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Reflecting on a Year of Teaching & Learning

This article was written by Talis CEO, Alison Spencer.

I write this as we approach the anniversary of lockdown in the UK (with the anniversary passing already in other countries). This gives a point of reflection at not only how much has changed in our personal lives, but also our working lives. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you all to take a mindful moment to think about what you, your teams, and your wider universities have achieved over the last 12 months.

The role of the library has always been to bring students and faculty together, working as enablers. Speaking to Library Directors over the last year, it’s been really interesting to pick out the key themes from those conversations (resilience, teams adapting, supporting students and faculty, librarians becoming more embedded in teaching and learning among others that I’m sure you can identify).

We are currently all focused on shaping the ‘new norm’, trying to work out in this fast changing world what that means in reality. Thinking about creating an environment of the future that meets students, faculty and librarian needs, with the added complication of so many things still in flux.

I’m struck in the conversations I’ve had that so many of you have commented that the ‘what libraries deliver’ hasn’t dramatically changed, ‘the how’,  sure has. The ‘silent’ contributions libraries have been making to Teaching and Learning over many years are coming to the fore from a university perspective, enabling them to work at the heart of reshaping what the university is defining as “their” experience. With this in mind, our upcoming event Talis Insight Webinars 2021 is focusing on “Keeping Up With The Evolving Role Of The Library”. 

Talis Insight will run as a set of webinars, enabling you to dip in and out of the sessions that interest you (and your teams), over four days (you can see the agenda and sign up here). As the team at Talis shaped the agenda, we tried to not only draw on the challenges we have learnt you are facing, but looked to share experiences other universities have to provide points of consideration for your own thinking.  

Success is something we are all used to setting a clear narrative around, and then supporting our teams to work towards. The pandemic meant that very quickly we had to remind ourselves of the core success factors, and reimagine in these times how we achieve these. On day 2 of the agenda, we’ll be hearing from Susan Abbott and Simon Foote from the University of Exeter library team. Their session ‘How We Ran a Reading List Service During a Pandemic’ will touch on the challenges of creating new procedures and adapting their library services to support staff and students online.

Librarians have often been unsung heroes when it comes to supporting Teaching and Learning at their institutions. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the evolving role of the librarian, and their breadth of knowledge in this area.  If Talis Insight achieves one thing, and that is to enable Librarians to become prouder of the Teaching and Learning impact they have been part of delivering for many years then I will feel we have had a good conference. On the first day, we’re hosting a panel with Dr. Emily McIntosh, Director of Learning, Teaching and Student Experience, and Matthew Lawson, Director of Library & Student Support both from Middlesex University London, as well as James Anthony-Edwards, University Librarian, University of Exeter. We’ll be talking about how much value librarians add to Teaching & Learning.

The changing world that we are all living in requires us to make quicker decisions, while ensuring they remain robust, so as to help re/shape the services we deliver. Data isn’t a new theme, but the acceleration in how data has been used over the last 12 months to drive decisions leads to many exciting opportunities. On day 3, Selena Killick, Associate Director at The Open University Library will be talking about how data can empower librarians, and how the role of library data is evolving. 

Ken Dick, University Librarian at the University of Portsmouth will be presenting later in the week on e-content in their library. The University of Portsmouth used 2020 as an opportunity to increase the e-content available to students. Ken will share with us whether these changes were an evolution of plans the library already had or a revolution from the path they were on, along with some of the initiatives they have put in place over the last year.

We are all turning our attention to how we can deliver improvements in the ‘new norm’, one of those key areas is as students are learning remotely, how you enable collaboration. A year ago, teaching shifted online as a matter of urgency, but we’re now thinking about which of those approaches and strategies we keep and what we will change moving forward. On day 4, Matt East, Education Lead at Talis will be hosting a session on the importance of collaborative learning in a post-pandemic world.

We can’t ignore that everyone is feeling the impact of a stressful year of change , but it does feel that we are at the start of seeing the library of the future, and having the opportunity to shape impactful, positive experiences.

All of our challenges are different and fast-evolving, I really hope you are able to take some time to join us at Talis Insight 2021, or to reach out to me directly ( to share some of the challenges you have been facing, and how you might consider sharing these with this community of Library Directors to support others as they face similar challenges.

This post was created exclusively for the Talis Informer, a quarterly newsletter from Talis aimed at those leading and influencing Higher Education libraries. If you’d like to receive the newsletter, please get in touch at For even more content and discussion, join the Talis Informer mailing group here.