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School libraries and school librarians

par Carole Tilbian,
Regional Center of Pedagogical Documentation –Lyon, France-, with the help of Isabelle Estève-Bouvet, Regional Center of Pedagogical Documentation of Basse-Normandie –Caen, France-. Acknowledgments to Christine Rochet.

Mots clés : bibliothèque , international , établissement du second degré

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School libraries and school librarians

This report presents the documentation service in French schools. It doesn't pretend to exhaustiveness. It aims to give an overview of the French model so that foreigner teacher-librarians discover it. Therefore only general and vocational secondary schools are mentioned below ; specific schools providing agricultural training, which, in France, depend on the Ministry of Agriculture, are not mentioned. Moreover, the duties assigned to teacher-librarians and the various pedagogical activities they take in charge are not detailed but synthesized. 

I. Overview of the French educational system

1. Organization

The model of the French modern Republican school appeared by the end of the 19th century. Since then, public instruction has been compulsory for all children under the age of 16, free of charge and secular.

Besides public schools, there are private institutions where parents pay school fees and where religious instruction is often offered. But most of these private schools are under contract with the State : that means that the Ministry of Education pays the teachers’ wages ; in return, it supervises the curriculum as well as the pedagogical organization.

French secondary education is divided into two cycles :

  • After primary school, from 11 to 15, students go to the “collège” (equivalent of the U.S. junior high school) for four years. In 2004-2005, there were 5200 public “collèges” and 1788 private ones ; the average number of students per “collège” (in public schools) was 501 [1a].
  • After the “collège”, students can choose one of the two following options :
    •  Either they can go to the “lycée” (equivalent of the U.S. high school) for the next three years, from 15 to 18. The last year, after seven years of secondary school, students take an exam -the “baccalauréat”- that allows them to enter an academic institution. In 2004-2005, there were 1545 public “lycées” and 1069 private ones ; the average number of students per “lycée” (in public schools) was 1008 [1a].
    •  Or they can choose a vocational training. In that case, they go to the “lycée professionnel” where they get trained for a vocational certificate. In 2004-2005, there were 1061 institutions of that kind and 641 private ones ; the average number of students per “lycée professionnel” (in public schools) was 427 [1a].

2. Centralization

The Ministry of Education rules the whole schooling.

  • It provides schools with their main financial resources.
    •  Indeed, most of the expenditures for educational activities are borne by the State – up to 61% [1a] -. The federal grants are distributed among the 30 large regional districts (called “académies”) and then to schools. 
    •  The local authorities (region or town councils), however, also take part in the instruction spendings - up to 21 % only [1a] & [1b] -.
      They take the buildings in charge and participate to the equipment and running costs (electricity bills, heating and computers investment, for example).
      They sometimes offer special grants for the purchase of materials (books or CD-Rom) or they may support cultural activities.
  • The Ministry of Education controls teachers’ careers and pays their wages (see below).
  • The Ministry of Education settles the pedagogical contents.
    •  Regarding the pedagogical contents, the French educational system is therefore highly centralized since programs are regulated through national public acts. This is why all the French students, in a given grade, either at primary or secondary levels, both in public and private schools, attend the same curriculum.  

3. A unified professional status

  • Teachers in public primary and secondary schools are state civil servants.
    The recruitment is centralized and the training follows the same curriculum. Indeed, to become a teacher, one must follow an academic curriculum and then pass a competitive examination :
    •  a three year long academic curriculum allows to take the "CAPES" (Secondary Education Teaching Competency Certificate) ;
    •  a four year long academic curriculum allows to take the "Agrégation".
      There are as many "CAPES" and "Agrégations" as fields of studies (for example, a maths teacher must have passed the CAPES in maths).
  • After succeeding and after following a one year long pedagogical training, the laureate is allowed to teach. His success also provides him with a legal professional status, since his responsabilities and duties are settled by laws : number of working hours per week ; incomes and rules of promotion ; appointment and rules of transfer. Since 1990, the school librarians (called teacher-librarians, “professeurs documentalistes”) have to pass the CAPES in Documentation (see below).

4. The school libraries in the French system

  • The history of modern school libraries in France began in 1952, when the Minister of Education pointed out that the use of documents had an important role to play in the learning process. He therefore called for the development of a documentation service in primary and secondary schools.
    In 1962, a law set the creation of a space dedicated to the documentation service (called Documention and Information Service, “Service de Documentation et d’Information-SDI”) in each secondary school, and advocated the building-up of a collection of pedagogical resources and fiction books.
  • In 1974, thanks to the grants from the Ministry of Education, the creation of a Documentation and Information Center (“Centre de Documentation et d’Information-CDI”) began in each secondary school. The 1974 act also stressed the point that the CDI should become a “real center for pedagogical activities, where teachers and librarians can work together in order to allow students to study and learn, but also to get information skills so that they grow up and become independent.” [2]

At that time, and until the creation of the CAPES in Documentation, in 1990,  the staff was essentially made up of teachers who ceased teaching in order to manage the documentation center. Their pedagogical role was then much more limited than it is now.

  • In the meantime, in 1986, another act was passed. It clearly defines the status, the role and the duties of the school librarian ; this document is still the current official one that settles the profession (cf IV).
  • In 1990, the Ministry of Education created the CAPES in Documentation. Since then, we can assert that public schools in France present a more homogenous situation regarding the documentation service : almost all secondary schools offer such a service, managed by a qualified teacher-librarian.


1. The workplace environment

  • Today, every public school and almost all private schools devote a specific place to the documentation service. Thus, there are an estimated 11 000 CDI in France. [3]
  •  Since the beginning, the Ministry of Education has given some recommendations on the facilities the place should offer. The CDI must be divided in various areas, each one with a specific purpose :
    •  a place where students can work in groups ;
    •  a place where they can work individually ; 
    •  a place where they can read ; 
    •  a place to stock pedagogical resources.
  • Teacher-librarians have to signal the different sections of the CDI by effective means :
    •  the librarian’s desk ; 
    •  the documentaries section : most of the CDI use the Dewey Decimal Classification System, some  the Universal Decimal Classification. 
    •  the reading section ; 
    •  the periodicals section ; 
    •  the vocational guidance section ;
    •  the computers section.
  • In 1974, the Ministry of Education also gave some recommendations about the expanse of the CDI. In 1987, other figures [4] were published. Even if they are not compulsory, they give an idea on the surface of the average CDI.

Number of students

Expanse of the CDI
(in m2)


400 320m2
600 400m2


400Around 150m2
600Around 200m2
800Around 250m2
  • Since 1986, local authorities have been in charge of the schools buildings ; projects are build up in cooperation between local representatives, members of the school board and architects. Therefore, the surface and the space design differ from one school to another. One can however assert that in all cases, the expanse of the library depends on the number of students and is larger in “lycées” than in “collèges”. In 2004-2005, the average CDI offers 1 seat for 13,7 students. [1a]
  • Views of various CDI on SavoirsCDI website

2. Running of the CDI

Opening hours

  • Most of the CDI are open when the school is open. In most “lycées”, the courses are scheduled from Monday 8h00 to Saturday 12h00, and from Monday 8h00 to Friday 17h30 in most “collèges”. A teacher-librarian works 36 hours per week.
    The CDI could thus potentially be open 10 hours a day in “lycées” and 9,5 hours a day in “collèges”. [5] This maximum rate implies that the CDI is open all day and thus, that the teacher-librarian is not working alone. Since those two conditions are scarcely fulfilled, just a few CDI are as widely open as mentioned above.
  • The CDI very rarely opens during the holidays ; this only happens in specific cases, when schools are engaged in districts or specific projects.  


  • The school board of administrators (composed of the school headmaster, members of the administrative team, teachers, parents and local elected representatives) decides each year the amount that will be devoted to the documentation service. These funds are taken from the school budget allocated to educational and pedagogical activities. The teacher-librarian uses those financial resources to buy print and digital materials, pay subscriptions to periodicals and databases.
  • The budget of the CDI therefore varies from an institution to another. It depends on the school resources (linked to the number of students and the region where the school is set up), on the teacher-librarian’s influence, on the support the headmaster gives him, on the pedagogical choices made by the whole staff.
    For example, in 1996, the budget of the CDI could go from 1,5 % of the global budget in a small “collège” in a rural area to 14 % of the global budget in a big and famous “lycée” in town. [6]
  • Currently, there is no national survey on the funding of the documentation centers.
    But some local figures (from the region of Touraine, Center France) give an idea of the variety of the financial situation of the CDI. [7

Type of school

 Nb of students

Budget of the CDI

Nb of periodical documents
Nb of books

Collège” in semi-rural area  6203430 € 839
Collège” in urban area   4703049 € 1067  1524
"Collège" in rural area 2801829 € 305
"Lycée"  12007622 €  5183
Lycée Professionnel530 3048 € 1524


  • The CDI offers a large rank of resources, on all formats. It plays both a pedagogical role and a cultural one. It gathers :
    • print resources, i.e. fiction books, documentaries, schoolbooks, newspapers and magazines ;
    • electronic resources, i.e. CD-Rom and, more and more, DVD-Rom and Internet access.
  • Teacher-librarians obey to three rules in the building-up of the collection :
    • analysis of the users' needs ; 
    • pluralism of sources ; 
    • free access. 

Technologies and computers

  • Almost all the collections have been managed with a software these last ten years.
  • 98% of the public secondary schools provide an access to Internet for a pedagogical use. [1a]
  • Most of them have chosen the same software to manage the documentation center. Ouvre ce lien externe dans une nouvelle fenêtreCalled BCDI, this program is at the same time a management information system and an information retrieval tool. It gives access to the complete catalog of the collection and students can use it to search documents. This software is also used by teacher-librarians to rule the loans, to publish selective bibliographies and statistics etc..
    As this software is used almost all over the country, collaborative services have been developed to facilitate the teacher-librarian’s tasks : exchange of bibliographical notes ; reviews on the most used magazines ; selection and description of websites ; technical assistance…
  • These past 5 years, more and more schools have been setting a network allowing to reach both external and internal resources.

III. The staff of the CDI

1. Teacher-librarians

  • In 1990, the first competitive entry examination to become a teacher-librarian (“professeur documentaliste”) was settled. It is called "CAPES", even if documentation is not considered, in France, as a discipline. That's why there is no "agrégation" in the field of documentation, even if its creation is discussed.
    In 2002, 90% of the head-librarians had passed that examination [8] ; there are today an estimated 10 000 teacher-librarians working in public schools in France. [3]
  • After succeeding the "CAPES", the laureates follow a one year long training session. This training takes place in academic institutions in charge of teachers' training ("IUFM, Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres", Academic Institute of Teachers' Training) or in universities. Here, the laureates are given pedagogical and information science courses.
  • Therefore, most of the CDI are managed by people with the same status, the same academic level, the same missions and duties and the same incomes. There is no other example of such a centralized certification in any other country. 

2. Assistants

  • Besides the head-librarian, both qualified as a teacher and as a library media specialist, some assistants work in the French documentation centers.
    Often less skilled and appointed on a temporary basis, they are really useful to manage the CDI. They often handle the basic library functions (equipment of books, lending activities, supervision of the students...), allowing the teacher-librarian to work, during that time, with teachers and classes on collaborative projects. The presence of assistants also allows the CDI to be more largely open.
  • This past two years, many of those temporary contracts have disappeared and many teacher-librarians have had to face their various tasks alone.

3. Relations with other professionals in the librarians' community

  • Besides the head-librarian, both qualified as a teacher and as a library media specialist, some assistants work in the French documentation centers.
    Often less skilled and appointed on a temporary basis, they are really useful to manage the CDI. They often handle the basic library functions (equipment of books, lending activities, supervision of the students...), allowing the teacher-librarian to work, during that time, with teachers and classes on collaborative projects. The presence of assistants also allows the CDI to be more largely open.
  • This past two years, many of those temporary contracts have disappeared and many teacher-librarians have had to face their various tasks alone.

IV. Teacher-librarians' duties and activities

1. Duties

In 1986, an act that settled the teacher-librarians' duties was passed. This document is the current official one ; another one is in preparation, that redefines those missions, according to the changes that have happened those past years.

Three range of targets are assigned to the teacher-librarian.


The teacher-librarian has to collaborate with other teachers in order to teach the students how to search and find information, that means to provide them with the following skills :

  • Discover the types and formats of sources of information available in the CDI ;
  • Identify research tools (information retrieval systems, classification system, index…) ;
  • Select documents appropriate to the research subject ;
  • Extract information from the sources and sum up the main ideas ;
  • Communicate the research results in a clear presentation which addresses the question.

The teacher-librarian also encourages reading and learning.
He thus offers a large scale of resources : “He should be aware that the library's collection should be rich and various enough to satisfy the student’s needs for information and curiosity…” [9]


  • Under the responsibility of the school headmaster, the teacher-librarian has a mission of developing partnerships and relationships with other educational or cultural institutions. That means :
  • Develop relationships with other documentation centers (public libraries, Scérén-CNDP network…) ;
  • Select general news on all formats in order to let the students know what’s happening in the world ;
  • Offer information on national and local institutions organizing cultural, economical, professional events and on leisure suggestions.


The teacher-librarian has to manage the documentation center. That means :

  • Build-up and organize a collection according to international bibliographical standards ;
  • Ensure access to the documents ;
  • See to computers and other numerical tools under his responsibility.
Summed up and translated by Carole Tilbian [10]

2. Evolution

Since 1986, the professional background has changed a lot.
The development of computers and networks means an increase of technical tasks. Students can reach documents from various places through school, what reinforces the necessity of a documentation policy.
Furthermore, many pedagogical reforms have happened and the teacher-librarian is more than ever involved in collaborative pedagogical projects.

Those recent moves lead to the multiplication of duties assigned to the teacher-librarian. Nowadays, one defines four fields of action :

Teaching goals

  • Educate students to information culture :
    teach the research process ; develop critical thinking ; teach information skills ; train to the use of technologies...
  • Work in collaboration with other teachers to develop a resource based curriculum.

Management and organization

  • Define the school documentary policy, with the contribution of administrators and teachers :
  • Define the needs of the school community ;
  • Choose the proper technical tools to organize the whole information service.

Collection and access

  • Build-up an appropriate collection, suiting students' and teachers' needs ;
  • Give access to the entire collection.

Links with the professional and cultural environment

  • Set up collaborative projects to promote local cultural and professional associations, to work in collaboration with the public library.
Summed up and translated by Carole Tilbian [11]

3. Common activities

Most of the French teacher-librarians schedule numerous teaching sessions. One can define four types of pedagogical activities conducted by the teacher-librarian.

He teaches students the main information skills, that is how to :

  • Identify an information question (using keywords, subject headings…) ;
  • Identify various types of potential sources of information ;
  • Locate information and reach it (using indexes, information retrieval systems…) ;
  • Evaluate information ;
  • Extract information from the selected documents ;
  • Synthesize the main ideas and communicate the research results ;
  • Produce a personal document on various forms.

Range of activities

    •  Presentation of the organization and contents of the CDI.
    •  Information skills training sessions.

He teaches students how to use and evaluate mass media, that is how to :

  • Identify different mass media (press, TV, Internet…) ;
  • Identify the organization of information in each media ;
  • Know the legal rules regarding the use of each media.

Range of activities

    •  Analysis of newspapers and TV reports.
    •  Creation of the school newspaper.
    •  Involvement in the national event “The Week of the press”.

He advocates reading. He helps students :

  • Discover the variety of literature ;
  • Identify various types of texts ;
  • Read all types of texts ;
  • Identify copyright issues.

Range of activities

    •  Reading competitions or celebrations.
    •  Participation to national events such as the “Student’s Goncourt Price”.

He helps students choose a vocational guidance.

Together with the staff in charge of vocational guidance, he helps students :

  • Discover the various professions ;
  • Discover the appropriate academic curriculum ;
  • Define a personal professional goal.

He gives students a cultural background by organizing meetings with artists, visits to museums…

4. The teacher-librarian’s place in the educational community

  • In France, as in many other countries, there is a gap between the teacher-librarians’ duties and activities, the official statements, and the way other members of the educational community perceive them.
  • Generally speaking, students identify the teacher-librarian as a “special teacher” who can help them in searching information or give them advices on books.
    Even if no national survey on the students’ use of the Documentation Center is available, some local studies [12] have all identified the same main reasons why students go to the school library :
    •  To borrow books ;
    •  To search the internet ;
    •  To read magazines and comics ;
    •  To work on documents and to search information in relation with their homework.
  • Recent changes in national programs induce important bulks of information research and, thus, a real involvement of teacher-librarians in collaborative training blocks.
    But a lot of them always deplore the fact that other teachers, in a great majority, consider them as information and research process specialists but not as equal pedagogical partners.
  • In fact, French teacher-librarians wholly admit that a positive move has happened those past 10 years ; that their place in the educational team can’t now be ignored. In fact, both school administrators and local elected representatives seem now convinced of the importance of the documentation service.
    But teacher-librarians claim for a new definition of their goals and, also, for the recruitment of assistants to help them face the various tasks they have to cope with.


Institutional websites

Annual surveys on the French educational system

  • Scérén-CNDP
  • On Savoirscdi website :
    •  Official documents in which the teacher-librarian is mentioned
      Thematic and chronological access
    •  Thematic bibliographies regarding the teacher-librarian
  • CLEMI (Centre de Liaison de l'Enseignement et des Moyens d'Information)
    Institution linked to the French Ministry of Education which provides training sessions and pedagogical contents regarding media instruction.


  • FADBEN (Fédération des enseignants documentalistes de l'Education nationale)
  • ADBS (Association des professionnels de l'information et de la documentation)
    A national professional association for people working in documentation and information services.
  • CEDIS (Centre d'étude de la documentation et de l'information scolaire) which publishes one of the most used profesional magazine, INTER CDI.

[1a] France. Ministère de l'éducation nationale, de l'enseignement supérieur et de la recherche. Repères et références statistiques sur les enseignements, la formation et la recherche, 2005, [online]. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
Available http://www.education.gouv.fr/stateval/rers/rers2005.htm 
[1b] Who bears the educational expenditures ?
State : 61%
Local authorities : 21%
Companies : 6%
Families : 12%
[2] Circulaire du 14/03/1974 portant sur l’Aménagement de centres de documentation et d'information dans les établissements de second degré. Bulletin Officiel du Ministère de l'Education Nationale. 11 april 1974, n° 15. [online on Savoirscdi]. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
[3] According to the estimations by Jean-Louis Durpaire, chief inspector of the French National Education.
[4] Espace CDI. Les recommandations et conseils : les surfaces de CDI. Savoirscdi, 25 march 2003, [online]. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
[5] Le livre bleu des enseignants-documentalistes. 2d edition. CRDP du Centre, 2002. p. 64. ISBN 2-86630-151-X
[6] France. Conseil supérieur des bibliothèques. Les bibliothèques, rapport 1998. Chapitre 5. Les bibliothèques scolaires, [online]. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
Available http://www.enssib.fr/autres-sites/csb/rapport98/rapp98-bibliotheques/csb-rapp98-biblioscolaires.html 
[7] Le livre bleu des enseignants-documentalistes. 2d edition. CRDP du Centre, 2002. p. 24. ISBN 2-86630-151-X
[8] Information et documentation en milieu scolaire. Savoirscdi, january 2001. [online]. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
[9] Le livre bleu des enseignants-documentalistes. 2d edition. CRDP du Centre, 2002. p. 24. ISBN 2-86630-151-X
[10] Summary and translation by Carole Tilbian from
Circulaire du 13 mars 1986 portant sur les missions des personnels exerçant dans les centres de documentation et d'information. Bulletin Officiel du Ministère de l'Education Nationale. 27 march 1986, n° 12. [online on Savoirscdi]. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
[11] Informations found in two documents :
Le livre bleu des enseignants-documentalistes. 2d edition. CRDP du Centre, 2002. p. 19-20. ISBN 2-86630-151-X
Les politiques documentaires des établissements scolaires. Rapport à monsieur le ministre de l’éducation nationale, de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche : résumé. France. Académie de Nice. Septembre 2004, [online]. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
Available http://www.ac-nice.fr/docazur/IMG/pdf/Rapport_Durpaire_resume.pdf 
[12] Informations found in two articles :
Le CDI vu par les élèves : fréquentation. Intercdi [online], march-april 2003, n°182, p.7-13. [Accessed 14 november 2005].
Available http://www.ac-versailles.fr/cedis/Revues/intercdi/182.htm
Enquête au CDI. Intercdi, march-april 2004, n°188, p. 8-11.

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