Library and teaching staff collaborate to better invest under-pressure resource budgets

The shift towards online and blended learning has increased the need for library and learning resources to be more widely available in electronic format, which creates both opportunity and challenge in equal measure.

Female student using a laptop in a library

Jisc hears anecdotally that economic and technological changes in the current publishing market have led to libraries being increasingly priced out of providing e-books and e-textbooks for students and library users.

A recent example is the short-term notification from the publisher, Pearson, to universities and colleges that subscription models and price increases (as much as 500%) would be implemented mid-academic year.

Jisc’s head of sector strategy (teaching and learning), Karla Youngs, says:

“The pandemic highlighted the challenges institutions are facing to balance the increased demand for digital and other resources against shrinking budgets.

“The library staff we work with tell us that finding the right balance is becoming ever more difficult, given the financial stretch that institutions are dealing with because of the long-term impacts from the pandemic.

"Consideration of these issues is important as we approach the planning activity to put in place budgets and activity for the next academic year.”

Jisc has pledged to help students and teachers in higher and further education to gain equitable and sustainable access to digital teaching content. It has also lobbied publishers about changes to pricing and subscription models, representing the voice of the sector with a view to changing approaches and impositions made to libraries.

In the meantime, Youngs says that collaboration across campuses is crucial to purchasing and overall institutional efficiency.

Library budgets are generally used to support multi-subject resources as well as core resources for subject disciplines. Specific learning resources are often bought by the specific department or faculty, sometimes outside of any library procurement workflow and without any discussion/reference point. This can cause problems, as Youngs describes:

“If disparate purchasing is widespread, the institution, as a whole, may not understand the full cost of library and learning resources and cannot ensure that best pricing, and terms and conditions are achieved across the board for license subscriptions. Costs may spiral out of control.”

The solution, she says, is collaboration:

“To tackle these problems, teaching and library staff must work together, deepening relationships that were formed during the pandemic, when library staff were under immense pressure to produce digital learning resources for all.

“Consolidating purchase requests can enable cost-effective procurement of resources, and cross-team working should also work to bring together access technology systems, so individuals, both staff and students, can get what they need with ease.”

Laura George, a tutor librarian at City of Plymouth College, has a remit that includes liaising with staff and students to ensure that learning resources are fit for purpose, relevant and accessible. She says:

“I realised that forming relationships with managers and lecturers was important. I knocked on doors and invited myself to academy meetings to meet the staff, talk about the library and make connections with people.

“There were gaps in the links between learning resources and staff, and this showed in our stock. Most of the spending choices were made by other library staff without consultation with lecturers and reading lists were not prioritised for lecturers. Similarly, lecturers knew very little about e-books and other resources.

“I put myself forward as a staff trainer so that I could teach lecturers how to use e-books and understand the benefits to students. I invited staff into the library to review the collection and encouraged them to tell us about the topics they covered and point out material that was out of date.

“I also liaised with higher education lecturers, asking them to share their course or module guides with me. Armed with all this knowledge, I could start refreshing the whole collection.”

George extended her learning to external contacts, too, making an effort to visit other colleges and inviting reps from publishing companies to showcase new material. Her hard work paid off:

“The benefit of this effort to our service has been tangible. We have increased the number of visitors, increased the use of resources and the library has a better reputation as a service within the college. Student feedback has been more positive too. It feels like our library is progressing rather than stagnating.”

As learning resource facilitator at Fareham College, Ant McNulty manages the use of devices, books and other printed materials, supports curriculum staff to find hard-copy and digital resources, and helps to build resources for online courses.

He says that the learning resource centre has become the hub for learning materials and the ‘go-to’ place for online resources.

“Curriculum staff know we are here to provide advice and support and students know they can ask questions and get advice to find what they need. We also help them research topics online.”

Like George, McNulty sees the benefit of cross-campus join-up:

"If the learning resource centre didn’t collaborate across the college, the system would be disparate, and resources and effort would be duplicated.

“While I am aware of the range of resources, other staff may not, and it's important to ensure that existing resources are fully utilised."

To support and build a community of sharing good practice, Jisc has sponsored the FE learning resources and library services community of practice, which, in its first year, has more than 250 members.

This community has ownership of its community of practice and determines which subjects and activity it covers. ‘Building a learning society through curriculum engagement’ is one topic, which supports the development of relationships with curriculum staff.

Mishka Fielding, Loreto Sixth Form College, chair of the leadership group managing the community of practice (CoP), explains:

“The CoP understands that building a learning society in our colleges is as much about educating teaching staff about the value of a library service and its team, as it is the students.

“The CoP is building a bank of tried and tested methods and resources that will encourage teaching staff to work with library staff, realising the advantages and benefits of their expertise and positive impact on teaching and learning.”

Further information

Anyone interested in joining the conversation, can sign up to join the FE learning resources and library services community of practice.