Post 16 Education Consultation Meeting

SLIC hosted a discussion meeting on 7th December to look closely at the Scottish Government’s proposals for Post 16 Education in Scotland and to help formulate the response. Entitled Putting Learners at the Centre– Delivering our Ambitions for Post-16 Education, the proposals could have far-reaching implications for libraries in different sectors. The summary of proposals was the basis of our debate, which was led by David Scott of Dundee College.

 The concerns raised included:

 Learners

  • This changes the demographic in colleges and younger learners need support.
  • Aspirations of the young people themselves will not be met by what is contained in the paper.
  • Colleges might not be able to offer courses as cheaply as private providers in education market but they offer other things like libraries, careers advice, additional support needs, etc, which the younger learners are even more likely to need that current learners.  Lots of voluntary organisations have pulled out of access level training because of costs and it is unclear if there is a market which is robust, quality and able to pick up slack.
  • Concern was expressed about the higher drop-out rate amongst young learners and the plans to penalise institutions if their retention rates slip.
  • Younger more vulnerable users will mean that libraries have a larger demand as the learners can’t buy resources for themselves and can’t necessarily study at home. It will cost the college more, for example, as they will need more liaison officers to keep students engaged and enrolled.

 Partnership working with other providers for adults

  • Structural changes and reduced capacity will have an impact on vulnerable areas and groups where previously they have been well-served by local authority community learning and development provision and this helps keep people in learning.
  • Need to look at the profile of 16-19 year olds on a regular basis to ensure that the real problems are being addressed and the type of library service who support these individuals may be very different from the types of services we currently plan to provide or do provide.
  • The vulnerable group of youths are the ones to have concerns about – they won’t go to college who don’t have skills or confidence and they will suffer disproportionately. They need a special type of support and they can’t be shoe horned into the wrong institutions or they will fail to survive and retention rate drops will be punished. The library staff are the ones who sit down with them to do a literature search or who work with them at a pace which suits their learning style better.
  • They lack confidence and skills and won’t go to local colleges even if it’s down the road because they don’t think they’re good enough. Strategies will need to focus on who the learners are.

 Regionalisation

  • Most people will travel for specialisms but this has an impact on people in terms of time and money. In many parts of Scotland learners are often local and take a pick from the curriculum because they are looking for a local solution.
  • Economic deprivation is a real issue because the transport costs aren’t refunded at a time which makes it possible for families to support the learners in the meantime.
  • Budget cuts are driving a regionalisation agenda and makes the delivery of curriculum and qualifications much more focused.
  • Progression routes of access to education at any age affected by this.
  • Non-certificated courses will be one area greatly affected, if this is introduced, and this is the starting point for many, before they develop the skills and confidence to progress into formal education.
  • The issues about IPR, copyright and licensing are considerable when sharing resources/VLEs across regions.
  • Teaching joint course might be an attractive option but it doesn’t necessarily mean a cost reduction and there are huge issues about support and quality.
  • The licensing models haven’t changed so it might be useful for Scottish Government to help pressure change by the publishers. SHEDL is a model but it is under pressure and expansion will be limited as the straightforward publishers’ content is already included and the licensing for other services/publishers will be much harder to negotiate.

 Learning

  • Concern as expressed about a narrowing of the curriculum and education is defined as narrow vocationalism.
  • Need for consistency of decision making about funding for the same courses across Scotland and there were example around the table of variation.
  • Capacity in colleges, the community, local authorities, private and third sector is all reduced, so clear routes and funding for those outside the main college focus need to have other alternatives.
  • This requires funding support for courses other than core skills or qualifications over SCQF level 6.

Rhona Arthur, Assistant Director

Working in a Digital Age: 10th Anniversary ebooks Conference 21st Oct 2010

Yesterday I attended the 10th Anniversary e-books conference, held in the impressive surroundings of the Playfair Library in Edinburgh. The day was opened with reflections on 10 years of ebooks by Catherine Nicholson, Head of Learning Resources at the Glasgow School of Art. She took us through the history of ebooks, starting with the inception of Project Gutenberg in 1971 taking in some milestones, including the first ebook readers in 1998 and Stephen King’s experiment of releasing a book online in 2000, to the digital landscape as it is today.

The ebooks market has developed a great deal since then – and since the first ebooks conference – with digital reading starting to move into the mainstream and to be less focused on the academic. However, it still can’t be regarded as mature, with the proliferation of devices and lack of interoperability standards meaning that the market is still fractured and often confusing. Catherine suggested that it would be more useful, perhaps, to regard this as being the end of the beginning.

Caren Milloy, Head of Projects at JISC Collections, gave an overview of the current digital landscape. She believes that it is important that publishers look forward and try and adapt to new ways of working and, where possible, lead. Using an interesting example in another industry (that of Playboy) Caren demostrated that it is better to try and embrace chance and to innovate.

Not quite sure how everyone felt about that particular part, but Caren’s point was correct. Publishers won’t, in the long run, be successful if they expect that they can force people into buying the paper textbooks, if there is a better alternative.

She also demonstrated a couple of examples of the way that enhancing ebooks can make them more attractive to readers, whether this be by adding value, as in the case of Enhanced Editions being offered by Canongate. Another interesting concept is shown off in this video from IDEO:

Though there were many positive developments and a great deal of potential for ebooks, Caren did finish on a little bit of a low note, her feeling being that, in light of the previous day’s comprehensive spending review, innovation could be difficult at a time of shrinking budgets across many library sectors.

Next, Professor David Nicholas of University College London, discussed the implications for libraries and librarians with the rise of the “Google Generation.” I have to admit that this is a term which I sometimes have problems with. The term, as it is generally used, suggests that everyone born after 1982 does things differently from their predecessors, making little allowance for variations in access and engagement within that age group. This could have repercussions for those that aren’t fully engaged. Happily, the conclusion that Professor Nicholas draws is that, in fact, we are all the Google Generation.

In an interesting and thought-provoking discussion he mapped out the challenges that there are for library services as digital becomes more widespread. On the one hand, the increase in the free availability of digital data is a positive thing for the information profession, it does have associated with it the spectre of disintermediation, which is a threat to the sector.

There were aspects that may be construed as controversial. In describing a great deal of information gathering as “horizontal” rather than “vertical” (in other words that there is a tendency towards the shallow understanding of a subject) he did raise the spectre of dumbing down. Though I should be clear, this isn’t to imply any fear of new technology from Professor Nicholas, as one often sees in hand-wringing articles about the growth of online resources.

Helen Ellis, from Springer, gave a short presentation on the Springer/SHEDL ebooks project. It’s good to see that Springer don’t place any DRM restrictions on their ebooks!

Leading up to lunch, Jon Trinder, PhD student at Glasgow University, gave an interesting talk on the growth of and use of mobile technologies in learning. He gave us a short history of mobile technologies and went on to discuss some of the trials that have been attempted to gain an insight into how students make use of it.

Unfortunately, they did find a number of barriers to doing this, not least that students don’t always wish to cooperate with these trials.

Using the example of Iron Bridge he also suggested that mobile learning has a lot of development yet (though some things are changing) as people aren’t yet used to the technology, and what makes it unique.

Jon’s talk was so packed with information that he, unfortunately, conscious that he was in the slot leading to lunch time, found himself rushing the second part. However, he had given plenty for us to chew on.

Checking my Twitterfeed at lunchtime I saw a link to the article in the Bookseller about the attempts by publishers to restrict off-site access to ebooks for borrowers. Pertinent, if worrying.

Debbie Boden, of Glasgow Caledonian University, looked at many things, including the changes that digital technology is bringing to library services (and many other aspects of out lioves). Digital engagement is important, but there are challenges that come with this. One of the most important things to consider is actually the terminology. “Digital Literacy” has slipped into common usage, but people don’t like to be described as illiterate. Perhaps this discussion needs to be framed in a different way.

Taking us through some things which may seem counterintuitive (students actually requesting that Facebook be banned from some areas, and that there be parts of the library that are like a “traditional library,” for example), and the idea of your digital footprint, there was a lot to think about. The digital footprint part was interesting: we tend to hear a lot in the press about employers searching for prospective employees online and rejecting them for things that they’ve posted. However, the opposite is true. If your online presence suggests, for example, that you have good communication skills, they may view this positively.

The Digital Economy Act, one of the final pieces of legislation to pass the last parliament is controversial, and has potential consequneces for the library and information sector. Head of Partnerships and Professional Adviser at the National Library of Scotland, Janice McFarlane, laid out the challenges that face library and information services in the wake of this bill.

Finally, Elize Rowan, from Edinburgh University Library, outlined many of the issues faced by acquisitions departments in libraries with the shift towards an increase in digital content. These include the inclusion of poor quality MARC records (which if not dealt with can have consequences for the library user), Digital Rights Management and issues around concurrent access, long-term access and – bizarrely – the insistence of some publishers that institutions make a 20 book minimum purchase.

There was a melancholy air to some of the presentations, given the disruptiveness of new technologies and the impact comprehensive spending review, which had been announced the day before. Overall though, I took a great deal from the day, and I hope that everyone else found it to be a success.

New Economic Reality

This conference, rather ironically held in the plush surroundings of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh’s financial quarter, provided a range of high level speakers to address the age of austerity and where and how to fill the deficit gap. The main focus was the Independent Budget Review published by a group led by Crawford Beveridge CBE. Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the report was published in July 2010. There weren’t many laughs in the content – a reduction in the block grant, declining outcomes in education and health despite a higher per capita spend and unaffordable levels of public sector pensions. Robert Black, Auditor General, has been widely quoted in the press, said at the conference we should have prepared for this sooner and to be prepared for a long hard financial winter. A range of other distinguished speakers followed talking sacrifice of sacred cows and putting forward their cases for continued investment. Douglas Sinclair of Consumer Focus Scotland pointed out that all of this was service-centric and failed to take into account the needs of the citizen. Martin Woodrow of the British Medical Association defended ring-fencing health strongly, but failed to secure the support of any of the 200+ delegates.

The most striking speaker was Professor Frances Ruane of Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute who spoke bluntly about Irish solutions and the impact on the economy and individuals and put forward a plea for a monitoring body to measure rolling fairness. The idea is to avoid the same group in society being hit repeatedly by cuts. A panel of representatives for the five political parties gave their views on what they might protect or sacrifice first. Brian Adam MSP spoke for the Scottish Government saying they want to ringfence health budget and protect concessionary travel, free personal care and no rise in the Council tax. The sell-off of Scottish Water is also planned with significant financial benefits, although this will take time. Other solutions suggested are scrapping the Borders Railway and other large public projects. The bad news is that public sector workers account for 60% of the Government expenditure and so years of pay freezes, reductions in staffing by natural wastage, non-compulsory and compulsory redundancies face Scotland. The political parties are all developing their manifestos at the moment and Frances Ruane advised that they all agree on a savings figure and say clearly how they intend to achieve that. As Robert Black says ‘do nothing is not an option’.

Volunteers and Libraries

At two recent events in London in recent days, colleagues have expressed various views about the role of volunteers in libraries. The first was CILIP Council and the changing of the old Library Association statement on volunteers and job substitution to something a little softer. The proposal had been raised at the Branches and Groups Forum and CILIPS representative Sheila Miller made her views about volunteers very clear. Volunteers, as most library managers are aware, are not ‘free’; they have to be checked and this is expensive, they have to be trained and they require support. Speaking to Rory McLeod of the Standards Council recently he expressed it simply ‘3 hours input for 1 hours output’. Volunteering in Scottish libraries is nothing new – we already register over 36,000 volunteer hours per year and they are really helpful delivering housebound services, IT buddying, story-times and other activities like mystery shopping. The vexed question of volunteers is how do organisations like CILIP value the contribution of volunteering and balance that with the mandatory delivery of services?

The second meeting was the Public Library Statistics Working Party of CIPFA which considered whether library managers should start to record all the different types of volunteers – presumably to be able to evidence how many jobs are transferred to volunteers and any change in the customer satisfaction levels. This appeared to be dangerous territory again. Whilst it may be an unpleasant reality that some libraries may be run by volunteers, do we really want to flag this up as a viable service option. Libraries are a trusted brand, as highlighted in Bob Usherwood’s research of 2003, and we need to think about how we protect the value of our brand.

Valuing our professional differences

LLUK held their annual seminar at the Scottish parliament on 15th September. The discussion was chaired by Martyn Wade, LLUK Council Member and Chair of LLUK’s Scotland Committee and focused on workforce development. The specific challenge was ‘how do we create a single lifelong learning workforce for Scotland’s future?’

LLUK has six constituencies: HE, FE, Community Learning and Development, Work Base Learning, Libraries Archives and Information Services (LAIS), and Career Guidance. The immediate response is, of course, whether this is a ‘good thing’ and then shouldn’t we be celebrating our unique contribution since we all meet the needs of our customers with proven success? Each of the sectors had a chance to put forward ways of joining up approaches to CPD, common standards and qualifications, sharing of resources and ways of overcoming barriers.

The discussions were of particular interest in a week when LLUK proposed changing the title of the LAIS National Occupation Standards (NOS) to Knowledge management services, Information and knowledge management services, or Information and knowledge services. In a stated attempt to avoid jargon, the title of one section is suggested at ‘Managing the interface with the customer’. During the development of the last set of NOS, LLUK promoted a generic approach but we have to consider what defines our profession, wide as it already is. We have to balance new skills with traditional, professional ones.

In an interesting discussion, the group agreed that shared competencies and values can sit comfortably at the core and accommodating the uniqueness of sector partners is vital. The event was followed by a Garden Lobby sponsored by Des McNulty MSP.

Doctor Who and libraries

Since the CILIPS screening of the Hollywood Librarian, we’ve been somewhat preoccupied with the portrayal of libraries and librarians in TV and film. The most recent two-part instalment of Doctor Who, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead (Series 4, Episodes 8 and 9), were therefore an absolute treat.

The Doctor and current assistant Donna Noble respond to a call for help and end up on a 51st Century planet known as The Library which, despite being planet-sized, is recognisably such and replete with books. In fact, the Doctor reassures us that the durable format that is the book is still going strong in 20 centuries time, seeing off competition from holovids, direct brain downloads and fiction mists! And, at the centre of the planet, maintaining order is the index computer, the highly evolved library management system!

However, The Library is devoid of patrons. Any concerns that this was a reference to the declining use of libraries or, worse, a representation of the death of libraries, are quickly dispelled as the Doctor sets about solving the mystery.

Along the way there are many references to the power of libraries and books, from feeding the imagination of the little girl at the centre of the mystery to preserving culture and history via physical records. In fact, this latter function is realised literally when the dependable library triumphs in “saving” (in binary form) the planet’s inhabitants from cannibalistic parasites. (Never mind that the parasite’s presence there was a result of their natural habitat being cut down to make the books!)

There have also been minor ripples of excitement for librarian types in previous episodes. In The Doctor’s Daughter (Series 4, Episode 6) Donna harnesses her knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, which she claims to have mastered in “two days flat” while working as a library assistant in Hounslow Library, to crack a numerical code and end a war. One wonders, however, if she could really have been referring to all four volumes (3,983 pages) of Edition 22 of the Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index published by OCLC!

In the following episode (The Unicorn and the Wasp, Series 4, Episode 7), the Doctor reveals the future of digital publishing, telling Donna that Agatha Christie’s books are still read in future millennia. Previous literary appearances have included Charles Dickens (with ghosts, at Christmas of course) and William Shakespeare (stalked by three ugly crones).

Although libraries, literature and books are well represented, the same cannot be said for cataloguers. The Judoon, the rhinoceros-headed villains of Smith and Jones (Series 3, Episode 1), fancied themselves as a Galactic police force but were mainly occupied with the business of cataloguing people, roaming the galaxy with their methodical mantra and scanners at the ready for, ultimately, nefarious purposes!