15 September 2010

Professional development and progression opportunities in FE libraries

My CoFHE Conference 2010 paper.

A year ago, when I was acting College Librarian, I had to look at the recruitment practice in my College and I was somewhat puzzled: only "good GCSEs/O-Levels" were expected from candidates for posts as Learning Resources Assistant (LRA). A minimal library-related qualification was expected from Senior LRAs.

I was puzzled because the vast number of learners coming to the library with enquiries were on programmes exceeding GCSE level. An apparent discrepancy in qualifications and skills of library support staff on the one hand, and learners’ needs – as I understood them – has bothered me. Our employers would not dream of allowing the same to happen in classrooms.

Another issue I got concerned with was the virtual impossibility for support staff to move up the ladder to professional posts in a library.

This paper is an attempt to look critically at the current situation with recruitment practice and professional progression and development opportunities in FE libraries.

28 April 2010

Library as a means of social change

Access to learning resources will be an important issue in education in the context of addressing the socio-economic inequality that a recently passed Equality Act is talking about. I hope libraries in FE colleges will have a chance to contribute hugely to giving free and equal access to learning resources, information and IT facilities to learners from all the backgrounds.

In the student's shoes

One of unexpected outcomes of entering the Award for Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector course, PTLLS, was my ability to look at learning resources provision in the College through the learners’ eyes. It made me question some assumptions librarians get during their professional training.

Being a student in Atherstone, one of the College's outreach centres, means having a limited access to books; at the same time, very few core texts for Teacher Training have been published as e-books yet. To address the difficulties, the College library has done several things:

  • we checked all the resources on the reading list whether new editions were available;
  • purchased additional copies of the most popular texts even if it meant having a dozen or more copies of the same title (to make sure that nobody has to wait for more than a couple of weeks for a core text);
  • created a simple search (http://bit.ly/ptlls_read) on the library online catalogue, Heritage, which would bring up on the screen all the recommended resources in one click;
  • made it possible to request library books online for collection and return in Atherstone;
  • and finally, promoted all our efforts to students.

After seven months, we have looked at the results and they were astounding. We expected an increase in book loans by PTLLS students, but nothing like 643% we got, from 143 loans previous year to 920 in 2009-2010! (The increase in students' number was very small.)

07 April 2010

Another way for literacy development

The Guardian published a story of a (used to be) reluctant reader who found iPhone exactly what he needed for getting into reading. He also mentions why smartphones can be helpful for people with dyslexia. - http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/apr/06/iphone-makes-reading-books-easier

25 March 2010

Quick Reads return to library

Sometimes the simplest ideas make a big difference.

A few years ago a section with books for emerging readers (those who would prefer shorter and simpler texts) was dispersed. The reason for this was a comment from a member of the college staff that it might embarrass less literacy-able students if others saw them going to the shelf with those books. The result was unfortunate: several hundreds of good books were buried among others and hardly ever used.

Librarians have tried teaching emerging readers and pathfinders catalogue searching skills. It was not successful, as searching requires a certain level of literacy which was not present yet in some of our users. It was sad to see that we had under-used resources and, at the same time, there were learners whose needs we could not satisfy. There was something wrong with our practice.

Eventually, we decided to remove Quick Reads publications and similar books from the main classification sequence. Instead of a shelf case at the back, as years ago, the most prominent spot in the library in Nuneaton has been allocated for that collection. Since then, hardly a day passes without Quick Reads being borrowed. Tutors come with learners to guide their emerging interests in reading, while learners come on their own to browse through a few shelves. Library staff now have opportunities for assisting our emerging readers in discovering ever greater possibilities. A simple idea has turned to be a real success.

02 March 2010

Facebook in FE: a tutor on pros and cons (guest post)

Our College has produced a brilliant example of appropriate and very active use of social networking in education. A photography tutor, James Cunliffe, who initiated the whole project shares his experience and views on benefits and pitfalls of engaging with Facebook for supporting learning.


It is a format most students are familiar with and use frequently. Before starting the page I asked how many of my group had a Facebook account and how often they used it. All but one of the 26 of them had an account and every single one of them checked it every night.

It is a private group. Students must request to join or be invited.

All content is private and cannot be viewed by other Facebook users.

Students can add content such as links to websites, create or participate in discussions or simple ask for help on the group’s wall. All of these things create a sense of ownership with the students.

Tutors can also create or add content such as links to TV programmes they should watch, websites they should look at or news articles of specific interest.

The creator can allocate specific members of the group (staff) admin status allowing them the ability to remove any inappropriate content. (For the record I have never had to remove anything posted)

My students use it a great deal in terms of asking for help from each other which is especially important as they only attend college three days a week. A question from one can elicit a response from three or four students offering help and suggestions.

It is a joint first and second year group page and many of the students converse with each other here first despite never having met formally or being in the same year. This develops both friendships and support networks, especially with the second years are more experienced.

All of the members can be messaged quickly and simply should there be any information that needs to be sent to all (or even just one.) It also allows individual students to contact you privately should there be an issue they wish to talk confidentially to you. It appears as a message in your Facebook inbox and feels less formal than an email.

Everything posted can be commented on by any member, often starting impromptu discussions which can be continued in class.

Photographs and videos can be posted. For us, as a creative course this is invaluable but we also post photographs from events such as visiting lecturers and trips.

Educational trips can be posted as an event with the students receiving an invite by email which also promotes a sense of belonging. Links to relevant websites can also be attached.

All member information remains private, i.e. whilst we are all in the same group the students cannot view any of the staff’s Facebook pages nor can we access theirs.

By embracing this social networking it has had the effect of “decriminalising” Facebook and whilst a year ago students’ sneakily looking on Facebook during a class was a problem, this seems to have diminished considerably.

I check the groups’ page most nights however when I have not done so for a few days the notification icon at the top of the page will direct me to any new posts or comments.


Word documents and PowerPoint’s cannot be posted and only go on Moodle. It is more interactive than Moodle however it has not replaced it. Indeed all of the links posted on the Facebook page are put on to the group’s Moodle page.

Some students initially used it as a place to notify me of their absence however this has now been addressed.

Not all students have a Facebook account due to having no access to the internet or the possible disapproval of their parents.

Tutors may not have an account and may be unfamiliar with the layout and process of managing a page. They may also not have the time to manage the site. (In my experience however it does not take a huge amount of time or effort, especially as it is so democratic with other tutors and students contributing)


Whilst there are a few disadvantages associated with creating and managing a course Facebook page I am without doubt that the benefits far outweigh them. Since creating the page in October 2009 it has provided invaluable support to the majority of my students and has become a forum that they trust, respect and use to a potential I did not expect or even realise was possible.

23 February 2010

Facebook can help pupils pass English

School adopts experimental GCSE prep course that teaches language skills through social media (TES, 19 February 2010)

I liked this especially: “This is using what they already know and pushing them in the right direction” (about using social media for learning).

11 February 2010

Copyright for creators

This guide is available in print from the NWHC library.

As consumers of information, music, films and other works, we come across Copyright which is a measure protecting the authors’ rights.

Any content we create is also protected by Copyright. We take photos, compose and record music, create PowerPoint presentations, write blogs and computer games, twitter etc. Other people should not use the works created by us (e.g. publish our texts on their blogs, perform our music on public, use our photographs in newsletters) without our permission or at least acknowledging us as their authors.

There are exceptions to this rule, most notable are: performing, copying or lending works for educational purposes, and using works for personal study or research.

Copyright is an automatic right. The author does not have to do anything special for her/his rights to be respected and protected by law.

For more details about Copyright (as well as Top 10 Copyright Myths) see http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/

Creative Commons

The traditional forms of Copyright enforcement are often less helpful for digital works (digital photographs, computer stored music, website templates etc.) than for more traditional ones like printed books and films on DVDs.

Nowadays, we are happy to share our works with other people and upload them online where it’s easy to copy and make changes to them. At the same time we may want to be assured that other people do not present our works as their creation.

For this purpose, a new set of licenses was created. It is called Creative Commons. These licenses allow a creator to be quite specific about the ways he/she wants those works to be used; for example, it is possible to specify that a work can be freely copied or shared providing it is properly attributed to the author, that it cannot be used for commercial purposes and cannot be changed in any way.

All the Creative Commons licenses are explained in a formal, but easy to understand language at http://creativecommons.org/international/uk/.

Normally, it is sufficient to add to a work or its metadata (e.g. each mp3 file carries data about the title, composer, performer of the track etc.; this is called metadata; normally all the digital works like photographs, videos etc. carry metadata too) a short phrase like This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

There is a tool which can help to choose an appropriate license and its wording (as well as with registering a work if it’s to be uploaded online) - http://creativecommons.org/choose/.

A number of large websites use Creative Commons. The most notable is Flickr. Millions of people use those licenses for their simplicity and flexibility.

There are search engines which allow finding Creative Commons licensed works, e.g. http://search.creativecommons.org/. Also Google’s advanced search allows to filter down images according to their license, e.g. to look for only those which can be freely copied and legally shared.

For more information about Copyright for digital works, see a book Digital Copyright by Paul Pedley - http://bit.ly/5hdpYu.

Copyright for creators by Ihar Ivanou, North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

05 January 2010

Library in virtual learning spaces

Although academic libraries have been highly effective in supporting research, Professor McKnight said that they needed to prove equally adept at supporting learning and teaching.

This should include offering their resources to students in "virtual learning spaces" and via mobile phone as well as on site, she said.