How can we improve our information literacy offerings in Further Education?

My name is Jo and I am new to the ILG, having been swooped on whilst attending LILAC at Easter. I think they were desperate! I am the Library manager – official, rather wordy, title is Team Leader for Learning Services (Resources) – at Truro and Penwith College in Cornwall, where I split my time across the two main sites. This is my first year in the role, but I have worked as a deputy on the Penwith site for the past 8 years.

Photo of Jo Lapham
Jo Lapham

Start of year has been crazy and is still ongoing. As I write, I have now survived the first year FE students starting at college, the return of the more confident second years, and the start of the HE timetables. As a new manager this year, stepping up from the deputy role, I am discovering that there is a lot more to this library lark than I thought. So, in between signing off on various licences and discovering that I am due to attend every committee meeting known to humanity (and some no one even knew existed), I have been trying to turn start of year back to pre-Covid times when we had more interactions with the incoming students. I am wondering if this was a mistake as I run from one induction to another across sites with a shortage of staff. But deep down I know this is so important, as this is the time we can make our mark on the students and show them what we can do. This may not seem important in other academic situations, where library and information literacy skills are timetabled into the curriculum, but in the college environment we fight to get our skills acknowledged and understood by the majority of lecturing staff and students. Inductions are the one time we know we can get classes into the libraries and tell them all about the unseen resources behind the magic of the library catalogue. We can show them the online resources, point out where to find these and explain how useful they are. We can tell them that we are there to help them with everything from finding their textbooks to study skills, or even being a shoulder to cry on. I always end my inductions by saying, ‘If you want to know anything, come and ask a librarian. We know everything, and in the unlikely event that we don’t, we will know someone who does.’

This year has also seen a new addition to many colleges across the country, with the government’s 40 additional hours in study programmes funded for the 16-19 year old age group. These hours are the most recent effort in their educational recovery plan. This was thrust onto the FE sector at short notice, meaning rush decisions had to be made as to how this was to work. I wonder how many other colleges had their library spaces decimated as extra classes were crammed into spaces designed for books and private study, due to lack of classroom space to allocate to so many extra teaching hours. Here is where I feel institutions may have missed a trick. With students in the libraries, why not upgrade the library staff to pass on the Information Literacy skills we already have? Rather than just using this time to do set homework, we could have helped improve students’ research skills, ensuring that by the time they reached Higher Education they were kitted out ready to succeed, with an improved ability to discover and assess information, along with a better knowledge of how to use libraries to enable this. Imagine how much stress will be taken off the shoulders of young, new-to-university students were they already equipped with these skills. I will keep shouting about how important I believe this to be. Maybe one day the people in charge will start to listen. Meanwhile, after having a one-to-one session with a new HE student who was in melt down in her first week, believing she was already failing, my head is turning towards the creation of summer workshops to help students starting degree level courses at the college after a long break from education. These are intended to ensure they start their courses without the barriers they presently face. A few basic skills in referencing, essay planning and library use can take them a long way. What’s more, I have been approached by someone with the funding to help create these workshops. Watch this space.

I would be interested to hear any ideas you have to help us improve our information literacy offerings. Have you had any lessons that went down exceptionally well with the FE age group?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *