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man looking over fenceI recently had the experience of working in the library of a private sector higher education institute in the UK, which will remain nameless (although you could probably find out if you really wanted to).

Private HEIs are something of an oddity in UK higher education but given the current government’s pre-occupation with privatisation and marketisation it’s likely they will become more widespread. My observations therefore might be useful in the current climate – either that or they won’t be any use to anyone whatsoever, which is more likely.

I was employed as a librarian with line management responsibility of two library assistants, academic liaison for a number of subjects and, given the small size of the institution, issue and enquiry desk duties on a regular basis. Nothing different from the average state university there then. The main differences I noticed concerned the ‘customer’ focussed approach throughout the library and wider department.

While I’m not convinced by the notion of a student as customer (customers invariably have used a service before whereas many students are completely new to higher education) the focus at this institution was around maximising face-to-face help for students and avoiding, where possible, the adoption of technologies to reduce face-to-face service such as self-issue/return. Given the more customer focussed ideology it was unsurprising that students, on the whole, expected a great deal of time from librarians and library staff in general.

I expect this may become more of a trend in UK higher education as students pay more to come to university and expect more ‘bang for their buck’. The library, as the ‘shop front’ of many HEIs will undoubtedly become a focal point for such expectancy. However I believe, given  my experiences of different HE libraries, that such expectations can be well met in HE libraries where students can see where their money is paying for resources be they electronic, human or printed.

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