Barnett’s Dispositions & Qualities and the Creative Attributes Framework

Barnett’s Dispositions and Qualities (Barnett, 2007)

How do you recognise Barnett’s ‘qualities’ in the context of a course you work with? Think of a couple of examples.

My library colleagues have developed learning outcomes (UAL Library Services, 2017) that tie in with UAL’s Creative Attributes Framework. (University of the Arts London, 2018). Although we don’t use these to assess students, they help us decide what and how we teach. There are several similarities with Barnett’s dispositions and qualities. For example, under the heading ‘Resilience’ we have

  • Handle adversity in the research process; able to problem solve and overcome obstacles 
  • Work with ambiguity, uncertainty and unfamiliarity 

(UAL Library Services, 2017)

Relating to ‘a preparedness to explore’ and ‘determination to keep going forward’ we have

  • Build on existing knowledge; use research as exploration rather than as a tool to back up what is already known
  • Recognise research is a creative process; take an enquiring, analytical and explorative approach
  • Understand connections between information sources and ideas, and be empowered to take risks in order to make further connections

(UAL Library Services, 2017)

I think many of our learning outcomes are more akin to dispositions/qualities than skills or knowledge: we are hoping to enable the students to, as Barnett describes, “take ownership of her studies and imparts to it her own energies and direction”.

To what extent do you recognise Barnett’s ‘dispositions’ in your own approach to learning? Assuming this varies, what influences them?

I think if I do have some of these dispositions, it varies a lot. Unless I feel a very strong connection with a subject, self-belief is a big factor in the variation. I feel that Barnett fails to take into account the emotional factors in studying and learning. However much I may wish to be ‘willing to learn’, anxiety can be a major barrier to engaging as much as I would wish to.

Are UAL’s Creative Attributes more like Barnett’s ‘qualities’? Or his ‘dispositions’? Is it just a question of phrasing? Comment on a couple of examples.

As to the character of the Creative Attributes, this varies. Quite often the Creative Attributes combine elements of the dispositions and qualities into one e.g.

Enterprise Creative Attribute (University of the Arts London, 2018)

Here the “mindset to take measured risks” seems to be very close in character to the dispositions, but the second part, “the resourcefulness to pursue these opportunities in an ethical and sustainable way” seems to have more in common with the qualities, as it describes the manner or the style in which that “mindset” or disposition should manifest itself. However, the Creative Attribute for ‘Resilience” directly ties to one of Barnett’s qualities.

The major disparity between the dispositions/qualities and the Creative Attributes is that the attributes seem much more concerned with the individual whereas the dispositions/qualities are concerned with how that individual interacts with others to a much greater extent. For example, the only mention of interacting with others in the attributes are in the “Showcasing abilities and accomplishments with others” section below, but all these seem focused on how that individual transmits information or ‘showcases’ to others rather than reciprocal engagement.

Showcasing abilities and accomplishments to others creative attributes (University of the Arts London, 2018)

Also, the qualities include integrity, restraint and respect for others, whereas the attributes, apart from one mention of being ethical, don’t mention anything of this kind. This is perhaps a little strange when the ability to work with people in a respectful and honest way would seem to be key skills for the creative industries.

The Creative Attributes are explicitly focused on employability and enterprise, i.e. on preparing students for socially useful occupations. What valuable attributes (‘creative’ or otherwise) can you think of that aren’t employment-focused?

Being employment-focused, these attributes are concerned with the commercial side of creative practice, but much creative endeavour is not commercial, and may hold a different kind of value to the artist and others. Perhaps a valuable attribute would be the ability to pursue something for the love of it, even though it will never bring commercial gain.

How are these attributes taught and/or learned at UAL?

I think these attributes are mainly taught via the methods by which the students carry out and deliver their work e.g. through collaborative project work, giving presentations, live projects.

As part of our information literacy workshops, we also teach these attributes as part of teaching students how to find, understand and evaluate information.

Barnett’s ‘qualities and dispositions’ are about learning, and the CAF is about creative practice. Are they more or less similar than you would expect, given this difference?

They are less similar than I would expect. They might apply in different ways to how Barnett means them, but I think all the dispositions/qualities could be applied to creative practice. As mentioned above, I think it’s surprising that some of them aren’t included.

How do these ideas connect with the theory you’ve been encountering on your elective unit (if you are doing one)?

I am doing the ILTHE module and considering Barnett discusses various barriers to learning that students might face, it seems surprising that he doesn’t mention anything related to inclusivity or diversity in the chapter e.g. how the dispositions could be affected if a student perceived they were treated differently or found university to be in some way unwelcoming to them if they were from a particular background or had a disability. He mentions difficulties students may encounter in the course their studies, such as illness or disliking the teaching style, but seems to assume that all students start from the same point at the beginning of their course. This differs with Paulo Freire’s views that we must take the social identity of students into account, consider the power dynamics that exist outside the classroom and practice a pedagogy that aims to dismantle existing power structures (Freire, 2000)



Barnett, R. (2007) ‘Dispositions and qualities’ in A will to learn:  being a student in an age of uncertainty. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. Thirtieth anniversary edition edn. New York: Continuum.

UAL Library Services. (2017) UAL Library Services information literacy learning outcomes, London: UAL Library Services.

University of the Arts London (2018) Creative Attributes Framework. Available at: (Accessed: 30 April 2018).

Blogging Task on Race

Resources used:

Shades of Noir

A Pedagogy of Social Justice Education: Social Identity Theory, Intersectionality, and Empowerment by Aaron J. Hahn Tapper

Room of Silence film

There are several ways that I can use the ideas expressed in these resources in library practice and teaching:

  • Using Shades of Noir resources to improve my knowledge of artists and designers of colour in order to ensure our collections are representative of different groups. We participate in the Liberate My Curriculum project where students can suggest library resources but it is important that we are proactive in doing this work ourselves.
  • Ensure that I use diverse examples of artists and designers when demonstrating searches for students
  • Consider the case studies in Shades of Noir and the experiences of the students in the Room of Silence film to consider how students of colour might experience the library space.

However, I would like to use the article ‘A pedagogy of social justice education’ to examine the idea of libraries as neutral spaces, where everyone has full and equal access to the resources and services. This idea has received much critique in recent years, but it seems that some library organisations and librarians remain quite complacent. Fobazi Ettarh has written about the idea of ‘Vocational Awe’, a term she uses to describe the view many librarians take that libraries are noble, sacred places and thus beyond critique, and how this silences people of colour who use and work in libraries. At a debate in America last February entitled “Are libraries neutral?” David Lankes argued that equity is not a neutral position, “If we do not address inequities, we are not neutral—we are harmful and instruments of oppression”.

We must consider the power dynamics that take place in the university and wider society as they are likely to play out in the library too. In their article, ‘In Pursuit of Antiracist Social Justice:
Denaturalizing Whiteness in the Academic Library’ Brook et al. describe how students of colour may have a different experience of academic libraries to their white peers. They may gravitate towards staff members who have a shared background or common language and a lack of diversity among the staff may discourage them from seeking help or using the library at all.

Across the UK library sector 97% of employees identify as white, compared to 88% of the labour force in general. What does it mean if the librarian sat at the enquiry desk, who could be perceived to be in a position of authority, is almost always white? Or how could the methods the library employs to manage the library space and enforce behaviour policies be construed?

Librarians often take an ‘anti-censorship’ stance when considering whether offensive materials should be kept in the collection i.e. many librarians would opt to keep a racist publication in the collection because that is perceived to be the neutral point of view, and an item being in the collection does not mean it is endorsed by the library. It is often argued that it is wrong to deprive students of any information, however offensive, and they may want to respond to or critique it. I have usually agreed with this view, but now I am wondering to what extent this viewpoint stems from a position of white privilege.

As Hahn Tapper says, for social justice education we must consider the social identity of our students and the power dynamics that exist in wider society. For example, we could start by considering the microaggressions the students in the Room of Silence film experience in their lives at university. If a student of colour is often having negative experiences within the university setting, and they come across a racist publication in the library, this could be very harmful. In keeping offensive material in the library, in Lankes’s words, are we being ‘neutral’ or are we being instruments of oppression?

I wonder if it might be a good idea to start a library services equality committee made up of a diverse group of students and staff to examine issues like these, and possibly library policy on a more ongoing basis. This would allow us to engage with students and discuss these issues deeply in a way that we do not do currently. Resources like these would be useful reference points for such discussions.

Microteach: Object-based learning with the Fairburn System of Visual References


I decided to use the Fairburn System books as my objects because, a few weeks before the workshop, one of them had generated much discussion in the library office. This was the ‘Ethnic and character types’ edition. There were opposing views in the library team about whether we should keep something that presents people of colour in an offensive, ‘othering’ way. It was decided that it would be censorship to remove it. It made me think about the reasons we keep publications that may be seen as obsolete, controversial or offensive material in the library, and I thought this would be a good basis for an object-based learning session.

However, I decided that the ‘Ethnic and character types’ edition would be too offensive to risk taking into a session that was mandatory and where people would not be warned in advance. I felt I would be exploiting people’s feelings to benefit my own learning. I decided to use other titles such as the male and female full figure editions, as there were still many aspects to date it. Women are shown cleaning and shopping, while men are shown to be going to work, the female models are nude, but the men aren’t. I still wasn’t sure how people would react to them, so I showed them to a colleague who is also a fine art student. She had never seen anything like them before, thought they were fascinating, but was shocked by the clear distinction in the ways men and women were portrayed. This all led me to believe that the session would work.

Learning Outcomes

I decided on the following plan for the session:

Split the group into 3 groups. Give each group a book and 3 cards

Give them 2 minutes to look at the books and make notes on the cards

1st Discussion (3 minutes)

Ask each group to present their book to the other groups and the words and phrases they wrote on their cards

2nd Discussion (5 minutes)

Questions to whole group:

  • Considering how the books have been described, should they be in the library collection?
  • Why would we keep outdated material in the library?
  • Other than unlawful material, is there anything that should not be included in library collections
  • Does the inclusion of an item in a library collection confer any meaning on that object?


Finally: has this changed your view of the meaning and purpose of library collections at all?

I asked everyone to write their thought on the cards as I understood that we needed to provide some visual evidence of the process/outcome of the session and I thought this might be a good way to show how everyone reacted to the books.

What went well

Everyone seemed very interested in the books and they provoked a lot of discussion. It was great to have an enthusiastic response to the objects.

What didn’t go well – feedback themes

It was great that there was much enthusiastic discussion about the objects, but I didn’t feel I was in control of it. It was difficult to interrupt the discussion to ask questions and move everyone onto the next part of the session. I started to feel anxious about this and felt that this showed. This was reflected in the feedback.

There was feedback that the instructions could have been clearer, and that the point of the cards wasn’t clear. This is understandable, as the cards did not have a purpose for the session itself but were simply to act as my visual evidence. I could have explained this at the beginning.

The objects and the learning outcomes weren’t aligned well enough. During the discussion I felt that some of the questions and issues I had intended to raise seemed irrelevant. Either the objects should have been more clearly aligned with the outcomes, or I should have adapted the questions to fit the way the discussion went. I felt that it hadn’t worked to have expected it to go a particular way.

As a result of all the above, it was not clear what the intended outcomes were, and it became impossible to provide any conclusion to the session. Beyond encountering an interesting object, the feedback suggested that participants felt they had not learned anything new.

What I would do differently next time

  • Ensure the learning outcomes, plan of the session and the chosen objects are well-matched
  • Give precise instructions and ensure all aspects are explained clearly. In the future I wouldn’t expect people to write down their thoughts and discuss at the same time.
  • Try and be more confident in directing the discussion where this is appropriate.
  • Consider how a session can be adapted if it is not going in a way I had expected
  • Ask people what they have learned from the objects/the session as a whole rather than proscribing a set outcome
  • Be more aware of the time especially when there is a lot of discussion taking place


Ultimately, the flaws in this session stemmed from my having really developed a session to go with the material I felt was really offensive, the ‘Ethnic and character’ types edition. Although I don’t feel it would have been right to use this in the microteaching session, I wonder whether I could have developed a session based on that. For example, I could have developed a session around ‘the object that isn’t there’. I could have said at the beginning that I had brought no object because I deemed it too offensive and explored how the participants felt about this. I think this would have instigated an interesting discussion around ideas of censorship, offensiveness, safe spaces etc. that would be very pertinent to ongoing debates in society.

This has made me consider my attitude to risk in my teaching, and how choosing what appears to be a safer option doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, but in fact can ensure failure. It will certainly make me consider less ‘safe’ options in the future, as although the outcome will possibly be more extreme one way or the other, it seems there is greater chance of creating a memorable, thought-provoking session.

In the future

It would be interesting to hold a session where we gathered together some of the more controversial material in the library to discuss why it should or should not be kept in the collection. Appropriate warnings would need to be in place and attendance would be voluntary. The questions I included in my lesson plan could be raised. Complaints about library material seem to stem from the perception that the inclusion of an item in the collection implies endorsement, whereas librarians would say this is not the case. It would be interesting to explore how students and non-library staff perceive the inclusion of controversial material in library collections.


The Fairburn system of visual references. Set no.1, Book 1: Fairburn figures. Male full figure. (1979) 2nd edn. London: Fairburn Publications.

The Fairburn system of visual references. Set no.1, Book 2: Fairburn figures. Female-full figure. (1979) 2nd edn. London: Fairburn Publications.

The Fairburn system of visual references. Set no.1, Book 3: Fairburn figures. Male and female situation poses and hands. (1979) 2nd edn. London: Fairburn Publications.

The Fairburn system of visual references. Set no.2, Book 3: Fairburn heads. Ethnic and character types. (1979) 2nd edn. London: Fairburn Publications.