Guided Inquiry in Sweden! My Long Journey Begins here…

I am Lena Fogelberg Carlsson from Sweden!

My very first encounter with the theory of the Information Search Process (Kuhlthau) was when I started my education to become a librarian in 1997. One of the first lectures that I attended was performed by Louise Limberg. Today she´s professor emerita but at that point she was just about to present her doctoral thesis in library and information science. She had examined the relationship between the perception high school students held of information seeking and the quality of their papers as evaluated by teacher and librarian. In her lecture she introduced the research of Carol Kuhlthau. When I heard that research existed where the feelings, thoughts and actions of teenagers were considered interesting and valuable stuff, I was hooked. And not only that, but the reason why someone was interested in this was because it seemed like a good idea to find out more about the difficulties that teenagers experience when they are trying to achieve deep knowledge. I was baffled. It was the most pedagogical statement I had ever heard.

At this point I was a high school teacher drop out. I had dropped out of school a number of times and thought I would never go back again. But this made me change my mind. Someone more than me wanted school to be interesting, fun and real and thought that there could be valuable findings in texts by young adults.

My master thesis in library and information science was a survey conducted among a group of young adults examining their opinion of libraries with the starting point in the fire of the city library of Linköping. The public library had burnt down and I thought that it would be really interesting to find out what it was that had burnt down to a number of 15 year olds. Asking these kids a lot of open questions where they could formulate themselves in writing about among other things the fire as such, the value of a library in a society, their school libraries, libraries as rooms, reading, information seeking and their strategies after the fire gave me a very complex picture. Not a very good paper, no proper research question. I wanted to get the whole picture. A number of corner stones have stayed with me ever since 2000 when the paper was completed:

Libraries can hold an existential value for teenagers. They can care enormously about what the books represent, they care about if the room is beautiful and if the librarians are kind and understand teenagers that do not know how to ask “library questions”. They can formulate that libraries hold different values at different times in a person´s life: when they were kids, when they will be students, when they become parents and when they grow old.

I was very surprised.

I had never liked libraries myself, boring places that never managed to invite me in and that seemed to have a qualifying system of which I never cracked the code.

I had loved to read since I was five but book stores were my places.

There were also students in my investigation that didn´t have a relationship to libraries at all. They didn´t like to read, they wrote. Libraries do not have anything for me, they wrote. But they also wanted to put forward that libraries can hold a value to others.

The way they – all 111 of them, no matter if they loved libraries or couldn’t care less – answered my questions –– made a great impact on me. A stranger asks them questions about libraries, but they answered and I heard honest voices. I decided that they shouldn´t have done that in vain. I decided to use what they had taught me when I started to work as a school librarian. Trying to give them beautiful rooms, trying to be kind, trying to find out as much as possible about their questions and ways of asking, or not asking. For those who do not have a relationship to libraries – will they allow me to get to know them? I didn´t know but was willing to try.

It was also apparent to me that to be able to create the best library ever to young adults it took adults to do it. Professional adults. I remembered my primary school teacher whom I thought of as an adult who didn´t need us. She was there for us no matter who we were, she knew what she was doing and you could trust her. I remember liking that.

In my background reading for my thesis I touched upon so many disciplines that seemed relevant that I was absolutely overwhelmed. The kids gave me such a multi-facetted picture of the potential of libraries that I thought that it could only be possible to achieve that in a cross disciplinary culture. A sociologist once described the wise meeting between professional grown-ups and young adults as a “practical art”. I couldn´t agree more. And the practice informed by a scientific approach, of course.

So, I headed back to school and came to Katedralskolan, where I still am, in 2000. A drop out high school teacher who didn´t like libraries was to become a school librarian. Part-time for many years and since 2011, full-time. I had Kuhlthau in my hand and heard the voices of my informants in my head.

Now, Katedralskolan is a highly prestigious, traditional high school so I knew that the odds for me of finding myself at home was truly low. A long journey started.

Lena Fogelberg Carlsson