Niels Ole Pors, Library Link Convenor

Several articles in the previous issues of this information forum have examined problems facing the library and information scene in Eastern Europe. This month the column returns to this theme, looking at the education of librarians with emphasis on differences in relation to trends in Western Europe.

This is an important topic in relation to increasing internationalisation of education, made all the more so in if we look at the future integration of Eastern Europe into the European Union. It is also a topic that politicians regard as important - evidence of this may be seen in extension of the Socrates programme of staff and student exchanges to include all Eastern European countries. It is also evident through the priority areas of the Tempus/Phare programme; during the last couple of years management , planning and human issues have received increasing attention in this programme. The educational literature has been dominated by such topics, e.g transferable skills, development of competencies, lifelong learning, self-directed learning, CPD, NVQ and related issues.

So how do educational issues in LIS looks from the perspectives of our East European partners? Supported by a Socrates grant, a group of Romanian library science students spent two months at the Aalborg branch of the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Denmark. The Romanian students undertook a kind of ethnographic investigation of the Danish library system, presenting the results of their studies in the form of reports, videos and IT presentations.

For most Western European librarians the results might have been unremarkable, but for the Romanian students the finding were enligthening. They were especially surprised by the following:

Danish librarians are polite
Danish librarians are persistent in search of answers
Danish librarians are user oriented and service minded
the library system functions efficiently and quickly 

Another phenomenon that surprised the students was the widespread and free access to Internet at all libraries and educational institutions.

These students tried for the first time in their educational life to work in teams and groups in a project-oriented manner. The informal way in which lecturers and students interact also surprised them. The number of classroom hours and the emphasis on independent and self-directed learning was also a revelation. It is normal in many East European countries to have around 30 class contact hours per week - a stark contrast to the Western average of 10 hours per week.

Of course, there is nothing new in these findings, but the anthropological view taken by the students offers an interesting view of how the others see us. Another, more personal, finding was that the Romanian students found it difficult to establish personal rapport with their Danish counterparts. In the beginning they saw us as distant, polite and tolerant, but a bit cold. They were confronted with a curriculum that was not oriented towards historical and humanistic topics. They all emphasised the need for a course with emphasis on communication in a broad sense of the word.

A more professional reflection on the same set of issues has recently been published by a Polish lecturer from the Department of Library and Information Science of Warsaw University who spent a term at a sister department in the UK (Kisilowska 2000). The Polish educational system is one of the most modernised in Eastern Europe, but the author stresses the significant differences between the educational systems of the two countries. The Polish system is characterised by lengthy and frequent lessons, a substantial theoretical and historical orientation in nearly every subject and an effort to establish comprehensiveness in the whole course.

The paramount difference stems to a certain degree from the way the different systems view students. It is evident that the Polish educational system has less faith in the students’ ability to assume responsibility for their own academic and professional development. The Polish system does not emphasise the matter of tranferable skills, and Polish students are not able to specialise by choosing different electives.

These differences must be seen in relation to the status and image of librarianship and information work in national contexts. Most Eastern European countries are at least 20 years behind the library and information systems in Scandinavia and the UK. This is one reason why we need to support some of the European Union programmes that emphasise change in management structures and mobility among staff and students. We also have to acknowledge that the comprehensive, theoretical and historical approach to teaching and research - as practised in Eastern Europe - is of questionable merit in a dynamic, technologically-driven and highly mobile environment.