As further education campuses prepare to unlock their doors this summer, college libraries and learning resource centres (LRCs) have a key part to play. And while buildings may have been closed back in March, libraries across the country have been very much open for business online.
At a recent E-books for FE drop-in clinic we caught up with nearly 100 FE and sixth form learning resources staff to hear about their experiences of lockdown and how they are getting ready for next term, building on their emergency response. We uncovered a wealth of ideas and insights as well as a number of concerns and challenges across the sector. It is perhaps a sign of the drive and commitment of staff that so many chose to participate in a particularly sunny half-term week!
What are we learning?
- Colleges which have grown their digital library capacity in recent years have been able to build on their existing online provision and offer students and teachers valuable continuity
- Digital library content, such as the Jisc E-books-for-FE service, has enabled learning resources staff to respond to the needs of teachers for flexible content that students can access from home
- Libraries have appreciated temporary access to extra subscription content during lockdown, such as the Jisc vocational learning resources, as well as journals and books from commercial publishers
- Library staff digital skills have been valuable in adapting to online service delivery, enabling them to work together remotely as well as help teachers and students to use online platforms and tools
- Libraries are ready to share inspiration, challenges and solutions – a valuable skill in a crisis
Keeping up awesome interaction online
So how are libraries gearing up?
While colleges are at different stages of readiness when it comes to reopening buildings and reshaping their library delivery model, there are several common themes across the sector. What stands out is libraries’ drive to maintain high quality support and interaction with their students and teachers:
- Planning for reopening of physical learning spaces, including safe access to books and computers, is the immediate challenge. Many libraries are looking to emulate the supermarkets and offer ‘click and collect’, with online appointments for help and advice on finding and using resources
- There is a need to expand e-book and e-journal provision to reduce dependency on print and to support more flexible learning and teaching; however many libraries envisage a need to maintain some degree of print provision
- Concerns for curriculum areas where required texts are not available in suitable digital formats, are prohibitively expensive or are subject to licenses poorly suited to an educational environment
- Engagement is a major theme. Time and money invested in acquiring e-resources will only reap benefits if learners and teachers are motivated to pick up that content and have the skills to use it effectively
- The shift towards delivering LRC inductions and library skills teaching online will be a challenge. While some colleges already have some elements in place (e.g. tutorials on the VLE), for others it will be a brand new venture. Some are keen to introduce creative solutions such as video to complement or replace f2f library tours
- Student and staff support has switched from f2f conversations to online channels with some success. These channels include e.g. Microsoft Teams, ‘ask a librarian’ chat, email and social media. LRC staff are keen to maintain visibility and promote a friendly, personal, human touch online. They also recognise that some students could fall through the net because they lack the confidence to ask for help or because they lack the skills to tap into the digital library. Library staff have a keen interest in the digital wellbeing of students as well as that of their own teams.
The accelerated shift to more online learning and teaching is creating new demands and uncertainties. The good news is that college libraries are determined to be – as one participant succinctly put it – ‘an excellent resource students like’.
Access to new ideas and positivity
We asked participants to share their top takeaways from this very well-attended, highly participative webinar. These included:
- Specific ideas people intended to explore as a result of attending included: induction videos, webinars, ‘ask a librarian’ chat, podcasts and supporting students and staff wherever they may be
- Many people welcomed the fact that CoLRiC has generously shared advice in Unlocking libraries – CoLRiC guidance for post lockdown reopening
- Above all, participants welcomed the realisation that they and their teams are not alone.
Going on the evidence of our event, many college libraries and LRCs are coming out of lockdown with their digital resources higher up the college agenda, their digital skills reinforced and their team communications strengthened. The demands of social distancing and stock quarantine may restrict some physical aspects of their services, but for the digital college library, the doors are already open.
You can access recordings and resources from the event on 27 May, as well as others in the series, via the E-books for FE drop-in clinics page. Handy links to help college libraries and LRCs prepare and reshape their services can also be found in this wakelet.
In response to demand we’re running a further drop-in webinar on 24 June. For further details see the Jisc Training page. All our FE members with an interest in learning resources and library provision are welcome to come and continue the conversation.