missrachelsmith

Further, higher

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For the last 3 days, I’ve been visiting a local college which offers further and higher education level courses to undertake a work experience placement at the Learning Resources Centre (or LRC). I’ve always worked within university libraries, so when I compiled my Personal Professional Development Plan for CILIP Chartership, I thought it was important to include getting to know other sectors of librarianship. Yes, I know that an FE/HE college library doesn’t exactly fall into a different sector (both are academic libraries, after all) – and you might not think the two environments would be particularly different. In fact, if you’d asked me what I expected the LRC to be like before my placement, I would have said something along those lines. But there are pretty important differences and these are the three that struck me the most…

Scale

The University Library is much, much bigger than the LRC. The LRC is split across two floors, covering a total area of just under 2000m². This space houses the Library’s book stock (there’s around 65,000 print items) and the e-learning area, which boasts 200 PCs. There’s quiet and group study areas for students to work in and a small staff workroom. Compare this to the main University Library, where I work – we’re currently having a major extension built, which alone will give us an extra 3200m² of space. We already have a comparatively massive four-storey building. Across the five library sites and library stores, we hold around 1.6 million print items. Not to mention our online collections – we hold over 270,000 e-books – the LRC has just bought its first 100 after trialling e-books through a JISC deal that offers them access to 3000. Then compared to the LRC, the University Library has many more staff (at the LRC, they were surprised that there are people working at the University Library whose job is to shelve), we charge much more in fines, we have a much bigger budget… the list goes on. And all of that’s not at all a criticism of the LRC – it just really puts things in perspective for me. I don’t know how I hadn’t recognised the sheer size of my own workplace before, but there you go. However, though the University Library is bigger than the LRC in pretty much every way, this doesn’t necessarily correlate with student numbers. The college has just under half the students that the university does…

Customers

…and these students come from diverse backgrounds and take lots of different courses. The college offers A-levels, vocational courses such as hairdressing, catering and plumbing and degree-level qualifications in subjects like podiatry and social work. They also cater to under-16s who have been kicked out of mainstream school and run courses for students with learning disabilities. There is a massive variety of customers using the LRC, which is a big challenge. It also struck me that the average LRC customer is younger than the average university student, which brings its own issues surrounding respect for the space and disruption. Although students using the University Library come from all over the world and we have to cater to diversity in terms of nationality, our students are over 18 (so are generally that bit more mature), usually come from standard academic backgrounds and all study higher-level academic qualifications.

Service

What really stood out as a difference between the University Library and the LRC was the different approach taken to customer services. The University Library offers staffed services during daytime and evening hours, but actually it’s pretty much self-service, with borrowing and returns machines that handle the majority of circulation. This was completely different at the LRC: there are no self-service machines – all circulation is handled through the library service desks on each floor and there are dedicated staff who help students in using the e-learning area. The same staff members who work during the weekdays also staff the LRC at weekends and evenings, which I imagine helps to ensure a consistent service, and all staff up to and including management level man the service desks. The self-service machines that we use at the University Library are good for volume, but not so great in terms of contact with customers. University Library staff try to be friendly and helpful when serving customers, but the self-service machines make us (at the very least) distant. The LRC staff are equally friendly and helpful, I would say, but by the very nature of the service they offer, they are more visible and approachable. The LRC might not have our communications and marketing budget, but they definitely have one up on us there.

I just asked my boyfriend how I should end this blog post, having just outlined the major differences between the LRC and the University Library and bearing in mind I’m hoping to write again about my time at the LRC next week. His suggestions:

1)      Goodbye.

2)      And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

3)      To be continued… (Eastenders drums)

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Written by missrachelsmith

March 26, 2011 at 11:56

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