LIBRARIES have given college principals a collective stare across the top of their horn-rimmed glasses over levels of funding and training.
Too many colleges have an inadequate number of library staff and even those who are in the job are often undertrained, says the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.
A survey carried out for the institute by Northumbria University shows that "a budget of pound;30,000 is as likely to be available in a college of 3,000 as a college of 14,000 students."
It said colleges with many higher education students did not always have the extra library resources to cope with the extra demands this brings.
Kathy Ennis, the institute's post-16 learning advisor, said: "In all the data, there was no corrolation between the number of higher education students and library provision within a college."
There was also no correlation between the number of accessible computers and the number of students in a college.
The percentage of a college's budget dedicated to the library varied from 0.04 per cent to 3.97 per cent, with only 15 college spending more than 1 per cent.
Researchers also said the use of technology in libraries was patchy. Most libraries have no involvement in colleges' "virtual learning environment", including the use of computer software as a teaching tool.
Three of the colleges did not have computerised libraries and a number were using systems that had no technical support at all because they were supplied by companies which had ceased trading.
Ms Ennis said: "We will make sure that government departments, agencies and senior further education staff are aware of these findings and we will use the data to provide benchmarks for good practice."
David Hunter, chief executive of the Further Education National Training Organisation, agreed that library staff in colleges need to be seen as integral to the learning experience of students rather than simply keepers of records.
Fento feels this expanded role is even more important as colleges take on more HE students.
He said: "There is a whole new skills set that is required in libraries compared with what has gone before.
"These staff need expertise in dealing with other forms of media and offering student support. "For any HE programme to take place in an FE college, the university has to be assured that the student support is there.
"Fento will be happy to work with them to improve the situation."
But he stressed that his own past experience, as a lecturer at the Belfast Institute in Belfast, is that FE college library services can actually be better than those in universities.
He said: "My personal experience is that students got more support in FE rather than less."