Engaging Schools for Higher Education: University for the Creative Arts Library & Student Services Engagement Programme

Nick Ross, University for the Creative Arts

A new scheme initiated by Library & Student Services working with Academics, Widening Participation and the Outreach Department introduced free library membership to local Art Teachers, School Librarians and Careers Advisors to improve access to its collections for the local community, engage young people in creative arts and promote its courses to potential students.

The background to this scheme resides in much of what the WATER: walk in access to E-resources project report (SCONUL / M25, 2013) identifies as the changing demands of HE institutional strategies for individuals outside of education wanting to access specialist materials. These include raising university profiles in local communities and aspirations through widening participation agendas. There is also another important “collaborative” aspect to wanting to offer non HESA registered users access to library resources which involves working to include graduates and Alumni, collaborative research projects from different organisations and sectors, prospective researchers preparing proposals and potential students. In UCA’s case, we also validate courses and are associated with external HE institutions whose students may want to access library resources.

WATER looks at the growing demand to provide visitor access to e-resources in HE libraries and identifies from a survey the main driver as increasing dependency on e-resources (66%). Additional factors were listed as:

  • Provision of service to the wider community
  • Walk-in access benefits everybody
  • Demands from external users
  • Alumni access needs.

The key driver for the school engagement programme is the institution’s profile in the local community and ensuring that education professionals in secondary education are aware of UCA, its courses and the specialist resources that can be accessed and utilised by their pupils. With this objective, Library & Student Services set out to enrol key decision makers in young people’s lives – teachers, careers advisors and librarians – to one of the four campus libraries based in Canterbury and Rochester in Kent, and Epsom and Farnham in Surrey. Research also indicates that these education professionals are unable to deliver key information skills training that would prepare them for university and “that there seems to be a clear need for university librarians to help provide support for students, teachers and librarians in schools” (Anderson and Bull, 2014 p. 44).

In June 2014 UCA’s Outreach Department used its 2000 plus list of education professionals to mail out an invitation to experience our degree shows, alongside a Library membership form with the free joining offer and the promise of activities for young people and professional development for themselves.

Library taster days for schools and colleges

The Library taster day for schools and colleges encourage art teachers to bring groups of young people to experience an academic Library. Sessions focusing on school course work, linking relevant resources and special collections are provided. An example was a visit of 20 pupils from Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School’s Art AS Level class who were working on a Textiles project. They explored the current exhibition of textiles work in the gallery which was supported by the back issues of fashion journals held in university library collections. Visually creative projects spring from browsing for inspiration and by enabling access to the past 80 years of Vogue Magazine we created a real and engaging experience that demonstrates what a specialist collection can elicit.

Annual events for Education Professionals

A planned annual event to be held in July from 2015 will focus on Careers Advisors, School Librarians and Art Teachers and is set around an agenda of art workshops delivered by Academic staff using photography, sculpture, printmaking, architecture, and fashion as a way of introducing the courses we offer to key education professionals who influence the decisions of the young people within their institutions.

UCA is geographically spread across two counties and employs around 150 Library & Student Services staff, so engaging our own colleagues in support of this scheme was a priority. Promotion was delivered through workshops focusing on how staff preferred to learn using Howard Gardner’s model of learning styles (Gardner, 2014) with the objective of embedding the schools programme and getting suggestions for how to teach young people about library resources. The outcome of these sessions highlighted that a broad and flexible approach to engaging young people is required and this will be reflected in future planning.

At this early stage of the programme, the focus is now on getting the educational professionals to recognise that university librarians have a key role to play in their own and their pupils’ development. The University for the Creative Arts Libraries provide one of the most comprehensive visual arts resources in the region and plays an important role in supporting and encouraging the creative industries in our local communities. Opening up access to young people in the local community through this free library membership scheme hopes to grow and establish a model that will benefit the wellbeing of its communities and secure the next generation of creative professionals who will in some cases choose to study at UCA.


SCONUL / M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries. 2013. WATER: Walk in Access to E-Resources. Providing visitor access to e-resources: guidelines and advice. JISC.

Anderson, L. and Bull, S. 2014. The creation of a university library outreach programme to develop the information literacy of further education students: an interactive approach to support student transition. Journal of Information Literacy, 8 (1), pp. 42-57.

Gardner, H. 2014. Multiple intelligence theory by Howard Gardner. Available at http://www.multipleintelligencetheory.co.uk [accessed 15 September 2014]


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