ASSOCIATES (vol. 3, no. 2, November 1996) -

Table of contents

                 *New Kind Of Library Qualification*

                       THE UNITED KINGDOM
                           Anne Trevett
                      Professional Support Officer
                 Information and Library Services Lead Body
                       The Library Association
                          London, England

In Britain, a new kind of qualification standards in Information
and Library Services (ILS) is causing quite a stir among
librarians and library paraprofessionals.  A very high level of
interest from both employers and the staff who are potential
candidates makes it clear that the new work based qualifications
are something that people in the information and library world
have been waiting for.  The standards offer a chance to build and
develop the skills gained in the workplace to gain a nationally
recognized qualification.  This is the very first time this has
been possible for the British library paraprofessional.

Assessing people on what they do at work
The National Vocational System (NVQ) system is being introduced
in Britain across all sectors of employment and it is a radical
departure from an academic system of training in which knowledge
is imparted, usually in a classroom or lecture, and then tested
in written or oral examinations.  The NVQ system is:
                                        --competency based
The skills (competencies) of a worker are tested against
standards for that area of work and this happens in the
workplace.  Driving tests are probably the example of a
competency based test that most people are familiar with.
The test takes place in the car (and so is "workbased") and is a
measure of what you can do rather than what you know (which makes
it "competency based").

How are these skills measured?
The British NVQ system works by matching the skills of a
candidate against a set of national standards.  The standards
have been drawn up by senior employers in the sector to describe
all the activities that make up work in information and library
services.  The standards were reviewed and critiqued by more than
2000 people working in library and information work and tested
in 19 real life library organizations.  These standards have now
been accredited by the National Council for Vocational
Qualifications (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, giving
us NVQs) and SCOTVEC (in Scotland, giving us SVQs).

Fitting into a National Qualifications Framework
At the end of the necessarily long and careful process of drawing
up the standards, the various units describing information and
library work were grouped into qualifications at different
levels.  Perhaps the best way of illustrating what the levels
mean is to give some idea of the kinds of jobs in ILS at each
level: maybe Library or Customer Service Assistant at Level
2, Senior Library Assistant or Information Officer at Level 3 and
Librarian or Information Manager at Level 4.  A Level 5
qualification for Senior Managers in Information and Library work
is currently being developed.

Because the ILS qualifications are part of a national framework,
there is now a way of comparing levels of work across very
different kinds of jobs.  For example, a Level 3 job in
Accountancy should be at approximately the same level of
responsibility and complexity as a Level 3 in Care Services or
Information and Library Work.  The qualifications are offered at
levels from the bottom to the top of the qualifications ladder so
that it offers a new route to career progression and personal
development.  This is especially helpful to those whose schooling
was cut short before going to College, those returning after a
career break, or those changing direction.

How the system works for a candidate
The whole NVQ system works through a network of assessment
centers at which candidates are:
           --First helped to think about their skills and match
themselves to the right level of qualification at this particular
stage in their career.
           --Then required to build up the evidence of working
competently.  This would include for example, records of pieces
of work undertaken, reports written as part of the job, and
statements from individuals such as library users or line
           --Records of classes attended and coursework
undertaken will provide evidence of someone having the
"underpinning knowledge and understanding" necessary to do the
job.  However, this in itself is not proof of competence enough
to gain the NVQ.  Remember, this is about what someone can
do, not what they know.
           --The next task for the candidate is to organize and
cross reference all the evidence collected so as to show that
they can do competently the tasks outlined in the standards for
that particular level.  This becomes a Portfolio of Evidence to
be considered by an assessor.
           --NVQ Assessors are required to be skilled both in the
work they are assessing and in the task of assessment.  The work
of assessors is checked by a Verifier to assure that consistent
quality is maintained.  There is a further national level of
verification to ensure that all NVQs awarded meet the same
national quality controls.
           --Part of the NVQ philosophy is that experience
outside work can be used to provide evidence, so long as it is
relevant.  An example would include working for a voluntary
           --Credit is accumulated Unit by Unit, building  a
complete NVQ.  The process can all go on at the worker's own pace
until a National Vocational Qualification is achieved.

Filling in the gaps
When someone matches their skills against the standards there
will almost certainly be some skill gaps, training or work
experience still needed.  A great advantage of the NVQ system is
that expanding someone's workbased skills to fulfill the
standards benefits not only the staff themselves, but improves
the quality of the service they can give.  Employers are already
seeing clear benefits in helping their staff towards S/NVQ.  A
manager in a large English library system said recently "Because
NVQs are work related, they have a direct impact on staff
performance and ultimately service quality.  Library users also
benefit from the performance."  In the few short months since the
ILS qualifications have been instituted, a stream of hundreds of
people have started to use these new qualifications.

Getting ILS assessment centers up and running
Because the NVQ system is about assessment of workbased skills,
the workplace assessment centers will often be offered by an
employer operating a center for their own staff.  But very many
ILS staff work in isolated positions (one person staff) and so
the Lead Body is working hard to support the development of a
network of assessment centers up and down the country.  There are
already 15 accredited assessment centers for ILS across the UK,
with very many more in the pipeline.

[NOTE: For more on the information included in the article below,
contact the ILS Lead Body Office.
WWW address:
The Lead Body postal address is:
             c/o The Library Association  7 Ridgmount Street
             London WC1E7AE
Telephone:   +44-171-255-2271
Fax:         +44-171-637-0126]