Hi, my name is Jo and I'm a newly qualified librarian working in several academic libraries in Cambridge.

I originally created this blog as an electronic learning journal whilst participating in an extended shadowing programme prior to starting the MA in Information Services Management at London Metropolitan University.

The views expressed here are entirely my own.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Extended Shadowing Programe: Session Five - Observation of the Arts, Law and Social Sciences Faculty Board meeting

Yesterday afternoon I accompanied the ALL (Arts & Letters) to the Arts, Law and Social Sciences (ALSS) Faculty Board meeting which she attends as the University Librarian's representative. I asked to observe this meeting as I wanted to learn more about the Academic Liaison Librarians' roles and their interactions with the academic staff and our university at large.

The Faculty Board is chaired by the Dean and is attended by the Associate Deans, Heads of Department, Programme Leaders, student representatives, representatives from the Students' Union, representatives from the Partner Colleges and Joint Venture Companies associated with the Faculty and other key members of Faculty staff. Representatives from central support units including Communications & IT Services, Registry, Student Affairs, Academic and Quality Systems Office, the Students Union and the Library are also invited to attend as observers along with the Faculty Administration Manager. Although the observers can contribute to the meeting they can't table papers for discussion.

The primary purpose of the Faculty Board is:
"On behalf of Senate to formulate strategic plans for curriculum development within the Faculty, including consideration of proposals for the development and location of new and existing pathways within the Faculty's remit. Faculty Boards are also responsible for overseeing the implementation of the University's policies and procedures for assuring academic standards throughout the Faculty."

The Board also tries to resolve any problems arising from the Faculty's courses that can not be resolved by individual programme committees, e.g. a lack of studio space and equipment for the arts students. If the Faculty Board can not reach agreement on a particular issue, then it is passed to the Senate (which is chaired by the Vice Chancellor) for a final decision. A recent example concerned staff who are employed by our Partner Colleges to teach our university courses but can't access the same digital resources as the students. This is because the user licences only permit access to current university registered staff and students. As it is a problem that can not be resolved internally, it was referred to the Senate who consulted JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) for advice. Many UK universities are experiencing the same problem and so JISC are currently in negotiations with individual publishers to try and resolve the issue. It is, however, quite rare for any issues to be escalated beyond the Faculty Board.

There was a very full agenda for the meeting including items such as the University Calendar 2008/9, Faculty Student Profile Statistics, National/Regional Initiatives and the Quality Enhancement Audit of the quality of Student Handbooks. For me, some of the most interesting discussions arose out of the issues raised by the Students' Union and the student representatives.

One of their main concerns relates to a recent reorganisation of the Student Information Centres which has led to changes in the process for submitting assignments. This has resulted in some initial disruption in students getting back their work after marking. For instance, one of the student representatives reported having received an incorrect fail mark because a marked essay had been lost and was having problems in getting the mark corrected. One of the academic staff present explained that there was a formal procedure for dealing with this and was surprised that the student was experiencing such difficulties. As with any large institution, there are always going to be some problems in effectively communicating the official policies and procedures to a large student body. It is certainly a problem we encounter daily in the library. I don't think this is necessarily because we are not doing enough to inform our students. Although we communicate the necessary information via our website, induction tours, welcome leaflets and notices in the library, we regularly come across readers who, even in the second or third year, still do not understand how the library operates. I have long suspected that the underlying problem is that often many students have never been in an environment were they have been expected to be proactive in finding out what is expected of them and in fulfilling their responsibilities.

Indeed, this very point was raised in a discussion surrounding the six week break at Christmas. One of the student representatives reported that some first years feel the break is too long and that it disrupts their study routine and momentum. Some were also unsure of the purpose of the break. As members of the teaching staff suggested, the vacation should ideally be used to reflect on what has already been learnt and to prepare for the second semester. There was also a reminder that details of modules and reading lists can be found in the course handbooks or can be obtained from the individual module leaders. Although I was astonished this was not already obvious to the students and that they were having to be spoon fed in this way, I was also not entirely surprised. I think that being proactive is a skill that needs to be learnt and, as one of the tutor's at the meeting suggested, perhaps more needs to be done to make our informal expectations more explicit at the being of each academic year.

Another issue which drew my particular attention came out of the consideration of proposals for new pathways to commence in September. As mentioned in my report of the Summer Shadowing Programme, I had already learnt of some of the unfortunate consequences of not consulting library staff when proposals for new courses are drawn up. I was therefore not surprised to see that under the heading of "Anticipated impact on resources for both the Faculty and Support Services" almost all of the proposals suggested "only a slight impact on Support Services in terms of use of Library resources". Although this might be true for each individual course, there seemed to be no appreciation that all of these "slight impact[s]" add up to a huge impact when several new courses are approved on top of the existing number of pathways available. I suspect that this lack of consideration is not unique to this institution and reflects a general need for all libraries to be more proactive in raising their profile and marketing the value of the services that they offer.

I found it very enlightening attending this meeting as I was able to better appreciate the direct impact that decisions made elsewhere within our university can have on our students and the service that we provide in the library. I had previously been surprised and quite demoralised at times when some of our readers have reacted hostilely, even aggressively, when I've tried to resolve routine issues regarding their library accounts or unforeseen problems with our services, e.g. temporary computer network failures. However, hearing some of the students voice their frustrations, I could clearly see how a culmination of issues across our university could easily lead to this build up of tension and a perception that all of our university's services are inadequate. I think this is exacerbated by the fact that students are now paying increasingly high course fees which may also account for the expectation that they should be spoon fed information rather than actively staying informed. In a way, it was reassuring to know that these are not issues isolated to the library, however, at the same time I think it poses serious questions about how our university deals with the increased expectations and changes in attitude that come with paying course fees.

1 comment:

Trava said...

You write very well.

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