An eminent female academic at the IOE: Clotilde von Wyss (1871-1938)

I have been doing some research on some of the women teacher trainers at the IOE  in order to understand their contribution to pedagogical practice in London during the interwar years.   One of the teacher trainers I have been most intrigued with is the relatively unknown Clotilde von Wyss.[1]  Von Wyss  taught at the London Day Training College (which became the Institute of Education, University of London in 1932), from 1903 to 1936. The following presents a glimpse into her contributions to pedagogical practice during the early 20th century.

As was typical in the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, most women became qualified teachers in order to have a professional career, and many women remained unmarried in order to retain their independence.  Many women teachers progressed in their careers by taking up headships and some, mainly the ‘intellectually gifted women’ from the middle classes, went into teaching in higher education.[2] Von Wyss followed this path and trained as a teacher at Maria Grey College, Brondesbury and gained a distinction in her Cambridge Teachers’ Certificate. Prior to her appointment at the London Day Training College (LDTC), von Wyss taught at various schools including St. George’s High School in Edinburgh from 1894 to 1897.  During this time, she was also an external student at the Heriot-Watt College where she took classes with the distinguished naturalist Sir Arthur Thomson.

Clotilde von Wyss (1871-1938)

From 1897 to 1900 she taught biology at her old school, North London Collegiate, after which she took up a lectureship at the Cambridge Training College.  In 1903, she began to work on a part-time basis at the London Day Training College (LDTC) where she taught biology, hygiene, nature study, art and handicraft. She was soon appointed as a full-time member of staff supporting the Mistress of Method and Vice-Principal, Margaret Punnett (another eminent female academic), with the welfare of the women students.[3]

Von Wyss’s pedagogical contributions are significant.  The 1929 issue of the student magazine, The Londinian, reviews the annual biological exhibition which von Wyss organised and provides evidence of novel teaching methods including the use of visual illustrations, objects, story-telling and peer-learning to communicate complex concepts. Her students presented these concepts to other students using the items on display, which included a dissected cat, the digestive organs of a rabbit, and a frog which was used to detect a heartbeat. There was also a section where the students learnt about amoeba and another which focused on genetics or the ‘principles of heredity’ and the role played by chromosomes:

Miss Gascoyne … was demonstrating the principles of heredity by means of charts…[and the] story of the black gentleman cat who married a sandy lady cat was touching in the extreme. How he longed for his little boys to be tortoiseshell, something like him and his dear wife!  But they never could. That distinction was confined to the girls of the family. And all because of a wretched chromosome with a hook in it![4]

She was a progressive educationalist and expected the trainee teachers to demonstrate aspects of child-centred learning in their teaching practice. Her written comments on her observations of student teachers’ classroom teaching practice are held in the IOE’s archive. They give a sense of what she considered to be the necessary characteristics for a teacher and ‘good’ teaching. Of utmost importance was for teachers to understand the world of the child so that they could see things from the child’s perspective.  She was critical of students who derived teaching material from text-books, particularly if they imparted it in a mechanical way.  She wanted the subject to come alive for the child and recommended first-hand observations.[5]

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Hallowe’en in School written by Richard Wilkins and published by the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) in 1994

 

As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. You may recall that in February this year we created a LibGuide and published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources.

Our focus has now moved to the over 400 other organisations included in the donation. Some of these were and still are well known, others are special interest groups that offer a unique perspective on the key educational issues of the day. This week we thought we would share some of the ‘gems’ that we’ve discovered so far…

Hallowe’en in School written by Richard Wilkins and published by the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) in 1994 and is a revised edition of an earlier book first published in 1988. ACT first published a leaflet on the subject of Hallowe’en being used educationally in schools in 1982.

At that time Hallowe’en was not the highly visible occasion it is now. People were puzzled about why others expressed concern about Hallowe’en. Now celebrating Hallowe’en with decorations, costumes, parties with themed food, fireworks and going ‘Trick or Treating’ seems to be an established event. It is certainly a more commercialised one.

Teachers, especially in Primary Schools, may use Hallowe’en as a handy topic for creative writing and craft activities. It is a colourful celebration during the gloomy autumn term. However an examination of the background to ‘Hallowe’en’ may help to understand why some Christian parents, and those from other religions, may have felt uneasy about their children’s involvement.

All Saints and All Hallows are two names for the same day and have the same meaning: ’All Hallows’ means ’All the Holy People’. The previous day was the date of the Celtic New Year celebration of Samhain. It was a time when the dead visited the earth and people worried about what the New Year held for them. Meals were left out to appease the dead and fires were lit and loud noises made to frighten away evil spirits. Aspects of the modern Hallowe’en celebrations reflect its pagan past.

The early Christian church did not ban pagan celebrations but gave them new meanings which encouraged people to accept the new religion. The alternative to Samhain is now spread over three days with All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd more important than the Eve of All Saints (Hallowe’en). The lives of saints were remembered as a triumph of goodness and families remembered their ‘faithfully departed’.

Christians (and other faiths) believe that evil is a real force that has to be defeated and feel that Hallowe’en is about evil being triumphant. Portraying witches as ugly, broom-riding hags who wear black hats and can cast nasty spells is misrepresenting the historical reality of the cruel persecution of women. It is surprising that on this one evening it is deemed acceptable for children to dress up and use threats to demand treats from strangers. Children may be made uneasy or feel threatened without really understanding why. The modern form of paganism is popular, Green, feminist and tolerant and far removed from its ancient form with its animal and even human sacrifices.

The ACT publication acknowledges that by schools not participating in Hallowe’en based activities, their pupils may feel left out of events in the local community. The ACT has suggestions for alternatives to Hallowe’en which include One World Week  at the end of October, a general theme of ‘Remembrance’ (which could include Remembrance Sunday) and even All Saints/ All Souls (activities about Saints).The booklet also suggests alternatives to Hallowe’en as a theme for a party which include Creatures, Books, Words, Green and Gardens.

At the time of publication several Local Education Authorities had advised schools to refrain from having Hallowe’en activities. An Appendix reprints the letter sent from the Inspectors of The Inner London Education Authority to schools in 1986. The main concerns were inaccuracy of what was being taught, creating fearfulness amongst children and insensitivity.

The booklet may be nearly 25 years old but it raises points of debate which still seem to surface every year towards the end of October:

The tacky, confused mix-up currently called Hallowe’en is not a part of any mainstream religion: parents and inspectors will take some convincing that RE cannot be fitted into the timetable of a school which spares time for this commercialised distortion of ancient paganism.

The scale of the donation means that these items have not yet been catalogued – and that is the next stage in this exciting project. In the meantime, please visit our LibGuide which includes information on the access arrangements that we have put in place for these fascinating items.

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‘Better Backs For Children. A guide for teachers and parents’ by The National Back Pain Association (1990)

As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. You may recall that in February this year we created a LibGuide and published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources.

Our focus has now moved to the over 400 other organisations included in the donation. Some of these were and still are well known, others are special interest groups that offer a unique perspective on the key educational issues of the day. This week we thought we would share some of the ‘gems’ that we’ve discovered so far…

‘Better Backs For Children. A guide for teachers and parents’ was published by The National Back Pain Association in 1990.It is a publication which packs a wealth of information and advice into its 20 well illustrated pages.

It purpose is clearly stated in its opening statement:

The National Back Pain Association believes that much adult back pain can be traced to the posture and practices of childhood, and that teachers, parents and other adults, who have children in their care, need to more aware of the significance of strains and stresses placed on young bodies during these formative years.

The introduction expands on the purpose of the guide

This guide is devoted to:

  • Furthering the understanding of the causes of back pain
  • The prevention of postural back pain in children
  • Reducing the incidence of traumatic back pain
  • Encouraging the development of good posture in childhood, which, if carried on into adult life, can prevent much later back trouble
  • Ensuring teachers are aware that some problems with children’s backs are not of postural origin

From the anatomy of the spine, through sections on ‘Ergonomics in the School’ (storage, furniture, using step ladders safely), lifting and moving furniture and equipment, exercise and sport, plenty of useful information is provided.

The guide makes suggestions on improving posture and protecting children’s backs, games such as Lift the Rag Doll are designed to promote good lifting techniques.

There may be many people who wish their P.E. teachers had heeded the advice:

NB Don’t encourage young people to stretch the hamstrings by standing with straight knees and touching the toes. This causes great stress and strain on the low back.

Included amongst the suggestions for classroom activities and P.E. lessons are some examples of the psycho-social aspects of posture which could be discussed with older pupils:

  • Girls or boys who are very tall for their age and consciously or subconsciously attempt to lower their height by rounding back and shoulders.
  • Children who hunch over their work to prevent other children copying
  • Shy children who adopt an inwardly closing posture 

Although the Guide was published in 1990 its contents are still relevant today. You may find these articles of interest:

Molenbroek JFM, Kroon-Ramaekers YMT, Snijders CJ. Revision of the design of a standard for the dimensions of school furniture. Ergonomics, 2003:46: pp. 681-94.

Skoffer, B. Low back pain in 15-16-year-old children in relation to school furniture and carrying of the school bag. Spine, November 2007, 32(24): pp.E713-E717.

Watson,Dan. The seat of learning. The Times Educational Supplement; London; Issue. 5232, Jan 20, 2017.

Yamato, Tiê Parma ; Maher, Chris G ; Traeger, Adrian C ; Wiliams, Christopher M ; Kamper, Steve J . Do schoolbags cause back pain in children and adolescents? A systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2 May 2018

The scale of the donation means that these items have not yet been catalogued- and that is the next stage in this exciting project. In the meantime, please visit our LibGuide which includes information on the access arrangements that we have in place for these fascinating items.

 

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Food for Thought. Breakfast Clubs and Their Challenges by Cathy Street and Peter Kenway (1999).

As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. You may recall that in February this year we created a LibGuide and published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources.

 

Our focus has now moved to the over 400 other organisations included in the donation. Some of these were and still are well known, others are special interest groups that offer a unique perspective on the key educational issues of the day. This week we thought we would share some of the ‘gems’ that we’ve discovered so far and the item we are focusing on today is Food for Thought. Breakfast Clubs and Their Challenges by Cathy Street and Peter Kenway (1999).

 

The purpose of the report is clearly stated at the beginning:

This report discusses the state of development of breakfast clubs in the United Kingdom with the key aim of improving the state of information about a topical but, relatively under-researched, area of out-of-school provision. Specifically it seeks to:

  • describe what breakfast clubs ‘on the ground’ are like.
  • examine why they were formed, how they operate and how many children use them.
  • identify and analyse the problems that appear common to many clubs.
  • discuss the opportunities and challenges for government and policy makers.

 

The final report would be of use to those currently or planning to organise a Breakfast Club and also to policy makers responsible for services for children and their families.

The report was based on a study which included interviews with the staff of a representative sample of 35 clubs. Clubs from urban and rural areas were included, some of which were established whilst others were newly organised. All the clubs served food.

The answer to the question ‘What is a Breakfast Club?’ is not straightforward. They are an example of before-school provision but while some are school based, others use community facilities. Some concentrate on learning support or childcare whilst others focus on promoting healthy eating or good dental care. Not all Breakfast Clubs provide food. Of course all this diversity can cause confusion which might explain why there has been little detailed information about Breakfast Clubs. A situation which the authors hope will be remedied by their report.

Although very diverse there are some common features of most Breakfast Clubs. A basic distinction can be drawn between clubs founded with children’s interests paramount – supporting their education; improving health and nutrition; teaching dental health; offering social opportunities – and those founded with needs of parents, especially for childcare, uppermost.

Some of the predominating characteristics of the clubs surveyed included:

  • Most clubs use school-premises, serve only that school and only operate during school terms.
  • Clubs are typically open for about 45 minutes to one hour, from about 8am.
  • Most clubs cater for primary age children.
  • Most clubs are run by school staff (who are paid extra for it)

 

Information about the total number of clubs had to be estimated using information from a variety of sources. Between 400 and 600 clubs were in operation but of course clubs were closing or starting up all the time. On average 15 children attended each club each day but not every child attended on every day. Total attendance is estimated to be between 18,000 and 27,000 children.

The two main problem areas concerning the development and sustainability of breakfast clubs were identified as funding and staffing.

Breakfast clubs in more deprived areas are dependent on other sources of funding because they cannot charge enough to cover costs. Clubs may get funds to start up but then be expected to raise funds themselves which can be very time consuming. Many sources of funding are aimed at new enterprises and cannot be accessed by established clubs.

It is difficult to get parents and others to volunteer to staff a breakfast club. Rules about benefits make it hard for parents to be employed to run the clubs and the early start and short time involved also make for unattractive working hours. If the clubs are run as an ‘extra’ by school staff then funds have to be found from already overstretched school budgets and there is a lot of additional work and responsibility.

The biggest challenge that policy makers face if breakfast clubs are really to help with what children eat in the morning is to find ways of lessening the pressure that almost all the clubs currently seem to face to reduce their expenditure on food as far as possible. This does seem vital or else the breakfast part of their name will only refer to the time of day breakfast clubs are held.

Although published in 1999 the Report’s Appendix 2 : Summary of Research Findings Regarding Health, Education and Childcare contains information which is so recognisable today on the low consumption of fruit and vegetables, the rise in childhood obesity, the rate of dental caries and childhood poverty.

Not surprisingly, in April 2018 the National Education Union (NEU) and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) published a joint survey entitled Child poverty and education: A survey of the experiences of NEU members.

 

The scale of the donation means that these items have not yet been catalogued – and that is the next stage in this exciting project. In the meantime, please visit our LibGuide which includes information on the access arrangements that we have put in place for these fascinating items.

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Teenage Girls and their magazines by Pat Pinset and Bridget Knight with an introduction by Nicholas Turner (1998)

As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. You may recall that in February this year we created a LibGuide and published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources.

Our focus has now moved to the over 400 other organisations included in the donation. Some of these were and still are well known, others are special interest groups that offer a unique perspective on the key educational issues of the day. This week we thought we would share some of the ‘gems’ that we’ve discovered so far…

Teenage Girls & their Magazines by Pat Pinset and Bridget Knight with an introduction by Nicholas Turner (1998) was the first volume of the Papers from the Roehampton Institute’s National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature.

In today’s world of mobile phones, the internet, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other forms of social media it seems hard to remember the attraction and importance of magazines to teenagers.

In his introduction ‘Girls, Comics and Magazines’ Nicholas Tucker discusses the criticism faced by girls’ teenage comics and magazines. The word bovarism came into use after so many complaints were received about the type of literary escapism in their contents. Bovarism was taken from Flaubert’s tragic heroine Madame Bovary and meant ‘the domination of the personality by romantic or unreal concepts’. Criticism spread from the fictional elements to almost all the contents until the printed readers’ letters were about the only element to gain any favour.

One of the main ideas behind the criticism was that the comics and magazines presented an unreal picture of the world. Girls and young women would only strive to better themselves if they first accepted the harsh realities of their everyday lives. However others argued that escapist fiction provided a welcome relief from what might be a mundane existence.

General changes in girls’ magazines have led to a more positive attitude towards them and the two main articles are generally in their favour.

Pat Pinset gained much of the information about the range and appeal of the magazines she examined for her article ‘Lessons in Love’: Girls’ magazines in the 1990s from Young People’s Reading at the End of the Century (1996). This is a survey of the reading habits of nearly 9,000 school pupils aged between four and sixteen carried out by the Children’s Literature Research Centre (now the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature) at the Roehampton Institute London. It included several questions about magazines and it clearly indicated that most boys choose magazines about their hobbies whilst girls prefer magazines with a more ‘social’ element.

Pinset examined the contents of a single issue of a range of fourteen popular magazines. (Barbie, Big, Bliss, Bunty,Catch,Chatterbox,Girl Talk, Just Seventeen,Kerrang, Looks, Miss, More, 19, Rosie and Jim, Shout, Smash Hits,Sugar, totstv, TV Hits). Those aimed at younger girls (Barbie, Bunty, Chatterbox and Girl Talk) included articles on animals, making things and competitions and plugs for confectionary or fashion but did not include articles on pop stars, information about sex and /or boys’ sex lives, ‘True’ stories and readers’ letters which were to be found in most of the magazines aimed at older girls.

For an in depth examination of magazines and their contents Pinset concentrated on two issues of Just Seventeen, a fortnightly journal which began publishing in 1983 and which was named as their favourite by twice as many eleven to sixteen year olds as its nearest rival in the NCRCL survey which was Big. The aspects Pinset looked at were Covers: The Problem Page and other sources of advice: ‘True’ Stories; Group Cohesiveness and Language and The roles of the magazine.

In conclusion, Pinsent writes that these periodicals help adolescents realise that their reactions to the complexities of physical and psychological change and to the difficulties in relationships are normal, and advice given may well help them to know how to respond to parents, friends and boyfriends, and to build up their own self-confidence.

Although there are good qualities that can be associated with magazines Pinset acknowledges that there are still areas of concern. Not surprisingly magazines see their readers as consumers and moreover as consumers of fashion, makeup and other beauty products with an aim to attract the opposite sex. Whilst progress has been made there is still room for improvement in including young people from a range of ethnic backgrounds.

In’ Teenage Magazines: Education or Titillation’, Bridget Knight once again discusses the worries parents and other adults have about magazines and their perceived use of sex to increase sales. Indeed Peter Luff, Conservative MP for Worcester, described their contents as squalid titillation, salaciousness and smut and he, in 1996, introduced his Periodical(Protection of Children) Bill in the House of Commons.

Also of concern to many parents was that Britain, with 31.8 live births per thousand girls age 15-19 (Figures from 1991/92) had the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe. However this rate had changed little over the past decades and so it is too simplistic to suggest that there is a straightforward correlation between the increasingly explicit sex-related content of girls’ magazines and the number of girls who become pregnant each year.

Knight notes some of the differences in publishing practices and assumptions and those in France which is frequently associated, rightly or wrongly, with relatively open attitudes to sex but where only 9.3 live births per thousand were recorded in 1991/92. French magazines tend to target a readership of upwards of fifteen and categorised slightly differently from their British counterparts as the emphasis falls on perceptions of quality. The two main categories into which teenage magazines are divided are ‘feminins haut de gamme’ (high quality) and feminins ados’ (cheap and cheerful). Articles cover wide range of issues intended to appeal to older teenagers and readers in their early twenties.

One result of Peter Luff’s activities was that the magazine publishers set up the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel (TMAP) which produced guidelines for acceptable contents in the magazines and is intended to monitor their output. Interestingly the guidelines were formulated by publishers, retailers and editors but teenage girls were not asked for their input.

Letters from teenage girls to local and national papers complained about the assumption that all they were interested in was sex. As one said’ …. we are perfectly sane, intelligent young people. Please stop treating us like separate life forms with only one thing on our minds.  Another girl commented that teenagers would not seek information between the pages of magazines if they were provided with facts about drugs, depression, anorexia and other worrying problems at school.

Today many of the teenage comics and magazines mentioned in the two articles have ceased publication or have moved to an on-line only format. The current debate about what the new sex-education curriculum should contain, the rise in mental health issues amongst school children and continuing high numbers of teenage pregnancies seem to indicate that teenagers are still seeking answers to questions which they do not feel able to get from their parents. The rise in speedy dissemination of information via electronic media has brought a new set of problems such as ‘trolling’ and ‘cyber-bullying’. Perhaps Just Seventeen and other teenage magazines were not so bad after all.

The scale of the donation means that these items have not yet been catalogued – and that is the next stage in this exciting project. In the meantime, please visit our LibGuide which includes information on the access arrangements that we have put in place for these fascinating items.

 

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Knowledge manufacture at the IOE

Book cover: Equalities and inequalities... / Scott & Scott.Intellectuals like to see themselves as constructors or producers of knowledge – artists and academics, too, make things! Indeed, the Institute of Education, and all of UCL, are huge construction, manufacturing, and storage sites, by which I do not mean the noise of building outside my window or yours.

Researchers and students write up their findings and theories, pass them on in presentations and post them online; editors put them in print or electronic journals and books, produce and market them; librarians collect and sort all this material so that the cycle of reading and research keeps going.

Book cover: Machine learning and human intelligence / Rosemary Luckin.All this is happening every day – and every night – at UCL, and while you have all seen lecture theatres – and hopefully also libraries – from the inside, you may not be aware that publishing is also going on around you.

More and more academic papers are made available online in open access, free to read for everyone, some in entirely open-access journals at UCL IOE Press.

Books see the light of the world also thanks to UCL IOE Press, which had started as IOE Press before UCL times and had incorporated Trentham Books.

Book cover: The picture book maker / Karenanne Knight.If you want to look at some of their publications after having seen these striking book covers, there are two places to go to: the catalogue, UCL Explore, to find out where they are, and then the shelves of the Newsam Library at the IOE.

Book cover: Education and social mobility / Hoskins & Barker.And if you take one idea away from your time at UCL or indeed your time in the UK, I suggest the mission statement of UCL IOE Press, which is true for the whole of the Institute of Education:

“… we remain passionate about furthering education in its broadest sense, for all, and supporting those who make it possible. Our work is rooted in a commitment to truth, critical reason, and social justice.”


Here are the library catalogue records for the books shown above: Scott & Scott; Luckin; Knight; Hoskins & Barker.

Thanks to UCL IOE Press for the images of the book covers; please check with them for copyright before re-using.

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An Erasmus week in Wonderland

View from bridge on river with boats, high buildings on both sides, one sea-gull in blue sky.Looming gothic spires and elegant baroque buildings… oddly-shaped squares and cobblestoned lanes… rivers and canals cutting across the network of roads and boulevards… flat land full of bikes and then some steep slopes. Which cities of Europe come to your mind?

Need more clues? Heaps of hearty food and heaps of healthy food… copious amounts of milky coffee and golden beer? A multicultural population with nonchalant fluency in three or four languages? Which country might that be?

Mediaeval castle with trams going by underneath battlements.No, it’s Belgium. Not to be underestimated, with its rather rare sunshine or otherwise (I got sunburnt in May).

Garden with roses along old walls and iron garden furniture.Or have you lately ridden on a tram through the middle of a busy town and caught your breath when it carried you right along the battlements and moat of a mediaeval castle?

That’s what happened to me when I looked for my hotel in the great old city of Ghent. It turned out to have an absurdly romantic garden with rambling red roses, wrought-iron garden furniture, a single lily rising above a pond, and a rabbit grazing in the long dusk. This was surely the entrance to a Wonderland, for my dreams in that villa were as labyrinthine and eerie as the story of Alice.

I was on an Erasmus study week for professional staff at universities; these are the people who neither study nor teach nor research but keep the place going. In our case, we were two dozen human resources, information technology, and library staff.

People bent over tables with postcards; plastic skeleton with hats and clothes.Librarians from all over Europe (note the Belgian host in the corner).

Ghent was a mind-blowing location, but the journey was far from a holiday; as you all know, studying or training can be harder than doing a job. Lectures and talks, guided tours and work-shops followed each other, demanding our attention and our contribution.

The ten librarians from all over Europe (including Russia) were welcomed by about as many colleagues from Artevelde University College (AHS), who had worked on the programme for a year and showed continued interest throughout the four action-packed days. Their theme was ‘Superheroes’ — and now I know why!

Another theme emerging in the course of our professional exchange was ‘information literacy’: how do people find their information when there’s too much of it? How do they evaluate its quality, how do they sort it, quote it, use it? Is there a complementation or a conflict of print and digital resources? How do we motivate you, the readers, to find stuff to read… and then to read it, like, actually read it?

Large table full of games in a modern library.Artevelde University College libraries have 200 games to borrow.

A journey abroad also makes you question the society you live in. At a time when hundreds of public libraries are being closed or quite literally shrunk in England, it is uplifting but also embarrassing to wander through a brand-new, state-of-the-art city library. Some of De Krook’s five floors are as big as a football pitch, and all are full of shiny books, new computers, designer furniture, free events, and eager readers, including university students.

If in turn you want to visit an academic library as a member of the public, a lifetime of borrowing in Ghent sets you back as much as one or two days of reference access in London. AHS Alumni can continue to take books out and use the workstations free of charge. The librarians also integrate refugees as voluntary workers, which seemed to me an arrangement valuable for the students and invaluable for the refugees.

Much of the learning happens between the lines. The learning formats used by AHS, for example, offered some interesting learning in themselves:

  • Three little playdough figures in bright yellow and red on a desk.Have you dressed up a skeleton yet to personify the ideal librarian?
  • Have you done speed-dating with librarians, darting from one library cubicle to another — although maybe mainly to learn about their work?
  • Have you met librarians who recommend Lego bricks and playdough for team-building and use these themselves (must have worked, too)?

The main success, I believe, lies in a different field for every participant in an Erasmus training week. Most participants, for instance, must concentrate to communicate in English on a professional level all the time; for me personally, it was the opportunity to immerse myself in French and Dutch in Belgium. For someone quiet or shy, it would be an immense chance to speak in front of a small and sympathetic international audience; for me, the challenge was tackling various computer programmes I do not normally use.

Above all, anyone who has made the journey to an Erasmus experience will be motivated to continue in their career, dedicate themselves, develop their skills. They will also be convinced that, as the deputy mayor of Ghent assured us, neither people nor ideas should stop at borders. Imposing townhall with clock-tower and flags, including EU flag.


Photographs of Ghent (including Gravensteen Castle and Town Hall): Christina Egan. — Photographs of Erasmus week: Artevelde University College Library Services © 2018.

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