Saturday, 29 October 2011

Visit to Ipswich: three libraries

On Monday 22 August 2011 Abby Barker organised a visit to three Ipswich libraries for the CILIP East of England Branch.  I went along because I'd never been to Ipswich before, and because the libraries in question sounded pretty interesting and were from sectors I know little about : a private institute, a large FE college, and a new university.

These notes have been languishing, half-written, for months.  They're clearly never going to get written up in full, so I'm publishing this post in note form.

Grainy camera phone picture by yours truly
An entrance to a hidden world
Ipswich Institute

  • Founded in the nineteenth century for the purpose of educating mechanics.
  • Today it offers members a lending library, a coffee shop, space in the centre of town to sit down and read, and educational courses and talks.
  • It inhabits two historic buildings in centre of town. One has been its home for a long time, the other was acquired recently.
So what?
  • As with any organisation using historic buildings, the facilities aren't ideal. There currently isn't access to the first floors of the buildings (where many of the talks take place) for those who can't manage stairs, for example.
  • As a member organisation, everything they do has to be approved of by the membership. This means that innovation can be hard - things like using some coffee shop space for part of the library can cause upset. 
  • The Institute seems to function as a public library for some of its members. Obviously it's a tricky issue to wonder whether this library 'takes people away' the public libraries: they've paid for something, so why not enjoy it? But given the trouble facing public libraries this did just make me a little uneasy.
  • Several of the people on the visit were fairly local to Ipswich, and said that they'd seen the Institute doorway in the middle of town, and never really known what it was. I wonder how many other 'hidden gems' there are out there - and how much public libraries (or others) are like this for many people. To be fair, the Institute said that it's numbers were healthy and that they weren't particularly marketing themselves to get more.
Now what?

    'Suffolk New College, Ipswich, Suffolk' by mira66 on Flickr
    The swirly  Suffolk New College logo
    Suffolk New College (Learning Curve)

    • This is the library for an FE college

    So what? 
    • Crowd control: the librarian said this was better than it could be, but she still had to work to get people not to eat, to behave appropriately, etc.
    • Getting the students to make the most of the resources
      • The librarian has brought material for particular courses together on the shelf, rather than sticking rigidly to Dewey.  All sizes are also together - no oversize shelves.
      • Trying to make stuff appeal
      • Success with some subjects in getting librarians into induction sessions - trying to spread this through subjects
    • Getting stuff back - only very few books at a time - many go missing
    • Wider responsibilities are being given to the library as part of the development/reorganisation of the College (it seems as though continual change is part of the furniture):
    • Uncertainty about funding/future - this year's intake only known at enrolment at the start of September
    Now what?
    •  Think about how HE institutions (or public libraries) can and should be helping students come from an FE background like this: the library was well-run, but small.  How can we mitigate the overwhelmingness of the libraries they'll face later on?

      'Ipswich Marina' by Martin Pettitt on Flickr
      The Waterfront Building
      University Campus Suffolk
      (The library's web presence is almost entirely via a VLE, with no outward-facing webpage, so sorry - no handy link!)

      • UCS is very new.  It offers HE courses validated by other local universities.
      • Most of the campus is housed in brand new buildings (such as the Waterfront Building, right). 
      • The library is in an old ('60s) building that has been refurbished.
      • The Library is in a separate building to the rest of facilities, across a road from the rest of the campus 
      So what?
      • As the institution's so new, there's no 'average' student yet - changing student profile(s) mean that the services required keep changing.
      • A new institution undergoes constant change: for example, initially there was a Learning Resource Centre (i.e. computer room) in the Waterfront Building, which was very popular with students.  This has now been removed to make way for a tiered lecture theatre (requested by the student body).
        • Another new innovation for the new academic year is the inclusion of the library in the 'infozone' in the lobby of the Waterfront Building: hope it will help people find out about the library and how to use it.
      • Students come from a lot of different backgrounds, often not 'typical' HE backgrounds, so there's a heavy emphasis in the library on the accessibility of resources
        • DVDs are interfiled with books, not kept separately
        • The journals archive is colour-coded according to broad subject areas, so encourage people to use it by browsing
        • There's an emphasis on making more time and space for learning support and info literacy teaching
        • The library offers taster study-skills sessions before courses start - these are popular with new students and they find them useful.
        • Students can book time with a  subject librarian
      Now what?
      • What can an 'elitist' institution like Cambridge learn from libraries like UCS?  They go all out on making access as easy as possible: what's the best way for us to do similarly?  What are the barriers to us doing this?



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