Academic Library Outreach:A View from the Field

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Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Economics and Social Studies

Original languageEnglish
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Award date2016
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Abstract

Using a mixed-method sequential research design, this exploratory study seeks to offer a better understanding of the form, function, and extent of public outreach and engagement initiatives in UK academic libraries and provide a tool kit of good practice to support the preparation, delivery, and evaluation of outreach events.

Although well documented in the North American academe, the topic of academic library outreach and public engagement initiatives remains largely unexplored in the UK. Indeed, the research reveals that even those responsible for creating and delivering unique, innovative, and imaginative outreach programmes and events have themselves not yet developed robust or effective structures and procedures to record, evaluate, and report upon the impact and value of the work they undertake.

The project also attempts to ascertain whether UK librarians’ outreach endeavours are linked to wider institutional and socio-political discourse endorsing the value of the ‘publically engaged’ university, in part, as an antidote to rising tuition fees. A further aim is to determine whether academic library outreach is increasing as a result of government policies intent upon improving HE participation amongst traditionally under-represented social groups by 2020, as articulated in the 2016 White Paper ‘Success as Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’, alongside other key socio-economic and political factors.

An initial series of semi-structured interviews, followed by a nationwide online survey, supplied the essential qualitative and quantitative data for the study. Overall, interviewees and survey participants report a perceived increase in library outreach activities during recent years. Growing numbers of library visit requests from local schools and colleges seeking additional support for pupils undertaking the EPQ qualification is a common denominator, alongside a genuine preparedness to adopt an ‘open doors’ policy towards unaffiliated user groups and members of the general public.

Although a strong starting point, the project findings emphasise how more research is needed to expand and refine the exploratory work undertaken here, especially if academic libraries are to become key players in national access and widening participation agendas, as speculated by outreach specialists at the researcher’s home university and elsewhere.