The conference programme had a pleasing symmetry to it: having started with an address from a university vice-chancellor, we ended with an FE college principal, Len Closs, Principal of Northampton College. One of those too-rare beasts, a principal who values libraries, he showed his philosophical training with a presentation that quoted Schopenhauer, Sartre and Frank Zappa.
Libraries are the future of universities and colleges, he said and library staff are full of creative ideas for college development. But are we valued and respected? He took a brighter view of the national situation than Steve Smith, believing that the crisis would not last as long as Steve's valley of death metaphor would suggest, but referred to the closure of the Middlesex University philosophy department, of which he was an alumnus.
There's a plethora of ways in to knowledge, and libraries can support them all, with relevant materials to support learning. In further education learners have a greater range of needs and can be challenging, both individually and in groups. He expected class sizes to become bigger, programmes to become leaner, and students to have fewer taught hours and undertake more independent learning.The raising of the participation age (RPA) would bring more challenges, but here is an opportunity for librarians.
Len recognised the barriers: senior manager priorities, teacher attitudes, closed doors; resources constraints and poor accommodation; he thought marketing and PR the key to establishing FE libraries as the learners best weapon.
At Northampton the library is consistently nominated for staff awards and in spite of the LSC building debacle, Northampton got some of their bid and the library will be at the heart of a new site, so as to demonstrate that learning is pivotal. The college library at Northampton is heavily involved in networking through the CULN (Colleges University of Leicester Network), through links with the University of Northampton and with the JISC RSC. They have two studies on the LSIS Excellence gateway, on ClickView for capturing television for use in the classroom and on embedding information skills into the curriculum. The college supports staff development, with two staff doing a level 3 non-professional qualification and three on postgraduate diplomas.
He concluded by offering us the motto, 'hands on, hands off' and by quoting Franz Zappa's dictum, 'if you want to get laid, go to college; if you want an education, go to the library' (though I have searched for a precise citation for the latter and have not located one yet).
I asked a question about the future of the relationship between HE and FE. Len answered that he thought that shared services would become much more important and that there would be a great deal more delivery of HE in FE, and closer working.