2. Outreach: Investigating Learning Needs

Publication Date01 Mar 1985
AuthorBrenda Neale
SubjectLibrary & information science
Outreach: Investigating
Learning Needs
by Brenda Neale
In 1983 Islington Library Service published a report as part of the London Borough
of Islington/Inner London Education Authority Learners Advisory Service research
Based on sympathetic interviews from which extensive quotations have
been drawn, the report explores the learning needs of adults in Islington. The setting
up of the Islington project was timely and the outcome of developments in the two
related fields of continuing education and librarianship.
As every adult knows, learning does not stop at school leaving age. Today, more and
more adults are seeking ways of finding personal fulfilment through leisure activities,
or attempting to survive in a shrinking job market by developing new skills and in-
terests. Research conducted over the past 15 years in the United States and Canada[2]
has led to a widespread professional recognition of the value of life-long learning.
In England, with the recent work of ACACE (Advisory Council for Adult and Continu-
ing Education), and the inauguration of the National Association of Educational
Guidance Services in 1982, attitudes towards adult learning are slowly beginning
to change. But provision for the adult learner is still given a relatively low priority among
education authorities, simply because it is non-compulsory. Lack of knowledge about
learning opportunities is as much a feature of deprivation as the lack of learning
facilities themselves. Yet few local authorities have allocated funds for the provision
of educational guidance services. In Islington, a London borough which faces the
multiple problems associated with inner city areas (poor housing and environment,
high unemployment and a heterogeneous population), there was little collaboration
between professional agencies over the provision of education information and ad-
the vital links to learning through which the learning resources of the Borough
could be effectively exploited.
It has long been recognised that public libraries have an important role to play in
adult learning. In America, the Independent Learning Project (ILP) has been well
documented[3]. Ten American library services took on the role of planning learning
programmes for adult library users, and of monitoring and evaluating the service
through assessments by both clients and librarians. The project revealed the enor-
mous potential for public libraries to develop their educational role, firstly in the pro-
vision of educational information and advice and secondly in the provision and ex-
ploitation of learning materials. Again, developments in England have been much
slower. Although the educational role of the public library was one of the driving forces
behind its development in the nineteenth century, this century has seen a retrench-
ment in this role[4]. In the 1970s the concept of community librarianship began to
gain currency, and with it the notion that gaps in provision should be identified through
an investigation of community needs. Yet with cut backs in funding, only rarely has
a research or outreach element been built into a librarian's remit, and services have, on

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