Monday, 7 September 2015

HE versus FE: my top 5 observations

Still learning.
Image taken by Chelsea:( Used under a CC license.

Last week I passed the probationary period in my new job. I felt uneasy with the direction FE was heading, so I was glad when changing jobs meant leaving the FE sector and joining the HE sector. I loved working at the college, but had long wanted to try my hand in a university library and was excited at the chance to do so. Now that I have been here almost six months, I have had chance to reflect on the differences between libraries. My initial top 5 ponderings are below:

  1. The most obvious difference I first noticed was student behaviour. In FE, library staff often have to remind students they are in a study environment. I have not yet had to do this in the university library. My HE experience is in its infancy so I don’t know if this is the same in all institutions; perhaps it is because we are located in a city centre and students leave the campus entirely when not studying. Alternatively, paying tuition fees may encourage students to focus more whilst on campus.
  2. Social media is another immediate difference. College students’ use of social media sites could be problematic at times but I have yet to come across this in HE. I’m really not sure of the reasons, but the difference is very distinct.  It makes me wonder if colleges unintentionally amplify the problem by restricting social media sites and thereby evoking the excitement of illicit activities.
  3. The most common enquiry I have answered since starting here has been referencing. Lecturers bring groups to the library when reviewing their assignments, knowing I am able to assist with referencing techniques. Students themselves also ask for help. I often assisted FE students with referencing, but the emphasis on it is more pronounced in HE. The breadth of sources referenced is much wider, too.
  4. Uptake of online resources is higher than in colleges. It was quite difficult to encourage FE students to utilise the library’s e-resources. HE students seem to recognise that books are not always the most suitable tool, and neither is Google (although for some Google will always be their first stop). Ebooks seem well used and students are open to database usage too. Having said that, there are similarities with FE students - I still spend time demonstrating how to evaluate websites to distinguish between academic and non-academic.  
  5. There is a strong emphasis placed on reading lists which is not as definite within FE. I have recently assessed the stock we hold in relation to reading lists. It was quite a valuable learning curve as my familiarity with the book stock increased massively.
The library in which I work is business specific, but I am not what I would call a 'business specialist'. I have completed a level 5 management course and this comes in very handy. When looking at assignments with students, my own studies have given me enough subject knowledge to understand the questions. I am very grateful for this! I need to continue familiarising myself with business resources both online and in print, but I know this will come with experience. Overall, I have spent almost 7 years working in FE; it is a sector I like and feel comfortable in. I have also spent 6 years working in compulsory education, and enjoyed this time too. Hopefully, this pattern will be repeated within the HE sector.

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