Try conversation as well as action, libraries told
Better marketing, a stronger presence within core curricula and even "Bumps and Babies" groups were among the "future strategies for university and college libraries" explored last week at a conference in London.
Jo Aitkins, head of public services at the University of Leicester's new David Wilson Library, addressed the challenges of "improving the student library experience", both for the library's 1.4 million annual visitors and approximately 8,500 distance learners. The key was to adopt a marketing perspective, she argued: listen to users, provide what they ask for and then be sure to tell them what you've done. She joked to the conference, held by Neil Stewart Associates, that the best time to tell them was just before they fill in their National Student Survey forms.
Jane Secker, copyright and digital literacy adviser at the London School of Economics, set out a model of information literacy and argued that it should be taught not as an extra but within the main curriculum as "part of the shift to independent learning".
Librarians needed to seize such opportunities, since "students were often unaware of their expertise and generally turned to their lecturers for help", she said.
"Universities often grew up around libraries," noted David Green, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Worcester. In Worcester's case, a long tradition of teacher training meant that the institution had built up an outstanding children's library - that was never used by children.
This was one of the inspirations behind Worcester's project to create Europe's first joint, fully integrated university and public library. Those facilities were brought together with county council archives, archaeology and heritage services in a new building called The Hive, opened by the Queen in July.
Professor Green said that, despite teething problems caused by rowdy pupils who had been excluded from school and noisy Bumps and Babies groups of children and expectant parents, the library was a good example of urban regeneration and "an engine of educational inclusion". Between its opening and this September, almost 8,000 new members had joined the public library, he said. The equivalent figure for 2011 was a mere 860.