Don’t worry, a school library with fewer books and more technology is good for today’s students



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School libraries are no longer just places where books are stored.
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Elizabeth Tait, RMIT University; Huan Vo-Tran, RMIT University; Paul Mercieca, RMIT University, and Sue Reynolds, RMIT University

A recent article about a new approach to a school library sparked vigorous discussion on social media. Many worried the school had completely abolished traditional library services. The article describes how a Melbourne school changed its library to a technology-focused centre staffed by “change adopters” who host discussions with students and encourage creative thinking.

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The school’s principal was forced to defend the library’s restructure. She wrote that its traditional purpose hadn’t been lost.

The College Library has been transformed into a Learning Centre that continues to offer all library services to students and staff, including a significant collection of fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers, magazines and other print resources, as well as online access to other libraries.

This school’s approach isn’t unique. Many schools have reconfigured their library spaces to embrace a model of integrating library services – where traditional library resources are combined with technology. Some have installed new technologies in so-called “maker spaces”. These are where students can be creative, often using technologies such as 3D printers and recording suites.

The purpose of today’s libraries isn’t only to maintain the traditional roles of promoting reading, developing information literacy and providing access to a collection of books and other resources. Today’s school libraries are fundamental to broader digital literacy, information provision and developing critical evaluation of information.




Read more:
Technology hasn’t killed public libraries – it’s inspired them to transform and stay relevant


The importance of the library

School libraries improve student achievement. A synthesis of international studies demonstrates that having a library leads to successful curriculum outcomes, including information literacy and positive attitudes to learning. It also improves academic achievement through higher test or exam scores.

A detailed study of 30 teacher librarians in Australia showed they also play a key role in supporting students with special educational needs. They do this by identifying readers and students at risk and working with them to improve both educational and social outcomes.

Teacher librarians have dual educational and librarianship qualifications. This means they have knowledge of pedagogy and curriculum combined with library and information management skills.

Today’s students need guidance in interpreting online information.
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Libraries and library staff have consistently responded to the changing needs of society. And library professionals have been at the forefront of embracing technology: from establishing the first computer labs in schools in the 1980s through to working with students and teachers to use new technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, gaming and recording suites in learning and creativity.




Read more:
Technology and learning in the classroom: six tips to get the balance right


Libraries and technology

There is a lack of understanding of what librarians can do for a school community and a belief children don’t need help with learning how to use technology. Information can be inaccessible, and misunderstood, without proper instruction, guidance and support. This is especially true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have good access to the internet at home, or those with learning differences.

As the evidence base for what makes an effective library grows, it’s becoming recognised that

the 21st century school library professional is a digital leader, an innovator, a creator, a promoter, a resource and research specialist, a curriculum adviser, and much more.

Teacher librarians educate children in the core skills of searching and evaluating information. They also support and empower students in areas such as digital citizenship. This enables children to fully participate and engage with the complex digital landscape.

As Chelsea Quake, a teacher librarian at a Melbourne public school, told us:

Students leave school reading fake news, turning to Instagram for answers to their health questions, and falling flat on their first university paper, because they never truly learnt how to research.

Skills such as information and digital literacy are core requirements for civic participation. Young people have tremendous opportunities to leverage the power of technologies to ensure their voices are heard about issues that will affect them and their children in the future. And they need new and evolved library services to help them get there.




Read more:
Friday essay: why libraries can and must change


The Conversation


Elizabeth Tait, Lecturer in Information Management, RMIT University; Huan Vo-Tran, Lecturer, Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University; Paul Mercieca, Lecturer, Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University, and Sue Reynolds, Senior Lecturer, Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Technology hasn’t killed public libraries – it’s inspired them to transform and stay relevant



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The State Library in Victoria illustrates that libraries are so much more than just places that contain books.
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Danielle Wyatt, University of Melbourne and Dale Leorke, University of Tampere

In 2017, archaeologists discovered the ruins of the oldest public library in Cologne, Germany. The building may have housed up to 20,000 scrolls, and dates back to the Roman era in the second century. When literacy was restricted to a tiny elite, this library was open to the public. Located in the centre of the city in the marketplace, it sat at the heart of public life.

We may romanticise the library filled with ancient books; an institution dedicated to the interior life of the mind. But the Cologne discovery tells us something else. It suggests libraries may have meant something more to cities and their inhabitants than being just repositories of the printed word.




Read more:
State libraries need our support and participation to survive



Contemporary public libraries tell us this too. Membership has generally declined or flat-lined, but people are now using libraries for more than borrowing books. Children come to play video games or complete homework assignments together. People go to hear lectures and musical performances, or attend craft workshops and book clubs.

Libraries have become vital for the marginalised, such as the homeless, to access essential government services such as Centrelink, and to stay connected. They have become defacto providers of basic digital literacy training – such as how to use an iPad or access an eGov account. Others cater to tech-enthusiasts offering advanced courses on coding or robotics in purpose-built spaces and laboratories.

We do romanticise libraries as being repositories of ancient knowledge.
Clarisse Meyer/Unsplash

Yet the future of Australia’s public libraries is unfolding according to a contradictory, double narrative. One-off funding for “feature” libraries built by star architects exists in parallel with cuts and closures of libraries on the margins. In Victoria’s city of Geelong, for example, three regional libraries on the city’s periphery faced closure scarcely a year after the opening of the A$45m Geelong Library and Heritage Centre.

Part of the reason for this is that the expanded contribution of libraries to our communities and cities isn’t recognised at higher levels of government.




Read more:
Has the library outlived its usefulness in the age of Internet? You’d be surprised


How libraries are changing

In the early 2000s, as archives shifted online, futurists predicted an imminent death to public libraries. But the threat of obsolescence made libraries take proactive steps to remain relevant in a digital world. They thought creatively about how to translate services they have always offered – universal access to information – into new formats.

Libraries digitised their collections and networked their catalogues, exponentially extending the range of materials users could access. They introduced e-books and e-readers to read them with. They mounted screens to watch movies or to play video games.

They also installed computers crucial to that 14% of the population who don’t have access to the internet at home. And they wired up their spaces with free WiFi, retrofitting extra power-points so users could plug in their own devices.

Libraries have a lot of programs around technology and the use of computers.
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Besides offering new technologies and services, libraries offer people a welcoming, safe space to gather without the pressure to spend money. Investing in attractive, versatile furnishings, they have actively encouraged people to dwell in their spaces, whether this is to read a newspaper, complete a job application online, or to study.

In an age where communication technologies create both efficiency as well as forms of isolation, such spaces assume a renewed social importance.




Read more:
Friday essay: why libraries can and must change


How libraries shape the city

As vital as libraries are to individuals, their value is also connected to broader civic agendas. Libraries have deliberately sought to change perceptions of themselves from spaces of collection to spaces of creation. Some, such as the State Library of Victoria, see themselves facilitating creativity not only in an artistic sense, but also as entrepreneurial hubs for start-ups and budding innovators.

Public libraries have promoted their relevance to cities by strategically aligning themselves with government visions of economic growth. For instance, the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre was a signature investment in Geelong’s Digital Strategy, promoted as a “platform” to build “digital capacity” and a visible symbol of the city’s transition to a digital future.

Others, such as Dandenong library in Victoria, attract high levels of funding as part of urban renewal projects aimed at revitalising declining urban precincts.

These high-profile libraries, usually in urban centres, overshadow the uncertain fate of smaller libraries on the periphery, fighting to stay viable due to insufficient funding.

The Geelong Library and Heritage Centre cost millions of dollars to build, while three local libraries lost funding.
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This contradiction is occurring because provisioning for libraries is not embedded at high levels of urban planning and policy making. There is no nationally consistent model for allocating funds between the states and local government. Nor is there a consistent framework across Australia for evaluating library performance.

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Critically and most revealingly, libraries are evaluated based on traditional metrics, such as loan and membership numbers, capturing only a fraction of the full value they contribute to our individual and collective life. Failure to recognise this by governments and policymakers puts at risk the diverse and nuanced ways libraries might shape Australia’s future.

Danielle Wyatt, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne and Dale Leorke, Postdoctoral researcher, University of Tampere

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian tech start-ups stand to lose out in proposed copyright reforms



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YouTube and Facebook are protected from Australia’s copyright laws, since they already operate within the US safe harbours.
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Kylie Pappalardo, Queensland University of Technology

The Australian government quietly introduced the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017 to the Senate on Wednesday. If enacted, the bill will extend the scope of Australia’s copyright safe harbours – very slightly.

Safe harbours protect internet hosts and platform providers from monetary liability for copyright-infringing content posted or shared by their users. For example, if you post the latest Thor movie to YouTube, YouTube won’t be responsible for copyright infringement if it takes down that video. In Australia, we only extend this protection to internet services providers, not general purpose websites.

This matters because technology firms rely on limits to liability to manage their risks. Companies like Facebook or YouTube, which host millions of pieces of user content, would face serious difficulty starting in Australia because our laws on copyright infringement are so strict.


Read more: It’s time to future-proof Australia’s copyright laws for the 21st century


The new legislation is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough to create an environment that fosters Australian innovation.

Excluding platforms from safe harbours doesn’t make much difference to tech giants like YouTube and Facebook, since they already operate within the United States safe harbours. But it does discourage Australian tech start-ups from the chance to experiment in a reduced-risk environment.

It is not just the US with broader copyright safe harbours than Australia – jurisdictions around the world extend safe harbours to internet intermediaries beyond ISPs.

The European Union, for example, provides that member states must ensure that any hosting provider will not be liable for unlawful content posted by users, provided it acts quickly to remove the content upon notice.

Low hanging fruit

It’s the second time this year that the government has amended Australia’s copyright laws. The first was the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017, passed in June, which provides greater access to copyrighted content for people with disabilities such as vision impairment.

Both measures are low hanging fruit for the government. They improve our existing copyright law, but they don’t advance us far from the status quo.

The government is staying well clear of the more contentious, though far more impactful, potential reforms to the Copyright Act recommended by bodies such as the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Productivity Commission.

What are the copyright safe harbours?

The copyright safe harbours came about as a result of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998. The DMCA represented an important bargain struck between the established content industry, such as big film and TV studios, and the burgeoning tech industry.

The content industry got a “notice-and-takedown” regime that required online service providers to remove material that infringes copyright. In exchange, the tech industry got copyright safe harbours.

Under this system, the service provider must quickly and efficiently remove infringing content if they are informed about it by the copyright owner. This notice-and-takedown scheme has become fundamentally important to the way the internet works today.

Why are Australian safe harbours so limited?

In the 2005 Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, Australia agreed to adopt these provisions into Australian domestic law.

But in enacting the copyright safe harbours, parliament made a drafting error. Instead of extending protection to “service providers”, as the US law does, we gave protection to “carriage service providers” as defined in the Telecommunications Act.

Essentially, Australia only gave protection to internet service providers like Telstra, Optus and TPG, and not to platform providers like Whirlpool, RedBubble, YouTube or Facebook. For more than a decade, this has been a critical difference between US and Australian copyright law.

What’s changing?

The new bill appears to close the glaring gap between US and Australian law by replacing the term “carriage service provider” with, simply, “service provider”.

But the bill defines “service provider” to be either a carriage service provider; an organisation assisting persons with a disability; or a body administering a library, archives, cultural institution or educational institution.

It does not extend the safe harbour to those who actually need it the most – Australia’s internet hosts and platform providers.

This is a seriously missed opportunity for Australian innovators. There is a real risk for businesses, both large and small, who want to provide online spaces for people to communicate.


Read more: Australian copyright laws have questionable benefits


Our copyright laws potentially make hosts liable for much of the copyright infringing content that users may upload or share. But it can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to pre-screen all content before it is uploaded.

This is one of the reasons why many large social media platforms don’t base their operations in countries like Australia, and why Australian businesses are at a major competitive disadvantage compared to those in other countries.

Why not extend the safe harbour to Australian innovators?

There were early indications that the Australian government intended to extend the safe harbours to all online service providers, but these amendments were shelved.

Entertainment industry groups have been lobbying hard in recent years for measures that go beyond the notice-and-takedown scheme that the safe harbours provide. They want what they call notice-and-staydown: proactive filtering of unlicensed copyright content by service providers.


Read more: Explainer: what is ‘fair dealing’ and when can you copy without permission?


At the same time, copyright owners want higher payments. They use the term “value gap” to describe what they see as the difference between sites like Spotify that pay hefty licence fees to make content available to users and sites like YouTube that do not.

Content owners are no longer happy with the bargain they struck in the DMCA – they allege that sites like YouTube are gaming the system of the safe harbours.

There is a false equivalency at work here. Spotify is not a site for user-generated content and does not purport to be; sites like YouTube have everyday users at their core. If we believe that creative discourse, engagement and play matters then there is a cogent reason why sites that facilitate user-generated content might need some legal latitude.

However, this debate misses a more fundamental point. Limited safe harbour provisions hurt Australian creators and innovators. They increase the risk to innovators developing new technology products and platforms.

The ConversationAnd, importantly, Australian creators miss the opportunity to exercise greater control over their creations through notice-and-takedown mechanisms that are easy to use and far cheaper than copyright lawsuits.

Kylie Pappalardo, Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.