Developments in professional education

This appendix describes a specific part of the research, which was undertaken in the early part of the research programme. It comprises:

1. Review of library school curricula

Range of courses on offer

The research methodology included the evaluation of library school curricula to determine current course content. Prospectuses for the academic year 1996 were forwarded by the majority of the DILS contacted. Prospectuses differed in style and content; some offered a full description of compulsory and optional modules, whilst others provided brief titles.

A wide range of courses are on offer at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and most include modules in IT. However, many of these modules are optional or ‘electives’, and there are many to choose from. Students might, therefore, find it hard to make an informed choice, especially if they are unsure of the sector they are aiming for.

Courses bearing the title ‘information management’ are becoming more common, and the terms ‘library’ and ‘librarianship’ are commonly relegated to second place. The University of Sheffield is the only example of a course bearing the title ‘Librarianship’. It is a masters level course offering modules in ‘IT for Information Management’ and ‘Practical Computing’.

The table below lists the courses contained in 1996 prospectuses.

Course title

No. of occurrences #

Information and Library Studies


Information Management


Information Science


Information Studies


Electronic Information Management*


Information and Communication Management


Information and Computing


Information and Library Management


Information and Records Management


Information Management, Accounting & Finance


Information Systems and Technology


Learning Resource Centre Management




Librarianship and Information Studies


Titles of courses offered by ‘library schools’ in library and information studies (taken from 1996 prospectuses)

* prospectus obtained in 1997

# courses with the same title, but at different levels or modes (offered by the same institution), are counted once

IT content

Courses were examined for IT content. The University of Central England (UCE), Birmingham uses a question and answer approach in its prospectus, and actively encourages those who are apprehensive about using computers, for example in reply to: ‘Do I need to be a computer whizz kid?’ the reply states that no assumptions are made as to levels of expertise, and a ‘non-threatening environment in which you can develop your skills’ is offered. UCE offers a ‘strong core in the key areas within the profession: Management Information Retrieval, Information Resources and Information Services’, and adds: ‘there is a concentrated, integrated IT and Information Research spine which will keep you up-to-date with new technology’.

The MSc in Information Science at University College London (UCL) is aimed at serving librarians, whose skills need updating. The sub-heading for this course is: Computerised systems for librarians, archivists and information managers. The course objectives contains the following statement:

Recent studies of the nature and future of the information professions have all stressed two points. First an understanding of information technology (IT) and an appreciation of computer applications are essential to the healthy development of existing information services. Secondly, unless librarians, archivists and information specialists add new skills to their traditional areas of expertise, posts in the emerging markets in the information world will be filled by graduates of other disciplines, such as business studies or computer science.

The course includes introductions to the basics of computing and related technologies, as well as programming and ‘understanding’ databases.

The Universities of Sheffield and Liverpool John Moores have a compulsory IT component in their postgraduate level courses.

Innovative courses

One of the most interesting developments is a new postgraduate course in ‘Electronic Information Management’ at Robert Gordons University from September 1997. (1) A Scottish ‘Higher’ in maths and/or physics, or its equivalent, is an entry requirement for this course. The course is in response to ‘the need for information specialists with a greater familiarity with computer hardware and communications technology’. It is led by the School of Information and Media, but there is ‘substantial input’ from the Schools of Electrical Engineering and Computer and Mathematical Sciences.

Loughborough University has an undergraduate course entitled ‘Information and Computing’. This is a joint venture between the Departments of Information and Library Studies, and Computer Studies and Human Science, for which Loughborough is seeking British Computer Society approval.

For those in, or approaching, middle management positions, and staff involved in the provision of health information, there are distance learning courses at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

A course which is aimed at those in middle and senior management positions, is the Master of Business Administration (Information and Library Management) which is offered by Loughborough University on a part-time basis. The course is a joint venture between the Department of Information and Library Studies and the Business School.

A Diploma/MA level course in ‘Learning Resource Management’ is offered at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle. Course content is a mix of traditional and IT skills, for example, there are modules on indexing, classification schemes, and bibliographic standards, as well as developing skills in the use of IT for teaching and learning. The course also offers modules on marketing, and research and data analysis for information management.

Opinions expressed in the literature

It is worth making brief reference here to published opinion on the topic of library school curricula, as articles frequently originate from heads of library schools, some of whom are aware of the need for radical change.

Wilson undertook a review of Information Technology in the curriculum in the early 1990s, in which he starts off by defining how library schools (those in membership of BAILER), perceive IT. He notes that their definition of IT includes: ‘computer hardware and software, telecommunications and other aspects of networking, on-line database access, and specific applications in relation to library housekeeping and information retrieval’. (2) He refers to two different approaches to IT in the curriculum: 1] courses which are devoted specifically to IT

2] courses dealing with, for example, information retrieval, database design or records management

He singles out the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool John Moores, Aberystwyth and Central England, as examples of schools which have compulsory IT courses at postgraduate level. In the case of Aberystwyth this consists of a 25 hour course on basic IT literacy.

Elkin (3) and Pors (4) identify a need for a technology based syllabus, in which the IT component is not seen as separate from the more traditional library and information skills. This syllabus should emphasise the implications of IT for the ‘traditional and enduring skills of information management’. (5) However, the underlying root of the problem is identified as the requirement to provide generic courses in order to provide students with skills and knowledge which are common to all occupational groups. The result is a tension between the need to retain core courses - as these are perceived to underpin the practice of information and library studies - and the increasing need for courses which provide technology based skills. New IT-based modules are then devised and grafted on to the existing syllabus, which makes the range of options wider. The problem is then compounded by the addition of further options in health and business information, informatics etc. Postgraduate courses normally last for ten months, and only a limited number of optional modules can be taken within this tight timeframe, so students have to make increasingly difficult choices.

The current situation in schools of information and library studies seems to be that there has been some development of new courses in response to the changing needs of employers and the increasing requirement for technology based skills. However, the ‘pick and mix’ modular approach tends to dominate, with the result that students can emerge at the end of a postgraduate course with little or no IT expertise.

Opinions expressed at the SKIP interviews

Staff who were recent graduates of library school were asked whether their course had prepared them adequately for their current post. Experiences varied according to which school they had attended and when, but on the whole staff felt that library school had provided skills in areas which they had not used, for example, in the use of spreadsheets and databases and on-line searching via a dialup host such as Dialog, but had failed to provide skills in the use of the Internet and electronic information resources in general. IT modules were not integrated with information skills modules, but were offered as separate entities.

2. Review of the work of the Lead bodies


The Information and Library Services Lead Body (ILS-LB) is the national committee charged by the UK Employment Department with responsibility for developing occupational standards and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). (6) The ILS-LB Web site describes the background to the development of NVQs, and provides lists of the units on offer at each level. It also provides a useful reading list and contact addresses for the awarding bodies.

NVQs in information and library studies are available at levels 2, 3 and 4 and are made up of ‘Units’ and ‘Elements’ which together make up the standards. Each ‘Element’ has a number of related ‘Performance Criteria’, a ‘Range Statement’ and, where relevant, ‘Underpinning Knowledge and Understanding’. (7) According to the ILS-LB Web site, NVQs are an assessment of competent performance rather than a body of knowledge, and are usually assessed in the workplace. NVQs aim to provide proof of transferable skills, and thus contribute to the national call for a flexible workforce. NVQs are described as being of use to employers when writing job descriptions and in recruitment procedures.

The SKIP project aimed to identify the IT components of the ILS NVQs, in order to ascertain how far they reflected current trends in the use of IT in libraries. A personal communication from the ILS-LB stated: ‘the national policy is that we do not write our own units when standards already exist for ‘generic’ areas e.g. IT, Customer Services and Management - that can be integrated into our ‘specific’ qualifications.’ (8) Therefore those units which relate specifically to IT in libraries have been written by the ILS-LB, whilst those which might be considered ‘pure’ IT have been imported from the Information Technology Industry Training Organisation (ITITO). Differentiating between ILS and ITITO units is made easy by the use of the prefixes ‘IL’ for ILS units, and ‘IT’ for ITITO units.

NVQ competencies are defined in broad terms which require careful interpretation. For example, level 2 of the ILS NVQs, which is aimed at library assistant level, has an optional unit (ALB2 6) which stipulates that candidates need to be able to: ‘maintain data in a computer system’.

Level 3 is aimed at paraprofessional, or junior professional staff, and it contains five units imported from the ITITO, which are grouped with two other units under the Information Technology and Processing heading. The requirement is that at least one optional unit is chosen from each of three groups, to make a total of five units. The candidate therefore has to chose at least one unit from the IT group. The titles of the units are broadly defined, for example, ‘specify and produce documents using the IT solution’.

Level 4 is aimed at the ‘Customer Service Manager’, the ‘Information Manager’ and the ‘Librarian’. There is a mandatory unit: ‘Contribute to the implementation of change in services, products and systems’, but there is little to indicate the level of expertise that might be required in IT-based systems in order to make an effective contribution.

Herzog has published a useful text on the implementation of S/NVQs in the information and library sector.(9) In this she notes that ILS has been placed within the ‘Communicating’ group within the S/NVQ occupational framework. This group also includes: ‘performing’, ‘interpreting and translating’, ‘designing and exhibiting’, and ‘publishing’. Herzog questions this placement, given the fact that information and library work is a ‘pervasive activity’ and an ‘essential support service’ which could be located within any of the eleven broad occupational areas which make up the Vocational Qualification Framework.

Managers who were interviewed for the SKIP project had reservations about the usefulness of S/NVQs and most were not actively pursuing them as part of staff development schemes. The majority of managers felt NVQs were costly to set up and administer, and proved little beyond the fact that staff could do their jobs. One manager felt that if staff believed NVQs to be of benefit to them personally then they were worthwhile irrespective of whether they benefited the institution.

One institution aspired to be an NVQ assessment centre, but even here management were sceptical of their value, but felt it difficult to abandon the scheme when considerable time and money had been invested. Here level four was seen as important as it ‘gets people through the concrete ceiling to professional status’. However, this was a controversial issue as colleagues felt that the degree/postgraduate route to professional status, which they had ‘struggled’ to attain, was now being devalued. The interviewee suggested that an element of snobbery and fear surrounded the NVQ route to professional status as established staff viewed it as an ‘easy’ route.


The ITITO is a combined Industry Training Organisation and Lead Body. It has produced an information guide in which it states:

In IT, we represent both the suppliers of products and services, and the larger and growing community of users of IT. With the power of hardware continuing to double roughly every two years, costs falling, and the increasing functionality of application software, we are all caught up in the information revolution.(10)

The guide describes the S/NVQ framework for the IT sector, which is made up of 29 qualifications spread over four areas: systems development; service provision; user support, and use. There are four levels within each of these groupings, and candidates enter at a level which matches their current experience. Each S/NVQ is composed of a number of Units of Competence which describes an activity, which is then broken down into tasks, known as elements.

It was difficult to make comparisons with the ILS-LB NVQs on the basis of the information provided by the ITITO. The statements of competence for the 29 qualifications are listed under four headings, but no detailed information on unit content was provided, and there was no indication as to which units were compulsory or optional.


There are other developments in continuous professional development (CPD), for example, the eLib projects: Netskills, EduLib and NetLinkS are currently providing training in several areas. These include the exploitation of the Internet and networked information resources, and the training of library staff to become effective educators and trainers especially with regard to the end-user networked learning environment. The full impact of these national programmes of education and training has yet to be assessed, but they are helping to fill some of the gaps in skills which currently exist.

Partington has described the role of the Universities’ and Colleges’ Staff Development Agency (UCoSDA) in supporting staff development and training. (11) She specifically mentions the development of S/NVQs as accreditation routes, and the implementation of ‘Investors in People’, as: ‘a framework for the encouragement of strategic staff development and training linked to the library’s goals and objectives and to those of the university/college as a whole’. She highlights the need for continuous career development programmes based on regular reviews of staff needs, for example through staff appraisals and mentoring schemes. More importantly she argues for the development of CPD programmes based on functions and roles rather than on staff categories.

Many professions now need to constantly update and refresh their skills in line with changes in society and technological innovation. Teachers in compulsory education are an example of a profession which has to attend in service courses to update and evaluate existing skills. The impact on the information profession is arguably greater; they are the providers and gatekeepers of information, and as such need to be well informed and highly skilled in information retrieval irrespective of format. There will therefore be an ongoing need for information professionals to constantly learn and update their IT skills, and develop other new skills, in preparation for the future.

The topic of ‘library school’ curricula featured in a recent conference on training for the electronic library.(12) Scammell, who has been involved in a project to evaluate the impact of the Training and Awareness eLib programmes,(13) stated that library schools were ‘too theoretical and not developmental enough’. She also felt that they should have been involved in the eLib programme. She emphasised the multi-disciplinary nature of work and argued that information professionals need a portfolio of skills not just technical skills. The debate continued with other delegates commenting that an ongoing or lifelong learning approach was now required in line with national trends, and there was therefore a need for the development of short courses. A ‘pick and mix’ approach to personal development was needed, with staff selecting courses to suit their own particular circumstances. Skills needed to be rooted in practice, but no-one could be expected to acquire all the skills required, so the portfolio would have to include skills which would complement those of teaching, research, computing and other staff working in higher education.


(1) URL:

(2) Wilson, T. Information Technology in the curriculum - a review of the Departments and Schools of Information Studies and Librarianship. In: UKOLN: The Office for Library and Information Networking. Libraries and IT. Working papers of the Information Technology Sub-committee of the HEFCs’ Libraries Review. Bath: UKOLN, 1993, pp.299-303.

(3) Elkin, J. Educating the future professional. Relay Number 43 (Spring 1996), 8-10

(4) Pors, N. O. Curriculum development and students’ perceptions. In: Proceedings of the 1st British-Nordic LIS Conference for Researchers and Educators. Royal School of Librarianship, Copenhagen, 22-24 May 1995.


(5) Op. cit. (22)

(6) URL:

(7) Draft standards. ILS Lead Body, 1993.

(8) Personal note from Anne Trevett, ILS-LB dated 3 March 1996.

(9) Herzog, J. Implementing S/NVQs in the Information and Library Sector. A guide for employers. London: Library Association Publishing, 1996, p.21.

(10) Information Technology Industry Training Organisation. Information Guide.Your questions answered. London: ITITO, December 1995, p.1.

(11) Partington, P. The University staff development context. In: Oldroyd, M. ed. Staff development in academic libraries. Present practices and future challenges. Library Association, 1996, pp. 1-20.

(12) Training for Change: New skills for the electronic library. The Eleventh UK-Nordic Conference, organised by UKOLN on behalf of The British Library Research and Innovation Centre and NORDINFO, The National Railway Museum, York, 25- 28 September 1997.

(13) Scammell, A. The Bigger Picture. Presentation given at the Eleventh UK-Nordic Conference. [12]

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