'Effective management is only possible with effective evaluation.' So says The CILIP guidelines for secondary school libraries. (Shaper, 2014, p.80) and The innovative school librarian (Markless, 2016, p.84) highlights the importance of learning from students. This is especially true in my setting. We are a sixth-form college of around 360+ students with one silent study Library - which I single-staff - and a couple of other study areas available around the site. These are open-access and unstaffed. I get very few enquiries in the Library (something which I am working to improve) and those students that do speak to me tend to do so quickly so as to keep the space silent. I therefore have little opportunity to engage in lots of meaningful conversations and judge how effective the service is, and almost no opportunity to speak to non-Library users. But without their input, how do I know the level of impact that I am having? How do I know what services and resources they prioritise? How can I ensure that I am meeting their educational and personal needs?
The Library at Dereham Sixth Form College
The overall outcome of the questionnaire was positive. I received valuable statistics and insights into usage and opinions of the service. I was also able to create an action plan for the rest of the year which included purchasing a new Library Management System with Online Catalogue, raising awareness and visibility of journals, introducing welcome inductions for new Year 12s, updating signage with regards to behaviour expectations, re-arranging desks to promote more individual study, dealing more promptly with those students who were not working appropriately, and developing in-depth information literacy sessions for classes along with bookable 1-to-1 sessions.
To try and improve responses this year I made a couple of changes. First, I solved the issues with the online software and second, I re-deigned the print version so that it had 16 questions which took up two A4 sides, instead of the 19 questions taking up three sides from the previous year. I also changed some of the questions allowing me to focus on different aspects of the service.
Last year I must have had some very eager students because this year I found I was really struggling with numbers! By the end of the first week this year I had only received 74 paper and 16 online questionnaires, compared to 118 paper and 68 online questionnaires during the same period last academic year. I wasn't promoting it any less but something had clearly changed. Perhaps those who had completed one in Year 12 didn't want to do so again in Year 13? Or maybe students just aren't checking their College email or are getting too many emails and the message got lost in their inbox. It's impossible to say. Luckily, during the second week, the College held the first of its two Flexible Learning Days so I took the opportunity to ask every tutor to give the questionnaire out to their tutor groups. During the second week I also stopped putting a questionnaire at every workspace and just handed them out to students I spoke to and left a few in the other study spaces. This meant that I finished with a total of 208 paper questionnaires, although I didn't receive any further online responses, giving me 224 overall - an increase of 16 from 2015.
The questionnaire has still proved a very useful feedback method. Again I have gained valuable insights and been able to draw up an action plan that includes targets around;
- Changing the emphasis on raising awareness of resources to why and how they can really help, with relevant, practical examples
- Looking into the possibility of reader development with high school students
- Starting a Library blog or similar to cover subjects such as how to use specific journals and online resources, how to evaluate content, etc. to reach those who don't receive an induction
- Contacting teachers and speaking to College leadership to embed research skills inductions into first term tutorials and to embed subject-specific inductions into subjects
- Develop ways to effectively promote the Library around College
Markless, S. (ed.) (2016) The innovative school librarian. 2nd edn. London: Facet Publishing.
Shaper, S. (ed.) (2014) The CILIP guidelines for secondary school libraries. 3rd edn. London: Facet Publishing.