From Centre Librarian in one Further Education college, I moved on to the post of Campus Learning Resources Manager (LRM) in a bigger college further into London.
As one of three Campus Managers under a Head of Learning Resources, I supervised three sites around the Moorgate-Old Street area while functioning as Site Librarian to one of them.
The internet had grown exponentially. Because FE Colleges taught under-18s as well as adults, content filters on the network prevented minors from accessing inappropriate web sites. This was a blanket filter across all student logins and a cause for friction with adult students. Research for such topics as gender studies had to be carefully worded since any search that included such words as ‘sex’ quickly ground to a halt.
Networking had also moved on apace from Windows for Workgroups, and my staff knew little about simple procedures such as clearing print queues. I asked one of the computing team to demonstrate some of the basics at one of our weekly site meetings.
Computer wizards are usually better at instructing machines than people, so I later held a follow-up lesson (when my teacher training came in useful) but the initial session was a useful exercise in collaboration. Computing staff had a better idea of the problems we were helping students with in the library and more network permissions were granted to library staff.
Close to the site where I was based was one of those side streets that houses a weekly market.
One stall sold second-hand books, and my Assistant Librarian was in the habit of purchasing from it. He argued that superseded editions still held useful information and never did accept my argument that students wouldn’t know which information was still current and which out of date. The old manuals and textbooks could actively mislead them – especially in the fields of law and engineering where currency of regulation and statute was vital.
I believe my colleague felt actual pain when I presented him with stacks of volumes for withdrawal. But, quite apart from the issue of currency, we needed the shelf space. The walls of the former gym annex that housed our library were not elastic.
At that time, Victorian school buildings around London were being sold off for conversion into residential apartments.
Some college sites occupied former schools and these were sold to finance our new build. The buildings of ‘my’ campus libraries occupied prime city locations and were among the first sold. Courses were transferred to a rented office block in a less expensive part of the borough to await our glorious future.
Each of the three ‘campuses’ would be centralised in one building. Once again, I found myself visiting other colleges’ new libraries to help plan for ours. Our management team of Campus LRMs and department Head drew up plans to restructure Learning Resources for the new order.
As we worked on reorganising the libraries, an initial restructure was announced at College Management level, relegating libraries to a subdivision of Computing and Learning Services under the existing Head of IT. This was not just a merging of departments. Not only were libraries now an offshoot of computing, our department head no longer sat on College Management Team.
Sadly, this was becoming common in reorganised FE colleges. Library computers took up as much space as books. Students using them required more staff attention. Therefore they must be more important.
Our Head of Learning Resources took retirement. I became acting Head, pending the department’s restructure.
But what would a gaggle of librarians know about restructuring? The new Director of Computing and Learning Services brought in a former colleague as consultant to advise on the restructure of the library division. After numerous interviews and focus groups and, no doubt, a substantial bill, the consultant recommended a structure indistinguishable from the one we originally proposed. The post of Head of Learning Resources to manage this new structure was formally advertised.
None of us applied. One Campus LRM retired; another moved on to better things, and two weeks before the interview date I departed to take up my new job.