Frame the Future of Further Education with the Advocacy Framework

Further Education Games 2013 in Nottinghamshire

I was delighted to take part in the CILIP FE Inquiry which ran from April 2016 - January 2017. It has produced a brand new framework, FE librarians deliver successful learning journeys which is designed as an advocacy tool to promote the value of professionally qualified librarians and your services to college principals, Senior Management Teams (SMT), staff and students.

Why create a Framework?

In the spring of 2016 colleges began to take part in area reviews. As a result of this process, many colleges were merging and their libraries were faced with restructuring and redundancies.  

At the same time like most sectors FE was:

  • experiencing change 
  • suffering financial constraints
  • needing to demonstrate learning outcomes

Government and agencies like Ofsted and the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) want FE librarians and teaching staff to harness new technology to deliver quality teaching and upskill learners.
Given the environment, it seems an ideal time to examine the value librarians and their services brought to FE colleges and their learners.

Gathering evidence for the framework

CILIP’s Policy team consulted with Special Interest Groups(SIGs) including ARLG (Academic and Research Libraries Group), the Information Literacy Group as well as regional and other sector groups such as Jisc and the Council for Learning Resources in Colleges (CoLRiC) in drafting a survey. 

The survey aimed to gather evidence which would answer the question:

“What is the role of library, information and knowledge professionals and the services they provide in helping FE leaders and teaching staff meet the challenges of the next ten years?”

The survey asked what services and activities FE libraries offered their students and staff and the impact these had on their audience. The services set out in the survey ranged from loans and visits to promoting and teaching digital/information literacy and teaching learners to learn independently. From a teaching staff viewpoint it examined promoting excellence, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and providing knowledge and information to Senior Management Team. The questions also encompassed big picture impact on developing networks with outside stakeholders such as public libraries, Higher Education (HE), schools and employers.

A small scale questionnaire asked college Principals/SMT to weigh up whether their FE library positively affected students’ achievement and skill development in areas like digital/information literacy, reading, employability and also improved outcomes and development for staff. It also urged them to consider the librarians’ role in building relationships with external stakeholders and provide examples of this.

What our survey found

A common core FE library service emerged facilitating student learning by creating, updating, disseminating and managing electronic and printed resources, taught digital/information literacy and developed basic skills like reading. Principals, SMT and librarians viewed the promotion of British Values, e-safety and safeguarding as the essence of the library offer.  College SMT believed promoting reading for pleasure was an invaluable way librarians could improve learning outcomes for students.  

Promoting equality and diversity, managing college copyright licences for TV recording, showing films, coaching staff to create Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) content, building (VLE) courses for the curriculum, helping HE students to obtain skills for higher level study and supporting English and maths were also cited as significant. 

How you can use the Framework

So what is the Framework and what does it do? It:

  • encapsulates the interventions FE librarians make to benefit students
  • demonstrates the impact these interventions have on students/teaching staff
  • provides evidence of the outcomes of these interventions

I will be using the Framework as a tool for strategic planning. It will assist me in aligning myself and my team to college objectives so that we can set targets and develop activities which will match these and enable us to collect evidence of benefits for staff and learners. By doing this I will be able to further prioritise these by working out possible quick wins.

The evidence supporting the Framework will help to formulate stories about the importance of our services and interventions for our learners which we can utilise as elevator pitches with teaching staff, SMT, college staff and students. 

We can also recycle these as Self-Assessment Report (SAR) data for Ofsted and as promotional messages to engage more users to utilise our services and collaborate with us on further activities to develop students’ skills and knowledge for HE, employment and lifelong learning. 

In this way the Framework becomes an essential advocacy tool whether you are new to the FE sector or an experienced librarian working through mergers/austerity and need to prove the importance of activities and services you provide to your users.

What I learnt from taking part

Taking part in the inquiry helped me reflect on my professional skills as an FE librarian and librarians across all sectors. Helping develop the survey questions assisted me in clarifying in my mind the difference between service provision and librarian intervention of the something which Brettle and Maden (2016) found problematic in gathering evidence to support the use of qualified and trained library, information and knowledge workers sectorwide.  Defining this difference is essential in trying to measure Return on Investment (ROI) and impact.

Collaborating with other FE librarians and the policy team empowered me to establish what FE librarians did that mattered to their users and what was the value of professional skills both internally and externally. 

This has given me access to a helicopter view of the FE sector and weigh it against the bigger picture of lifelong development of knowledge and skills for students, teaching and library staff.