09 October 2014

One size doesn’t fit all: budget implication for developing the HE in FE library provision

This article was written for the CoLRiC Newsletter in August 2014.

It is likely that most of FE colleges will see their HE provision growing rapidly in the near future – the Government wants to bring even more competition to the educational market and encourage innovative developments across the sectors. This offers both opportunities and challenges to learning resources services (LRS) in FE colleges. Here, I would like to suggest few budget-related ideas on how the HE-related developments could be successfully accommodated in FE LRS.

For the start, it is helpful to acknowledge in the collection development statement (policy) that the HE and FE programs may have competing priorities: many FE students require just one textbook to complete their course; HE students need access to a large amount of learning and research content. Therefore, the collection development principles applicable to the FE resources will not work for the HE-related learning resources.

The matter may be complicated further by a variety of agreements FE colleges have with their HE partners. In some cases, students will be enrolled both with the college and university; they are most likely to have full access to the learning resources the university offers, incl. remotely accessed digital content. In other cases, the HE programmes are only validated by the university partner; then, students are likely to be excluded from accessing the university resources. There can be anything in-between, e.g. college pays a flat fee per student for accessing certain resources for a course as determined by the university and its resource suppliers. And, of course, there are HNC and HND programmes from other awarding bodies. It will be wise to work all this out before committing to the specific collection development decisions.

All that considered, we should already anticipate a lot of “ifs” affecting our collection development practice. For example, if students have access to the university learning resources, it will make sense to spend the college library money on printed books and magazines and skip the digital products. Our managers should be made aware of such decisions – it reflects well on our professional specialism.

HE reading lists usually come divided into the essential and background reading titles. It is a normal practice to buy more of the essential titles (up to four copies per ten students, for example) and just one or two – of the non-essential ones. Making some of them for the reference use only will help to partially address the unavoidable lack of loanable resources.

Also, HE reading lists regularly refer to book chapters and journal articles; and these publications are often out-of-print. The CLA licence is handy as it permits limited copying and scanning of such content. Developing the scanning service is a good idea for the colleges with the growing HE provision. More and more journal content is also becoming accessible for free via Google Scholar

HE students may require access to comparatively expensive digital products. It is a good and common practice to enquire for discounts (especially if you have already subscribed to something else from the same publisher), special deals for consortiums the college is part of, and alternative licence terms, e.g. three concurrent users instead of the institutional access.

Many digital content providers have adopted a practice of long-term commitments – usually for three years – in exchange for a small discount on the annual fee; JISC Collections encourages such contracts. This gives certainty to both publishers and libraries, especially in regard of the price. Mistakes, if made in such cases, will cost dearly. From my experience, it often doesn’t pay committing to long-term contracts if only one tutor requests the resource.

How much money to spend on HE-related resources? – There is an argument for ring-fencing such spending. One of my college’s HE partners has requested from me to confirm that the college library had spent at least £50 per each student on their programmes in the previous year. This figure puts the funding conundrums into an interesting light: £50 is less than 1% of what the students pay in cash – usually borrowed from Student Loans Company – directly to the college. I bet, however, that there will be very few FE colleges where Finance Directors agree to even £50 of learning resources spending per HE student. Though the HE resources are not ring-fenced in my library budget for a number of reasons so far, I make sure that the HE-related expenditure is identifiable (for that I use the LMS reporting capacity) – it helps with advocacy for the library funding and is handy for addressing complains.

Finally, HE students are very active library users and they value library services and support. Perhaps, we should always ask them to donate the unwanted books at the end of the academic year. They may even want to organise a fundraising event as one of groups in my college did last year. They all contributed to the tea and cakes event and collected over £70; their university contributed the same amount to reward the initiative. The students and their tutor identified the most useful books for their second-year programme and the library helped to source them – new or second-hand – to maximise the value.

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