School libraries are neglected by their local administrators

The hoped-for panacea of decentralization has failed in the case of libraries. Regional governors prefer to put their efforts into roads and bridges, as an Educational Ministry official told Kathimerini. They have shelved plans for creating school libraries, for which they were to acquire responsibility – under former Education Minister Gerasimos Arsenis – once they secured the requisite funds from the Third Community Support Framework. As a result, the second stage of a program to establish 500 new libraries has come to a halt. Only nine of the 13 administrative regions in Greece have been included in the regional business plan for founding libraries (without having made any particular progress), while four regional administrations have ignored the existence of the program. Reactions from various sources – publishers, supervisors and staff of the ministry’s directorate in charge of school libraries – about the fate of the program prompted the ministry to resume responsibility for implementing the program. Now everyone is rushing to meet deadlines because all European Commission-funded programs will be evaluated in 2003, and if the funds have not been absorbed, the Commission may reallocate them to other projects. The deadline for secondary school principals to submit applications for school libraries was October 21. As Education Ministry General Secretary Athanassios Tsouroplis told Kathimerini, the next stage is to specify the schools that will receive libraries, the percentage of libraries per region, and the cost per library. The program is to be implemented by 13 tertiary education institutes. For instance, Patras University will deal with school libraries in the Peloponnese. The libraries will have computers with Internet access and they will be staffed by teacher-librarians, so they can remain open not only for pupils but also for local residents. This is a difficult undertaking due to bad experiences at the outset. Of the first 500 libraries created during the first phase of the program, many are not in operation. «It’s a shame that some libraries are closed,» Giorgos Dardanos, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB), told Kathimerini. «The majority of libraries did not really operate during the first stage of the program (as of 1997), when it was the responsibility of the Education Ministry. For a start, there are problems staffing them because librarians’ positions are filled by teachers who have to be trained to perform these duties adequately. But there can’t be any consistency because the teachers get transferred to other positions after a certain period.» Besides, POEB’s standard policy is that proper school librarians’ positions should be established and that a library organization should be instituted to deal with issues arising from their operation. The Education Ministry wants teachers who take up appointments as librarians in school libraries to acquire the proper training, and not simply to become guards and book handlers. Significantly, there have been encouraging results from those libraries that have begun operating. «Their creation has been a big first step; now those libraries need attention so they can operate correctly,» says Titos Mylonopoulos, president of the Book Publishers’ League. What is absent from most such endeavors, which start out with elaborate plans but fail to deliver, is «dedication, a willingness to work and knowledge,» says Dardanos. «Running a school library should not be treated as a chore, just another activity. For it to function properly, the teacher must know the books and be able to help the pupils enrich the knowledge they gain from their lessons. A library should bring pupils and local residents closer to books,» he believes. Publishers favor bringing the implementation of the program back within the competence of the ministry, since it is experienced and the universities that will implement the program have expertise. Time will tell how the new arrangement works.