Feature Interview: Ian Snowley, University Librarian at the University of Lincoln, Talks to Talis
Karen Halliday (KH) at Talis talks to Ian Snowley (IS), University Librarian at the University of Lincoln, about its decision to select Talis Aspire as the university’s reading-list solution
KH: Tell me a little about Lincoln’s adoption of the Talis Aspire reading-list software?
IS: It was part of a bigger strategic IT review that involved the library and various stakeholders across the University. The reason we haven’t adopted earlier is because we needed to get some of the systems work done first. In January/February 2012 we upgraded our LMS to a new version of Horizon. Then we implemented the EBSCO discovery solution and now we’ve adopted Aspire.
KH: And you had a previous list solution?
IS: Yes. We had a number of lists in the previous system but they were only used by one school – and didn’t do the job for us really. They had no customer base and no internal ‘buy in’. It was good to see Aspire being demonstrated and spoken about – especially at the open days – so we could see how much further Talis Aspire has gone.
KH: So, are reading-lists important to the University of Lincoln?
IS: When we were developing our Library IT strategy, reading-lists were there as an important problem to address. Reading-lists really are key in terms of student satisfaction with the library. But there’s a real disconnect between tutors, students and the library in this area, so we’re really attracted by the workflows in Talis Aspire.
Students would come into the library with a printed list of essential titles – which were news to us! Many academics do work with subject librarians but the pot of money for the library isn’t growing as fast as student expectations. Aspire gives us supply chain management and a perfect opportunity to engage with all academics.
KH: Do you think student expectations of university libraries have changed in recent years?
IS: Yes they have. Students expect to have everything there for them in the library. They want the books on their course and they don’t want to wait. Ebooks haven’t delivered on this at all well. They are still very underdeveloped and that leaves us with a big problem. Students want to see that we’re providing for their needs – the key challenge is responding to that, and making the most of the money we do spend.
KH: What about the bigger changes, in higher education funding for example? How do you think they will affect the university?
IS: There’s a lot of uncertainty in the changes and things will become less predictable I think. Setting and meeting student expectations will be a big concern for all of us.
KH: Why did you choose the Talis Aspire reading-list solution?
IS: Advanced functionality and multiple integrations – that’s the reason we bought really. The more customers you’ve got, the more we’re able to trust that you can do the job. In my opinion Aspire is the most fully-featured, most-used system which gives it the most potential for success. So we were confident that it would meet our needs.
KH: Why has Lincoln bought a proprietory solution? Could you have built a Talis Aspire equivalent in-house?
IS: No we couldn’t. There’s a perception that open source is free. It’s absolutely not is it? It’s time and resource intensive and that’s what we don’t have at the moment. But we still want to brand and personalise all our online services, so that they look and feel like Lincoln and deliver a seamless experience for students, and Aspire allows us to do that for reading-lists.
KH: And how is the Talis Aspire implementation developing?
IS: The implementation is going really well. There are more elements being completed all the time, and it’s all starting to come together. It’s been a very straightforward project so far. The hierarchy implementation has gone well and we’re on track to get academics compiling lists over the summer.
KH: Any problems so far?
IS: One potential complication worth mentioning is the Academic Programme Management System (APMS) that the university is implementing. This is a bespoke system and as yet we aren’t able to see how Aspire and the APMS will work together. The lead for that project is one of the senior academics in the computing school. There had been a suggestion that reading-lists would be part of the specification for the APMS – but as soon as he saw Aspire he said ‘This is clearly the system for reading-lists’ so we know that Aspire will feed into the APMS.
We are confident that Aspire will do the job for us. The size and scale of the existing community was important but we’re also looking to the future. So we need to know that if we decide to change in the future, the VLE or any other system, that the reading-list system can cope with that. Our previous supplier couldn’t cope with the upgrade to the VLE.
KH: How will Lincoln manage the roll-out and ongoing development of Talis Aspire?
IS: Library staff will review and publish lists. Centralised management through Aspire will enable us to manage student expectations and give us a controlled mechanism to deliver on both student satisfaction and budget controls. Plus, the reading-list link will eventually be a mandatory item in the APMS and the course validation process.
KH: So what’s your schedule?
IS: We haven’t begun to set targets yet – the timing’s been too tight for that. We’ve begun training our subject librarians . We’re just waiting for the conversion of the small number of existing lists before we begin to invite academics to use the system.
KH: Any further thoughts?
IS: The whole sector’s going through great changes. We need solutions that will change with us. And Aspire gives us a great opportunity to get out of the library and talk to academics. It’s a real catalyst for conversations about their teaching and how the Library can support them and their students.
Find out more about the University of Lincoln on its website
Contact Karen Halliday at Talis if you’d like to provide an interview, blogpost or university profile. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org