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Cpd25 – Community Engagement and Widening Participation: How Universities and Libraries Reach Out to Marginalised Groups

By Sharon A James, on 21 December 2016

On 29th November I attended the Cpd25 course Community Engagement and Widening Participation: How Universities and Libraries Reach Out to Marginalised Groups. This ran for an afternoon and was held at The London Mathematical Society in Russell Square. I wanted to go to this event to find out more about which students are under-represented in Higher Education, what methods are used to overcome this and how we could be more inclusive at the site where I work (the UCL Language and Speech Science Library) and within UCL Library as a whole.

The first presentations were given by two representatives from King’s College London (KCL); Niaomi Collett, Deputy Director of Widening Participation and Tom Claydon, formerly at UCL Library, who is now the Library Liaison Manager at KCL. Niaomi explained that WP candidates are prioritized in terms of ethnicity, disability, gender, mature student status, a background of being in care, or experience as a carer. KCL has sixteen schemes to help young people explore university including their flagship scheme K+, the Sutton Trust summer school and King’s Scholars, which works with local pupils in Years 7-9. Because KCL’s Archives and Special Collections is involved in community engagement the King’s Scholars’ scheme runs an Archive Adventurers session in which pupils learn about archives and how they are used at university.

KCL children 2

Pupils learning about KCL’s Archives and Special Collections

KCL’s Widening Participation strategy is all-encompassing and goes from pre-16 outreach through to student support and career guidance for graduates. The Widening Participation Office collaborates with the library through Tom Claydon whose job includes overseeing the provision of reference cards, inductions and study skills training for WP students. For example, the K+ scheme, which has a yearly intake of 200 children who attend classes over a two year period, starts off with a Library introduction given by Tom and a session about using the library’s resources with a library-trained Student Ambassador. Future plans include the Widening Participation Office giving a library training hour once a year and, in line with KCL strategy, the library working to provide parity of access to all service users. To achieve this it is developing tailored study skills training and investigating ways it can provide borrowing and e-resource access to K+ students.

The next two presentations were given by Kirsty Wadsley, Head of Widening Participation at LSE, and Maria Bell who provides Learning Support at LSE Library. Widening Participation at LSE is currently offered from primary school through to undergraduate level with priority given to students who are under-represented such as those from under-performing schools. The presenters stressed that it is key to make connections with schools so that relationships are formed, maintained and strengthened over time. Local events are also looked out for in which the university and library can get involved and engage with the community.

The library has various schemes such as Learning with LSE Collections for Schools, LSE Library Outreach (Young People & Communities) and the LSE Library public lecture programme. Because of this, library staff have training to learn about their role in WP and how to work with younger customers. The presenters also pointed out that they are fortunate enough to have a library Education Officer who creates connections between the library, the Widening Participation Office and schools. Finally the presenters reported that they get lots of positive written feedback from young participants such as: “The library is useful and very big & quiet.”

LSE school children

The final presentation was given by Bernard Scaife, Librarian at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Co-leader of the Outreach KPA. There is a Widening Participation Office at UCL that raises awareness of Higher Education through activities and enhances UCL’s diversity by admitting students from under-represented backgrounds. Because of this UCL was awarded a Buttle Quality Mark for engaging with children in care, encouraging applications to UCL and providing support until after enrolment. The library has a relationship with the WP Office, for example it produces reference cards for the UCL Summer Challenge students, a cohort of 6th Form students from target backgrounds who undertake lessons and an essay on a topic of their choice. In 2014/15, 43% of pupils from this programme went on to make an application to UCL for undergraduate study. However, Bernard mentioned that the library needs to formally develop inductions and information literacy training and he will be working on this in the future.


There is also a library Outreach Steering Group (OSG) which was formed in April 2016 and includes members from various library sites. The OSG is working on the library’s first outreach strategy that will bring together the WP activities of all the sites and share their best practice. A future objective is to find a way to statistically record staff time spent on outreach so that it is recognised as an integral part of library services. Another aim is to look at ways of collecting information on how and if the library is reaching marginalised communities. Other plans include training and working with volunteers to provide library outreach activities both centrally and at the upcoming campus at the Olympic Park. This campus features in UCL’s plans to engage with the Borough of Newham and through outreach to the local community the UCL East hub will be used to raise awareness of the library’s collections.

UCL yr 8 sutton scholars

Museum workshop of Year 8 students from UCL Sutton Scholars

An interesting example of Community Engagement involved learning about Alix Hall, an Archive Education Coordinator funded by the Heritage Lottery. While working at IOE Library she ran various outreach events including one in May 2014 where evacuees talked about their childhood education during World War II and explored the concept of archives. In conclusion, Bernard mentioned that future ideas for library Community Engagement include a Culture Bus to take special collections to UCL East and a Culture Club where people can attend public lectures and events in Bloomsbury.

The afternoon ended with attendees being asked to write down what they had learned from the training on Post-It notes. These were then stuck up on the windows so that others could read and place stickers on those they found most helpful. Popular information included the need to not make assumptions about the knowledge and skills students bring with them to university, using special collections to capture imaginations and library staff knowing what their role is in Widening Participation and receiving training. This exercise consolidated what I had learned over an insightful afternoon and I came away from the course with far more awareness about Community Engagement and Widening Participation than I had before going.

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One Response to “Cpd25 – Community Engagement and Widening Participation: How Universities and Libraries Reach Out to Marginalised Groups”

  • 1
    utnvbsc wrote on 22 December 2016:

    Many thanks Sharon for your detailed account of this useful CPD25 event. Next year is going to be an exciting year for outreach. Both our new outreach staff have now been recruited and will be in post from January which will enable us to move forward on completing an action plan which is to be delivered alongside the new
    outreach strategy, including initiatives to support staff who undertake outreach work so we can all share best practice in this area.

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