Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Workforce development

Workforce development is not an exciting topic and as far as I can see no other library bloggers are spending much time on this . It can be defined as the process by which organisations recruit and develop the workforce that they will need to deliver services to their users/customers. I attempted to provide an introduction to this topic back in February.

The problem is that it is a long term and strategic process of concern to the directors of organisations and not seemingly relevant to the day-to-day concerns of staff at the coal-face. However I feel that the decisions that are being made now could have a fundamental effect on the whole nature of librarianship in the future and at the very least we should be aware of what is happening.

Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) is developing a Sector Skills Agreement and as part of this process has produced a discussion document - Developing Solutions which contains 10 proposed solutions to the skills needs of the lifelong learning workforce.

The first thing to note is that the libraries. archives and information services workforce (LAIS) has been grouped with community learning and development, further education, higher education and work based learning into a Lifelong Learning Sector Skills Council. So are librarians part of a lifelong learning profession? The concept sits easily enough with HE and FE librarians. Information professionals in business may not initially see themselves as being involved in lifelong learning but it does fit in with the idea of a 'learning organisation' and alongside work based learning practitioners. Public librarians can also see themselves as being involved with lifelong learning and public libraries as 'street corner universities'. However in most local authorities, libraries are grouped with cultural services and staff from other cultural services will come under the Creative Culture Sector Skills Council. Is this split helpful?

When we look at some of the proposed solutions a pattern emerges:
  • 1 Explore the options for 'professionalising' all parts of the lifelong learning workforce
  • 2 Development of an integrated CPD framework and model for the lifelong learning sector where appropriate
  • 3 Develop a 'skills for learning professionals' qualification framework
  • 6 Develop sector wide career pathways

This could suggest that in the future new entrants will not be librarians but lifelong learning professionals and that their careers might span teaching and librarianship. The report does begin by pointing out that "Although these 10 solutions are proposed for the whole sector and are UK-wide, their implementation will vary according to the nation and/or constituency group". However, as Angela Abell points out in the current CILIP Update (October p9) "While some organisations are obvious employers of the LAIS workforce, many members of that workforce are employed by organisations where they form a minority. The employer representative would not automatically consider their needs when engaging in 'demand-led' activities." In other words the future of the LAIS workforce is being decided by people with little interest in or understanding of our profession.

Other solutions proposed do reflect the needs of the library profession:

  • 7 Develop a knowledge bank for IAG professionals [career advisers]
  • 8 Recruitment programmes to address specific shortages in the lifelong learning sector
  • 9 develop a UK wide Leadership and management strategy
  • 10 Develop the business case and resources to support the use of technology in the sector, particularly relating to information learning technology (ILT).

Another piece in Update reported that library sector employers had expressed concern about current shortcomings in the customer service competencies of some staff with traditional academic training and that the demand for staff with these skills might have to be met from outside the core LAIS workforce. In other words, library staff are just not nice enough to their customers! Perhaps the LLUK aproach will not only develop better customer service skills but will also shift the emphasis away from a service centered approach (we are librarians and this is what we can do for you) to a customer centered approach (you are a lifelong learner, what can we do for you?). See my previous post.

Opening of the Information Commons

Drummers at the official opening of the Information Commons.

The University of Sheffield's Information Commons was closed this morning for its official opening and I attended along with an assortment of the great and the good. Whenever you have this sort of ceremony someone has to decide who will cut the ribbon (or in this case, unfurl the wall hanging). A feature of this opening was that the University eshewed a celebrity or even someone who just looked like a celebrity but chose instead Mr Harsh Srivastav, one of their 2007 graduates and an ex-president of the Students Union. The reason for this was to emphasise how central students were to the Information Commons and the University in general. Admittedly this line runs well on the recruitment video but it does represent a real shift in perspective.

Harsh repayed the compliment by lauding the University and the library service for their student centred approach and praising the Information Commons building as a great success. Someone commented that he could be a future Prime Minister (of India or Britain).

Librarians sometimes find it difficult to promote the role of the library and of the information professional within their organisation. A user centred approach can help. In academic institutions like universities, colleges or schools; the library should be seen as a central element and the librarian as one of the key players. Industrial/commercial information services are usually seen as a support service but if the concept of a learning organisation is developed then the information professional becomes central. Local authorities may see their public library service as a small and not particularly vital part of their portfolio of services but from the users point of view the library is often the most popular part of what the council does. As Oldham library demonstrates, a modern, well stocked library is not only a popular service but can help with regeneration and community development. Any council that ignores this does so at its peril.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

CPD Events from SINTO

It's time to have another look at some forthcoming training events from SINTO.

On Monday 8th October at 2pm Paul Clarke of the European Information Association is giving a half day Introduction to European Information. Paul will cover the development of the European Union and how it works. he will then look at the most important websites for EU information and how to keep up to date. Delegates will have the opportunity for a hands-on practice session. The EU has an impact on many aspect of people's lives and it is important to be able to separate fact from fiction. This event will be a valuable introduction or refresher for staff from all types of library.

Mission Critical is another half-day event on Wednesday 24th October, this time in the morning. Barbara Sen of the Department of Information Studies University of Sheffield will lead a workshop on Critical Success Factors. This is a business technique for identifying what is really important to an organisation. Barbara will look at the history of this concept and how CSFs can be used to help you and your organisation focus on priorities. Barbara is piloting this workshop with SINTO as part of the course she is offering at the DIS and we are able to offer this at the low price of £10 plus VAT.

Unfortunately the first event we were offering this year, on financial management, had to be cancelled due to lack of take up. By contrast an event we are running at the end of the year has booked up so fast that we are planning to repeat it. Promoting Reading to Young People in Libraries is presented by Anne Harding and will look at how school and public libraries can raise the profile and appeal for young people aged eleven and above. It will be run on Tuesday 11th December but because of the high level of demand we are planning to run it again on the 29th January 2008. Places are available for both dates at present but book fast.

Oldham Public Library again

There are more pictures of Oldham Public Library on the SINTO Wiki.
With the new building Oldham is providing a library service of high quality that is meeting the needs of the local community. The library is well stocked with what appears to be a good selection of new books. I don't know if Tim Coates has run his critical eyes over the library but it appears to provide a good selection of fiction and non-fiction as well as 90 PCs for public use. The building has good access for people with disabilities and appears to be well used by all sections of Oldhams diverse population. No doubt Tim and others would argue that the money spent on the building should have been spent on more books but libraries are more than a storage space for books. Communities deserve high quality public spaces and a building like this draws more people into contact with the books and other resources.

In an article in Managing Information Adrian Olsen and Frances Hendrix (formerly of the Laser Foundation) ask where should public libraries go next? (MI Sept 2007 p32-3). Oldham could well provide part of the answer. Olsen and Hendrix propose four themes that should form the basis of a national strategy for public libraries.
  1. A re-organisation of the governance and finance of libraries at a government and possibly also at a local level. Responsibility for libraries is split and public libraries are at the mercy of individual council political priorities and financial pressure. Oldham shows what can be achieved but it also highlights inadequate provision in many other areas. The authors propose taking public libraries out of local authority control into some kind of regional organisation or even a National Public Library Service.
  2. A system is needed to ensure that the best in public libraries automatically becomes the norm across the whole service. Again, this requires a National Development Agency.
  3. There must be a national, co-ordinated campaign of publicity and awareness raising to inform people about what is available in their libraries and to challenge the traditional view of libraries. Publicising flagship libraries like Oldham could be a part of this. There is nothing like making people jelous of their neigbours to create pressure for change.
  4. PR and advocacy must be aimed at the 'movers and shakers'- the power brokers and decision makers.

New and refurbished libraries such as the Information Commons and Oldham Library can shift perceptions of what libraries are all about and as a profession we should study these examples and publicise them to a wider audience.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Oldham Public Library

On Thursday SINTO organised a mini-bus trip to Oldham to see their new public library.

Opened in April 2006 it provides more than double the space of the old library. Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre has been shortlisted for the 2007 Prime Minister's Better Public Buildings Award.

Bringing together children’s, adult and reference libraries, as well as a performance space, IT-intensive teaching rooms, art rooms and a crèche, it is the second phase of the new cultural quarter in Oldham, breathing new life into a previously neglected part of the town.

The building relies predominantly on natural ventilation and light, minimising energy consumption. Rainwater from the green roof is collected, treated, stored in tanks in the basement area and used to flush toilets throughout the building which significantly reduces mains water usage.

The impressive entrance to the building, shared with Gallery Oldham, features a glass exterior wall and attractive modern sculpture. From the lobby ccstomers pass through to the library and lifelong learning area. The latter consists of a number of IT equiped classrooms and work spaces which house a wide range of day or evening classes which can be booked at the reception desk. The library itself is on two floors which are well lit by natural light and the overall impression is modern, light and uncluttered. The architecture features strong lines and large windows which provide spectacular views of the surrounding moors.

The building cost £12m as was built under the Private Finance Initiative. This means that the library service is effectively a tennant in the building and the library staff described the benefits and drawbacks of this arrangement. During the design stage the library had to provide an "output specification" which was then interpreted by the architect.

The library has been a success in terms of customer feedbackand in greatly increased visitor numbers. The staff were open about some problems with the building but on the whole they felt that it worked well.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Rotherham Libraries

I have mentioned the Library Too blog before. It is written by Pete Smith of Rotherham College and he blogs about library issues in general with occasional references to the service he experiences at Rotherham libraries. In a recent post he says that Tim Coates asked him to stop praising Rotherham Libraries and in response Pete gives a balanced appraisal of Rotherham's library service.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

New library buildings

Its the beginning of a new academic term and as students head of to university and college I was reflecting on how the experience of further and higher education has changes and what this means for academic libraries.

The traditional view of higher education was of a small elite of bright young people going off to university where their inquisitive minds would be introduced to the heritage of recorded scholarship as contained in books and journals, guided by the wisdom of their professors.

A modern view is that it is all a giant conveyor belt where paying customers arrive expecting to be fed pre-digested extracts of information which they then 'cut and paste' into assignments with the sole aim of gaining the required qualifications.

The reality lies somewhere in between. The first few years of an undergraduate course have always relied on a high level of pre-packaged information being presented to students, formerly as textbooks and study packs; today as e-books and through virtual learning environments (VLEs). The idea that students today may not need to open a book or journal because everything they need is available electronically may horrify some purists but it has not fundamentally altered the student experience.

At the later stages of an undergraduate course there will be a greater need for students to read around a subject and to consult primary sources. This requires them to develop information literacy (or even fluency) and as much of this material still only available in print format they will need to seek out 'books on the shelves".

For the academic library this means that the emphasis has changed from a repository of printed material - or even an access point for electronic material - to a space where learning can take place. This is reflected in the objectives for the two Sheffield University libraries.

"To create high quality spaces with a variety of study environments including individual desks, group tables and study rooms, informal seating and classrooms". (Information Commons. University of Sheffield).

"The internal layout and design of the building is focused on its use as a learning space, accommodating a wide range of learning styles, and new technologies, rather than just as a resource centre". (Learning Centre. Sheffield Hallam University).

Of course this role has to be combined with the traditional role of the library as a repository for printed material and a resource centre as these will continue to be important.

The criticism that academic libraries are spending on buildings not books is therefore completely wrong. But what about public libraries? Should they be following this "learning centre" model? There is no doubt that new and better public library buildings would boost public library usage but there are important differences. First, for the universities, investment in learning centres promises an immediate payback. High quality facilities attracts students and more students mean more income. For local authorities, while investing in new library buildings would increase library usage this does not translate into higher income. This simple economic fact makes a big difference.

Second, public libraries can never be as central to the general public as academic libraries are to students. They are always seen as a good thing but they are not in a broad sense essential to our lives.

Third, public libraries are primarily a resource centre rather than a learning centre. They are a place were people go to get books and information but on the whole people take this away with them. Perhaps this is something that could and should change. If the barriers between public libraries and schools, colleges and museums could be broken down libraries could function as community learning centres for a range of formal and informal learning activities. At the same time we should be on our guard against the temptation of investing in a high status building without ensuring that the stock is first class.

This week I am leading a SINTO visit to the new Oldham Public Library. It will be interesting to see how this compares with the Information Commons in both form and function.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Information Commons: University of Sheffield

On Friday I attended an Open Day for the new Information Commons at the University of Sheffield. To quote from the introductory booklet:

"Since the Middle Ages, the word 'commons' has described a shared resource and expressed the idea of community. So the Information Commons is a shared environment where the University's academic community can come together to access a wide variety of information and learning resources."

It is a very impressive building. Of course all new library buildings have an initial impact but I think this one will remain impressive even when the initial gloss has worn off. From the outside the building is distinctive and well proportioned. The blue-green of the prepatinated copper with the grey of the terracotta makes this a landmark building that is not flamboyant but has an unique identity.

The entrance loby is spacious, uncluttered and remarkably understated. It has the air of an airport departure lounge when all flights have been cancelled. There are then four main levels and a smaller extension of two further levels. Each level has its own identifying colour and this is indicated by the colour of the soft furniture, video display panels and space dividers. Within each level there is a variety of different spaces of varied shape and form. These include areas for individual study , group study, soft seating and study rooms. There are 1,300-plus study spaces with over 500 PCs.

There are distinctive architectural features with internal voids and imaginitive use of materials. Works of art are used to good effect and there are spectacular views from the windows.

Video display panels throughout the building provide information about opening times and services. There is an enquiry desk on the ground floor while members of staff rove the building and can be summoned by telephones located on each floor.

Further details and photographs will be provided on the SINTO wiki. All photographs are by Carl Clayton

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Do we need libraries?

Back to work after my summer vacation which included a short break in Barcelona. It's a fascinating city and my partner and I enjoyed exploring its tourist sights, beaches and backstreets.
When I got back I discovered that a lively debate about public libraries had been going on in the Guardian Unlimited Arts blog. Starting with a posting by Louise Tucker "Do 'most people' really need libraries any more?" the blog demonstrates yet again that many people do still feel passionately about libraries. People get very angry when libraries are closed or the importance of the book stock is reduced. Unfortunately many of the comments reflect a traditional or even reactionary view of the role of libraries. Some people object to attempts to make libraries more accessible to the whole community or to provide access to electronic resources. Tim Coates makes a contribution but with the exception of Councillor Ken Thornber on behalf of Hampshire Libraries (which has been criticised on the basis of reported comments by Yinnon Ezra) I could see no contributions from chief librarians, MLA or CILIP putting forward the view of the library profession. It does seem a pity that we don't make use of this sort of forum to get our message over.

During the discussion Louise Tucker made the following comment:

"What is wrong with the word 'library'? Did your council pay a fortune for this rebranding? It reminds me of the University of Sheffield which has renamed its new library (yet more money spent on buildings not books) the 'Information Commons'. Apparently they called it this because 'commons' implied a shared resource; however, in what I think is a relatively unusual step, they have determined that only staff and students of the University can use it, and that temporary staff and visiting researchers cannot... (PEYE 1185). Orwell would really turn in his grave wouldn't he?"

Again it is perhaps a pity that the University did not defend itself against this comment. Through the SYALL scheme the University has been committed to public access to their library service for many years. The decision that the Information Commons should be restricted to undergraduates while external users are directed to the Western Bank library is a reasonable arrangement and puts no-one at a disadvantage.

I will be attending the Information Commons HEI Open Day tomorrow - my first opportunity to see inside the building - and I will report on my impressions.