Wednesday, 27 April 2011

From Lending to Learning

In a recent post I explained that SINTO was developing a training programme called Preparing for the Future which was an integrated programme of workforce development events and activities. The goal was to match training outcomes with the strategic goals of the libraries in our region.

Of course for this to happen the libraries concerned have to have a clear idea of what their strategic goals are and for public libraries in particular this is often a problem. It's not that public libraries don't have strategic goals - on the contrary they often work under detailed statements of mission, goals, aims and objectives. The problem is that that they are often diverse and sometimes unclear. Librarians often feel that local councillors and senior officers don't understand what the role of the library is or could be but professional librarians themselves don't always agree on the fundamental role of the library service or what its future direction should be. Should the emphasis be on excellence or equity? Is the priority to get greater footfall and higher issues? Should the library service be measured by its contribution to other government agendas or against its own values?

A recent contribution to this debate is Rónán O'Beirne. Rónán is director for learning development at Bradford College and before that was a librarian with first Haringey Libraries and then Bradford Public Libraries. He has published From Lending to Learning: the development and extension of public libraries.

Rónán's thesis is that the role of the library has less to do with books and more to do with "literacies, people, the human condition and social justice - and … much to do with learning." Learning for Rónán is not about following accredited courses to obtain qualifications but rather with informal lifelong learning. Public libraries should exist not only to give people access to the resources they need for learning but to provide a learning space, develop information literacy skills and provide support and guidance. He suggests for example that public libraries should provide their users with access to a Virtual Learning Environment such as Moodle.

Rónán warns against the tendency to equate the iconic significance of the book with the public library, claiming that "it bestows upon the public library a reverence it rarely deserves based solely on the books it stores." Instead the library "needs to focus on learners. This shift of emphasis needs to be championed by library leaders and set before the users of the service in a clear way". He also says that in calling for a raised priority for learning we must challenge the book-lending role of the public library.

Such statements will inevitably attract criticism from those who see book lending as the libraries' main function. Tim Coates is not alone in criticising "the constant denial by librarians of the connection with books that has not only led to libraries having less books, but to the public finding libraries to be less useful, and thence to them being closed". However I believe that this is not a denial of the connection with books but instead an argument that libraries are about more than books, they are about how and why people use and value books – and that is for learning. Rónán draws attention to the role of the reference library and points out the paradox that the explosion of information, rather than increasing the role of the reference library, is making it redundant in its current form. However this does show that libraries did have a valid role that was not about lending books and suggests that a new learning role could develop that also is not obsessed with loans.

Rónán's aim is to free librarians from the burden of diverse goals that often relate to other people's agendas and replace these with a single coherent goal that looks back to the traditional roots of public librarianship and forward to the needs of our communities and the imperatives of technology. He is critical of some current professional thinking and there is much in this book to take issue with - but that is part of its value. You might disagree with this book but the concept of a clearly defined "big idea" at the heart of what it is that public libraries are all about is attractive and powerful.

From Lending to Learning is published by Chandos.

Next Generation 12

The long established Next Generation programme (provided by SINTO and Renaissance Yorkshire) will be running in 2011-2012 with delegates from eleven organisations.
It is not too late to book for the whole programme but it will also be possible to book for individual workshops over the next 12 months at a price of only £60 per workshop (plus VAT).

Next Generation 12 will cover the following topics:
  • Managing yourself
  • People management
  • Leadership and team working
  • Change management
  • Project management
  • Financial management
  • Communication skills
  • Influencing & persuading
  • Marketing
  • Creative thinking

 The exact schedule is developed with the candidates at the start of the course. Workshops are held at various locations throughout Yorkshire. If you are interested in receiving details of the workshops please contact


What they said about Next Generation 11:

 "I have learnt so much from this course and it is so refreshing to be able to go back to the office and immediately see how to put theory in to practice. I have kept experimenting with ideas and concepts and developed the way I use them. I am REALLY going to miss the course and the people. I am hoping I can convince others to support the course from the organisation."
"The overall standard of the course was excellent, and I would definitely recommend it to others."
 "I'd like to pass on my thanks to all involved for the delivery of a really interesting course. It has had a big and lasting impact on my personal development and working practice. I can think of many instances where I've come back to work after a Next Generation session, enthused and fired up, ready to share what I have learnt with the rest of our team."
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for a wonderful course. It has been a fantastic opportunity and I have learnt so much over the last 12 months that has and will continue to contribute towards my development as a manager. A great starting point to the challenging journey into management!"


To book a place or for further information contact:

Carl Clayton
The Learning Centre
Sheffield Hallam University
Collegiate Crescent
Sheffield S10 2BP
0114 225 5739


Friday, 15 April 2011

Closed for training

The Library is closed for
staff training on
Improving Services
to Customers

This is an old joke but is making a serious point. Many library services are facing cuts to training budgets and I covered that in a previous blog. But some library services are also reporting that it is becoming increasingly difficult to release staff to attend training events because reduced staff numbers mean there is less cover. Many colleagues report that it is difficult to juggle the timetable to enable even a single person to be out of the library for a day and that sickness can easily throw these plans into disarray.

So does this mean that some libraries will have to give up on training staff or that the above notice will be seen more frequently? I doubt that many librarians would contemplate closing a service point to release staff for training but we should all be asking ourselves the question "What is more important - opening the library or training staff?" If you think the answer to this is obvious then ask yourself if you would open the library if you didn't have any books? Of course not! The point is that keeping the library open is not an end in itself - it is a means of providing access to the resources and services you provide. An open library is only of use if it provides your users with what they want and part of this has to be a workforce with the skills and knowledge required to provide that service. If your workforce doesn't have those skills and that knowledge then why are you opening the library?

This only makes sense of course if the training you are contemplating is essential - and by that I mean essential to the library services and not just to the individual needs of library staff. Training, in the sense of workforce development, has to relate to the core strategic goals of the library; the goals that explain why the library is there, why it opens its doors every morning, why it employs library staff.

The following statement on Preparing for the Future is being discussed by the SINTO Training Group in an attempt to develop a training programme that delivers these core goals. If your library would like to be a part of this please get in touch.

Preparing for the Future
The biggest challenge recognised by professional librarians is the need to make fundamental changes in the way in which libraries, and library staff, operate. This is not a result of budget cuts but rather an ongoing development responding to environmental changes. SINTO is responding to the challenges facing the sector by launching a new programme: Preparing for the Future.

Preparing for the Future is an integrated programme of workforce development events and activities. The goal is to strengthen the link between training outcomes and the strategic goals of the library and the organisation it services. The programme has the following aims:

• Events will be affordable and sustainable.

• They will meet the strategic goals of the organisation.

• They will form an integrated package of value to libraries from all sectors.

• There will be long term support and opportunities for networking.

• Local libraries will contribute to the planning and development of courses.

• Libraries will be confident that releasing staff to attend events will outweigh any temporary reduction in frontline services.

• There will be measurable outcomes.

Preparing for the Future has begun with discussions with the SINTO Training Group to identify training needs linked to the strategic goals of libraries. So far the following areas have been identified:

• Impact of library services and advocacy. Hoe we identify and measure the impact of libraries and use this information to gain support and influence in our organisations.

• Income generation. Re-thinking our approach to raising funds from both our own organisation and external sources.

• Marketing library services to users and non-users.

• Community engagement. Building and maintaining partnerships with your community.

• Behavioural competences. Soft skills of value to both front line and managerial staff.

• IT developments. Electronic books, mobile devices etc aimed at both professional and front-line staff.

Many of these are cross sectoral and benefits will accrue from sharing experiences between different libraries. Some activities will focus on individual sectors (e.g. feedback from the Future Libraries project).

In summary, Preparing for the Future is about workforce development. It is not about sending staff out of the library to meet their individual professional development needs; it is about bringing skills and knowledge into the library to achieve the objectives of your organisation.