Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The reality of 'downsizing'

I have been in my new post now for five months having moved from a large FE and HE College to a small Sixth Form College overseen by the two local High Schools. There have been a few changes that I'm having to get used to.

Resource and service provision
The first thing that I became aware of was how service provision can greatly differ depending on where a student chooses to study their A Levels. If they choose to go to an FE College (like Kingston) they could have access to copies of their course textbooks and recommended reading, e-books and e-textbooks, a range of journals and journal databases, subscription online resources aimed at 16-19 year-olds, general interest materials, research skills inductions and the support of professional librarians. If they choose to go to a small Sixth Form College (like us), or continue at their High School, financial restrictions mean that the same level of provision simply isn't possible.

Knowing what students at Kingston were able to access I have been trying to introduce new services here. Whilst I am unable to subscribe to large journal databases, such as JSTOR or General OneFile, I am currently trying to encourage our English department to have a look at Literary Reference Center. The subscription cost is much more manageable and I know that our English Literature students are required to search for recent criticism on the texts they are studying. Whilst small, this database would at least provide them with access to appropriate material and give them an idea of how the type of database they might use if they go on to Higher Education could work.

One of the most useful resources for our students is the collection of Philip Allan Review titles. We currently subscribe to seven. Due to the discounts we would receive through our local consortium I could subscribe to the Philip Allan Online Archive and have access to all fourteen titles for less cost. However, the Archive does not include the current years' issues and so I would have to continue the print subscriptions as well to ensure that students continued to receive articles related to their current topics. Therefore, some subjects will continue to miss out on this excellent resource. Unfortunately I am just not in a position to be able to provide a useful online resource, accessible from home that supports the majority of students.

We have subscriptions (managed outside the Library budget) to five subject areas in Kerboodle and four of these provide an e-textbook. However, I am unable to provide any further e-book provision and the amount I have available to spend on print books is very limited. I recently did a little splurge as we're coming to the end of the financial year but could only include 11 titles - still very exciting when they arrived!

I am also trying to promote my services as a professional librarian. One of the key aims of the College is to produce independent learners and I am in a key position to help achieve this. Having gained positive feedback in my student library questionnaire I have begun to offer a bookable one-to-one service for students who would like help with finding high-quality resources or referencing their work (a requirement for those who choose to take the EPQ). This has not been picked up yet but it's still early days. In conjunction with this I am also promoting the induction service I can offer to tutors whereby I can come into their class and deliver a session on research skills or using our online resources. Again, uptake for this has been slow but I have begun to have discussions with staff in some subject areas and I plan to get myself into some departmental meetings in the summer term to try and build inductions into next year's course delivery.

Perceptions of the Librarian and the Library
One of the features of our College is that a lot of our teaching staff come over from the two local High Schools. Understandably, they are used to the service of a school library and the role of a school librarian. Beyond providing a traditional library service this usually involves a focus on literacy and reader development, not research and independent learning. The biggest challenge I'm facing, therefore, is to change the perception of the Library as a College-wide service and the role I can play in that. It was admitted to me on interviewing for this role that the College hasn't had a qualified librarian in post for a long time. Whilst this is not necessarily a negative thing it has meant that the Library hasn't gained a reputation for being a central College service for research and enquiry support. I believe this is one of the causes for the slow up-take in classroom inductions. At A Level, students need to be able to supplement their work with high-quality sources and know how to effectively search and deal with the amount of information they can access online. I am determined to work to place the Library at the heart of this College in terms of research support and make sure that every student has access to the research skills support that I can offer and, over time, prove the impact that the Library can have on students' results, despite the limited budget!

With all this in mind I have to say I don't regret the move at all. Even with these challenges, on a personal level, it's a great opportunity as I can work to improve resources and services, ground them into course delivery and then be able to say that I have achieved this, all on my own.