24 December 2009

Lessons from last year

Someone on LinkedIn asked what processes have been affecting the information profession most recently. This is my immidiate impression shaped by the experience of working in FE.

Information professionals' presence in FE colleges is still valuable, but the accents are changing; the last year taught me quite a lot.

Students on lower level courses almost disappeared from the library - those on vocational programmes like construction, hairdressing, catering used to use the library quite a lot for textbooks and as a learning space. Now a lot of the content of their courses is delivered on-screen as video and interactive products become cheaper and easier to use. I do not really see a place for librarians in that context.

Sure, many of those students would benefit from reader development and literacy programmes – that’s where librarians could offer their expertise, but funding for FE programmes is restrictive in what learners can get from colleges. I have entertained myself with an idea of a book club in the College until the recession brought me back to reality.

On the positive side, HE provision is developing in FE colleges and HE students are heavy users of learning resource services – both for content and support. Also Access students come often, ask many questions and spend a lot of time in our library. The level of literacy in general and digital literacy in particular among many students is low. Even the younger ones, who are supposed to be digital natives, seriously struggle with ALL information sources. Most often I see myself as an educator who teaches and guides people to find their way in the fragmented information landscape.

Many FE libraries would benefit from diverting some money to employing professionally educated librarians. Arrival of e-books has already made a serious impact – I have never seen so many requests for Athens access and questions about referencing online sources as since E-Books for FE was launched. Somehow, people grasp the concept of e-books very quickly and (my evidence is anecdotal at the moment) use them well. The majority of other e-resources we are subscribing to now are not likely to be in use next year – they can’t compete either in quality of content or usability with e-books. I will not be surprised if part of our printed resources budget is diverted to e-books provision next year too.

This leads me to thinking about a pressing need for developing new (at least - new for FE) ways of offering enquiry services. Obviously, these will be online ones. All our students are entitled to using learning resources; the proportion of online ones will be growing steadily. Consequently, there will be fewer reasons for learners to come to the college for accessing them - they can be accessed from anywhere. They still will require support and guidance... which will be offered online in the future.

Image: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/493668

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