Building a Library to Fit its Users
Last summer I left Surrey after nine years of supporting approx. 10,000 students in an FE/HE college and moved to Norfolk. I now manage the library service at a sixth-form college of around 400 A Level and BTEC students. After settling in there were two things that struck me: the service did not feel like one aimed at a 16-18 demographic and the level of resources and support available were significantly lower than those available to equivalent students in a larger FE college. 16-18 education is a transition period, enabling students to transform their learning and develop skills to take them further, either in education or into the workplace. I felt our existing service, however, was not giving our students the potential to fully develop into modern, independent learners. Students were only able to search for or locate Library resources by browsing the shelves, they were unable to access the same level of resources as their counterparts elsewhere and, I felt, lacked knowledge about the different resources they could access and the appropriate skills to search for and analyse the quality of content online. With these key issues in mind I spent the last year implementing key developments and transforming the service.
If you walk into our Library you would probably think there aren’t many books. With a very small budget I am unable to regularly update stock. Instead, I have to find the most cost-effective ways of providing up-to-date resources and this has resulted in greater focus on print journals and online resources which stretch learning and provide access to regularly updated information throughout the year. It has the added benefit of helping our learners become more familiar with using alternative resources. To encourage their use I email monthly updates of articles and promote access to our online resources from home through our new College website.
The Library had been without a functioning online catalogue for a while and we desperately needed to upgrade our LMS. However, I felt the existing system was not age-appropriate and so made the case for moving supplier. Alongside this I undertook a weeding project to help make up-to-date resources more visible and began applying the Dewey Decimal System. Now, instead of relying on me all the time, I can train students in how to search for books and articles, make judgements as to appropriate resources and locate them on the shelves.
In addition I created an information literacy skills service. This includes class/tutorial sessions which I’m beginning to embed into different subjects and individual one-to-ones. These sessions focus on key areas and help learners go beyond the resources I can provide: planning research and effectively using/combining keywords; relevant resources available through the college; additional high-quality resources available freely online; and judging the quality of online content. Finally, to ensure I continue providing a service which meets learners’ needs, I have implemented an annual Library Questionnaire. I will shortly be running the Questionnaire for this year and am looking forward to Year 13’s responses to the developments they have experienced over the year along with suggestions from both years groups as to how we can take things further. Already, though, I am receiving feedback demonstrating the impact the changes have made:
Current Year 13 student Nesta James: ‘Booking a one-to-one session was incredibly helpful to my studies, particularly for the research I undertook doing my EPQ. Being able to be shown all of the resources that we have access to was so useful, and also being given help with how to reference was something I found really valuable.’
Peter Elphick (Head of Media): ‘The standard of my students’ research skills and their use of sources in both their Year 1 and Year 2 coursework components has improved markedly. I thought this was down to me (!) but on discussion with the students they confirmed that the library’s accessibility and Rachel’s organisation and clarity of message has been behind this transformation. … She has made the Library’s resources simpler to access and more professional in content and so the students are using them.’
College Director, Phyllis O’Grady: ‘Speaking from my experience as an EPQ supervisor, individual tutorials with Rachel to properly understand effective selection, use and evaluation of secondary resources along with correct referencing has been invaluable. Students’ reports have invariably moved up a grade and gone from decent A Level standard essays to works of serious academic quality. Students have expressed delight and confidence at having thoroughly mastered these skills a full year before starting university.’