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THE NEXT GENERATION

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THE NEXT GENERATION Powered By Docstoc
					The next generation: educators and employers in partnership
John Feather
Professor of Library and Information Studies
Loughborough University


Introduction
It is one of the characteristics of a profession that its practitioners are concerned to
ensure that it continues into the future. This concern is manifested in regulating
standards of entry, and in providing mechanisms for professional development. Even
in professions like librarianship in which the formal professional qualification is not a
legal requirement – and often not even a prerequisite for employment in a
professional post – practitioners are at the very least interested in ensuring that there
are people who have the potential to be future leaders. Moreover, despite the long
and sorry British tradition of having an undereducated and undertrained workforce,
we are coming to recognise that lifelong learning is essential to a successful society,
and that it is a necessity for everyone including those who still intend to stay with a
chosen career path throughout their working lives. We are also, however, living at a
time when changes between careers are becoming more common, and moving
between jobs and between different modes of work are no longer the occasional
exceptions to the rule. A mobile workforce and less stable career paths inevitably
raise questions about the very nature of professionalism. The professions can easily
be portrayed– too often with some justification – as using self-regulation as a form of
self-protection, with their much vaunted independence merely giving a cloak of
respectability to restrictive practices.

Librarians may be less guilty of some of this than many other professions. We do not
have a closed shop, and we do, in general recognise that the personal professional
development of individual practitioners is for the general good of the profession as a
whole, and – much more importantly – its clients. This comparatively open-minded
and flexible attitude to the formalities of professionalism, while sacrificing none of the
adherence to standards of performance which are its true hallmark, has perhaps
been made easier by the very wide range of contexts in which the arts of librarianship
are practiced. I have so far used the terms ‘librarianship’, ‘librarians’ and ‘libraries’
without explanation and certainly without apology. I do not intend to apologise now,
but we have to remember that there is a multiplicity of other terms which describe all
or important parts of what you do. This is not merely a matter of sexing up the public
image of an allegedly dull activity; there are genuine differences not all of which are
mere nuances.

The changes in the scope of the profession – of which the changes in terminology
are merely an external indicator – have created new issues about the means of entry
and qualification. Even in the more established parts of the sector, the needs of
employers differ between, say, public and university libraries, and between libraries
within each of those sectors as well. We should not, however, overemphasise this.
The universal use of more or less common technologies has significantly reduced the
differences, although they are still very real in some respects. It has always been a
central dilemma of LIS education that we need to create a curriculum which satisfies
the needs of as wide a spectrum as possible of students and their future employers.
The consequence is inevitably that in trying to satisfy everyone, we give complete
satisfaction to no-one; the trick is to ensure that we do not fall too far short of what
you really want.




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The needs of employers
Studies over many years have revealed a consistent pattern of employer demand. It
can perhaps best be summarised as wanting new entrants who have flexible
attitudes, a wide range of general knowledge and good interpersonal skills, as well as
an understanding of organisational and environmental factors and business
requirements. This is a formidable list, especially given that for the majority of
entrants to the university library sector the period of formal academic training is no
more than one year and may be as little as eight to nine months. Moreover, it is a list
which is asking for two quite different things; they are not irreconcilable, but we need
to recognise the distinction.

First, employers say that they want employees with a sound knowledge base. This is,
however, potentially of formidable scope; the ideal seems to combine a good general
knowledge with high-level knowledge of one or two subjects and specific knowledge
of LIS. The LIS knowledge base is itself very broad. At the heart of it is what we now
call information management, a knowledge and understanding of information and
how it is derived, systematised, stored and retrieved. The context, however, is very
wide. Professional practice is typically conducted in an institution, and many
information professionals participate in managing organisations – and hence people
– even in their first posts. More broadly than that, a professional librarian needs an
understanding of the wider scope of professional practice, with insights into ethical
issues and the legal framework of information provision, and the social, political and
economic environment in libraries operate. The scope is, as I said, formidable.

But this is not all. The second thing employers are asking for – and actually it is
probably the first thing – is the right kind of person. Interpersonal skills, a flexible
approach to tasks and good communication skills are the basis of this. It is
manifested in what we could identify as a confident and professional approach to
tasks, and a willingness to continue to learn. Of course, all graduates might
reasonably be expected to show some of these characteristics, and the list is by no
means exhaustive; at the least we might add numeracy and some acquaintance with
at least one foreign language. Some of this can be taught, but some of it can only be
learned. That distinction is not just an academic quibble. It is intended to suggest a
very real – if sometimes rather indistinct – difference between knowledge,
understanding and skills which are acquired by instruction and study, and those
which are acquired by experience. In practice, the difference is often one of balance.
A sound theoretical base is essential to the practice of many professional skills, if
only so we have a thorough understanding of why we do things as well as of what we
do. In the last analysis, however, what you appearing to be saying is that you want
the right people.


The needs of employees
Over the years, a good deal of work has been done on the needs of employers in the
LIS sector, but there is very little on needs of employees. If, however, there is a
recruitment problem, or if there are issues about the long-term potential and capacity
of those who are recruited – and there may be both – then we need to look at the
question of training, education and career progression from the other side. A recent
published, and very rare, example of an employee perspective on the issue – if it is at
all typical – suggests that the emphasis on a combination of personal skills and a
professional knowledge base is appropriate.1 But it is probably even more dangerous
to generalise about employees than it is about employers. Career choices may have
something in common, but specific jobs are accepted for a great variety of reasons
from high minded idealism to geographical convenience or financial necessity. As a



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profession looking to our future ability to serve our clients, we need to look at the
continuing development needs of the workforce.

The radical changes in many aspects of professional information work over recent
years are set to continue. A process of continuous re-skilling and acquisition of new
learning has become an essential part of all our professional lives. On the whole, we
look to professional bodies, both formal and informal, to provide the delivery
mechanisms for this. But for the newly qualified professional, we need to provide a
firm infrastructure of support for development, if only to inculcate a career-long habit
of recognising the need for personal professional development. If we cannot provide
effective means to sustain development and to reward achievement, we will
inevitably lose people from the profession, and many of those whom we lose will be
precisely the people whom we would wish to retain – the committed and the
ambitious.

We should try not to make assumptions about employees and their career
aspirations. Indeed, there is room for an important piece of research which
addresses the issues from the employee perspective. We know a great deal about
what employers want; we need to know far more about what new and mid-career
professionals want, what they are prepared to do in order to reach their goals, and
what provision we need to make to help them. The proposals currently under
consideration by CILIP will create additional routes to Chartered status which try to
recognise the greater flexibility of career patterns and the implications of lifelong
learning in a continuous spectrum from 16 to 19 to postgraduate degree. The
underlying principle is one which deserves to be welcomed, but the welcome will
have to be more than theoretical. If employees are indeed to be encouraged to
develop their careers through learning as well as by practice, both employers and
educators will have to consider how the patterns of both work and learning will need
to change to accommodate this change.


Meeting employer and employee needs
How can the LIS departments work with you and your staff to achieve what you
want? There is no need to explain to this audience the institutional context in which
we operate; you know the funding issues, the competing claims of research and
learning and teaching, and the diversity across the HE sector which makes valid
generalisation increasingly difficult.2 But there are some underlying issues which can
be legitimately explored.

First, the LIS departments are in a very important sense the gatekeepers of the
profession. You can only have good newly qualified professionals if we can recruit
the right kind of student. At postgraduate level, my own experience, which is I think
replicated across the sector, is that librarianship - or information work in a broader
sense – is still a career which can attract good arts and social science graduates and
some scientists. But there are practical difficulties which we shall all have to confront
in the near future, some of which are already with us.

At the root of the problem is money – not ours, but theirs. Barclays and the NUS
estimate that the average graduate debt is now of the order of £10,000.3 Much of this
is of course, through the student loan system at favourable rates of interest and with
some deferred repayment, but it is debt nevertheless. The cost of a one-year
postgraduate programme is typically between £3000 and £4500 in fees, depending
on the university and the course. Overall, even outside London, the cost of a year of
postgraduate study is not far short of £10,000. Studentships from AHRB in the LIS
field are highly competitive, and their number is decreasing; for most students, a one-


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year postgraduate year programme means adding more to their cumulated
indebtedness. And the reward for this? CILIP’s recommendation for the starting
salary for an Assistant Librarian or Senior Library Assistant was £15000 in 2002, with
a minimum £18000 for Chartered Librarians.4 Since August 2002, the minimum
salary on ALC1 – the highest grade likely to be used for a newly qualified librarian in
the old universities - has been £18265, but in practice clerical grades are used for
the Senior Library Assistant posts in which most people actually start, and this may
be little more than £14000-£15000. An analysis by an employment agency in the
information sector suggests a starting range of £17000-£18000 in academic libraries
in 2003, but outside London this may fall as low as £15000-£18000. Even within the
information sector, this is poor; first jobs in the private sector for information
professionals are paying in excess of £20000.5 I shall not labour the point – indeed it
does not need labouring.

Whatever our perspective on this – whether as student, employer, employee or LIS
education provider – there is neither and easy nor an instant solution. Many students,
of course, support themselves by part-time work, but this is not easily compatible with
the heavy demands of a full-time postgraduate course. It seems inevitable that there
will be a strong movement towards part-time postgraduate programmes over the next
few years. This will make very different demands on departments. It will no longer be
acceptable simply to define part-time routes through programmes which are basically
structured around the needs and capacities of full-time students. There will be a need
to design programmes which are more specifically for part-time study, but which are
also available in a full-time mode. This implies precisely the same flexibility in the LIS
departments which you rightly expect of our graduates. I would like to think that we
can work together on this, and consider whether we cannot devise schemes under
which LIS departments and libraries could make a combined offering of a part-time
course and part-time work over two years, which would give the new entrant both a
qualification and some of that crucial practical experience and insight which you ask
for. I believe a number of BAILER members would be interested in discussing such a
scheme and exploring some of the issues which would arise, and not only in working
with libraries in that small minority of universities which happen to have a
postgraduate LIS programme.

While recruiting good and suitable postgraduate students into LIS courses is perhaps
becoming more difficult, it is far from impossible, and there are no real indications of
long-term decline in either quality or quantity. Indeed, there is a case to be made that
the quality continues to improve. Undergraduate programmes are a different matter.
In retrospect, it can be credibly argued that creating an undergraduate route to
qualification in librarianship has raised the overall educational standards of the
profession. This has been of particular significance in the public library sector,
although it has perhaps had a lesser impact in university libraries where the long-
standing tradition of recruitment of graduates with a postgraduate LIS qualification
has generally continued. There is, now, however, a real issue to be faced about
undergraduate degrees in LIS. The number of applications to such programmes has
decreased significantly in the last five years. In a number of departments, including
my own, courses in librarianship at undergraduate level have been remodelled as
degrees in information management, often in combination with computer science,
business studies or media and communication studies, with the intention of attracting
more and better students. The general experience is that this strategy has been
successful. The graduates from these programmes, most of which are accredited by
CILIP, have a good general knowledge and understanding of information
management issues, but there is little or no specifically library-oriented content. Only
a few of the graduates from them are seeking their careers in libraries, and of those



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who are many chose to go on a postgraduate LIS programme before looking for their
first professional post.

How, then, are the LIS departments meeting your needs and those of your
employees? My perception of this is that we are recruiting good postgraduate
students and giving them a solid foundation of professional education, both in terms
of knowledge and of skills. And we are creating a pool of undergraduates with some
of the same attributes from which libraries and other information agencies can recruit
some of their future professional staff. The evidence of employment statistics
suggests that there is a reasonable match between supply and demand. It is less
clear how we can measure employer and employee satisfaction, but it is perhaps
worth considering how this could be done in a way which would produce robust
conclusions which could be fed into the process of developing the profession.


Working together to renew the profession
I have already suggested that we need to find ways of working together more closely
to ensure that the profession continues to be renewed by new entrants. It is worth
spending a little time on some of the practicalities of this, and suggesting what we,
the LIS departments, can offer as our side of the joint enterprise.

First, let us all be clear that no academic course at any level can produce a fully
formed professional practitioner. This has always been the case, but has often been
the cause of misunderstanding and distrust. We cannot train people for specific jobs;
we can only prepare them to be trained. This can be frustrating both for students and
for their future employers. We can – and do – ensure that LIS graduates have an
understanding of reference work, for example, and a knowledge of the principal
sources and tools which are available. We cannot teach them how to work at the
information desk in your library. Only you can do that in the context of institutional
custom and practice, local resources and your understanding of your service
relationships with your users. In principle, most senior librarians would, no doubt,
accept that providing training for new employees and opportunities for continuing
professional development is essential rather than merely desirable. In practice, the
constraints of resources of people and time can often limit what can actually be done.

The LIS graduates whom you appoint into their first professional posts should have
gained a reasonable understanding of what libraries do and the underlying principles
of why and how they do it. They should have the basic knowledge of key areas of
professional practice such as reference work, the construction and use of catalogues
and classification schemes, and the basic principles of the management of both
collections and institutions. If they do not you have every right – and every reason –
to complain that we are falling down on the job. But this is only the foundation, and
you must build on it. The question is, once again, how we can work together to do
this.

First, let us consider the issue of working towards Chartered membership of CILIP.
As you all know, the Institute is proposing far-reaching changes in the routes to
Chartership, but whatever the outcome of the present debates it is clear that in the
future individuals will be expected to take greater responsibility for their own
professional development. Some BAILER departments may well decide that they
can usefully offer post-qualification courses which can help candidates for
Chartership and indeed for Fellowship. I would hope that we can explore with
employers and with CILIP’s regional branches how we can collectively provide
training schemes which will enable new entrants to the profession to meet the
requirements of the new professional frameworks.


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This raises a second consideration, that of the regional imbalance in the provision of
LIS education. I know that this has been an issue here in Northern Ireland, but there
are also substantial parts of England where no LIS education is available on a local
basis. When the postgraduate programmes at Bristol come to an end, the nearest
provision to south-west England will be in Brighton, London and Birmingham. The
problem – I speak generally, not of the specific case of Bristol – is that the demand is
numerically limited and, as you all know, small programmes, especially small
postgraduate programmes, are not attractive to university managements or for that
matter to academic staff. To say that the answer lies in distance learning is, as you
also know, an oversimplification to the point of glibness. Some distance learning
provision has been developed in our field, notably by Aberystwyth, Robert Gordon
and Northumbria, but it is at programme level and not offering the on-going
opportunities for professional development which may well be the greater gap. We –
LIS departments and organisations such as SCONUL – need to work more closely
together to identify where the gaps really lie, both geographically and professionally,
and explore how we can jointly make provision. I would not rule out the possibility of
one or more departments working with employer organisations or consortia of
libraries to develop packages which combine short courses delivered on site with
distance learning to lead to postgraduate diplomas or – and perhaps even more
importantly – to provide a focus for CPD and perhaps also to deal with the needs of
mature entrants or career changers whose domestic or financial circumstances may
make it impossible for them to study way from home or to engage in full-time study at
all.


Conclusion
In suggesting some of the ways in which practitioners and educators, libraries and
LIS departments, can work together, I hope I am avoiding offering ideal but wholly
impractical solutions. The LIS departments are a very diverse bunch, despite their
small numbers. As I have explained elsewhere, we are subject to the same
pressures – depending on the kind of university we belong to – as any other
academic department. But I think we can claim to understand the changing needs of
professional practice, especially in the higher education sector to which we
ourselves belong. We have probably kept pace with change more than is sometimes
recognised.6 While it would be presumptuous to claim that we understand all your
needs, we share in the consensus about knowledge, skills and understanding which
seems to be developing across the profession. We all recognise that change will
continue. The renewal of the profession, and its continuing capacity to serve its
clients, depends on a flow of good new entrants whose initial professional education
has given them generic insights into the underlying principles of information and
library service provision. The LIS departments can provide that. But a successful
future also depends on libraries which make provision for the continuous
development of the knowledge and skills of all their staff. I hope it is neither
unrealistic nor too idealistic to suggest that we can work together to achieve that.

Last revised 31March 2004
Delivered 2 April 2004




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NOTES AND REFERENCES
1
    Sheron Burton, Meeting the skills challenge: a paper given by Anna Atkinson, Web
    Manager, EMAP Construct, at Umbrella 2003, Personnel, Training and Education, 20:2
    (2003), 3- 10.
2
    See John Feather, Whatever happened to the library schools?, Library + Information Update,
    2:10 (2003) 40-42.
3
    NUS Website at http://www.nusonline.co.uk/resource/resources/pdf/1981.pdf, accessed 23
    February 2010.
4
    CILIP, Higher Education Salary Guide, 2002, at http://www.lisjobnet.org.uk/jobseek/he.pdf,
    accessed 23 February 2010.
5
    This data is derived, with permission, from a presentation given at Loughborough by TFPL
    in March 2003.
6
    See, for example, Micheline Beaulieu, Developing the information professional: whose
    responsibility? Educating and developing the information professional for success, Impact,
    1:7 (1998), 107-12.




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