Just like in a normal library, librarians working in a further education (FE) setting are predominantly responsible for the day-to-day running of library services. You’ll also be responsible for the management of the cataloguing system, and acquiring and managing learning resources.
Libraries play an integral role in supporting the increasingly diverse learning needs of students in the FE sphere. This is not insignificant considering that FE provides opportunities for around 2.2mn students each year.
With technology playing an increasing role in libraries, skills in this area are a must. As Witold Szczyglowski, library and learning resource centre coordinator at the Working Men’s College, Camden, states: “Our resources, mainly print, are increasingly digital – tighter budgets mean we can’t keep buying a print, although it’s still the preferred choice for most learners.”
The role is varied and examples of regular tasks include:
A degree is usually the required level of education for a librarian role in sixth form colleges. However, you can be successful in the role through gaining experience as a library assistant or completing work-based training.
Although there is no specific degree you should aim for to become an FE librarian, relevant degrees include English literature and English language. As an alternative to entry with a degree, some colleges accept level 3 vocational services.
Szczyglowski joined the FE sector as a librarian after completing a chemistry degree and completing work experience for a year at the Cairns Library in Oxford via working for the pharmaceutical industry. After this, he took a Master’s in information studies at Sheffield University. His career path shows that there is no trajectory that is set in stone.
He does recommend taking a first or postgraduate degree in librarianship or information management that is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Cilip). Cilip also runs a graduate training scheme that is popular with those wishing to embark on a career as an FE librarian.
First and foremost, you should seek to promote an atmosphere that is conducive to students’ learning. Every student will have different needs and so excellent interpersonal skills are a must so you can communicate effectively with all students.
The Library and Learning Centre Graduate Trainee position at New City College in London calls for candidates to possess “excellent IT skills, including experience in using Microsoft suite, operational databases, and virtual learning environments,” as well as having the “ability to contribute to the development of the online offer of the library and learning centre service”. This will be an essential skill for anyone wishing to pursue a career as an FE librarian. You will need more than just basic ICT skills as library systems are usually quite complex in nature.
This position also requires that the desired candidate has the “ability to support and engage learners in their use of the library and learning centre service”. Most colleges will ask for something similar in candidates.
Unlike librarian roles, library assistant posts in the FE sector do not usually require any formal qualifications. Numerous FE libraries will also offer graduate trainee roles like the previously mentioned position at New City College. Experience of working with a library and/or educational environment will be beneficial.
Research carried out in 2019 showed that 84% of those working within library, information and knowledge profession work full time. Seventy-three-percent are female and the average salary was found to be £39,886.
While the average salary for a library assistant in the UK is £22,000, this rises to £43,000 per year for library managers.
Benefits can be plentiful when working in the FE sector. For example, the library assistant role at Milton Keynes College offers employees access to a wellbeing platform that provides free activities, including yoga and relaxation. It also offers a generous pension scheme, NUS and Blue Light Card discounts, a tax-free childcare scheme and access to Continued Professional Development among other things.
Szczyglowski describes his biggest challenge and “one of the most enjoyable parts of the job” as catering for students of all abilities and backgrounds.
FE librarian is certainly a good career choice if your aim is to help the next generation of leaders, teachers and innovators. The library is generally a hub at any college, offering a vibrant multi-media space that promotes independent learning.
FE libraries are also a key place to “ensure basic numeracy, literacy and digital skills are embedded in the curriculum at all levels”.
With public libraries closing at a rate of knots, college libraries perform a hugely important role in closing literacy gaps. Indeed, almost 130 public libraries closed between 2018 and 2019 in the face of a decade of austerity.
College libraries can also offer a safe haven for those students who struggle or are unable to study at home. This can be hugely satisfying for an FE librarian.
Chartership at Cilip is the “level of Professional Registration for those working in the information professions who wish to be recognised for their skills, knowledge, and application of these in the form of reflective practice”. It enables you to demonstrate your commitment to continuing professional development.
You will be expected to secure a Cilip mentor as part of your chartership. They will offer guidance and support throughout the process
A chartership will be looked upon favourably when applying for an FE librarian job.