A survey on libraries advocates major reform. Anat Arkin reports on one college which has jumped the gun with its innovations. Sweeping reforms to teaching and library services at Hammersmith and West London College made a virtue of a necessity.
Here as in nearly all colleges the Government's efficiency squeeze and rapid growth in student numbers led to rationing of library hours. It put pressure on the existing library and left students waiting around.
The answer was to shake up space and working practices - a solution which has been advocated by the Library Association for further education libraries nationally (see below left).
When Hammersmith staff returned from their holidays 18 months ago, they found their working environment transformed. A corridor of offices adjoining the old library had been removed to create a much larger learning centre with additional computing facilities for students.
Books, videos, cassettes and other materials previously held in separate collections were grouped into subject areas such as business studies, language and literature.
Drop-in workshops offering learning support in English, information technology and other subjects were added, along with a room where students could receive help with their general national vocational qualification portfolios. A large computer area was provided to meet the growing demand for open learning.
The idea for the centre came from talks between college librarian Sheron Burton and assistant principal Stephen Garnsey.
The effects on student attitudes were swift. Immediately the use of books and other resources went up by 10 per cent in the new learning centre, compared with the old library. It increased by a further 11 per cent over the past year.
Hammersmith and West London principal Anne Illis admits: "Within all the faculties there is a small number of people who are very resistant to the changes."
Convincing the sceptics that the move away from class or lecture theatre to self-directed learning need not bring a decline in standards is a slow process that calls for senior management involvement, according to Stephen Garnsey.
"I don't think library staff could have seen this change through without someone senior from the academic side getting it off the ground," he said.