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Don’t shush! Why librarians should embrace HEA Fellowship

28 Mar 2019 | Sarah George Subject Librarian at the University of Bradford, Sarah George, explains how HEA Fellowship can help librarians raise their profile.

Librarians are innovative teachers, engaging in a wide range of activities to address 21st century learning issues such as critical thinking and plagiarism, but this may not be noticed by our institutions. Subject Librarian at the University of Bradford, Sarah George, explains how HEA Fellowship can help librarians raise their profile. 

Shout, don’t shush!

When you hear the word librarian, what image comes to mind? Pearls, tweed, hair in a bun? Shushing, stamping books, library fines? Innovative teaching and pedagogic research? No? Well, it was worth a try…

Librarians engage in a wide range of teaching and learning activities, re-purposing traditional skills to address 21st century learning issues such as critical thinking and plagiarism. But when we talk about it, it’s often to other librarians. And very few of us operate in a context where librarians are our ultimate bosses or set our budgets. Which, to my mind, is why librarians should pursue HEA Fellowship. It gives a recognition to our teaching as equivalent in status to that of academics and often helps to address a few institutional targets along the way. 

It also gives us some rather nifty postnominals that are recognised across the sector. 

Why HEA Fellowship?

But why HEA recognition? After all, we have our own professional recognition in the form of CILIP Chartership. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I chartered back in 2007 and have revalidated several times since. But in conversations with academic colleagues and senior managers (those who set our budgets!) the subject of chartership has never once been mentioned. 

My Senior Fellowship, on the other hand, is often why I’m having those conversations. It has got me into a few unfamiliar and unexpected places, including mentoring eminent professors and heads of department. 

Of course, on many levels, librarian chartership and Fellowship are similar exercises. Both involve reflective writing and analysis of one’s practice, just with a different emphasis. Indeed, I used one section of my chartership as the basis for my application. But librarians can find the process daunting as the language it uses seems aimed primarily at people in “traditional” academic roles. 

We undertake many of the same activities as academics but use different language to describe them. In my first week in this job I naively asked a lecturer if he would like an information literacy session for his final year students. He replied “I wouldn’t bother, most of them can read” (MOST????). Fortunately, Rosetta Stones exist both from Advance HE and from the Association of Learning Developers in HE (ALDinHE).


Once we have translated library-speak into academicese then we face a further challenge of deciding to which category of Fellowship we should aspire. Colleagues often report that academic mentors assume that they will go for Associate. Whilst this is undoubtedly appropriate for those new to the role as a useful framework to develop their teaching practice, to those who’ve been in teaching roles for a while (in my case, 11 years of teaching over 100 hours a year) this category seems less appropriate! 

The elephant in the room for any librarians aspiring to Fellow or Senior is Assessment (A3). The received wisdom is that librarians don’t do assessment. Aside from the fact that many now do (I currently set and mark several summative assessments and am a module leader. I am not particularly unusual in doing this!), we can and do formatively assess students all the time as part of our standard practice. We help students to improve search strategies, tell them how to improve their referencing, talk through their sources and get them to critically analyse their quality. What is that if not assessment? 

More formally, many of my teaching sessions now involve an element of assessment. I lecture for a short time, set a group task based on the information then get the students to report back on their findings by means of a presentation, written report or poster (the 1st year forensic students had a great time with Pritt-stick and felt tips making posters!). I give feedback on these efforts: bingo, assessment! And with little effort and, I hope, to the pedagogic advantage of the students. 

The ALDinHE website has many other useful suggestions and I have an entire presentation that I’m happy to deliver to anyone willing to listen!

For librarians applying for Senior Fellowship the perceived barriers often include the fact that they are not managers and might therefore lack case studies. To the former, I would say that ‘management’ is a red herring – some of the strongest applications I have read have been from those with no formal management role but who have nonetheless influenced the learning and teaching practices of others by persuasion, encouragement or, in my case, sitting on people’s desks and talking until they agree in order to make me go away.

Case studies can appear quite mundane to you. One of mine was on a plagiarism induction which nonetheless was presented at my first ever conference (at the ripe old age of 41!) then written up into a journal article. If you can provide evidence of influence on the teaching and learning practices of others, then it’s a valid case study. And you can include evidence that at first sight might seem quite tangential to learning. One of my examples was about a large discard of print journals. This enabled us to widen the aisles between the shelves, allowing wheelchair-using students to access the journals themselves. Improving the learning environment, increasing inclusivity: tick!


On the same day I finally achieved SFHEA the library’s Good Academic Practice group won the Vice Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award for that same hard-working plagiarism induction. My bosses decided that the combination was sufficiently unusual for a librarian to nominate me to be a candidate for a National Teaching Fellowship. I worked with a series of mentors to build my application, taking on projects (an audit of the accessibility of ebooks, an attack on our plethora of referencing styles), delivering a series of workshops on random topics and capitalising on my habit of disappearing off on fieldwork with the Archaeology 1st years. Three years and two unsuccessful attempts later I finally achieved it!

Help is at hand

Sarah George has been a subject librarian at the University of Bradford since 2005, which was a surprise as she was supposed to be on a nine-month contract. Before that she was a field archaeologist, school librarian, disastrous special collections assistant and worse research assistant.

HEA Fellowship demonstrates a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education. Advance HE has a number of services which help promote Fellowship and support applications here.

The National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) Scheme celebrates and recognises individuals who have made an outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession in higher education. Institutions may nominate up to three individuals per annum.

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