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Libraries and learning


									        Public Libraries:
Supporting the Learning Process
                   Sarah McNicol
                    Pete Dalton

   Centre for Information Research
   Faculty of Computing, Information and English
   University of Central England in Birmingham
   Perry Barr
   B42 2SU

   Tel: 0121 331 6891
   Fax: 0121 331 5621

                                                   August 2003

Gerry Box, Birmingham Library Service
Helen Briggs, Gloucestershire Library Service
Sally Clunan, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council
Ann Day, Leeds Library Service
Judith Farrell, Lancashire Library Service
Jane Hall, Sunderland Library Service
Pat Hansell, Blackpool Library Service
Jan Holden, Norfolk Library Service
Vera Owens, Knowlsley Library Service
Moira Tarrant, Essex Library Service

Yvonne Barker, Birmingham Central Library Learning Centre
Gurdeep Singh, Birmingham Central Library Learning Centre
Bronwen Jones, Learning Shop, Birmingham Central Library
Philip Coker, South Yardley Learning Centre

Julie Archer, University of Sunderland
Allison Clarke, Staff Development Officer, City of Sunderland
Vivienne Foster, City of Sunderland Library and Arts Centre Manager
Caroline Gray, Sandhill View Library and EVH Manager
John Heppell, LIAZe Project Worker
Vicki Medhurst, Principal Officer, Library Projects, City of Sunderland
Helen Peverley, City of Sunderland Beacon Co-ordinator
Ann Scott, Principal Officer, Community Libraries and Lifelong Learning, City of
Margaret Simpson, ICT Support Assistant for Libraries & Arts
Chris Taylor, LIAZe Project Co-ordinator

Acknowledgements                                                              1
Contents                                                                      2
Summary                                                                       3

1.     Introduction                                                           5
2.     Methodology                                                            7
3.     Literature review                                                      8
3.1    What is learning?                                                      8
3.2    Recent developments in learning and their implications for libraries   9
3.3    Theories and models of learning                                        9
3.4    Learning processes                                                     12
3.5    Conclusions                                                            13
4.     A learning process for libraries                                       15
4.1    How libraries can support the learning process                         17
5.     Interviews with senior library service staff                           19
5.1    Supporting formal learning                                             19
5.2    Supporting informal learning                                           19
5.3    Linking formal and informal learning                                   20
5.4    Libraries and the learning process                                     21
5.5    Ways to improve support for learners                                   26
5.6    Conclusions                                                            28
6.     Case studies                                                           30
       Case study 1: Learning Centre, Birmingham Central Library              30
       Case study 2: The Learning Shop                                        34
       Case study 3: South Yardley Learning Centre                            36
       Case study 4: Sunderland libraries                                     39
7.     Conclusions                                                            45
8.     References                                                             47

Appendix: Questions for library staff                                         49

This research was prompted by the fact that, although various projects have investigated
learning and public libraries, most have focused on the outcomes and impacts of
learning experiences. There has been less interest in examining how libraries support
learners specifically in relation to each stage of the learning process. A number of
educational theorists have developed learning processes or cycles. The learning
process outlined for the purposes of this work draws on a number of these which relate
most closely to the type of self-directed learning commonly undertaken in libraries:

   Stage 1:    Engaging learners eg library environment, publicity materials or outreach

   Stage 2:    Guiding learners and planning learning experiences

   Stage 3:    Resource provision

   Stage 4:    Reflection

   Stage 5:    Generalising and implementing learning

   Stage 6:    Evaluation of the learner’s experience, and of the role of the library in
               supporting learners.

From interviews and case study visits, it is clear that, in addition to activities to support
learning which are formally reported in Annual Library Plans and other documents, much
is done on an informal basis by individual library staff which often goes unrecognised
and unreported.

One of the main advantages of libraries in comparison to other learning providers is their
role in linking formal and informal learning and in helping to encourage people who might
be initially reluctant to approach more formal educational institutions to participate in

However, there is little agreement about what the role of the public library should be at
each stage of the learning process, and it is acknowledged that a learner’s experience
may differ considerably depending on the area they live in, the library they use and the
member of staff they encounter on a particular visit. Resource provision is the activity
which it was felt libraries currently performed most successfully as it is where they have
the most expertise and experience and where staff have the greatest confidence and
skills. However, the methods by which libraries provide learning resources is constantly
changing, the expanding role of ICT being an obvious example. Generally, libraries
have least confidence in supporting the more internalised stages of the learning process:
reflection, generalisation and evaluation. Although these do occur informally, much
depends on the skills and confidence of individual members of staff a learner may
encounter on a visit to the library.

Libraries need to do more to support learners by providing help and guidance as well as
by facilitating access to resource and by referral to learning networks. However, the
stages of the learning process which libraries currently appear to be most comfortable

performing are those which are most concerned with materials: environment, publicity,
books, ICT and so forth, rather than people and skills. Internal process are obviously
more difficult to quantify and measure than the more visible activities of resource
provision and engaging learners on which libraries have traditionally tended to focus.
There is undoubtedly a limit to how far libraries are able to take their role as learning
providers; after a certain point, learners have to be referred to other professionals.
However, the activities of reflection, generalisation and evaluation are equally important
to the earlier stages of the learning process and should not be neglected.

As libraries move outside their comfort zone and extend their services to learners, there
are bound to be difficulties to overcome. Many staff lack the training, confidence and
time to support learners fully. To extend the role of the library in these areas is likely to
require support from those with greater experience and expertise in supporting learners
at all stages of the learning process. There are a variety of ways in which this might be
achieved, for example, co-locating libraries with other forms of learning provision;
employing specialist staff; and through providing staff training in these areas.

Although this short project has started to examine these issues, many questions remain.
For example:
          How can libraries support learners most effectively? Should they concentrate
           efforts on particular stages of the learning process?
          How can libraries work more effectively with other formal and informal learning
          What implications are there for library staffing and staff training in increasing
           the amount of support libraries offer to learners?

There is, as yet, no consensus about how libraries can best support learners. Without
an understanding of processes and approaches, the evaluation of impact and outcomes
can only be an, essentially, arbitrary exercise.

1.      Introduction
Although libraries have traditionally been associated with learning, as well as leisure, in
recent years the emphasis on the role of libraries in contributing to learning has
increased. Resource, for example, has actively sought to put libraries and learning on
the agenda through the publication of Inspiring Learning for All: A Vision for Accessible
Learning in Museums, Archives and Libraries (Resource, 2003).

There are a number of ways in which the definitions of learning and models of learning
have evolved which has contributed to the re-examination of the role that libraries might
play in supporting learning. For example:
          the increasing use of the term ‘learning’ rather than ‘education’ in policy,
           reflecting the recognised inclusion of both formal and informal elements of
          the increased emphasis on learning as a lifelong process and the
           corresponding increase in flexible and informal learning opportunities
          the shift of focus away from teacher-centred learning towards student-centred

Traditionally libraries have focussed their support for learning predominately through
providing access to resources. Tellingly, the recent strategy document produced by the
Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Framework for the Future is subtitled
Libraries, Learning and Information in the Next Decade (DCMS, 2003). This sets out a
wide role for libraries in relation to learning:
          Libraries provide an unthreatening environment for self-motivated learning, in
           which people can pursue their hobbies and interests without necessarily
           engaging in formal courses. Libraries promote learning as exploration and
          Libraries are one of the few places where young and old, school children,
           college students and adult learners can all participate in learning
          Libraries allow informal, individual learning, clubs and communities for
           learning as well as providing a range of short evening and daytime courses
          Libraries are ‘learning start up’ organisations, they should excel at helping
           people get started with learning, whether those are children or adults returning
           to learn. Libraries should provide the foundations for a learning culture.

Despite the shift in the context of learning and the resulting opportunities that this can
afford for libraries, the focus has remained, largely, traditional. Using Museums, Archives
and Libraries to Develop a Learning Community: A Strategic Plan for Action, for
example, considers that “the learning agenda cannot be separated from the access
agenda” (Resource, 2001: 8). And despite its rhetoric, Framework for the Future
concentrates on three fairly traditional areas related to formal learning: early years,
pupils and students, and older students; there is little mention of the crucial role libraries
play in supporting informal learning across all ages.

If libraries are to fully exploit opportunities to realise their potential to support learning, a
greater understanding of the totality of the learning process and its relationship to the

role of libraries is needed. In order to achieve this, the library sector will need to work
closely with policymakers and practitioners from the education sector as well as
collaborating with organisations in the cultural domain.

This piece of research sought to outline the key characteristics of learning most
applicable to the library context and to discover how a selection of public libraries
currently support various aspects of learning in practice and the constraints they
encountered in doing so.

2.      Methodology
The first stage of the research took the form of a literature review. This is reported in
chapter 3 and consists of an overview of the main theories or models of learning with a
consideration on the applicability of each to the type of learning likely to take place in
libraries. These were then used to devise a process for learning in libraries which
provided a structure for the remainder of the research. This is outlined in chapter 4.

A number of Annual Library Plans and other documentation, such as Lifelong Learning
Strategies, were examined for references to support for learning. These provided
general information about the ways in which libraries support learning and reiterate the
fact that this is an increasingly important aspect of libraries’ work. However, they rarely
provided the degree of detail or reflective comments necessary for a consideration of the
role libraries do and might play at each stage of the learning process. It was therefore
considered necessary to arrange interviews with representatives from a number of
library services.

Requests for assistance were sent to seventeen authorities. These were chosen to
represent a geographical spread and a mix of urban and rural areas. Where possible,
details were sent to an identified named person with responsibility for learning such as a
Lifelong Learning Officer. Ten library staff agreed to take part in short telephone
interviews, which were carried out during March 2003. The authorities represented
were: Birmingham, Blackpool, Leeds, Wigan, Gloucestershire, Knowsley, Lancashire,
Sunderland, Essex and Norfolk. A number of interviewees provided supporting
documentary materials such as copies of reports, surveys, strategy documents, bid
documents and training information. The findings of these interviews are reported in
chapter 5.

Following these interviews, three case studies were then carried out in Birmingham
libraries. Each of these focused on a different type of service for learners. The first case
study was the Learning Centre at Birmingham Central Library; the second was the
Learning Shop, also at the Central Library; and the third was a community library with a
New Opportunities Fund1 (NOF)-funded Learning Centre. Each case study was visited,
documentary evidence collected and informal interviews conducted with library staff and,
where possible, learners.

After a first draft of the report had been prepared, a visit was made to Sunderland
libraries. The findings to date were shared with a group of library staff who discussed
the main issues raised and further information was provided about the provision for
learners in libraries in Sunderland. This included visits to three libraries and learning
centres, and to the mobile ICT bus. Both the Birmingham and Sunderland case studies
are reported in chapter 6.

  A Lottery Distributor created to award grants to education, health and environment projects
throughout the UK.

3.       Literature review
The two main focuses of the literature review were adult learning and informal learning.

3.1      What is learning?

Saljo (1979) described five different understandings of what learning consists of among
      1. learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge ie acquiring information
      2. learning as memorising ie storing information which can be reproduced
      3. learning as acquiring facts, skills and methods which can be retained and used
         as necessary
      4. learning as making sense of abstract meaning
      5. learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way.

Whereas some types of leaning reinforce the status quo, others have the potential for
change. It may either be the case that learners are changed as individuals or they may
change the situation within which they function. Jarvis’ typology of learning divides
learning into three types: non-learning; non-reflective learning which reproduces existing
social structures; and reflective learning which leaves the person changed and more

            Presumption: this is a typical response to everyday experiences, when
             learners trust that successful actions can be repeated effectively; it is
             thoughtless and mechanical.
            Non-consideration: learners may not respond to a experience, even though
             they recognise that it has the potential for learning, because they are too
             busy, fearful or do not understand the situation.
            Rejection: learners have an experience but reject the possibility that they
             could learn from it; they reject learning opportunities on principle.

Non-reflective learning
            Preconscious learning, also called incidental learning, this occurs at edge of
            Skills learning: this is an action mode of experience rather than
             communicative interaction.
            Memorisation: the mostly commonly known form of learning.

Reflective learning
            Contemplation: behaviourist definitions do not allow for this type of learning
             as it is an intellectual approach. Learners are encouraged to think about
             experience and reach conclusions without necessarily referring to wider social

          Reflective skills learning: this is a more sophisticated approach to practical
           subjects whereby learners do not just learn the skill, but also the concepts
           which underpin it in order to understand why it is performed in a certain way.
          Experimental learning: theory tried out in practice to create a new form of
           knowledge which captures social reality (Jarvis et al, 1998).

Learning may be implicit, when there is no intention to learn and no awareness of
learning at the time it takes place; reactive learning, when learning is unplanned, but the
learner is aware that learning is taking place; or deliberative, when learning is planned
and includes reflection on learning.

3.2    Recent developments in learning and their implications for libraries

Knowles (1990) has claimed that the growth of knowledge means that people now need
to learn in different ways and that learning must be an experiential, lifelong process.
Recent changes in learning which are particularly relevant to libraries are:
          a greater emphasis on learning as a lifelong process
          student, rather than teacher, centred learning
          the use of the term learning rather than education; this means that,
           “Education is now but one provider among many potential sources of learning
           material” (Jarvis et al, 1998: 4)
          a change in the role of the teacher, from a source of knowledge to a
           communicator or facilitator, teachers as technicians rather than authorities.

3.3    Theories and models of learning

The behaviourist learning model

The basic concepts behind this model are that the outcomes of learning are represented
by changes in the learner's behaviour and that teaching is a process of shaping that
behaviour. Learning is assumed to be intrinsically rewarding and learners are believed to
be motivated by the positive reward of 'getting it right'.

The behaviourist model breaks down subject matter into discrete steps which must be
learned in sequence to produce more complex knowledge. The learner’s progress is
tested by questions, which often have only right or wrong answers, and the learner is
given immediate feedback by positive and negative rewards to reinforce their learning
behaviour. Under this model, learning is dependent on factors outside the individual; a
supportive environment is, therefore, essential to foster learning.

This model is best suited to training situations and to the teaching of specific skills, such
as memorisation. As behaviorist learning depends on linear communication, it does not
fit well in most library contexts where learning is free-choice and holistic. While this
approach can be attractive to competitive, highly motivated learners, the use of negative
rewards may lead to feelings of exclusion, anger and frustration in others. Libraries
using this approach need to take care to develop techniques to ensure that all learners
remain motivated (Clarke 2001).

The constructivist learning model

This model is based on the concept that learning is constructed by the learner actively
seeking out meaning to match their needs. Under the constructivist model, learning is
contextual and is shaped by physical, personal, social and cultural influences, as well as
being holistic, and rooted in experience. Learners therefore need to place material in
context and relate new information to existing knowledge to produce meaningful
associations. The role of the teacher in the constructivist model is to act as a facilitator
and to motivate the learner to actively engage with the learning experience. This form of
learning allows learners to make choices about their learning; the process is not linear
but is shaped by the learner themselves within a flexible structure. Open-ended
questions are used to motivate, challenge and allow learners to compare their
experiences with others and to evaluate learning outcomes rather than testing what has
been learned. It is, therefore, suited to more complex learning tasks.

Constructivist learning places a strong emphasis on the learner, as the traditional
teacher-learner hierarchical relationships develop into a partnership, with the choice of
pace and learning style under the control of the learner. This implies that libraries, need
to develop approaches which meet the learning needs of specific target audiences,
different types of learners, and learners with varied interests (Clarke 2001).

Socio-cultural learning model

This model places special emphasis on the importance of language, social influences
and adult-child relationships within a cultural context. Developed by Vygotsky, it has
special relevance for family learning. The premises of socio-cultural learning are, firstly,
that learning is inextricably situated within a social and cultural context and, secondly,
that language is the vehicle for learning. The emphasis on cultural aspects of learning
encourages consideration of the needs of people from different cultural backgrounds
(Clarke 2001).

Experiential learning

Experiential leaning could be argued to be a more comprehensive theory because
behavioural, action-based, cognitive or social learning can occur simultaneously. The
tenets of experiential learning are:
   experience is foundation of, and stimulus for, learning
   learners actively construct their own experience
   learning is holistic
   learning is socially and culturally constructed
   learning is influenced by socio-economic context within which it occurs (in Jarvis et
    al, 1998).

Experiential learning follows a cycle: concrete experience is observed and reflected on;
this is then used to formulate abstract concepts and generalisations, the implications of
which can be tested on situations to form new concrete experiences.


Libraries serve learners across the age range. Knowles’ theory of andragogy makes the
following assumptions about adult learners:
          adults need to know why they need to learn, so there is a need to explain why
           certain things are being taught and to involve adults in the planning and
           evaluation of their learning
          they need to learn experientially, taking account of learners’ backgrounds and
          they need to approach learning as problem-solving, through task-orientated
           activities which allow learners to discover things for themselves
          they learn best when topic of immediate value eg subjects relevant to their job
           or personal life (Knowles, 1990).

This means that instruction targeted at adults needs to focus more on process and less
on content, with strategies such as case studies, role play, simulations and self-
evaluation being useful. Instructors should adopt a role of facilitator or resource rather
than teacher

Self-directed learning

Self-directed learning is, perhaps, the form of learning most common in libraries. It
involves individuals taking the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing
their learning needs; formulating learning goals; identifying human and material
resources for learning; choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies; and
evaluating learning outcomes (Knowles, 1975: 18). It can also be referred to as inquiry
method, independent learning or self-instruction. However, such terms might imply
isolation whereas self-directed learning is usually a co-operative exercise.

To support self-directed learners, Tough recommended:
          the formal education system should be supplemented by informal networks of
          the range of choice and support should be increased, especially regarding
           teaching methods and the context of learning to support self-directed learning
          the emphasis on credit should be decreased (Tough, 1971).

In order to facilitate self-directed learning, the following roles needed to be fulfilled by
libraries or other learning providers:
          providing information
          serving as a resource
          providing feedback on drafts of learning plans
          locating available resources or securing new information, as identified through
           needs assessment
          building a resource collection

            arranging contract with people and setting up learning experiences
            acting as a stimulator or sounding board
            helping to develop an attitude and approach that fosters independence
            promoting discussion
            helping to develop positive attitude to learning
            serving as a validator/evaluator of learning.

However, not all self-directed learners have the same needs; “It needs to be recognised
that ‘self-directedness’ is a continuum, along which individuals vary in their readiness for
participation in this form of learning” (Jarvis et al, 1998).

3.4      Learning processes

A number of theories detail learning sequences or processes.

Conditions of learning

Under Gagne’s conditions of learning theory, there are different types of levels of
learning, each of which requires different types of instruction. The five major categories
of learning identified are: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies,
motor skills and attitudes. For tasks requiring intellectual skills, Gagne suggests a
hierarchy according to complexity: stimulus recognition, response generation, procedure
following, use of terminology, discriminations, concept formation, rule application and
problem solving. These provide a basis for the sequencing of instruction.

The theory outlines nine instructional events and corresponding cognitive processes:
      1. gaining attention (reception)
      2. informing learners of the objective (expectancy)
      3. stimulating recall of prior knowledge (retrieval)
      4. presenting the stimulus (selective perception)
      5. providing learning guidance (semantic encoding)
      6. eliciting performance (responding)
      7. providing feedback (reinforcement)
      8. assessing performance (retrieval)
      9. enhancing retention and transfer (generalisation) (Gagne, 1985).

Elaboration theory

Under Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory, instruction is organised in increasing order of
complexity for optimal learning, with the simplest versions being presented first and
regular reminders of versions encountered so far until the full range of tasks have been
taught. The learner needs to develop a meaningful context into which subsequent ideas
and skills can be assimilated in order to form more stable cognitive structures and,
therefore, better retention and transfer as well as increased learner motivation.

There are seven major strategy components of elaboration theory:
      1. an elaborative sequence
      2. learning prerequisite sequences
      3. summary
      4. synthesis
      5. analogies
      6. cognitive strategies
      7. learner control (Reigeluth and Stein, 1983).

Transformative learning

Mezirow identified ten stages of learning:
      1. disorientating experience
      2. self-examination
      3. critical assessment and a sense of alienation
      4. relating discontent to the experiences of others
      5. exploring options for new ways of acting
      6. building confidence in new ways of behaving
      7. planning a course of action
      8. acquiring knowledge in order to implement plans
      9. experimenting with new roles
      10. reintegration into society (Mezirow, 1991).

Subsumption theory

Ausubel’s subsumption theory uses advance organisers which are introduced in
advance of learning itself and are presented at a higher level of abstraction, generality
and inclusiveness. These act as a bridge between new learning material and existing
related ideas; the most general ideas of a subject are presented first and then
progressively differentiated in terms of detail and specificity. Instructional materials
should attempt to integrate new material with previously presented information through
comparisons and cross-referencing of old and new ideas (Ausubel, 1963).

3.5      Conclusions

A number of key themes emerge from this brief summary.
                Learners should be involved in planning and evaluating their own learning
                Learning should take account of a learner’s background and experience
                Learners should be provided with a choice of learning methods

   Learners need to set their learning within a meaningful context by
    applying it to their personal situation
   Learning should be presented in increasingly complexity, building on
    existing knowledge.

      4.     A learning process for libraries
      A number of theorists have developed learning processes or cycles. The learning
      process outlined for the purposes of this work draws on a number of these which relate
      most closely to the type of self-directed learning which might be undertaken in libraries.
      This is illustrated in the diagram below.

      Fig 1: The cycle of learning in libraries

                                     1. Engagement

 6. Evaluation                                                                 2. Planning

5. Generalisation                                                           3. Exploration
and implementation

                                      4. Reflection

The first three stages (engagement, planning and exploration) are, to a large extent,
external processes. It is these areas where the work of libraries in relation to learners
has traditionally been concentrated.

   1. Engagement

This involves stimulating the learner and gaining their attention as well as creating a
positive climate for learning to take place.

   2. Planning

This stage is the point at which a learning experience is planned by formulating goals,
defining objectives and devising learning plans. This may involve learners undertaking
some form of assessment of their learning needs, for example, through asking questions
to define and clarify their needs. Once this has been carried out, learners will be able to
determine an appropriate learning strategy. In doing so, they will need to recall prior
knowledge and experiences to provide a context for their current learning.

   3. Exploration

Learners then undertake a process of investigation and exploration. At this stage, they
may be presented with, or discover for themselves, a variety of resources to assist their
learning (eg printed and electronic resources, contacts with people). It is important that
these resources are presented to learners in a logical sequence and are interconnected
to allow them to make progress.

Stages 4 to 6 (reflection, generalisation/implementation and evaluation) are most easily
thought of as internal processes. This means that the contribution of libraries at these
stages of learning may be extremely difficult to identify.

   4. Reflection

This stages encompasses activities such as analysis, clarification, rule application,
synthesis, concept formation and the identification of patterns. Although this is an
internal process, learners are often assisted through activities such as discussion,
explanation, coaching or using someone as a sounding board.

   5. Generalisation and implementation

This stages helps to reinforce learning in order to enhance retention and transfer. It
involves learners in making connections, validating learning and drawing inferences.
This may be undertaken in an abstract way and/or in a way which gives learning a
concrete application by applying it to a real world situation.

   6. Evaluation

By evaluating their learning, learners are able to determine the extent of their
understanding and to decide whether they need to modify their approach or change
direction or refocus. This activity may lead to further enquiry.

While not all learning will necessarily involve each of these stages, the complete cycle
corresponds to experimental learning as defined by Jarvis (Jarvis et al,1998). This is a
process whereby theory is tried out in practice to create a new form of knowledge which
captures social reality. To a lesser extent the process can also be related to reflective
skills learning.

The process also corresponds to what Gagne (1985) identifies as the highest order of
learning: problem solving, when a learner draws on previously learned rules. This
involves proposing a hypotheses based on rules learned; testing this against an actual
situation; and then assimilating the solution into a repertoire of rules, so the next time a
similar situation arises, it is not a problem. Gagne devised an eight-phase model of
learning, the various stages of which can be related to the cycle devised for this
              Motivation (Stage1)
              Apprehending (Stage 2)
              Acquisition (Stage 3)
              Retention (Stage 4)
              Recall (Stage 4)
              Generalisation (Stage 5)
              Performance (Stage 5)
              Feedback (Stage 6).

The process also relates, loosely, to the experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 1984):
              Concrete experience (Stages 1-2)
              Observations and reflections (Stages 3-4)
              Formulation of abstract concepts and generalisation (Stages 4-5)
              Testing implications of concepts on situations (Stage 5-6).

In addition, it can be seen to reflect some aspects of Knowles’ five-step model for adult
learning, at least in relation to the earlier, external stages:
      1.       diagnosing learning needs (Stages 1-2)
      2.       formulating learning needs (Stage 2)
      3.       identifying human material resources for learning (Stage 3)
      4.       choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies (Stages 2-3)
      5.       evaluating learning outcomes (Stage 5) (Knowles, 1990).

4.1        How libraries might support the learning process

              Engaging learners
Libraries can help to engage new and existing learners in a variety of ways. The library
environment is an important aspect of this; libraries need to create a stimulating

environment which is conductive to learning, for example, through imaginative and
attractive layout and décor. Of course, libraries also have to devise methods to attract
potential learners, some of whom may be reluctant to visit the library. Ways of achieving
this might include various forms of publicity targeted at different audiences and working
with adult education services and other learning providers.

          Planning learning experiences
The types of activities which library staff might be involved in at this stage of the learning
cycle include: helping learners to define a problem or identify a learning need; helping
learners to plan a learning experience and choose a learning strategy; and relating
learning needs to prior knowledge and experience.

          Exploring
Libraries have a long tradition of supporting learners at this stage of the learning cycle by
providing resources for learning in a variety of formats and for different levels; organising
resources for learning; establishing contacts with other people and organisations, such
as other learning providers; and guiding learners’ progress.

          Reflection
To assist at this stage of the cycle, library staff can help learners to understand the
information they have gathered; support them in identifying patterns; and act as a
sounding board.

          Generalising and implementing learning
It is, perhaps, less clear how libraries might contribute to this stage of the learning cycle,
as it is not so central to their traditional areas of work. However, staff in libraries may be
able to assist learners to draw inferences and transfer knowledge to other situations and
to help them to solve real life problems.

          Evaluation
Library staff may be able to assist learners in determining the success of a learning
experience and making decisions about further learning activities.

The remainder of this report investigates the ways in which libraries do, in fact,
contribute to each stage of the learning process outlined above and suggests ways in
which they might develop their role in the future.

5.      Interviews with senior library service staff
Ten library staff from the seventeen authorities targeted agreed to take part in short
telephone interviews, which were carried out during March 2003. The authorities which
participated were: Birmingham, Blackpool, Leeds, Wigan, Gloucestershire, Knowsley,
Lancashire, Sunderland, Essex and Norfolk. Staff were asked about the library’s role in
supporting formal and informal learning in general terms and were also asked to give
examples to illustrate how they might contribute to each of the six stages of the learning
cycle (see appendix for a copy the interview schedule).

It was clear from interviewees’ responses that libraries have an important role to play in
learning; as one put it:
       The library’s purpose is to support learning in every way possible.

They were pleased that their views had been reinforced by the recent DCMS Framework
for the Future document. This identified learning (and reading promotion) as one of the
three areas of activity which “should be at the heart of libraries’ modern mission” (DCMS,
2003). It was argued that libraries are important learning providers because they are
open long hours; offer free or low cost facilities; allow people to learn in a way which
suits them and at their own pace; and are accessible and non-threatening.

5.1    Supporting formal learning

The majority of interviewees believed that most obvious way in which libraries support
formal learners is by facilitating access to resources for students on full-time or part-time
courses, chiefly through central library reference collections and ICT facilities. In the
main, these are general resources, rather than those targeted at specific courses.

Most library authorities work with formal learning providers, such as local colleges, to
deliver courses in partnership. In some authorities, the library runs its own courses; in
most cases, these concentrate on ICT and are often at a lower level than those on offer
in local colleges. One authority surveyed subscribes to courses offered by an online
learning provider.

5.2    Supporting informal learning

Most aspects of library activity could be thought of as supporting informal learning:
       …it’s what we’ve always done anyway…
       It has always been an element of what we do…when is finding information
Libraries’ social commitment and responsibility to help those members of the public least
able, or inclined, to engage in learning means supporting informal learning is a crucial
part of their work. Libraries were described as the “prime actors” or “drivers” in this
activity. A survey of learners conducted by Essex libraries in 2002 found that 56.7% of
learners identified independent learning as their main reason for learning in the library
compared with 19.1% who were using the library facilities to support a course.

Some interviewees felt it was difficult to divide formal and informal provision on
occasions as even learning which was not structured or tutor-led, and therefore not
classed as formal, could lead to accreditation.

Over the past few years, libraries have become increasingly aware of how they can
support people in informal learning and foster a love of learning. Learning in the library
sector is now being labelled as ‘lifelong learning’, emphasising the fact that libraries span
the whole age range as well as aligning their purpose with current government agendas,
often with the aim of securing funding. It could be argued that, historically, libraries have
concentrated on learning activities for children. However, not all interviewees agreed
that this was the case and certainly the current emphasis on lifelong learning and adult
training means that all sections of the community are now included.

A recent development has been the move towards more group learning in libraries.
Historically, libraries have helped people who wish to study in isolation. This has not
been lost, but there is now more emphasis on group learning, gathering new community
groups together and also facilitating existing groups. One interviewee claimed that the
libraries are trying “to get people involved” by making use of community networks to help
people to learn together. However, it was acknowledged that libraries need to do more
to support isolated learners, especially those learning online. This is links to libraries’
role in supporting less self-motivated learners in addition to greater community

5.3    Linking formal and informal learning

A number of interviewees talked about the ways in which the library could provide a link
between formal and informal learning by helping people to progress from informal
learning to “the formal arena”. They are seen as place where people can “try out”
learning in a safe environment before moving onto a formal course. Interviewees
believed that the library environment provides a relaxed introduction to learning from
which people can move on, if appropriate, although there should not be any pressure for
them to do so. Through working with partners in learning and adult guidance, libraries
are now more aware of progression routes. This might be ‘sideways’ progression, to
another course at the same level but in a different subject, or to a course in the same
subject at a higher level.

Libraries’ target audience in terms of learning was described by one interviewee as,
“people who would benefit from formal learning, but do not have the courage or the
inclination to take the first step”. It was also pointed out that people who do not think of
themselves as learners might be willing to use the library, although they may not feel
comfortable in a college or similar institution. A survey conducted by Birmingham
Libraries on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) found that libraries, along
with adult education centres, were the places non-learners were most likely to visit to
find out about learning. This indicated the importance of the library in linking people with
learning opportunities. One interviewee called the library “a hook to reintroduce people
to learning…the first rung on the ladder” and another believed that libraries, or library
staff, might “inspire” people to move on to further learning.

5.4    Libraries and the learning process

Stage 1: Engaging learners

Engaging learners and stimulating a desire for learning where it had not existed before
was identified by a number of interviewees as the most important role for the library;
others felt it was an area which was likely to assume increasing importance in the future.
Most libraries claimed to be relatively good at this part of the learning process, but some
admitted to problems because the library buildings were so poor. Many libraries have
recently been refurbished to make them more attractive to learners. Sometimes, this
had been done in partnership with local colleges. In one authority, the explicit aim of
refurbishment was to make the learning element of libraries “intrinsic, not an add on”. In
many cases, improvements to the learning environment have focused on the
arrangement of PCs. For instance, in Knowsley, a bank of thirty-six computers in the
main library has been split into three sections to create a quiet room, a quick reference
area and an area suitable for the delivery of tutor-led courses.

Interviewees acknowledged the importance of providing a suitable environment for
learning which was attractive to learners and potential learners. It was felt that this was
vital libraries were to successfully engage those who were harder to reach. Learning in
libraries is less pressured than in more formal education institutions and more “geared
towards fun, pleasure and enjoyment”, so people who might be put off by the
atmosphere in colleges were more comfortable and relaxed in a library environment.

Representatives from several authorities related details of initiatives designed to engage
learners and potential learners. For example, in Norfolk, the new Millennium Library
houses a leaning shop where people can get advice about a range of learning
opportunities. This free service is supported by the Open University, the adult education
service, Norwich City College and Norwich School of Art and Design. In this county,
pioneer libraries are being established which are intended to be more customer-centred.
This involves looking at all services, including learning. Several interviewees
emphasised the importance of libraries being compliant with the latest disability
legislation and guidelines and therefore accessible to all.

The pack for new members of Leeds libraries includes a section on ‘learning for life’
which promotes the library as a place which supports learning. This is one of several
authorities in which learning is one aspect of library ‘branding’. Several library services
produce leaflets and magazines aimed at learners with, in the words of one interviewee,
“up beat wording” and many library web pages have sections promoting the role of
libraries in learning. Libraries often make efforts to link their publicity to events such as
Adult Learners’ Week and campaigns organised by other education providers. Displays
were another way to engage learners. For example, one interviewee mentioned
displays of GCSE materials and dumper bins during the summer term.

In some areas, the siting of libraries with other community facilities, such as sports
facilities, is part of a strategy to engage learners. Outreach activities were also
mentioned. In Sunderland, a collection of materials is taken to the health centre to
provide a library service for female asylum seekers who are not permitted to visit the
library. The LAIZe (Libraries Information Access Zone) bus has been running in the
Coalfields area of Sunderland since 1999. It works in partnership with many
organisations including the City College, Job Linkage and Surestart. Operating on a six-

week rota, the bus stops at a variety of community locations such as schools, libraries,
workplaces, old people’s homes and travellers’ sites. Learners can use the facilities on
a drop-in basis, take part in taster sessions, or sign up for a course. The project co-
ordinator has experience of teaching evening classes and tries to create courses
specifically tailored to the needs of the communities visited. However, it is not possible
to offer courses lasting longer than six weeks, so learners who require more in-depth
courses are referred to other providers.

Knowsley also has an ICT bus, which is operated in partnership with a local college and
staffed by library staff and college tutors. In Norfolk, a caravan distributes leaflets with
details of learning opportunities at a very local level, based on electoral wards. Join-up
days are held at supermarkets in inner city areas and other locations where the library
service has traditionally had little impact.

Reader development activities are another form of library outreach which help to engage
learners, for example, through adults’ and children’s reading groups, promotions, face-
on displays, summer activities for children, author visits and involvement in arts events.

Sample courses are yet another way of engaging learners; these allow people to sample
a learning experience before committing themselves. Some have built-in self-
assessment which can help people to decide whether the course is right for them.

Stage 2: Guiding learners and planning learning experiences

Views on libraries’ role in helping to plan learning experiences varies considerably
between authorities. Some interviewees felt that the role of libraries was very limited in
this stage of the learning cycle. They are likely to refer learners to other providers who
were better equipped to perform this function. However, some see this as an area
where the library might play a more active role in the future.

Nevertheless, interviewees from several authorities pointed it that their libraries had
Guidance Council2 accreditation for information provision. One interviewee felt that
libraries are ideally placed to guide learners because, not being major course providers,
they are able to offer more impartial advice. Several interviewees mentioned the
importance of ensuring that learning experiences were carefully matched to learning
needs and were compatible with learners’ wider lives. Two interviewees referred to
study support in homework centres as an example of providing guidance for learners.
One has a number of dedicated Learner Support staff who performed this role. A
number of libraries are also learndirect3 centres, so staff here are expected to advise
learners on the best option to suit their learning needs and to help them to devise
learning plans. The learndirect “learner walkthrough” has been duplicated for other
courses in a few authorities.

  The Guidance Council is a national umbrella organisation for the information, advice and
guidance (IAG) sector in England. Its members and sponsors work together to promote IAG for
learning and work, share best practice and support the development of quality services.
  learndirect is a network of online learning and information services. It is a government-
sponsored initiative in flexible learning, intended to make possible the vision of a 'learning society'
where everyone can learn and upgrade their skills throughout life.

In other libraries, the role of library staff in this stage of the learning process can be more
variable; it often depends on the amount of time available and the confidence staff have
in their own skills. As one interviewee pointed out, guiding learners could be seen as a
formal activity, but it might equally be a case of simply supporting and encouraging
learners, something most library staff would do automatically as part of their job.
Although in some ways, guiding learners was part of generic enquiry desk skills, most
interviewees acknowledged that staff in library learning centres needed to be particularly
skilled in this. It was recognised that, at present, the level of support provided “depends
who is on the desk when someone turns up”. In one authority, there are plans to move
towards a more formal appointments system to ensure that staff have adequate time to
provide the support learners need to plan a learning experience.

Libraries can provide guidance for learners through appropriate guiding and the
organisation of resources as well as direct staff assistance. However, one interviewee
felt that, as ‘drop-in centres’, libraries had to be organised, primarily, to facilitate access
rather than to guide learners. Although there were some had separate collections for
some learning resources, for example for Open University materials, the majority of
interviewees felt the best approach was to shelve learning resources in sequence with
other materials. Norfolk is an exception; here there are moves towards zoning libraries
to clearly identify which areas are for particular activities such as browsing or learning.

Stage 3: Resource provision

Generally, resource provision is seen as the aspect of learning which libraries have
traditionally supported and was something they did well:
        All important stuff and we do it anyway.
        What we are all about…
Unsurprisingly, it is seen by many as the stage of the learning process which libraries
currently perform most successfully. However, this obviously depends on funding

As some interviewees pointed out, the library does not just provide physical resources;
services such as bookmarking electronic resources are also important. Libraries
provided resources in a variety of formats to meet the differing needs of learners. They
also need to provide material at various levels. In Essex, LearnEast4 is planning to build
up a database of materials which have proved their quality and worth to ‘bands’ of
learners; this will be shared regionally and will be searchable by needs such as basic
skills and visual impairment as well as by subject.

Most libraries also provide a range of resources for learners with special needs such as
large print and Braille books and materials in community languages. Some libraries
provide tailored services for learners with special needs, for example, large text screens
and text-enhancing software for the visually impaired; wireless mice and touchscreens.
Others have family areas with low seating, adapted keyboards and other modifications.

 LearnEast is a project which aims to demonstrate the role libraries play in providing learning
opportunities for traditionally hard-to-reach’ learners.

While open learning packs are still provided by most libraries, one interview described
these as “past their sell by date”; they have largely been replaced by learndirect and
other forms of e-learning. Norwich library is one of the few which provides materials
specifically for students on taught courses; these are identified through consultation with
local universities and colleges. There are regular meetings to determine which
organisation should buy which resources.

Most interviewees referred to the role of ICT in supporting learners in libraries. The
People’s Network5, learndirect and UK Online6 were frequently mentioned as ways in
which libraries, particularly smaller branches, could provide a much wider range of
resources for learners.

ICT was seen as a “hook” to encourage learners to use libraries. Not only were
computers seen as something which would attract people to libraries, but it was thought
that people would be more willing to admit they had difficulties using computers than to
having problems with other skills such as literacy.

In Birmingham all libraries are learndirect access points and the central Library Learning
Centre is the council’s learndirect centre. The fact that it was chosen as a Fastrack
Centre to pilot learndirect was seen as “a coup for the public library”. This has been
“incredibly successful” and is promoted as a model locally. The library service is proud
of the fact that it can compete with colleges in this respect; it underlines what public
libraries are capable of, given sufficient resources and support. Similarly, in Knowsley,
the main library is a learndirect centre and the authority’s other six libraries are satellite
centres. In other areas, learndirect is presently only be provided in a small number of
libraries, if at all. Even if capital funding is available, revenue funding for staffing costs is
often inadequate and this has proved a particular barrier for some authorities.

Local networks were often important in supporting ICT in public libraries. In
Gloucestershire, the library service is a member of the ICT Task Group which works to
promote e-learning to the wider community using community venues such as libraries
and supermarkets. The library also works with Age Concern to provide ICT access for
older people.

ICT was one area where it was thought that library staff could play a more active role as
facilitators of learning. For example, they commonly help those with low–level ICT skills,
giving them the skills and confidence to grasp the basics. However, it was
acknowledged that there was a point at which learners needed to be referred to other
providers because library staff lack sufficient time or knowledge to go into the degree of
detailed required.

Stage 4: Reflection

The majority of interviewees felt that this was an area where the library could, and
perhaps ought, to do more; it was an activity which needed to be better understood and
valued by library staff. In many cases, a learner’s experience in this area depends on

  The People's Network is a project which has connected all public libraries to the Internet, as part
of the Government's commitment to give everyone in the UK the opportunity to get online.
  UK Online aims to give everyone access to the Internet by 2005, with all government
departments being fully online.

their encounter with individual members of staff and could, therefore, vary considerably
depending on training, skills, confidence and other factors.

Various strategies are being tried in different library authorities to assist learners to
reflect on learning experiences. In Knowlsley, although learners can ask for support on
a drop-in basis, for this type of activity which is likely to take longer, they can book a
one-on-one session. In Birmingham, Library Learning Centre staff have a mentoring role
and therefore help learners to reflect on the learning process, but they are seen locally
as ‘pioneers’; it is something of a departure for this to be stated explicitly as part of the
job description of members of library staff. Nevertheless, elsewhere, it is something that
does take place informally “to a tremendous degree”. Another interviewee felt that this
was something “we have always done and embedded in the overall work we do”.
Several interviews recognised that reflection is something which staff may help learners
to do automatically, but are often concerned when it is pointed out to them because they
do not see it as a role which they have been trained to perform.

However, other authorities chose to emphasise the fact that library staff are not tutors
and could not be expected to fulfil this role. Only in externally funded projects could this
be expected; it was not feasible in day-to-day library provision because of limited staffing
and resources.

Stage 5: Generalising and implementing learning

Few interviewees felt able to comment on libraries’ role in this stage of the learning
process because as one interviewee put it, “at this point, they are leaving us”. Some
questioned its relevance for libraries, at least on a formal basis and thought it was
unlikely to be an area where libraries would ever have a significant role. Although this
might be a feature of certain courses or other learning experiences in libraries, it was not
a general consideration. However, a few interviewees thought it was something the
library needed to look at more closely, in conjunction with other providers.

Stage 6: Evaluation

Two linked issues were discussed in relation to evaluation: evaluating the learner’s
experience and identifying ways in which they might progress, and evaluating the role of
the library service in supporting learners, often in order to secure funding.

Attitudes towards evaluation varied considerably between authorities. Some
interviewees thought that libraries ought to do more to record and evaluate what they did
to support learning; it was acknowledged that this required a different approach to that
used for other forms of library evaluation.

Several interviewees thought that any formal evaluation would be off-putting for the very
people libraries were trying so hard to attract. It could undermine libraries’ advantage by
appearing to copy the types of procedures in formal educational organisations which are
viewed in a negative light by many library users. However, they recognised it was
something they would be placed under increasing pressure to do in order to secure
funding. It is clear that any evaluation needs to be carefully thought out so as not to
alienate learners.

In Norfolk, evaluation is something which was only likely to take place as part of a
formal, funded project. Leeds libraries have evaluation forms for structured learning
sessions to allow the library staff to discover whether learners would like further help or
information. In Gloucestershire, although there is no evaluation for informal learning
apart from the general comments system, people are asked to fill in evaluation forms for
taster sessions. Other libraries have exit surveys for learndirect and other courses
which identified actions for progression.

An interesting point raised by one interviewee was the fact that libraries were likely to
define success in different ways to other institutions. ‘Success’ in a library situation
depended on how a learner felt about a learning experience, regardless of whether they
completed the course or went on to use their knowledge or skills for a particular purpose.
This might lead to a ‘culture clash’ between libraries and organisations such as

5.5    Ways to improve support for learners

It was acknowledged that, in order to focus on learners, libraries may have to redirect
resources. Some interviewees referred to the need for additional publicity to promote
libraries’ role, both generally as learning organisations and for particular services such
as appointment booking. However, this created the danger that expectations would be
raised which could not be fulfilled given current levels of resourcing.


Staffing was identified as a crucial factor by a number of interviewees. Most agreed that
libraries need more staff if they are to support learners effectively. One interviewee
argued that dedicated learner support staff are a necessity in every library. At present a
lack of time means that library staff are often not able to meet learners’ needs as
effectively as they might wish to. As well as simply greater numbers of staff, training is
required to help those working in libraries to support learners effectively. Not all staff
see supporting learners as an integral part of their work and many do not feel
comfortable adopting such a role at present. A lack of staff training has particular
implications for the reflection, generalisation and evaluation, the stages of the learning
cycle, those aspects where the library has traditionally had less of a role.

Several interviewees felt that that the importance of staff in supporting learning
experiences was not always acknowledged. While money is available for resources,
insufficient funds are provided for staffing costs for learning initiatives. Some felt that
staff provision did not always meet learner expectation in terms of the amount of time
which library was able to devote to them on a one-to-one basis.

Views on whether supporting learners is the role of all library staff or whether it was
something which should be the function of identified staff varied between authorities.
Some favoured making learner support “somebody’s job rather than everyone’s job”. In
other cases, small groups of staff have a designated learner support role. Staff in the
Central Library Learning Centre in Birmingham have a different job description to that of
other library staff; they are called Learner Support Staff and have an acknowledged
mentoring role. They are expected to:

          Guide, advise and mentor learners in their use of Learning Centre resources
          Act as advocate on behalf of clients needing to engage with other
           organisations and personnel
          Educate Learning Centre users in study, retrieval and information navigation
           skills, face-to-face or via Open Learning packages and online services
          Advise and support learners in their use of networked and standalone
           computing facilities and in their use of software, media and other learning and
           information resources (Learner Support Officer Job Description).

However, other authorities provide training for all staff. In Gloucestershire, there are
plans to send all staff on basic adult education skills training which will help them to
identify whether people have a learning need. In Sunderland, library staff have received
training as administrators to provide seamless access between the library and the
college and various training activities have had implications for the role of library staff in
supporting learners, for example, a workshop on cultural diversity helped staff to
understand the needs of different groups. Training in Essex is provided via the
LearnEast project. As one interviewee pointed out, library staff are likely to support
learners naturally as part of their job without realising it and they are often surprised
when this is pointed out to them.


It was also thought that libraries need to develop more partnerships in order to reach a
greater number of potential learners.

Through links with other organisations, libraries can engage learners at all levels and
encourage community learning. Although in some areas, contact between libraries and
local colleges is organised on an informal basis, in other authorities, libraries are part of
the Educational Directorate which means there are particularly close links with other
education providers. In some authorities, formal access agreements allow access to
library facilities in educational institutions for public library members. In Sunderland, the
public library, along with the university and college, is part of the LASH agreement which
aims to provide ‘seamless access for learners’. In Gloucestershire, the Learning
Network allows open access to FE, HE and public libraries for all learners for reference

Joint learning and library facilities are being provided in an increasing number of
authorities. Birmingham Central Library has a Library Learning Centre, where informal
and formal activities exist “cheek by jowl”. The library works in partnership with the Adult
Education Service: library staff deal with informal learning, while tutors deliver formal,
accredited courses, mainly in basic skills and ICT. Previously, library staff would simply
have referred people to the local college, but now both services are on the same
premises, it is much simpler to direct library users onto courses. The personal
relationships developed with tutors and the informality of a community location contribute
to the unique atmosphere of these centres.

A similar scheme exists in Sunderland, where City of Sunderland College tutors and
library staff work together in Electronic Village Halls (EVHs) and Learning Centres.

Again many of the courses are in basic skills and ICT, but courses are tailored to the
needs of particular communities.

Blackpool also has plans for a learning centre which will include a library; it is anticipated
that joint use will widen participation and benefit both groups of users: it will be open for
sixty hours a week and provide more space, including a family room. In Norfolk, learning
centres are currently being developed under LearnEast. Schemes such as these help to
emphasise the fact that libraries and learning are not separate, but are “all part of the
same provision”.

In many authorities, the library works with formal education providers who use library
buildings to deliver courses. The Norwich Millennium library houses a learning station
run by the local further education college. One of the libraries in Gloucestershire houses
a learning centre run by the local college with a community outreach worker funded
through a joint bid to NOF. In this authority, the library service also works with Adult
Continuing Education and Training, Surestart and the Health Service to provide family
learning opportunities such as Bookstart. Action for Jobs which tackles problems of
localised joblessness occupies space in one of Knowsley libraries and Job Linkage is a
similar service in Sunderland. Also in Sunderland, Connexions is linked to the City
Library; there are plans to do the same in other libraries in the area. There are also
examples of libraries working with leisure providers. Norfolk library service is working
with the council’s Sports Development Team and a national training organisation to
develop resources for sport and Blackpool is planning a new library on the same site as
a sports complex.

Most libraries identified themselves as part of Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG)
partnerships and in some areas, other forums existed. In Leeds, an adult learners’
group organises joint events. Sunderland has a Learning Partnership Participation
subgroup which involves the library, adult educators and the IAG network as well as six
area lifelong learning forums. These help libraries to improve their understanding of
community needs and to appreciate where the library fits into overall learning provision.

Obviously, in order to refer learners to other providers, libraries need to be aware of
what others are doing. One interviewee described community librarians as “among the
most effective networkers you’ll find”. As well as developing links between libraries and
other learning organisations, they could also “do a great deal to stimulate networking in

5.6    Conclusions

In addition to activities to support learning which are formally reported in Annual Library
Plans and other documents, much is done on an informal basis by individual library staff
which often goes unrecognised and unreported. According to interviewees, one of the
main advantages of libraries in comparison to other learning providers is their role in
linking formal and informal learning and helping to encourage people who might be
initially reluctant to approach more formal educational institutions to participate in

There was little agreement on the precise role libraries should and could play in
supporting learners. As the stage of the learning cycle which libraries have traditionally
and most obviously supported, it was not surprising to find that resource provision was

the activity which interviewees felt was currently performed most successfully. It is the
activity in which libraries were felt to have the most expertise and experience and where
staff have the greatest confidence and skills. However, the methods by which libraries
provide learning resources is constantly changing. For example, the expanding role of
ICT is seen as a means of providing access to a greater variety of resources and also as
a way of engaging less motivated learners. In general, it was felt that engaging learners,
in particular those who are ‘harder to reach’, was another important stage of the learning
cycle and one which was likely to become even more crucial for libraries in the future.

Most interviewees felt that there was a limit to how far libraries were able to take their
role as learning providers; after a certain point, learners would have to be referred to
other providers. Generally, libraries had least confidence in supporting the more
internalised stages of the learning process: reflection, generalisation and evaluation.

Reflection was an activity which interviewees acknowledged needs to be better
understood and developed in libraries. Although it does occur informally, much depends
on the skills and confidence of individual members of staff a learner may encounter on a
visit to the library.

Generalising and implementing learning was identified as, perhaps, the most
problematic stage of the learning process for libraries to support as it often takes place
once the learner had left the library so is more difficult to track. Some did not think this
activity was relevant for libraries. However, implementing what they have learned can
be the most important, yet also the most difficult stage of the learning process for many
learners, especially those who were less experienced, and may be something with which
they required extra support. The question of how libraries might assist with this needs to
be considered.

It was interesting to note that, when asked about evaluating learning, interviewees
tended to focus on formal evaluation, which was conducted, essentially, for and by the
library rather than for the express benefit of learners. However, learners may also
evaluate their experience informally, reflecting on what they have learned to determine
how they might progress. This is an activity with which less experienced learners in
particular may require additional support.

Guiding learners was another activity which some interviewees felt that it was best
performed by other education providers who are better equipped to meet learners’
needs. Again, staff confidence and time available were identified as factors which
limited libraries’ involvement at this stage of the learning cycle.

It was recognised that libraries need to do more to support learners by providing help
and guidance as well as by facilitating access to resources and by referral to learning
networks. However, the stages of the learning process which libraries currently appear
to be most comfortable performing are those which are most concerned with materials:
environment, publicity, books, ICT and so forth rather than people and skills. Internal
process are obviously more difficult to quantify and measure than the more visible
activities of resource provision and engaging learners on which libraries have
traditionally tended to focus. However, the activities of reflection, generalisation and
evaluation are equally important and should not be neglected. Perhaps the most crucial
point is the importance of catering for the individual needs of learners; not all will require
help with the same stages of the learning cycle.

6.       Case studies
Case study 1: Learning Centre, Birmingham Central Library

The new Learning Centre at Birmingham Central Library opened in April 2002. It has a
wider range of resources and more plentiful ICT facilities than were available in the old
learning centre; there are eighteen PCs, a meeting room, a learndirect room and a room
for formal ICT sessions such as bitesize courses and adult education service courses.
Other resources include: a self-study collection, a job library, a cv facility, skills for life
materials, an ESOL (English as a Second Language) collection and college and
university prospectuses. The Learning Centre is open 63 hours per week, until 8.00 pm
on weekdays and there are Learner Support Officers (LSOs) on duty at all times.

The Central Library Learning Centre differs in a number of ways from local community
libraries; it has closer links with adult education for example. Community libraries have
to encompass a wider range of services in a small area. In the Learning Centre, it is
possible to be more focussed about what learners can do. For example, they are not
permitted to use computers for email because there are other locations in library with
facilities to do this. It was suggested that there is a “different atmosphere” in the
Learning Centre from than found in community libraries.


The Learning Centre is staffed by a small team of ten, with two of the posts being funded
by learndirect. This means that some activities are limited by the amount of staff time
available, for example, it is not possible to carry out learndirect enrolments in the
evenings. Staff share the duties of identifying, selecting and acquiring information and
resources to support learning, taking responsibility for different sections of the Centre,
such as the job library, ESOL or prospectuses. While LSOs are not tutors, their role is
one of supporting, advising, guiding and mentoring learners.


The majority of learners at the Centre are enrolled on computing or language courses.
They tend to learn using multimedia resources: videos, CD ROMs and DVDs, as well as
books. These interactive resources allow them to learn at their own pace. A wide range
of people use the Learning Centre; the following are just a few examples:
        people running training courses using job library materials
        people who want to set up their own business
        people preparing for a job interview.

Support provided at each stage of the learning process

Examples could be identified to demonstrate how the Learning Centre and its staff
support learners at each of the six stages of the learning cycle. However, planning
learning experiences (2), exploring resources (3) and evaluation (6) were key.

1.     Engaging learners

Some learners discover the Learning Centre when they come to the library for another
purpose; its location at the top of the escalators on the first floor means that it can
sometimes act as a general enquiry point for people not familiar with the library.

Others come to the Learning Centre to find out more about learndirect. They have seen
it advertised through national media campaigns and this encourages them to visit the
library. Another route into learning is through involvement with UK Online. LSOs set up
email accounts for UK Online and this can trigger a wider interest in learning for some

Although much depends on personal preference, learners might travel considerable
distances because they like the atmosphere in the Learning Centre. For example, one
regular learner travels from Coventry because he feels comfortable in the Learning
Centre even though there are many places where he could study nearer to home. In
other instances, learners might come to the library simply because it is a convenient
location. Being in the centre of Birmingham, people might be nearby for other reasons,
such as work or leisure activities, and be looking for a constructive way to spend some
free time.

2.     Planning learning experiences

Four LSOs share responsibility for learndirect enrolments. Learners usually have to
book an appointment because it is a time-consuming activity, usually lasting between 60
and 90 minutes for an initial registration. LSOs need to check learners meet certain
requirements, regarding residence for example, and ensure that learndirect is the right
option for them. Learners need to be aware that learndirect is a very different learning
environment to that experienced in a class-based course; it can be lonely. While some
appreciate the flexibility of being able to study at a time and location which suits them,
others might miss the contact with other learners. Therefore, to ensure a course is
suitable, LSOs preview it with the learner. LSOs also ensure that learners are happy
with the level of commitment involved in undertaking a learndirect course. Once they
have decided to enrol, each learner devises a learning plan and learning goals, with the
support of a LSO. Each learner has a personal file and LSOs add brief reports
whenever a learner comes into the Learning Centre about the amount of help they
required, any problems and the learning activities they did.

In some cases, rather than enrolling a learner on a learndirect course, LSOs may, in
fact, direct them to alternative resources, such as open learning packs or CD ROMs,
which better meet their needs. The Learning Centre emphasises the fact that LSOs give
impartial advice about the most suitable course to meet a learner’s needs. It may be the
case that there is no course available in a subject a leaner wishes to study, so LSOs will
endeavour to find alternatives from the other resources available in the library or refer
learners elsewhere, for example, to adult education courses. One of the main strengths
of the Learning Centre is the way in which the two elements of learndirect and library
resources are combined: “it is a two-pronged learning centre”.

Learndirect Skills for Life courses adopt a particular method for planning learning.
Learners start with a diagnostic test of their word or number skills and this is used to

create a personal learning plan which shows where work needed to bring their skills up
to entry level; LSOs are then able to identify the most suitable course to meet the
learner’s needs based on this.

3.       Exploring

The main resources provided in the Learning Centre are:
        ESOL collection: The Learning Centre has recently secured an external grant to
         this expand collection of software, books and tapes. It is seen as an important
         area because refugees and asylum seekers are a major concern for the library
         service and “there are never going to have sufficient resources to meet needs”.
        Open learning resources: These include sign language materials, homeopathy
         tapes, NVQ materials (eg childcare, finance/accountancy course materials),
         computing, foreign languages, skills for life (literacy and numeracy).
        CD ROM collection: These include computing (from basics such as BBC
         Webwise to advanced level programming), languages, typing tutors,
         encyclopaedias, driving theory test, business practises and health.
        Job library: This includes a work skills section (eg self employment, mentoring,
         communication, customer care, teamwork and time management), grants
         information, study skills, occupational information, job seeking resources, videos,
         postgraduate information, vacation work, self employment, working abroad,
         vacation work, retirement, HE and FE prospectuses, local and international
         newspapers and journals.
        Cv wizard and facilities to print out letters and cvs for a small charge.
        Learndirect: As well as planning the learning experience, LSO support people on
         learndirect courses in person or by responding to email queries. Between
         January 2002 and January 2003, the number of learndirect sessions increased
         by almost 1000%.

The Learning Centre’s policy is to keep one copy of each resource for reference use in
the Centre and make other copies available to loan, although there are exceptions in the
case of expensive resources or because of licensing agreements. Reflecting the
emphasis on lifelong learning and self-study, two renewals are allowed on materials from
the Learning Centre even if there is a reservation on the item. This is not the policy for
materials in other parts of the library service.

4.       Reflection

LSOs help learners to reflect on specific aspects of their learning and the overall
experience. They also support them in the use of resources in the Learning Centre and
by responding to email enquiries. However, the nature of the majority of resources held
by the Centre means that this is not the most significant part of their work. As most of
the materials are designed for self-supported study, reflection or self-assessment
activities are often provided as part of the materials themselves. In addition, learndirect
provides learners registered on its courses with access to a national helpline. However,
learners may well require more practical help from LSOs in using software for example.

5.     Generalising and implementing learning

As the Learning Centre receives a higher level funding from learndirect if a learner
achieves their learning outcomes, it is important that there is evidence of these. This
might be something as simple as an email they have sent. Other examples of learning
outcomes include: designing their own website, booking a holiday online or researching
their family history. However, such objectives are often only achieved outside the library
and sometime after the learner has completed the course, so can be difficult to prove.
The library is, therefore, considering contacting people some time after they have
finished their course to see if they have actually done what they planned to and can
demonstrate this.

6.     Evaluation

Progression is important for the Learning Centre because is explicitly it is looked for by
learndirect. For example, after they have completed a Skills for Life course, learners do
a new diagnostic test on the skills their course was designed to cover to check for
evidence of progression. When they have completed a course, all learners are
encouraged to arrange a meeting with an LSO to identify their current priorities. In one
instance, a learner who completed Surfdirect, an introductory computing course, enjoyed
it and wanted to continue learning, so met with a LSO to discuss how they might
progress. Another learner moved on from a Skills for Life course to a computing course.

Learndirect work needs to be backed up by evidence and the Learning Centre is subject
to regular audits; staff suggested that the need to collect evidence was greater than for
any other service in the library. Monitoring and tracking is therefore very important for
the Learning Centre as well as for learners. Learndirect requires learners have to have
contact with the Learning Centre every three weeks or to explain why they have not
made contact. Those who have not been in or accessed their account from elsewhere
are contacted by telephone, letter or email to find out whether they need any support or
have decided to withdraw.

With open learning there is not the same degree formality; indeed, it would probably not
be appropriate in many circumstances. Learners are asked to sign in when they enter
the Learning Centre, but many people may well not wish records about them kept if, for
example, they have a basic skills need and they not want their family to know, or they
are looking for a new job. However, even in these circumstances, staff might become
aware of the outcome of a learning activity when people send a card or letter to thank
them and call in to tell library staff news such as passing their driving theory test. LSOs
are aware that those using open learning materials do progress even though this is less
obvious. For example, they might start off using CD ROMs, a cassette pack or video
and then move onto a formal course.

Case Study 2: The Learning Shop

The Learning Shop opened in May 2001; since then, it has dealt with 19,000 enquiries,
mainly face-to-face, but also by telephone and email. Funded by the DfES, it is an
information and advice centre set up by Birmingham Lifelong Learning Partnership. It
was established to provide information on all forms of learning; to be easily accessible to
everyone; to help people to find out about training and career opportunities; to promote
all forms of learning at all levels; and to encourage and motivate people of all ages,
backgrounds and circumstances to learn. The Learning Shop is currently funded
through the LSC via the Birmingham and Solihull IAG Partnership, which also provides a
steering group function.


Learning Shop staff are seconded or employed on short-term contracts. As well as
library staff, there are people with backgrounds in personnel, administration, the
voluntary sector and job centres who each bring a different perspectives and unique
skills. Their training differs from that of library staff; most are working towards an NVQ
Level 3 in Advice and Guidance.

The types of support staff give included:
        providing information about suitable courses
        arranging careers guidance interviews
        contacting course/training advisers to request information and/or arrange
         appointments for customers
        finding out which qualifications are most suitable/well-recognised
        help producing cvs and job application letters
        reassuring customers and putting them at ease.

Support at each stage of the learning process

At the Learning Shop, the focus is on the initial stages of the learning process: engaging
learners (1) and helping them to plan learning experiences (2), but evaluation (6) is also
important due to external funding requirements.

1.       Engaging learners

The Learning Shop occupies two small areas on either side of a corridor at the rear
entrance to the library. It acts as a referral point for the Learning Centre and vice versa.
The location of the Learning Shop is ideal for engaging learners because there is a
constant flow of people passing. Being in the library is also an advantage; this
“enhances the service” in terms of position and the variety of back up services such as
the business library, Learning Centre and computing facilities. In addition, staff believe
that the library tends to be viewed as fairly relaxed and friendly, and this reflects on the
Learning Shop.

2.     Planning learning experiences

The Learning Shop is seen as a first point of contact; it does not deliver learning, but
“points people in right direction for learning and work enquiries”. It provides more in
depth support and advice on learning opportunities than the Learning Centre; sessions
here can last up to one hour. Although staff do not strictly provide guidance, they advise
learners by helping them to find appropriate learning opportunities and help with cvs and
job searching. The service differs from traditional library provision because support
tends to be assisted rather than self-help.

6.     Evaluation

Being externally funded, the Learning Shop is under particular pressure to provide
evidence of the impact of its services. Similarly to the Learning Centre, staff keep
records of all learners.

In addition, the Shop carried out a postcard survey of customers early in 2002. This
showed that the most common type of enquiry was a request for information about
courses (47%). Career enquiries and course and job enquiries were some way behind
this, accounting for just 12%. However, overall, there were a wide range of enquiries
including requests for funding and grant information, cvs and home education. The most
common action as a result of a visit to the Learning Shop was to enrol on a course.
However, others started work, were referred to careers guidance or were considering
career changes.

Further evidence is provided by the case studies written up by some staff as part of their
NVQ qualifications. There is also more informal evidence which points to the value of
the Learning Shop to learners. Many people call in after they have started on a course
or found a job to thank the staff and to tell them how they got on.

Case Study 3: South Yardley Learning Centre

South Yardley is one of four Learning Centres in community libraries in Birmingham
funded by NOF. Funding is for a three-year term from April 2002 and the library service
is starting to devise an exit strategy to determine what will happen at the end of this

The majority of courses offered in the Learning Centre are targeted at learners with ICT
and other basic skills needs. There is a twelve-week Computers for Beginners course
and a follow-on course, Making the Most of your Computer. CLAIT and English Using
Computers courses are also offered. Other subjects are yoga and ESOL. In addition,
learners may book an hour long one-to-one session on basic computing or attend
flexible learning sessions where they can improve their English or Maths at their own
pace, with tutor support.

South Yardley children’s library runs a Homework Club on Thursdays and Saturdays,
when a member of staff is available to help with homework queries and to assist children
using the homework collection.


One of the main issues in terms of the continuation of the Learning Centre at the end of
the initial funding period is staffing and staff training. The Centre is currently managed
by a part-time project worker and this may have led users to have higher expectations in
terms of the level of support they expect when using the Centre. Staff with additional
counter duties and less training in ICT may not be able to provide the same level of
support. All staff help learners with ICT enquiries, especially at times when the part-time
project worker is not available, but their role is currently fairly limited and not formalised.
In additional to the practical difficulties of expanding the role of counter staff, it has been
argued that having a single designated member of staff with responsibility for the
Learning Centre leads to greater continuity and better communication.


The nine people attending the Computers for Beginners course were asked about their
motivation for enrolling. Most had enrolled to improve their knowledge of computers.
Typical comments included:
        To gain knowledge and progress
        Everything has a website…so if you can’t beat it, join in
        I know nothing about computers, but I want to know.
Others said they were interested in learning more generally:
        …to keep my brain working
        …to see if I can still learn.
However, a number of learners had come to the course with a specific aim:
        To keep up with my children who use computers to learn at school
        May use it to get a job later

         We’re thinking about getting a computer and think it would be good to have some
         knowledge before we do.

Most had chosen to attend a course at the library because they had seen promotional
materials when they had visited the library for another reason. One commented that the
library was more convenient than the alternative venues where adult education courses
were held.

Support provided at each stage of the learning process

At South Yardley Learning Centre, the support was focused on the engaging (1),
exploring (3) and generalising (5) stages.

1.       Engaging learners

A key aspect of the Learning Centre project worker’s role is in “drumming up business”
using a variety of techniques including promotional posters and leaflets and outreach
activities, for instance, attending community events such as car boot sales and local
festivals. He also works closely with other agencies such as job centres, Connexions,
church groups and groups which meet in the library.

The aim is to encourage people who have not used ICT before and those who may not
be regular library users to try the courses on offer. The key target groups for the
Learning Centre are: residents of Acock’s Green ward; 16 to 25 year old males; one
parent families; and older people.

3.       Exploring resources

In the past, South Yardley library specialised in music and art books, so there are still
fairly comprehensive collections in these areas. Other sections of particular relevance
for learners are: the Basic Skills section, the job library, community information, ‘poetry
on loan’, local studies, the reference collection and the People’s Network. Many of the
resources are targeted at the specific needs of the local community, for example, books
in community languages, talking books and large print.

A number of activities have been organised in the Learning Centre to provide
opportunities for particular groups of learners to explore resources.

        As part of World Book Day, a CD ROM session was arranged for a toddler group
         which meets in the library. A Spot the Dog CD ROM was shown and the project
         worker talked to parents and carers about the growth of ICT in schools. A follow
         up session is planned for the summer. This will be an opportunity for parents
         and children to work together on the computers and, hopefully, will encourage
         parents to go on to do a course which will help them to support their children.

        A session was held with ten to eleven year olds from a local junior school; there
         was a reading from Lord of the Rings before pupils were asked to find related
         Internet sites.

5.     Generalising and implementing learning

A problem currently facing learners at South Yardley library is that, having learned
computer basics using Microsoft Office in the Learning Centre, they then have to apply
these skills on the People’s Network machines in the main library which run Star Office.
Many, therefore, need help from library staff at this point to implement their learning. An
additional problem is that the People’s Network machines do not have floppy disk drives,
so in order to save their work, learners have to set up an email account and save their
file as an attachment. This is a skill which is not covered in the Computers for Beginners
course, so learners with limited computer experience may, again, need considerable
help from library staff at this stage.

Another example of how the library can help with the implementation of learning is
demonstrated by the weekly visits by a local nursery. The themes chosen for these
sessions are often linked to what children are currently learning, so the library visit
reinforces what has been learnt in the nursery. Parents are encouraged to attend with
their children and during the story telling sessions, library staff demonstrate to parents
how to read with their children. There is then an opportunity for parents to practise what
they have seen by spending time with their child in the library sitting and reading

6.     Evaluation

As required by NOF, the project worker keeps records of those using the Learning
Centre, including details such as age, ethnicity, postcode, whether they are disabled,
unemployed, retired, have basic skills needs, are a lone parent, are currently in
education and are a library member. The numbers of new and repeat users are also
monitored to provide an indication of progress.

Overview of Birmingham case studies

These three case studies provide just three examples of the types of support libraries
can offer to learners. The Central Library Learning Centre, the Learning Shop and the
Learning Centre at South Yardley each performs a different role and the demands on
staff vary accordingly. The three case studies can be seen as interrelated: the two
services based in the Central Library provide complementary functions, one focusing on
engaging and referring learners and the other on planning, and later evaluating, actual
learning experiences. While these provide a wide range of resources, designed to meet
the needs of a broad range learners, the facilities in the community library are largely
dictated by the needs of the local community it serves. Being closer to the community
may be the reason why, at this library, it was easier to identify examples of ways in
which learning was implemented in practical situations. An issue highlighted by all the
case studies was the extent to which learning resources, staffing and learning
processes, in particular evaluation, were closely linked to the demands of external
funding bodies.

Case study 4: Sunderland Libraries

A discussion of some of the issues raised by this report was held with library staff from
the City of Sunderland Library Service. Much of the debate centred around staffing and
partnerships. The experience in Sunderland demonstrates one way in which staffing,
and other difficulties libraries face in trying to provide support for learners, might be
overcome through effective partnership working.

Staffing issues

It was acknowledged that library staff already do a lot to support learners, but much of
this is “unconscious” and, therefore, goes unrecognised. Staff often do not recognise
the full range of skills they possess and underestimate themselves. The issues of staff
development and confidence levels were felt to be inextricably linked. While some are
able to work with learners, acting almost as trainers, others lack sufficient confidence or
training to be able to take on such a role. Staff may feel that the level of support some
people now require as above their present capabilities and this can be frustrating. Some
staff may be fearful of change and need to be encouraged to see the opportunities new
developments can bring. It was suggested that one way to do this was to actively
involve staff in decisions about training provision.

ICT was identified as a particular area where more staff training and confidence building
was required and exit strategies need to be devised to continue the work begun through
NOF training. Because ICT is developing so quickly, there is a danger that training can
lag behind. There are other areas in which library staff also require training to help them
to gain a better understanding of the learning process, for example, the identification of
basic skills needs. However, time and finance are required to support training. Informal
staff support is another element of staff development; members of staff frequently help
each other to learn and are aware of which members of staff might be able to help a
learner with a particular enquiry.

However, even if staff possess the necessary confidence and skills to support learners,
lack of time remains a major problem. Public expectations of library staff are constantly
rising and this can be a problem if staff are committed in other areas. A key problem
facing library staff and managers is how to support learners to the extent they require
without disadvantaging other library users. This is not just a problem for public libraries;
it can also present difficulties in other sectors, such as HE.

One solution which has been introduced in Sunderland is to offer individually tailored
sessions, run by the ICT Team. Library staff can direct learners who require more in
depth support than they are able to provide to these sessions. Alternatively, learners
can be redirected to local college learning centres, especially where these are in shared
premises. Self-learn packages, such as those used by the University of Sunderland, are
another possibility. However, these are only suitable for learners with a certain level of
existing skills.


It is not feasible for libraries to always act as the main provider to meet learners’ needs,
but they can play a crucial role through partnership arrangements with other providers.

Sunderland Libraries are involved in two important partnership initiatives: LASh
(Libraries Access Sunderland Scheme) and Peoplefirst.

          LASh

LASh’s vision is “to provide opportunities for learning, both formal and informal, through
seamless access to all libraries within Sunderland”. One of its most important roles is in
promoting library services, especially to people who may not be aware of the learning
opportunities available or who have misconceptions about, or a poor image of, libraries.
In addition to marketing, subgroups have been established for ICT and staff
development. All three subgroups involve staff across each of the sectors and at a
variety of levels.

Partnerships can have direct impacts on staff training. Staff from the different sectors
can share their knowledge, experiences and particular strengths. LASh has organised
joint training in issues of common concern, such as cultural diversity and there is a
Training Consortium which has delivered NOF training for school librarians and public
library staff. Having a larger body of staff means that the partnership can arrange visits
by external trainers which would not be viable for a single organisation. Partnerships
can also assist with more informal staff development as library staff from different
sectors have opportunities to learn from each other. For example, through LASh, staff
take part in drop-in visits to other libraries which allow them to see what is available
elsewhere and also provide networking opportunities.

          Peoplefirst

Peoplefirst was launched in March 2003 and aims to improve accessibility by bringing
services together to improve access. The council plans to establish six Area Centres
across the city where people will be able to access a range of local services from a
single venue. For example, they will be able to pay their council tax, book a sports
facility, visit a doctor, contact their local police officer, borrow a library book, use the
Internet, report faults and problems and deal with housing queries. In addition to these
Area Centres, there will be Local Centres, usually with a library at the heart, which will
provide a more restricted range of services, but will allow people to access other
services electronically. Other aspects of the scheme include mobile facilities, kiosks,
smartcards and arrangements for staff who go into people’s homes to report any
problems to the appropriate department via PDAs.

Electronic Village Halls (EVHs) and Learning Centres, examples of partnership
working in practice

The approach taken in Sunderland demonstrates a possible way to overcome some of
the staffing difficulties discussed through working in partnership. A number of Electronic
Village Halls (EVHs) and Learning Centres have been set up offering access to a range
of ICT resources. Each site is designed to meet the needs of the particular community it
serves; as no two communities are alike, so no two centres follow exactly the same
model. The emphasis is very much on the needs of the local community; as well as
different service providers working together, staff and users work in partnership.

The Hetton Centre

The Hetton Centre is the newest EVH and Learning Centre in Sunderland; it opened in
April 2003. It is run through a Trust and the community is actively involved in the
development and running of the Centre. It is a new building, located next to the local
sports centre. In addition to the library, ICT and learning area, other facilities already
provided or planned for the Centre include: an informal seating area, a doctors’ surgery,
a police officer, presence from the university and college, a crèche, a café, welfare rights
services, Sunderland Housing Group, Job Linkage and a function room. There is a
central reception desk to handle general enquiries. Locating a library with other
community facilities offers opportunities to engage more learners. In addition, the library
may be able to support particular learning needs which arise as a result of a visit to one
of the other services at the Centre, such as the doctor or Job Linkage.

The EVH and Learning Centre has eight PCs and there are special facilities for disabled
learners. A range of activities are offered to attract a wide range of learners and
potential learners, including, ICT activities for the Age Concern group which meets in the
Centre and a Book-it club for eight to fourteen years which combines reader
development and ICT activities. There is also a Study Support service which is run by a
Youth Worker from the college. There is a separate room where the City of Sunderland
College runs ICT courses such as ECDL and CLAIT. In addition to these standard
courses, the tutors attempt to put on specialist courses on more specific topics such as
digital imaging if there is sufficient demand from the local community.

Library staff provide basic help for learners, for instance, teaching them how to use a
mouse or how to access the Internet. If they require further support, learners are

directed to the courses provided by college tutors in the centre. As is the case in most
similar centres in Sunderland, library staff provide administrative support for the college,
for example, by enrolling learners on courses and are paid an honorarium for this
service. Library staff therefore play an important role in engaging learners and helping
them to plan their learning experience. There is also evidence that learners generalise
and implement their learning in the library; once they have completed a course, they
may return to use the open access PCs to try out their new skills.

Sandhill Cente

Sandhill Centre opened in October 2002 and was financed by a private finance initiative
led by the City of Sunderland Council in partnership with Jarvis. Its facilities include: a
school, community sports facilities, a swimming pool, a library and EVH, the schools
library service, education support services and a theatre space. It is a larger EVH with
twenty-four of the most up-to-date PCs funded by UK Online. The development of a
new facility encouraged many local people to visit in the few months after it opened to
see what was available. Immediately after the centre opened, book issues doubled
year-on-year and there has been a 26% increase in library membership.

The role of the library and EVH manager is to consult and liase with groups in the local
community to identify their needs and to develop suitable learning opportunities. Unlike
the majority of centres in Sunderland, programmes here are not automatically run by the
City of Sunderland College, but the facilities are offered to alternative community
providers such as the community business centre. This allows programmes to be
developed in partnership and more innovative courses to be offered. The manager
ensures that the courses on offer reflect the needs of the local community. This means
that, in addition to courses on basic skills, there are opportunities to learn about digital
imaging, graphic design, desktop publishing, web design and family history using the
Internet. There are even some examples of learners organising their own groups: a
cross-stitch group has been set up; members download patterns from the Internet and
do their sampling in the library. This means that not only are learners involved in
planning their own individual learning, but they are also actively involved in developing
learning opportunities as a community. As in other centres, library staff support learners
using the EVH, but will refer those with more specialist learning needs on to other

Hendon Library and Learning Centre

Unlike the Sandhill and Hetton centes, Hendon is an older Carnegie building. Although it
does not offer the wide range of services available at other centres, library staff here
work even more closely than elsewhere with City of Sunderland College tutors. This
partnership benefits both organisation as people who might not otherwise use the library
are encouraged to visit to come and it also means that a wider range of people can take
advantage of the college’s courses.

Hendon is an area with very high basic skills needs and a tutor is available to provide
tuition, advice and support at all times. This is part of the college’s strategy to bring its
services out into the community. To achieve this, it works in partnership with the library
service as well as other community organisations to share facilities in thirty-seven
locations around the city. To attempt to widen participation, Summer Experience
activities are held in some of the outreach centres. These taster sessions will hopefully
encourage people who take part in taster sessions to enrol on longer college courses.

Hendon learning centre adjoins the main library. Learners can use the facilities, which
include sixteen PCs and a range of self-study materials, on a drop-in basis. Although
there are a small number of taught courses and taster sessions, the tutor’s role is largely
one of supporting and advising; learners plan and direct their learning independently.
For those who enrol, records are kept of their progress. Part of the tutor’s role is to
assess the level a learner is at and to direct them to appropriate materials.

Overview of Sunderland case study

The experience in Sunderland demonstrates the importance of working in partnership,
not only with other learning providers, but also with learners themselves. Even within a
small geographical area, the needs of local communities can vary considerably and
libraries need to be aware of these differences and to take account of them when
planning how they should best meet the needs of learners. Libraries can not, and
should not, work alone to support learners; they need to draw on the experience and
expertise of a variety of other partners, making the learner, rather than the organisation
the focus of their efforts.

7.     Conclusions
Various research projects have recently been carried out to investigate learning and
libraries. Much of the work has focused on outcomes and impacts of learning
experiences and yet, it is clear that the learning process itself is often not clearly
understood in relation to libraries. There is little agreement about what the role of the
library should be at each stage of the learning process and it is acknowledged that a
learner’s experience may differ considerably depending on the area they live in, the
library they use and the member of staff they encounter on a particular visit. As libraries
move outside their comfort zone and extend their services to learners, there are bound
to be difficulties to overcome. The processes of reflection, generalisation and, to some
extent, guiding learners and evaluating learning experiences are not well understood or
supported in libraries and this may well be equally true of other providers in the cultural
sector. Many staff lack the training, confidence and time to support learners in these
important activities. It is, therefore, not just the learning needs of users which need to be
considered, but also those of library staff. Extending the role of the library is likely to
require support from those with greater experience and expertise in supporting learners
at all stages of the learning cycle. As the case studies illustrate, there are a variety of
ways in which this might be achieved, for example, co-locating libraries with other forms
of learning provision; employing specialist staff; and through providing staff training in
these areas.

Staffing is the crucial issue for libraries in supporting learners. There may be an
argument for libraries employing people from different backgrounds, such as adult
educators, who have the knowledge and skills to support learners at every stage of the
learning process. These staff could then help to train and boost the confidence of other
library staff. Alternatively co-locating libraries with other services, such as college
outreach centres, can ensure that staff are available to meet learners’ needs. Library
staff need to be clear about when to refer learners to other providers. To do this, they
not only need to know about the strengths and weaknesses of their own service, but
they also require knowledge of what other partners have to offer. Formal and informal
contact between staff from various partners and at all levels is crucial. This will not only
help staff to refer learners to the most suitable place, but is also likely to help them to
gain greater understanding of the stages of the learning cycle where libraries have
traditionally been weakest.

Although this short project has started to examine these issues, many questions remain.
There is, as yet, no consensus about how libraries can best support learners. Without
an understanding of processes and approaches, the evaluation of impact and outcomes
can only be an essentially arbitrary exercise.

The following are just some of the issues which libraries need to consider:
How can libraries support learners most effectively? Should they concentrate efforts on
particular stages of the learning cycle?
Is there a role for libraries at each stage of the learning process or are some aspects
best left to other professionals?
How can libraries work more effectively with other formal and informal learning

What implications are there for library staffing and staff training in increasing the amount
of support libraries offer to learners?
Should supporting learning be seen as the job of all staff or one/a small number of staff?
Do library staff currently have sufficient understanding of the process of learning to be
able to support learners effectively?
How should learning in libraries be evaluated? Are models used in formal educational
How can libraries engage more learners, especially those who are ‘harder-to-reach’?
How can libraries make learners the focus of their activities and ensure they are fully
involved at every stage of the individual and collective learning process?

8.     References
Ausubel, D. (1963), The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning, New York: Grune
and Stratton.

Clarke, Peter (2001), Museum Learning Online: Guidelines for Good Practice, London:
Resource [].

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) (2003), Framework for the Future:
Libraries, Learning and Information in the Next Decade, [available at].

Gagne, R.M. (1985), The Conditions of Learning, New York: Holt, Rinehart and

Jarvis, Peter, Holford, John, and Griffin, Colin (1998), The Theory and Practice of
Learning, London: Kogan Page.

Knowles, Malcolm (1990), The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species, Houston: Gulf

Knowles, Malcolm (1975), Self-Directed Learning, A Guide for Learners and Teachers,
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge.

Kolb, D.A. (1984), Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Mezirow, J. (1991), Transformative Dimensions of Learning, San Francisco: Jossey-

Reigeluth, C., and Stein, F. (1983), “The Elaboration Theory of Instruction”, in C.
Reigeluth (ed), Instructional Design Theories and Models, Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum

Resource (2003), Inspiring Learning for All: A Vision for Accessible Learning in
Museums, Archives and Libraries. London: Resource: The Council for Museums,
Archives and Libraries [available at].

Resource (2001), Using Museums, Archives and Libraries to Develop a Learning
Community: A Strategic Plan for Action, London: Resource: The Council for Museums,
Archives and Libraries.

Saljo, R. (1979), “Learning in the Learner’s Perspective 1. Some Common-sense
Conceptions”, Reports from the Institute of Education, University of Gothenburg, 76.

Tough, Allen (1971), The Adult’s learning Projects. A Fresh Approach to Theory and
Practice in Adult Learning, Ontario: Institute for Studies in Education.


Bigg, Morris L., and Shermis, Samuel S (1993), Learning Theories for Teachers, New
York: Harper Collins.

Brockett, Ralph G., and Hiemstra, Roger (1991), Self-Direction in Adult Learning:
Perspectives on Theory, Research and Practice, London: Routledge.

Callaghan, George, Newton, Derek, Wallis, Emma, Winterton, Jonathan, Winterton, Ruth
(2001), Adult and Community Learning: What? Why? Who? Where? A Literature Review
on Adult and Community Learning, London: Eldwick Research Associates.

Coffield, Frank (ed) (2000), The Necessity of Informal Learning, Bristol: Policy Press.

Dale, Sheila (1979), “The Adult Independent Learning Project: Work With Adult Self-
Directed Learners in Public Libraries”, Journal of Librarianship 11(2), pp 83-107.

Department for Education and Employment/Department for Culture, Media and Sport
(2001), Government’s response to Empowering the Learning Community, London:

Drodge, Stephen (1984), “Libraries and Adult Learners: Future Developments”, Journal
of Librarianship 16(3), pp. 170-187.

Ellis-King, Deirdre (1986), “The Role of the Public Library in Education”, An Leabharlaan
3(4), pp. 99-108.

Harris, Duncan, and Bell, Chris (1994), Evaluating and Assessing for Learning (2nd ed),
London: Kogan Page.

Jarvis, Peter (1995), Adult and Continuing Education: Theory and Practice, London:

Library and Information Commission (1997), The New Library: The People’s Network,
London: Library and Information Commission.

Library and Information Commission (2000), Empowering the Learning Community,
Report of the Education and Libraries Task Group, London: LIC.

Appendix: Questions for library staff
A.         How do you see the public library’s role in supporting:
           Formal learning ie people enrolled on courses
           Informal learning?

B.         For each of the processes below, please describe how the library currently
           supports learners (formally and informally).

     1.       Engaging learners
              a. by creating a stimulating environment conductive to learning eg layout,
              b. by attracting potential learners to the library in other ways eg publicity,
                 working with adult education and other educators

     2.       Planning learning experiences
              a. helping learning to define a problem or identify a learning need
              b. helping learners to plan a learning experience and choose a learning
              c. relating their learning need to prior knowledge and experience

     3.       Exploring
              a. providing resources for learning (in a variety of formats/levels etc)
              b. organising resources for learning (eg sequencing to guide learning)
              c. establishing contacts with other people/organisations eg other learning
              d. guiding progress

     4.       Reflection i.e. helping learners to understand the information, to identify
              patterns, acting as a sounding board

     5.       Generalising and implementing learning
              a. Drawing inferences and transferring knowledge to other situations
              b. Solving real life problems

     6.       Evaluation i.e. determining the success of a learning experience, leading to
              further enquiry if necessary

C.         Which of these processes do you think is the most important for the library?

D.         Which do you think the library currently performs most successfully?

E.         Which do you think the library currently performs least successfully?

F.         What do you think the library might do to support learners more effectively?

G.         Do you have any documentation which would support these answers or provide
           further illustrations?


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