Interactive library: a new form of knowledge

Project puts into practice a new concept for this institution in order to achieve greater dynamism

A library is a place where books and documents are kept, for study, reading and consultation. Right? Not necessarily. The experience of the team coordinated by professor Edmir Perrotti shows that there is much more potential hidden on those bookshelves full of knowledge. With the support of FAPESP, the project Information and Education Services. Library and School: New Paradigms has put into practice a new concept of a library, more interactive and dynamic, which has already been successfully developed in other countries. Through the Program for Information Services in Education (Proesi), the Librarianship Department of the School of Communication and Arts of the University of São Paulo (USP) had already been researching new environments for information, through projects like Memory Station, at the Álvaro Guerra Children’s Library, in São Paulo. But there still had to be a study of how an interactive library would develop in schools, with pupils in basic education. The objective was to understand how the new concept could act in improving the child’s relation with written learning.

The opportunity came from the needs of the Roberto Mange Municipal Primary School, located in Jardim Esther, a poor district of the western region of São Paulo’s capital city. After one of the many floods that beset São Paulo, the school saw its reading room under 1.5 meters of water, and called the University of São Paulo for help. “The school offered ideal conditions for the project, since it had everything from basic education to supplementary courses, an enormous turnover of pupils, with ages ranging from 7 to 70, and high levels of pupils repeating classes and dropping out from school early”, Perrotti explains. “Besides this, it was in a highly problematical social environment, amid three shantytowns”, he adds.

Once the challenge was accepted, the school chosen and the project approved – five teachers from the Roberto Mange school itself were awarded grants for it – there arose the need to prepare the environment for the totally new concept that was to come. The essence of the interactive library model is the circularity of information. “With dialog between the cultural repertoires of the library and of the people who circulate in that milieu, you create a space for the interchange of experiences”, says Perrotti. And this is how a new relation with information is brought about.

The teacher recalls that this concept does not diminish the importance of traditional libraries for conservation – which store information – and for dissemination – which preach the illuministic philosophy of taking culture to the masses. “It is essential, for example, that the National Library should be for conservation, but this is not the best model for a school, because dynamism and circularity are missing”, Perrotti ponders.

Far from being just an abstract concept, this circularity was applied, from the start, in conceiving the library’s physical space. In the course of the first six months, professors from USP and the school teachers looked for the ideal place to implement the new space, and they came to a conclusion that it should in the teacher’s room. “After they decided to give the room up, we carried out a series of activities so that the teachers would be able to take over the new space”, says Perrotti. The furniture, for example, was put together in such a way as to make it possible to make up the environment in accordance with the needs. “All the pieces were interchangeable. Everything has to be dynamic, never static”, he adds.

While the space was under construction, parents and students also took part in the activities, starting to imagine what the new room would be like. With the opening of the library, in May 1997 – one year after the beginning of the project – there came the certainty that this was a winning model. “The pupils approved of the proposal immediately”, Edmir Perotti was glad to see.

The library brought novelties, such as the replacement of the traditional time for telling tales, when the teachers tell stories to their pupils, for rounds of stories, in which the children can retell episodes referring to their own lives, from their cultural repertoire. “One of the things that most impressed the pupils was the recognition of their voices and the respect with which they were treated”, tells Perrotti. Another essential characteristic of the library is its multiplicity of resources, with the books themselves – the collection has about 5,000 of them, some of them written by the children themselves – computers, music and television. However, more that just putting different media side by side, the idea is to offer a stimulus for the pupils to learn how to relate with information from the most varied forms of support. If the work, then, were about water, there would be Luiz Gonzaga singing Asa Branca and the lines of Graciliano Ramos, showing how sad it is to be without it. (The song Asa Branca is about droughts and so are Graciliano Ramos’ books).

The pay back came in the same coin: respect. Perrotti tells how, while the school premises used to be covered with graffiti and dilapidated, the library room did not even have a scratched desk. When the new room completed one year, the students decided to paint all the corridors in the school for the celebration party, and they chose for the doors of the other rooms the same color as the one used on the library door. “They were giving an indication of what they expected from the school environment, something similar to what they found in the library”, is his analysis. Another sign appeared when the pupils asked to use the same logotype as the library – chosen in a competition amongst the pupils themselves – to be the logotype of the school. “They began to take the part for the whole”, adds Perrotti.

It did not take long for other surprising results to start to appear. Perrotti speaks enthusiastically about the story of a pupil, at first shy and little involved in school activities. Beginning with lessons in artistic education and research in the library, he started to paint pictures with a surrealist touch. He became so specialized that, today, he sells his production in an art fair in São Paulo, and he won a scholarship to study music. Perrotti was recently invited to see him play in a São Paulo bar.

There was another victory in a class where the 37 pupils – of up to 14 years old – could not manage to read and write. In one year, with the help of the library, they had all passed their literacy tests. “It is important to point out that, in addition to the space, there has to be qualification, because the teacher who worked with this class took part in the research”, he adds.

Besides Perrotti, another 18 professors from ECA worked on the project, together with five teachers from the school itself who had received grants, professors from the School of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) of USP – who helped to conceive the architectural aspects of the environment – and groups of researchers from France. Made up of academics from various institutions – like the Institute of Pedagogical Research of France (INRP) -, the international group discussed with the Brazilians part of the experience that has been successful in France. “We took advantage of the arrival of a few of these researchers, organized by the embassy, and set up several meetings and seminars.”

“The project’s greatest victory was to show how an alteration in the production means between university and school can be the essential fulcrum for a transformation in the quality of teaching”, commemorates the researcher. The school appeared in programs on TV Futura, and in stories in newspapers, magazines and TV. Such was the success that Perrotti’s department in USP has been swamped with requests from municipalities who want to implant similar libraries. In São Bernardo do Campo, in the industrial suburbs region of São Paulo, the concept of an interactive library has already started to be implanted. Other cities in São Paulo such as Santo André and Diadema, and even some towns in Bahia, have also shown interest. Perrotti warns, however, that there is no point in developing the new libraries unless a good watch is kept over the work.

“When the project is over, USP has to leave”, he laments. That is why the department is creating a nucleus, a support network. “It became clear that, more than technical conditions, what is lacking is knowledge, for the school to take over the equipment”, he explains. Through this sort of “informational” community, the university intends to produce knowledge that has a direct effect Brazil’s teaching and culture. “We do not want to make model libraries, but rather to create points of reference for the cities to succeed in changing something with the resources at their disposal”, he explains. The physical part of the works for the library of the Roberto Mange school cost roughly R$ 14,000, but Perrotti knows that many institutions do not have such an amount available, to be set aside for the same purpose. “You can start with a shelf full of books, but it has to be understood from the perspective of interaction, and not of dissemination or conservation”, the teacher sums up.

The project
Information and Education Services. Library and School: New Paradigms (nº 96/02283-2); Modality Support for Public Education; Coordinator
Edmir Perrotti – School of Communication and Arts of USP; Investment
R$ 149,000.00