VUCiBIB – adult education in public libraries

The local library gives many adults a push in the direction of developing their ITC competencies
Vesthimmerland’s HF (Higher Preparatory Examination) and VUC (Adult Education Centre) co-operates with five local public libraries to integrate educational workshops in the library world. At first sight it might not seem altogether logical, but adult education is right now moving into a new phase which leaves behind previous conceptions and attitudes.
Adults and education
Education tended to be thought of as something vocational which took place when you were quite young and was considered rather elitist, whereas today we think in terms of education for all, lifelong learning and competence development. A development which gives everybody the chance – what ever age or background – to develop further skills. According to Kompetencerådet (Council for Competency) it is necessary to create a ‘competence environment’, based on the vision o f development for all people throughout life.Education no longer means social ascent, but is necessary to avoid social deroute. In a society like this, it is the unskilled who face the greatest difficulties.

At the same time it looks as if the more educated a person is, the more he also wants to further educate himself. A survey conducted by the Institute for Conjectural Analysis and DTI) talks about a two-tiered labour market. A labour market consisting of team A – the competence team – who is constantly educating itself and gaining opportunities for new challenges,and then a rather neglected team – team B – who is being overlooked in educational terms. Team B is the group doing unskilled jobs under great pressure of time and who is in real danger of being squeezed out of the labour market. One would imagine that these circumstances would induce the unskilled to rush to VUC, AMU (Training opportunities scheme) or other educational institutions, but alas this is not the case, quite the contrary. The reasons for this are in fact extremely complex. The survey shows that amongst other things, the employees themselves are the driving force when it comes to further education, and at the same time it is quite clear that people with brief or no vocational training have a marked preference for informal learning. It seems likely that most of the learning among adults takes place without any pre-arranged formalised educational programme. For many people their place of work provides the most important arena for learning.

Many adults, and particularly the group without professional training, do not feel inclined to ‘go back to school’, certainly not when talking in terms of traditional educational institutions. It is therefore imperative to think along different lines, if this group is to have a real chance of remaining within the labour market or in fact participate as active citizens in a democratic society. Given many adults’ objection to traditional ‘schools’, the educational institutions will have to ‘move towards these adults’ and create innovative forms of education as well as develop new models for learning environments. The public library if one of many places where these adults can be found.

VUC in the library
VUCiBIB is one of a number of new and exciting Danish initiatives which try to meet the needs of those groups of adults who either by t radition disregard general adult education and/or who do not normally visit the lib rary. By establishing Open VUC workshops in local public libraries, Vesthimmerland’s HF & VUC, one of Northern Jutland’s seven Adult education centres, and five local public libraries have together tried to reach new target groups. The public libraries in Denmark have something very special to offer the population in terms of culture and knowledge – of a quality that many countries envy us. But also the libraries have to move faster these years in order to keep pace and adjust to electronic information storage and modern information and communication technology.

At the moment there is furthermore a distinct tendency towards centralisation, which according to Martin Bodilsen, headmaster of Vesthimmerland’s HF & VUC,has resulted in a marked increase of ‘participant frequency’in adult and further education the closer to the educational institutions people live. This means a geographical anomaly in the intake on adult and further education, with negative consequences particularly for the small rural local authorities. VUCiBIB wants to contribute to bringing about an improved equality as regards the citizens’ taking advantage of society’s offers in terms of further qualifications and education which will benefit the individual as well as the local labour market and local businesses. The project is thus an attempt to remedy the educational and geographical anomaly so apparent in the small rural local autho rities.

VUCiBIB offers the individual citizen the chance to familiarise himself with the information technology, thereby becoming more proficient in navigating and sorting through the information stream. At the same time the ICTpart of the project is seen as a tool in an overall education strategy for the entire region, with VUC as well as the public libraries playing an active role.

Vesthimmerland’s HF & VUC has in co-operation with public libraries in Farsø, Løgstør, Nibe, Støvring and Aars municipalities established five VUC workshops. The workshops are placed in a corner of the library and are intended to give the users the chance for a moment of concentration, and developing and learning at their own speed and according to each individual’s needs. Like most activities in the libraries, using VUCiBIB is free of charge, but should the user on the other hand wish to use the workshop and the facilities for actual VUC-teaching, an admission fee has to be paid.

Each of the five VUCiBIB workshops have four computer work stations with Internet connection, printer, scanner as well as a number of interactive and paper-based educational materials. Via the sector net,the users are also able to use various VUC-programmes. In order to create a coherent study environment the libraries have chosen to place some of their materials in the workshop area. Two teachers have been employed in connection with the project, to guide and instruct the users. Each workshop is manned with teachers 5-6 hours a week, supplemented by the service which the library staff offer, and the citizens are thus given the opportunity of brief guidance as well as instruction in using the computer, including information retrieval, and a number of VUC-subjects. It is also possible to do VUC-subjects as distance learning. The workshop facilities are available to everyone over 16 and can be used during the library’s opening hours. The main object is to present the latest in technological development and information retrieval as a decentralised offer to every local authority – in this way making the new technology accessible to all.

An open VUC workshop in a library is not perceived as traditional school and it can therefore help to break down the barrier which many people feel exists in relation to institutionalised learning. Learning about information technology in a library does not feel like going to school and getting an impression of what it is all about via one’s local library, gives many adults a push in the direction of developing their ICT competencies. The library is a kind o f sanctuary for most people – a place of no obligations – and that is a great strength. One is allowed to delve into things at one’s own pace, to concentrate on whatever one’s main interest might be. Help and assistance is readily available – and in the end one might be induced to learn more. Learning must be brought to the citizens.

Serious adult learning presupposes a motivation, based on vivid interest, something one feels like doing or has realised the necessity of learning. VUCiBIB’s many well-attended events indicate that these areas are of interest to a large group of adults, while at the same time providing an introduction to Internet and information technology. A multitude of possibilities are presented, which do not only make the public library a place for social gathering, a centre for culture, knowledge and information, but also a learning environment where local citizens may take a closer look at information and communication technology, develop new competencies with or without the support of a teacher and where they can use the library as a base of learning in relation to actual distance education.

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Consultant, The Danish Institute for Educational Training of Vocational Teachers, Odense.