Wednesday, 22 May 2013

CoLRiC peer accreditation: initial ponderings

Image taken from Pixabay
The library in which I work has recently registered for CoLRiC peer accreditation scheme. CoLRiC is the Council for Learning Resources in Colleges. It provides resources, guidance and benchmarking standards which focus specifically on FE libraries.

Whilst the library has been a member of CoLRiC for several years, we have never really been an active member, and when we announced our intention to undergo the peer accredition a number of the assistants were unaware of what this really meant. We have weekly team meetings and have since used this time to increase the assistants’ familiarity with CoLRiC and the process of peer accreditation. We said it’s a little like Ofsted for library staff instead of teachers, although I am keen to eliminate the high stress factor that comes alongside Ofsted inspections!

We have given ourselves plenty of time to compile a portfolio of evidence and have asked the whole team to get involved with this. The criteria are fairly intensive with the list covering four sides of A4. When the head librarian and I had an initial meeting to explore the criteria together, it took us four hours to work our way through the list! The sheer volume of criteria required is a little scary, but when you break it down into sections it is much more manageable.

As a department, we are using an online wiki to organise our joint efforts in evidence gathering. At the moment, the scary list of criteria makes it look as though we have a mountain to climb, but with slow and steady progress we’ll eventually get there and reach the summit. A lot of it involves liaising with people in other departments to locate key documents. When we are happy with our portfolio we’ll invite in the assessors, who will visit for one day speaking to students, library staff and non-library staff. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we’ll then be given a ‘grading’ (a quality mark of sorts) to be proud of.

I attended a library forum a few months ago where approximately 15 college libraries were represented. During the open discussion portion of the day, I raised the issue of CoLRiC peer accreditation. I explained our position and asked if anyone else had completed it. The responses were not quite what I wanted to hear; not only had nobody else completed it, but my organisation was the only CoLRiC member at the forum! Some of the librarians were even unsure what CoLRiC was. I left feeling quite disheartened about this. We’re dedicating a lot of time and effort into the assessment and hope it is something recognisable amongst other professionals. Does CoLRiC need a higher profile? Does the accreditation need a higher profile? Are people generally disinterested in bodies of this sort nowadays? I can only speak from experience and so far undergoing the peer accreditation scheme has been a positive experience. We have only just started the process, and it is by no means easy, but it has already highlighted weak areas in our service and emphasised things we need to improve. It has also raised considerations which would never have occurred to me. For example, throughout the year we go into curriculum lessons and facilitate research sessions, but are not actually documented in any schemes of work or lessons plans. In this way, the scary criteria list can be viewed as a useful stand-alone self-assessment tool. The overall process defines a need for wider considerations and reflective thinking. If a department does not explore its strengths and weakness it cannot hope to grow and develop. The feedback this generates is invaluable to an innovative library wanting to push boundaries and ensure it is at the heart of supporting teaching and learning. (Which - to my mind - is something which ought to appear in the mission statement of every FE library…)

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