Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Vocational Qualifications

I will carry on with my report of the Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) meeting that I began yesterday. Today I will extend my "idiots guide" to the new framework of vocational qualifications for the libraries, archives and information services (LAIS) workforce.

What are vocational qualifications?
Qualifications can be divided into three types: academic qualifications which we gain by study at university and college, professional qualifications which are awarded by professional bodies such as CILIP and vocational qualifications which are awarded for the skills we learn at or for work. There is a great deal of overlap between these types, for example you can only get the professional qualification of MCLIP if you have an academic degree. And many university degrees are vocational. Also qualifications come at different levels. In the past the skills you learnt in you job were often not recognised or accredited so that someone with a 10-year old BA was regarded as more qualified than someone with GCSEs but who had worked for 10 years.

What is LLUK's role?
Create new National Occupational Standards for the LAIS workforce
Design new sector frameworks of vocational qualifications for the LAIS workforce
Improve progression opportunities
Represent employer views

And what are National Occupational Standards?
National Occupational Standards (NOS) define areas of competence (or skill-sets) required in an occupation or job role i.e. the combination of skills, knowledge and understanding that an individual needs to perform effectively in a job. They describe the key activities undertaken in a range of tasks e.g. "Solve problems for customers" or "Issue and recover loan material". If you want more information go to the UK Standards website.
Standards are developed with sector participation, apply across the whole of the UK and provide the benchmarks for vocational qualifications.

How exactly are these being developed?
LLUK has contracted Angela Abell, Liz MacLachlan and Sara Ward of SAL Associates to work with staff at LLUK on the development of new National Occupational Standards for the LAIS workforce. The plan is to combine the three existing and separate sets of NOS inherited from the former Information Services National Training Organisation (isNTO) into one integrated standards framework. The drafting of the new standards has begun and there will be a programme of nine consultation events throughout the UK during April - May 2007 followed by electronic consultation via the LLUK website during June. It is anticipated that the work will be completed over the summer.

So how do NOS relate to vocational qualifications?
NOS provide the benchmark for developing vocational qualifications. Qualifications will be built from units which will cover the elements identified by the NOS.

What will these Vocational Qualifications look like?
Individuals will gain a qualification by amassing credits accumulated from core, optional and elective units. They will be able to gain credits in a variety of different ways including the accreditation of workplace CPD. They should have a strong emphasis on developing skills, knowledge and understanding and not just on auditing existing skills.

Aren't we talking about NVQs?
There is a consensus of opinion in the profession that NVQs have not been a success. There has been a low level of take-up for LAIS NVQs for a number of reasons: availability was limited; progression opportunities were limited (LIS NVQs were only available to level 3); there was a lack of awareness and enthusiasm by both staff and employers; they were perceived as expensive, too narrow and too process-oriented. These new Vocational Qualifications are intended to remedy these faults.

You mention the problem of NVQs being limited to level 3. Will the new structure deal with this?
As part of government strategy to increase participation in higher education a new vocational qualification has been introduced at level 4/5 called a Foundation Degree. LLUK is holding discussions with providers and the professional bodies to agree a model of what foundation degrees in our sector should look like, how they should relate to the National Occupational Standards and the body of professional knowledge and how employers can be involved in their development. For more information go to the Foundation Degree Forward website

So will this new framework for vocational qualifications work?
A good question! There has not been a good take up of NVQs for a variety of reasons. LLUK has looked at those reasons and is trying to deal with the problems in the new framework. However it comes down to whether individuals and employers embrace this new structure. How enthusiastic are library staff, especially at the library assistant levels, about gaining vocational qualifications? It comes down to a basic change of attitude. Most people accept that they need a certain qualification in order to get a job but then think that the job is theirs for life or until they change jobs. But as things are changing rapidly we need to be constantly learning new things and to gain qualifications to show this. If you don't get new vocational qualifications then you are no longer qualified for the job. Employers need to be prepared to invest in staff development and encourage staff to gain vocational qualifications. I feel that many employer have managed to demotivate staff and turn them against self development by showing a complete lack of interest. Yes they may "send people on courses" but do they show any interest in the outcome or enable staff to put new ideas into practice?

Employers also need to engage with the consultation process to ensure that the framework does provide what they need. It is not unknown for organisations to sack professional librarians because the skills of librarians are not what they need. (This has happened in commercial companies but is also known in academic institutions and even local authorities). It is important therefore that the organisation as a whole - not just the librarians within this organisation - gets involved in this process. They need to tell LLUK what skills they want from their staff and hopefully they will also learn what librarians can contribute to their organisation.

Further information about LLUK can be found on their website.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Skills for the workforce

Yesterday I attended a meeting held by Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds on the strategic direction and development of the libraries, archives and information service workforce. The meeting looked at the development of a Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) for the Libraries, Archives and Information Services (LAIS) workforce and the project to develop National Occupational Standards and a framework of vocational qualifications for this sector.

It's a topic that most of us would regard as important - it deals with fundamental questions for both individuals and organisations such as what skills do people need? How do we get those skills? How are those skills recognised?

At the same time it is a complex issue and we are faced with organisations, projects and qualifications that seem to change constantly. It's no wonder that we get confused!

Here is my stab at an idiots guide.

What is Lifelong Learning UK?
LLUK is one of 25 Sector Skills Councils under the Skills for Business programme. The aim of LLUK is to ensure that lifelong learning employers can recruit, retain and develop highly skilled and effective staff.

Sorry - what do you mean by "lifelong learning employers"?
This term covers all organisations working in community learning & development, further education, higher education, work-based learning and libraries, archives & information services. Its a broad and diverse group which you could say has just lumped together several different sectors but there is a common purpose that links them together. LLUK replaces the old Information Services National Training Organisation (isNTO)

So what does LLUK do?
Well the first thing it is doing is to develop a Sector Skills Agreement (SSA)

A what?
An SSA is an agreement between employers and government that will ensure that the workforce has the right skills in the right places at the right time. It identifies current and future skills gaps and works with partners to fill these gaps. Our SSA will ensure that the UK's lifelong learning sector has the skilled workforce it needs to increase productivity and improve service delivery.

And what does that mean for libraries, archives and information services?
The research and consultation with the LAIS sector is underway but certain skills issues have been identified for the sector. These include:
The identification of specific LAIS technical skills such as cataloguing, collections management, information retrieval, conservation & preservation.
The identification of specific ICT skills such as digitisation, management of metadata, ICT systems development.
The need for customer engagement skills in order to establish user needs and provide support and guidance.
The need to develop a new generation of library leaders through management skills, strategic leadership, advocacy and project management.

In the discussions yesterday a number of themes emerged. It was felt that the existing structure for delivering LAIS technical skills (i.e. through library school trained staff) worked well but there was a need for consistent updating. ICT developments impacted on almost all areas and there was a pressing need for more people with the appropriate skills in the workforce. There was a pressing need for inter-personal skills/customer engagement skills and also for leadership skills at all levels e.g. all staff should be able to promote the library service to users and management. One feature of the LAIS workforce is the age profile which means that a high proportion of experienced staff will be retiring in the next 10 years. It may also mean that staff are not keen on training and CPD as they are approaching retirement. It was argued that all staff in the lifelong learning sector should have a personal commitment to lifelong learning. One way of helping to achieve this is to make sure that all learning and skills development is recognised by the gaining of vocational qualifications. This would help all staff gain promotion or a new job and would ensure that they are still qualified to continue in their current post.

In my next post on this meeting I will look at the development of a new framework of vocational qualifications.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Access to digital content.

Two postings in one day! I must be getting addicted and perhaps I need some blogging rehab. My excuse is I want to mention that I have had a letter published in Update 6(3) March 2007 and it's letter of the month no less (oh still my beating heart!).

It's about public access to digital material. The issue is that we have in the Access to Libraries for Learning scheme an agreement by which members of the public can use academic libraries for reference (and most other regions now have a similar agreement under the Inspire scheme). However academic libraries increasingly hold journals and books in electronic format and these can not be accessed by members of the public. The problem is that a) these are covered by licenses which may prohibit public access, b) you need to be able to use the universities' networks and members of the public will not have access rights and c) academic libraries lack the resources (staff time) to implement solutions to these barriers.

A recent report has addressed this problem and makes a number of recommendations which would help but it does not address the key issue which is should academic libraries be responsible for providing public access to digital material? In the letter I argue that this is a question of national information policy and of course we don't have a national information policy. I will shortly be setting up a page on the SINTO wiki to give more information about this.

Business information services

I was at a meeting of the SINTO Business Information Group yesterday and the main item was the Libraries are Good for Business Report (LG4B). The LG4B project was initiated by MLA Yorkshire as a programme of research and advocacy on public library business information provision in the Yorkshire region. The aim was to map existing provision, to encourage the development of a coordinated regional offer involving the fifteen library authorities and to provide evidence to support MLA Yorkshire in its advocacy of public libraries at the regional level - especially with Yorkshire Forward. This work had been carried out by the Centre for the Public Library and Information in Society (CIPLIS) and myself.

The research has shown a fairly strong provision of business information in most areas although this is threatened by cuts and restructuring in some areas. The research also demonstrated that a regional structure has evolved (I don't think anyone planned this) with a hierarchy of business information services. Sheffield and Leeds provide 'advanced' services providing support for the wider region. Other 'developed' services provide a good level of service to their own area which can be supported by referral to an advanced service while a few 'basic' services rely heavily on outsourcing or referral.

Co-operation between business libraries is well developed in South and West Yorkshire through SINTO. North Yorkshire is a special case and seems happy to be self reliant while Humberside has struggled to maintain local co-operation in recent years. The Humberside libraries have been invited to participate in SINTO. Contacts with local Business Links has always been seen to be important but can be patchy and there is a lack of a strategic approach to co-operation and partnership working.

MLA Yorkshire has use this work to support advocacy with Yorkshire Forward and in the Regional Economic Strategy for Yorkshire and Humber 2006-2015 there is a specific reference to the need for good connections with public libraries in the context of the Better Deal for Business Framework (BD4B). MLA Yorkshire has proposed to the Society of Chief Librarians Yorkshire (SCLY) that there should be a formal sign up of libraries to this framework which would raise the profile of public libraries as part of the regional business support network.

My final report on this project makes a number of recommendations for action. More details can be found on the Business Information Group page of the SINTO wiki. However it is very easy for reports to disappear into a black hole and not to have any influence on strategic planning. There are worrying signs. MLA Yorkshire has said this project is now finished and it is not clear if they will continue to press Yorkshire Forward on this issue. There also seems to be a lack of involvement by Heads of Service with this research and I have no idea if SCLY are planning to sign up to BD4B. Finally I am not convinced that Yorkshire Forward really recognises the importance of information within their Regional Economic Strategy. It would be a great pity if this report were to end up in the wpb or even worse - filed away on a library shelf and ignored.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

The library as a physical place

Yesterday Gilly and I attended the opening day for the new Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) library at Porterbrook in Sheffield. There has been a library here for some time but it has recently been relocated and expanded with the print material on open access shelving instead of cupboards and better facilities for accessing electronic materials.
The library is a resource for staff at the DWP in Sheffield and the north of England but the library is a SINTO member and are willing to help other libraries as far as is possible.

While I was there I had an interesting discussion about virtual vs physical libraries. The DWP library delivers much of its services to the desks of staff both in the same building and elsewhere in the country. At the same time they think it is important to have an attractive physical space. This is valuable to users who want to get away from their desks to do research and to find help. Also it sends an important message to top management and puts the library service "on the map". Decision makers in any organisation are often unclear about the exact role of the information service. While virtual services are increasingly important they can be invisible and perhaps a room full of books gives a stronger message.

In our region we do have some good examples of libraries as physical spaces. The Information Commons at the University of Sheffield will be opening soon. This may re-start the debate about what we should call ourselves. Is Information Commons just a fancy name for a library or does it create a positive new image? The Adsetts Learning Centre at Sheffield Hallam University was state-of-the-art when it was opened and is still an impressive building. Barnsley central library has recently reopened following a five-month refurbishment and a number of the college libraries in our area are worthy of a visit. SINTO is organising a visit to see the four new learning centres at Rotherham College of Arts & Technology town centre campus.

And what about Sheffield central library? Its an impressive building and one much loved by many Sheffielders. Inside there has been a great deal of work in recent years to make it more attractive. But even its friends would have to admit that it does not entice users in. Could more be done to make it seem an exciting place to go?

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Developing the blog

I don't intend to post an entry on this blog every day - that would be information overload - but as I am getting started I want to record developments. It was nice to get some comments to my posting on the purpose of the Sintoblog - even if they were about how I like my porridge. (For you porridge fans out there see this article about the benefits of oats).

We ran the Enquiry Desk course yesterday and it seemed to go well again. I will circulate all delegates about the page on the wiki for this course and I hope they will contribute with postings about what they learnt on the course and about delivering a reference enqury service in their libraries. Tomorrow there is a meeting of the SINTO Business Information Group and again I have set up a wiki page for this Group which I hope will be used for general discussion of the issues raised. Of course, anyone who is interested in these topics can read these pages and take part if they wish.

I will be introducing the blog and wiki to people through events and Group meetings and will also circulate members who may be interested. You are very welcome to circulate details to colleagues.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Seal of recognition

Porridge again .... Sorry I forgot, this Blog is not going to be about what I had for breakfast but will bring you news of SINTO activities and discussion of professional developments!

Well today we are running a half day course on Effective Enquiry Desk Work with Tim Buckley Owen author of Success at the Enquiry Desk. This is the second time we have run this event and it is fully booked so we may have to run it again. The course not only looks at useful reference sources but also presents a strategy for handling any enquiry and finding an answer. I have created a page for this course on the SINTO wiki for comments and discussion of the issues raised.

Both this course and the Social Computing course featured in the SINTO application to CILIP for their new Seal of Recognition. The aim of this Seal is to recognise the content and relevance of a range of training and development activities and it is awarded by CILIP to providers of CPD that demonstrate "engagement with CILIP's Body of Professional Knowledge".

The SINTO Executive Board and Training Group debated if there was any point in SINTO applying for this. We believe that most SINTO members trust the quality of SINTO events and do not need external accreditation.I like to think that Gilly and myself are pretty good at organising and running events. More to the point, SINTO members have a good structure for deciding what our training needs are and how we can meet these needs through the Training and other Groups. We also carefully consider the feedback from events. However, we did recognise that the Seal might be a good marketing tool for people who are not familiar with SINTO and how we work but would recognise CILIP as a guarantor of quality. Having said that, there does seem to be some uncertainty as to whether CILIP is looking to guarantee the quality of a training provider or of individual courses. When you apply you have to send in details of some of your events but you are not asked about how you identify and meet training needs. SINTO does not deliver most events directly, we buy them in from other training providers. SINTO should not be accredited on the content of the courses alone but also on how we assure that we buy in good quality courses. I am not sure that CILIP has thought through this distinction.
Anyway, our application for the Seal is with CILIP and I am awaiting their decision.

Do you think that SINTO meets your CPD & training needs - either as a library service or as an individual? Do you get the information you need? Do we run the sort of training you want? Are you happy with the quality of the events we run? Let me know.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Purpose of Sintoblog

Dear diary
A bit misty this morning so I made myself a bowl of porridge for breakfast.......

Well that's the problem with blogs. They are on-line diaries which are of interest to the writer but possibly of limited interest to everyone else. The Social Computing course has inspired me to set up Sintoblog - but what exactly would its value be to SINTO members?
I assume that people are not interested in what I had for breakfast and even an account of what I do at work is of very limited interest (except to my boss). You are all busy people with limited time to read my postings so what would be of interest and relevance to you?
I can think of two things. First it could be a source of information about SINTO events and activities - but we already have ways of keeping people informed of these (e.g. e-mails and the web site). On the whole I think that people want focused information about things of interest to them and not a general diary. On the other hand it might alert people to things they did not know about - the famous "unknown unknowns".

The second area is a forum for alerting people about general professional issues and developments and discussing their implications. This would be a CPD service and might be of interest to Chartership candidates and new professionals. In my role as SINTO director I possibly have a bit more time than most front-line librarians to read professional journals and news sources and to comment on them. Would that be of interest to SINTO members I wonder? The only way to find out is to try it.

Then there is my Wiki. That differs from the blog in that it can be organised by subject rather than a chronological diary. I don't just want to duplicate the web site so the issue is how to use the Web 2.0 aspects of a Wiki to give added value. My initial idea is that I will use it for the SINTO Groups and for follow-up to training events to provide a forum for discussion and exchange of information when people can not meet face-to-face.

The key is will people be bothered to read these new services on a regular basis and will they respond? Is there a SINTO community out there that is interested in sharing information?

Let me know what you think or I'll go back to describing my breakfasts.


Thursday, 15 February 2007

A bit more

These postings are just a test to see how Blogger works but I might develop it into a full time blog about SINTO and our activities.


Hi! This is the first posting in my Sinto blog - set up during the Social Computing course being run by Stephanie Taylor.

I am Carl Clayton, Director of SINTO - the information partnership for South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire. You can get more information about SINTO

A special welcome to all the delegates on today's Social Computing course here at Sheffield Hallam University. We have 15 people here today and I think we are all learning a great deal.