media centre.”

The School library serves as a service agency which supports the schools’ objectives and provides materials for all subjects and all interest of pupils and teachers. The school library is a supportive resource of the school curriculum, its provisions, services, and development is directed at aiding school programmes (Kinnel, 1994).

Libraries generally have as their main purpose acquiring, processing, storing and disseminating information to which school library is not an exception. The school library has a vital role to play in the information service. They provide materials relevant to the curricular needs of everybody with the school community. The importance of providing such resources cannot be overemphasized if the school library is to be an instigator of and support for resource based learning in the school.

Also, in relation to information skills, the library and its librarian, make available materials and services in different varieties to allow both pupils and the school community to use these skills in finding the information they need.

The purpose and philosophy of school library service are rapidly being understood and accepted by school administrators and teachers. The fact necessitates that the school librarian be thoroughly familiar with those purposes such as guidance, the reading programme and the enrichment programme for pupils and teachers. However, Albert Academy library has no trained and qualified librarian, who understands and performs those purposes in order to ensure that the service provision is fully attained.

Albert Academy School Library

The Albert Academy was inaugurated on the 4th October 1904. It was until 1975 when the Albert Academy Alumni Association in their meeting thought it wise that such a reputable institution must not go without a library as the development of school libraries was at its highest peak at that time. An idea to erect a library building was born with the collaboration of the alumni association and the owners of the school that is the United Methodist Church. The library was established with the aim of having a place where pupils could go and explore new ideas to further strengthen their school curriculum activities and leisure as well.

The library was officially opened to the entire school community by His Excellency the late Dr. Siaka P. Stevens on 4th October 1976, then President of the Republic of Sierra Leone and also a member of the Albert Academy Alumni Association class of 1922. The library was named after him following the immense contribution he made towards establishing the library for the school community. The Albert Academy Library has a mission to “Support school curriculum activities by providing materials of relevance in the school process and to introduce new and improved information sources to help make the school to be in line with modern standards of education.”

The objectives of the Albert Academy school library are as follows:

I. To provide pupils with library materials and services most appropriate and most meaningful in their growth and development;

ii. To participate fully in school programmes as it strikes to meet the needs of pupils, teachers, parents and others community members;

iii. to stimulate and guide pupils in all phases of their reading that they may find increasing enjoyment and satisfaction and may grow in critical judgment and appreciation;

iv. To make available new development and keep pupils abreast of modern trends in education recognize reader’s needs and keeping them well informed in order to create a well dynamic educational environment;

v. To work with the teacher in the selection and production of educational materials that meet the aims of the curriculum, offer guidance in the use of collection, evaluation of education programmes and materials, facilitates the location, organisation and maintenance of materials efficiently; and

vi. To help pupils to become skilled users of libraries and of printed and audio-visual materials.

Library Provision at Albert Academy School Library

A major role in the information service provided by modern school library is in the provision of materials relevant to the curricular needs of pupils and teachers. In recent years, the curriculum activities have moved to another level, where the school being supportive resource of this movement, must endeavor to house a variety of print and non-print materials and have access where possible to electronic sources of information which are also part of the information resources in the library.

Given the demands of the modern school curriculum, the school library must now house a wide variety of print and non-print materials and have access, where possible, to electronic sources of information. The Albert Academy School provides printed materials, book, fiction and non-fiction as well as pamphlets, newspapers, chart, pictures, monographs, manuals, handbooks, textbooks and other reference books the library also provides non-books materials which include audio and audio-visual materials, slides, tape-slides, video cassettes, and CD ROM’s. Although these are not materials in the traditional sense, they still constitute resources for use by pupils and teachers. Use of electronic sources help school libraries to present pupils and teachers with a concept of a School Information Centre which is not continued to the school but is a link to an unending supply of information (Herring, 1988).

Albert Academy School Library Services

The purpose of establishing Albert Academy School Library is to provide services for both pupils and teachers in a bid to fulfill one of its major purposes, which is to aid curriculum goals by providing services that are indispensably linked to the fulfillment of this purpose.

One of the principal services of the Albert Academy School library is to act as back-up to the under resourced school programme. Even advanced countries cannot easily stock materials ranging from five thousand (5,000) to twenty thousand (20,000) in a small room to provide help to school programmes. Therefore, they see the need for central stock of materials which can be borrowed for differing lengths of time (lending service) and also for reading and consultation services. This is done in order to augment the school curriculum at the Albert Academy which is inclusive of the Basic Sciences and Technology, Social Sciences, Humanities and the Fine Arts.

Albert Academy School library also provides inter-library loan services requests. This is particularly valuable to senior pupils studying topics across subjects offered in depth. Pupils who cannot afford to purchase or access such expensive materials benefit from this type of library service. Through inter-library loan services, materials are sourced from other schools libraries for the benefit of both pupils and teachers.

A reference service is also provided at Albert Academy School library. The School Librarians spend a sizeable proportion of their time providing what in other libraries term would be termed as reference service. In providing a reference service, school Librarians perform a similar role to that of other librarians. In a reference interview in school, each pupil is treated as important as the other and given the Librarian’s full attention. This is achieved by personal assistance given to the pupils and teachers in finding specific information whether direct or indirect. Some of the reference materials at the Albert Academy School Library are dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories, yearbooks, biographies newspapers, maps and charts, and the academic and administrative calendar of events or the operation of the school.

One of the most valuable services provided by Albert Academy School library is that of information provision. The Albert Academy School library keeps the teachers and pupils informed about new educational resources and development in the fields of interest to them by displaying the jackets of books that just arrived. The Albert Academy School library uses Current Awareness Services (CAS) to achieve this goal. This is done by identifying the information needs of both teachers and pupils and meeting these needs. Linked to the CAS is the Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) and this is more particular with teachers. This ranges from keeping individual teachers informed about new resources in the library or about newly published materials, to alerting teachers to meetings and course demands or event linked to their curricular interest.

Challenges of Library Provision and Services at the Albert Academy School Library

No matter what an organisation has to count as success, is bound to face certain difficulties that stand before it as challenges to its success. School Libraries in Sierra Leone, especially Albert Academy School Library are not without challenges.

To start with the library and its resources have been ignored by the pupils and teachers. Despite their all-important nature of service provision in support to them they do not see it as a valuable part of their activities. This is because most teachers and pupils do not get adequate supply of textbooks and other materials directly linked to the curriculum programme and most teachers prepare pamphlets for sale to pupils from which there teaching is based. This has caused most of the pupils to heavily depend on those sources instead of the library resources.

The School Library has a staffing challenge. For example the Albert Academy School Library has no professional library staff to handle an information service for over two thousand pupils and teachers.

Furthermore, the library has a challenge with space. The space provided for the library from inception is now not enough for the school. The school population in terms of teachers and pupils has grown relatively high to over two thousand (2000) pupils and staff as compared to the space provided for a little over Five hundred (500) pupils and staff about 40 years ago. It has become difficult to access the library and its resources.

In addition, there is a funding problem. The Albert Academy School Library is faced with the difficultly of securing funds from the schools authorities for an effective collection development. The library depends heavily on donations and gifts to stock its collection and most of these materials given in this guise are not reflective of the courses offered in the school curriculum. Often, the school administration has to spread meager financial resources across a wide spectrum of school needs.

The establishment of the computer laboratory with slight internet facilities independent of the school library has also created a problem for the Albert Academy School Library. The teachers and pupils would prefer to visit the Computer centre for Internet services much more that visiting the library. The separation of the Internet facilities from the library services has posed a serious threat to the library provision and services.

Also, it is quite proven that the Albert Academy School Library lacks the capacity to provide for the visually impaired or handicapped. The absence of school library materials in the Braille format prevents blind and the partially sighted pupils to utilize the available library resources in their schools libraries.

Final, the issue of preservation of library materials is not a common practice for the Albert Academy School. This preservation is supposed to ensure that the materials last long because of their frequent use. It has become difficult to access funds to preserve materials that are under threat of wearing out through continuous use.

Despite some gloomy predictions on the future funding of education and possible restrictions on the availability of resources at the Albert Academy School Library, the future of the school library seems assured. It can be argued that because of current educational and technological trends, there has never been a greater need for well-resourced and professionally staffed school library than it is now. The emphasis on the individual’s-the child’s and the adult’s-ability to find and use information effectively is likely to continue in schools, at work and for leisure pursuits. A future society dependent on electronic information for its prosperity will need an information curriculum in its schools. Hence the availability of good school library provision and services in the school curriculum cannot be overemphasised (Kargbo, 2000).