Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Lifelong learning

I have just been reading the report - "Learning through life" - from the Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning. Based on the belief that access to learning through life is a human right, Learning through life argues that our current system has failed to respond to the major demographic challenge of an aging society and to changes in employment patterns.
There is much in the report that librarians would agree with. Indeed there is much that libraries already deliver e.g.:

"In the face of massive economic change, people need to be able to adapt, not just through acquiring new professional skills, but by having the resilience to search out job opportunities and to face the uncertainties that recession brings." p13

The report proposes a new four stage model of learning: up to 25, 25-50, 50-75 and 75+. This emphasises the need to focus on learning not just at the compulsory and post-compulsory stage but also on three phases after that. The first two feature a changing mosaic of work, unemployment and learning time while the "Fourth Age" will grow in importance. To support this, the report proposes a shift from the current funding allocation of 86 :11: 2.5 : 0.5 to approximately 80 : 15 :4 : 1. This suggests a shifting of funding towards the area in which public libraries are operating.

The report makes the case for lifelong learning and its benefits for individuals, families, communities, regions and the nation. It proposes a citizens' curriculum based on four core capabilities: digital, health, financial and civic. The report further recommends that local authorities, as the key democratic agencies responsible for the welfare of local communities, should act as the key strategy-makers at local level, promoting lifelong learning. It also proposes that a partnership between a college and a public library should be the default model as the main axis for local collaboration as these two institutions bring together "… the formal and the informal…". The MLA has picked up on this and is working with the Inquiry on developing the proposal and will publish its conclusions early next year.

Learning through life is an important document and all librarians with a responsibility for strategic development need to study it. It does not give much space to the current or potential role of public libraries although this is covered in one of the supplementary papers How Museums, Libraries and Archives Contribute to Lifelong Learning: IFLL Sector paper 10 which is not yet published.

Specific references to libraries in report.

Chapter 6 Enabling demand for learning. Access to the digital world. p125
"We urge that libraries should be supported to play a full part in [a minimum level of digital inclusion], as places of universal access serving the community."

Chapter 8. Capabilities and capacity p179
"As with other capabilities, civic capability can be developed through both formal and informal modes of learning. Evidence submitted to the Inquiry on the part played by cultural institutions such as museums or libraries in fostering civic engagement illustrates this breadth. As one submission put it, '…the values of a democratic society rest on information, understanding and engagement. The public library service, a free, accessible and non-judgemental service reaching into the heart of every local community, espouses all those ideals'. [Submission to the enquiry from Derbyshire County Council] Several submissions stressed the role of libraries and museums in enabling marginal groups such as refugees or asylum-seekers to find their way into civic activity…"

Chapter 9 Organising locally: governance and institutions.p197
"Beyond favouring greater local autonomy as a general approach, what are our specific suggestions on how this might work? They are as follows…
· strongly promote the role of libraries, museums, galleries and sport facilities as learning institutions"

"Libraries already operate the People's Network, with 30,000 free or low-cost internet-enabled PCs, available in every public library, giving them a vital role in reducing digital exclusion. As we noted in Chapter 8, many of them actively seek to include marginal groups in a process of civic engagement. They are a crucial part of any system. We would like tosee stronger links between local libraries and schools and colleges, including the possibility of co-location (as we saw with one example under Building Schools for the Future)."

"We suggest that Local Learning exchanges (LLEs) be developed. The Exchanges would:…
· provide a physical venue for people to meet, explore opportunities, and run their own courses. This is the spirit of The Learning Revolution's recommendations on the use of premises. Fifty libraries have recently opened new community spaces."

"A governance system closer to the ground
· A partnership between a college and a library should be the default model for the foundation for local collaboration. Other models are possible, but these two institutions bring together the formal and the informal in ways which make it particularly appropriate."

Thursday, 24 September 2009


We were on the coach travelling back from the Library Show 2009 at the NEC when we ran into a cloudburst just outside Chesterfield. It was raining cats and dogs; stair-rods, buckets (don't we have some lovely expressions for heavy rain?).
Meanwhile, at the Central Library in Sheffield something interesting was happening. The amount of water falling from the sky onto the flat roof of the library was more than the drains could carry away. Behind the parapet wall a lake was beginning to form. As the water level rose it found another outlet - the ducting for the old heating and ventilation system to the building. These ducts ended in ornate grilles high on the walls of the reference library on the ground floor - a library that had only just been refurbished.
Soon water was puring out of these grilles creating spectacular waterfalls. Not what you want to see in your library especially when you have just had a new carpet laid!

You can seldom anticipate or prevent such disasters, but you can plan to cope with them. The SINTO workshop Disaster! How to plan and how to cope will show you how to deal with the unexpected. It features contributions from people who have had to deal with the effects of fire, flood and locust (I made that last one up) in libraries, archives and museums.

No doubt Sheffield Libraries will block up these ventilation ducts - but the next disaster will come in a different form.

Perhaps it will be locusts!

Are you prepared?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Training for librry and information services. Part 2

The message from this survey is simple. Training is important but budgets are limited and are likely to be cut. Organisations therefore need value for money. The "value" comes from events that meet the workforce development needs of the organisation. The "money" element is that events must be low cost and provided locally.

It seems obvious that the best way of achieving this is through local consortia of libraries working together to commission and provide training events. A consortium can decide on what training is needed and by working together and sharing resources can achieve cost savings. It is improbable that the "free market" could deliver the sort of specialist and tailored training that we need. It follows from this that library and information services should not just see themselves as consumers of training; they need to work together in partnership to ensure that appropriate low cost training can be provided in their area. Libraries need to set up and support local consortia both financially and by being involved in planning and organisation. Most libraries will have a training plan or policy of some sort and this should include a commitment to supporting local consortia.

I do of course have a vested interest. SINTO is a local not-for-profit consortium of library services that provides training activities. We provide a very successful training programme for our local area but I am concerned that cuts in training budgets will make it more difficult to provide a full range of events. I am not asking for support for SINTO as an act of charity but I am saying that if local library services want local low cost provision of training events to continue they need to see this as something they have responsibility for and should be prepared to become involved. They need to help SINTO identify what training is needed by their organisation and then send staff on these events.

SINTO has traditionally operated in the South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire area. We are keen to attract staff and organisations from a wider region to our events but we are also keen to provide events across the whole of the Yorkshire and East Midlands region. Again, this can only be done in partnership with libraries in this region. SINTO would very much like to hear from local consortia of libraries that are keen to develop local provision of training. Any individual library service that would like to join SINTO or take part in our events should also contact me.

Finally, I have been talking about training events in a traditional way but on-line provision of training will be of increasing importance. I am already in discussions with a local training organisation about on-line training packages covering for example the use of Twitter for libraries.

The current recession and spending cuts makes things difficult for our sector but it should make us focus on what we want and how we can achieve it. Library managers need to think about what is in the best interest of their organisation and take steps to achieve this. Local training consortia are part of the solution and should be developed

Training for library and information services

Earlier this year I carried out a survey of Continuing Professional Development and Workforce Development for the library and information services sector in Yorkshire. This originated in a round table meeting that SINTO hosted to discuss the implication of the closure of MLA Yorkshire at the end of 2009. This meeting agreed that the regional provision of LIS training was important and that SINTO could have an expanded role in providing training. It was suggested that SINTO should carry out a mapping exercise to provide some background information.
Financial support for the survey was received from the Yorkshire and Humberside Branch of CILIP but unfortunately Yorkshire Libraries & Information (YLI), the only other regional body in a position to support this, declined to make a contribution. This did limit the time that I was able to devote to this survey and as a result I did not get a response from all of the services I would have liked. However I do feel that the survey has produced significant findings.

I deliberately used the terms Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Workforce Development (WD) as well as the more general Training. CPD and WD cover the same activities but while CPD focuses on the development needs of individuals WD focuses on the needs of the organisation. When piloting the survey it appeared that although people were aware of the distinction they did not regard it as significant.
The overall purpose of the survey was:

  • To help LIS services and co-operative bodies understand the overall pattern of provision of training in the region and consider if this meets their needs.
  • To help LIS services and individual staff identify providers of training in the region
  • To aid providers of training to co-ordinate their provision
  • To identify any gaps in provision

I interviewed or received survey forms from eleven librarians with responsibility for training in their organisations.
I began by asking respondents about their training budgets. This is more complicated that it might seem! Libraries often have to bid for training funds from a larger institutional budget so there is no set figure. On average people were working within a budget of about £100 per member of staff but there was wide variation. Given that a typical CILIP course in London can cost around £200 or more this obviously does not go very far! Most respondents agreed that funding placed at least some constraint on training provision. The majority said that their budgets had either increased slightly or remained static over the past few years. They reported that training was important to their organisations and were not anticipating significant cuts in budget in the short term. However the survey took place before the recent widespread debate about public spending cuts and I suspect that people are less optimistic now.
As might be expected, all libraries have a similar model for establishing training needs. This consists of appraisals or professional development reviews which establish what staff want and a service development plan which states what the needs of the service are. Senior managers make the final decision based on a balance of these needs and available resources. There was some evidence that the emphasis is shifting away from the needs of individual staff towards the needs of the organisation, but it was stressed that the two were not necessarily in conflict.

There was widespread agreement on the broad priorities for CPD/WD. The top three topics were leadership & management, customer care and IT developments (particularly Web 2.0).

When it came to sourcing training a great deal of generic training e.g. in management skills, was provided by the parent organisation (university or local authority) of the library. However there was a need for training specifically aimed at library staff. The following organisations were used for this training (ranked in order of importance):

  • Regional and local library consortia. SINTO was mentioned by most of the respondents.
  • CILIP National Groups. CILIP subject groups run seminars and conferences including the annual Umbrella event. These cover specialist subjects and are very relevant to LIS staff.
  • Training companies and individual trainers. Libraries bring in trainers to meet specific WD needs
  • National training organisations e.g. Aslib
  • Local colleges and universities. Local departments of information studies make some courses open to local library staff. FE colleges support NVQs and other training.
  • On-line and print training materials. This includes material such as the Intute Virtual Training Suite.
  • CILIP Training & development at CILIP HQ. Most respondents said that these events were highly valued but that take-up was severely limited because of the costs of the seminars and the associated travel costs.
  • Local professional groups such as CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside Branch. The CILIP Branch would be used more but did not provide an active programme of events.

Respondents were asked to identify gaps in provision. The most common issue was the lack of events in the region compared to London. It was felt that events in London were not only expensive in themselves but that travel costs greatly added to the cost. Other gaps identified were courses for para-professional staff, briefings on new topics or technologies and general professional awareness updating.

I will discuss these results in my next blog.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Libraries vs Recession

The SINTO seminar Libraries vesus Recession looks at how libraries can help their local communities during the economic downturn.

When we were planning this event we were going to call it "Libraries and the credit crunch". The crunch turned into a downturn and then into a recession. We now seem to be coming out of the recession but the effects on individuals, businesses and communities will be long lasting. All politicians are talking about cuts in Government expenditure and that means cuts in services.

Libraries will no doubt suffer their share of cuts, but this seminar looks at what libraries can do to help their local communities. At a simple level libraries can help by providing free or low cost services such as book loans and Internet access, but this seminar will look at the information and advice services that libraries can deliver.

The seminar will start with a presentation by Christene Rooney-Browne author of an article Rising to the challenge: a look at the role of public libraries in times of recession (Library Review 2009 58(5) 341-352).

Robert Matthews of the Financial Services Authority will talk about their financial capability programme which aims to help people to manage their finances. He will discuss how libraries can contribute to this programme.

Speakers from Jobcentre Plus and Business Link Yorkshire will explain the services and information they offer to the unemployed and small businesses.

In a workshop, David Lindley of the Libraries Agency will focus on the role libraries already play, and the need to communicate this more effectively at local level (there's quite a lot of national advocacy going on) to ensure libraries are not overlooked when it comes to fighting for their fair share of dwindling resources.

In another workshop Tim Davies of Rotherham Libraries will lead an exchange of experience session. Bring along examples of what your library service is doing to share with colleagues.

Overall, the seminar will not only show librarians how they can expand their services to their communities but will give us an opportunity to show the speakers how we can work with other agencies.

Delegates will be welcomed to the seminar by Cllr Sylvia Dunkley, cabinet member from Sheffield City Council.

Details of the seminar are available on the SINTO website

Friday, 4 September 2009

Access by UK SMEs to journal articles

Access by UK small and medium-sized enterprises to
professional and academic information
Mark Ware Consulting Ltd for the Publishing Research Consortium

This is an interesting report as it addresses the problem that led to the creation of SINTO in 1932 - the provision of specialist journal articles to small businesses. The report points out that research journal literature is important to the success of many SMEs. While a majority (71%) of respondents for whom journal access was important reported reasonably good overall access to journals this figure was smaller than for large businesses and academic bodies. A majority (55%) reported that they had recently experienced problems in accessing articles and a payment barrier was the most likely cause. Again this was larger than the figure for large companies (34%) and universities (24%).
The majority of respondents in SMEs obtained journal articles via Pay Per View services. Where they had problems in obtaining articles in this way, the following alternatives were used
Look for an early version of article on web 28%
Check access via in-house library or information service 15%
Check access via colleagues subscription 15%
Approach author directly 11%
Check access via local academic library 7%
Request an ILL from library 7%
Check access via local public library 0%
Did not try any of above 11%

Respondents were also asked if they had used a variety of sources for meeting their general information needs (not just journals). Replies included professional society membership (81%), in-house information services (56%), local academic libraries (51%), ILLs via local libraries (42%) and local public libraries (38%). When asked about monthly frequency of use of different sources the results included professional society membership (10%), in-house information services (15%), local academic libraries (2%), ILLs via local libraries (1%) and local public libraries (1%). (The percentage represents the proportion of total uses).

The report concludes that access by SMEs via local academic libraries is currently negligible. Suggested reasons are lack of interest or resources among librarians, inconsistent or ambiguous publisher licences and the requirement for access to be provided on a walk-in basis.

SINTO has received e-mails from local companies that suggest that cost as a barrier to access to journal articles is a major problem for SMEs in the SINTO area and there is not much that SINTO can do to help. Although some of these journals will be held by local academic libraries, local SMEs cannot get on-line access to articles for a number of reasons.

SMEs are an important part of the local economy, as they were in the 1930s. It is a pity that we seem less able to respond now than we were then due, in part, to the present dominance of free-market thinking.