Open Distance Learning now on
the Agenda for Public Libraries
Summary Report of a Workshop held on 6 November 1995 in Luxembourg
In connection with a study on Open Distance Learning in Public Libraries now being conducted by the University of Central Lancashire, the Commission held a workshop in Luxembourg on 6 November 1995 bringing together some 40 librarians and ODL experts from across Europe.
The main objective was to ensure that both the Commission and libraries in the Member States were kept informed of recent developments in how public libraries are providing ODL-related services with a view to giving increased focus to this area for future projects under the Libraries sector of the Telematics Applications programme.
Highlights of the meeting
The day was divided almost equally between presentations of the initial findings of the ODL study and reactions from two panels of experts from various parts of Europe.
The study stressed the considerable opportunities which now existed for libraries to extend their traditional role in support of knowledge and learning to more specific services based on the use of new technical approaches (CD-ROM, the Internet).
Striking examples of success in the UK were presented, in particular by a librarian from the North East who explained how students who had experienced serious problems at school were able to find assistance and inspiration in the more convivial atmosphere of the public library and move on to successful careers.
However, while the situation in Britain and some other northern countries appeared to be fairly clear in regard to the direct role libraries could play in ODL, participants from France and Italy in particular explained that there were clear administrative distinctions between libraries - which were mainly for pleasure - and educational institutions which provided formal courses and qualifications. Under these circumstances, the library could at best act as a mediator, advising the potential learner of the opportunities for open learning provided by other centres.
It was however recognised that with the advent of new technologies, particularly the Internet, libraries would increasingly have the technology for accessing networked ODL services. In some countries, for example Finland, librarians were taking a new look at the role they should play in this area.
Several participants commented on how language was proving a major barrier to accessing ODL courses. While in the larger countries translation costs could be justified by the potential market, in countries like Greece and Portugal the number of potential users was so small for a given course that translation costs would be prohibitive. Furthermore, a straight translation was rarely adequate as legal and cultural differences in each country frequently needed to be addressed.
New EU emphasis on educational software
The Commission drew attention to recent developments from the Multimedia Educational Task Force which had been set up to coordinate educational activities from various Commission departments involved in research, industrial development, information policy and the new media.
Hearings had been held with large and small industrial firms and with public sector institutions with a view to publishing a work programme by mid-1996. It was expected that over 100 Mecu would be available for projects developing educational software and services based on the new media. Libraries would be among the key players to be targeted in this area.
Current projects in the Libraries sector addressing training
A number of projects addressing education and training were already underway in the Libraries sector. Some of these were based on the library as a centre for education and training ( EDUCATE , SESAM , PLAIL , BIBDEL andREACTIVE ) while others ( MURIEL , MOBILE ) covered education and training for libraries.
In addition, five new projects from the last call included training as one of their main components.
The meeting revealed a long list of issues for further investigation. These ranged from the librarian's changing role (need for raising awareness, staff training and new links or alliances) to technical developments (IT approaches specifically for ODL, bibliographic control, language support).
However, the key question of the role of the public library and the extent to which it should become directly involved in provided ODL support was one that still needed to be more clearly defined. It would in part depend on greater collaboration between the education and library sectors as well as on cost-effectivesolutions based on national needs and priorities. These issues could form the basis of proposals under future calls.
The ODL study is due to be completed by the end of the year. The final report should be available by January. Key findings will be published on these Web pages.
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