Last week at the ILI 2013 conference I gave a talk on “Digital Life Beyond The Institution“. The talk was one of two given in a session on “Being smart with technology – creating something from nothing”. In my case the talk addressed the challenges of continuing to work as an information professional after leaving my host institution. I therefore needed to create an IT infrastructure out of nothing, as I know longer had access to the IT environment provided at Bath University.
In the talk I described how institutions appear to focus their training activities on newcomers to the institution, with seemingly little advice and support provided for those who may be leaving, for whatever reasons. The lack of support seems to be complemented with policies which appear to make life difficult for those who are about to leave their host institution. Since I had an interest in policies at the University of Bath, having worked there for almost 17 years, a few months ago I investigated the policies which would be relevant to me and my colleagues at UKOLN, who were about to be made redundant.
As illustrated the account closure policies are brief, stating, for those who leave the University in normal circumstances “Staff leaving the University – the account is closed on or shortly after the date of leave. It is expected the individual will arrange for appropriate data held under their account to be made accessible to others for business continuity“. There is no suggestion that training will be provided for staff who may wish to continue their professional activities after they leave the institution.
In the case of UKOLN staff, our funders agreed that we would have training opportunities and myself and my former colleagues appreciated the value of this. However when I asked for a show of hands during my talks for institutions which provide training in topics such as migrating services and content to Cloud services, only one person (tentatively) put up their hand. I was aware that people may have been reluctant to engage with my questions but felt I should ask a follow-up question: “Who feels that their institution should provide such training for staff (and researchers) who are about to leave the institution?” there was a flurry of activity as a large proportion of the audience raised their hands.
This response echoed the experience I had when I gave a similar talk entitled “When Staff and Researchers Leave Their Host Institution” at the LILAC 2013 conference. It seems that this is an appreciation that this is a gap in the training and support services provided by those who find themselves in this position. This should be of concern as leaving one’s current job is not unusual – in the New Statesman (20-26 September 2013) Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, pointed out that “By 2015, there will be more Briton over 65 than under 15. We cannot afford to discard their expertise.” and went on to add “Studies show that on average each of us will have seven careers, two of which are yet to exist.”
To a certain extent adoption of open services can help address licencing barriers to use and reuse of content and d services for members of the university after they leave. Use of open source software can avoid expensive licence costs for software, and use of open educational resources and research papers and research data which have Creative Commons licences means that such content created during one’s period of employment can legitimately be used after one leaves.
Perhaps the reasons for lack of training in this area is due to the legacy of use of licensed services and content, for which ongoing access would not be possible. But might there also be a view that training and development is intended to enhance the productivity of the host institution’s employees, and there is little to be gained by providing training as they are about to leave? I would hope that this is not the case, but I am at a loss to think of other reasons for the acknowledged gap in this area.
As I was preparing the talk I came across details of the Radical Library Camp. In a previous post in which I asked “Do We Want Radical Law-Breaking Librarians?” I commented on the session at the Radical Library Camp on “Professional ethics: copyright is broken, so why am I enforcing it?“. This inspired me to provide a similar manifesto which argued that librarians should ensure that access to training course which provide staff with the skills needed to make effective use of Cloud services are provided for when people are preparing to leave their institution:
Digital life is now primarily in the Cloud, so why are we ignoring this?
We seek to prepare our students with life-long learning skills for working in a digital environment after they graduate.
But members of staff and researchers are only given training in institutionally-approved & support technologies. We fail to provide training and support for staff for their digital life beyond the institution.
And yet everyone will leave the institution (unless they die in the job!)
Professional practices and institutions are in conflict here: on the one hand, I have a duty to my employer to support the needs of the institution; on the other hand, my profession, and the higher education sector, believes in the value of life-long learning.
How can this be resolved? I’m not sure that the digital literacies summary developed by SCONUL and promoted by Jisc, are sufficient, as this focusses only on teaching of digital literacies. Do we need a new, more agile approach that can deal with contemporary need for digital life beyond the institution? And if so, can we find this within existing professional frameworks or do we need to do this for ourselves?
Is this a reasonable request which institutions should be providing? What reasons may there be for the lack of such training? Might there be examples of institutions which are addressing these issues? I’d welcome your thoughts and comments.
Note that the slides I used in the talk are available on Slideshare and embedded below.
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