Reading between the lines

Back for a second year, Talis Insight drew a big crowd from the university library world. Hannah Oakman went along for a browse…

With talks such as, ‘The less we talk about libraries the better,’ I was rather intrigued to see what else would be on the agenda at this year’s Talis Insight conference. Hosted by software company Talis, which specialises in reading lists and digitised content for universities, this was an event for the 21st century library, focusing on all the issues inherent in digital teaching, ebooks, analytics and future challenges for libraries in higher education. 

The 2016 library crowd headed to the wonderful Birmingham Rep theatre, a funky, creative location, which certainly inspired more discussion and networking than the standard, bland conference centre. Sited next door to the fabulous £180m Library of Birmingham, which opened in 2013 and is now the largest public library in the UK, the location for this year’s conference could not have been more apt.

In just its second year, Talis had succeeded in gathering a real ‘It Crowd’ from the university library and digital worlds for two days of presentations, workshops and networking events, with an awards dinner thrown in for good measure. 

With more than 240 delegates from 120 higher education institutions and organisations in Europe, it was a real sounding-board event to tackle the big questions for the future. As well as the traditional methods of chatting over coffee in the regular breaks, there was a also a tweet wall for the more engaged social media fans (even enticing us with prizes – ‘Special tweets get special treats!) It actually proved a great way to see who else was present, gain new followers and make new connections throughout the event.

After a warm welcome from Talis CEO David Errington (above), JISC took to the stage, with an informative talk from CEO Paul Feldman and Chief Innovation Officer Phil Richards. It’s a time of change at JISC, which now counts more than 18 million users of its products across 452 colleges, 160 universities and 956 skills providers in the UK. “We’re now developing real hubs of high performance computing across the UK,” Paul Feldman explained. “You asked us to do fewer things better and with more ambition, and we listened.”

He explained that JISC was currently in the early stages of defining a strategy for a National Digital Library.  The public body is also launching a Student app to boost communication across higher education.

The first day also included a thought-provoking talk from Nick Bevan, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Director of Library and Student Support at Middlesex University, plus a discussion panel on the issues of eTextbooks and a keynote from Talis CEO David Errington on disruptive technologies and how to adapt to coming changes.

Nick Bevan (below) talked around the issues of data analytics and how they can help reduce drop out rates at university, as well as how the data can be used to compare the success of modules and schools, rather than individual students. He also urged the audience to consider that reading lists start and end with the student, rather than necessarily the academic running the course.

He also raised the interesting point that the library is now considered another key learning space on campus: so why aren’t librarians more interested in learning spaces generally? Perhaps a growing area to watch especially as universities adapt to delivering libraries more in the digital space.   

The eTextbook panel (below) raised a whole host of issues including: rising costs; how to meet the core needs of the students and enabling access to all resources; how e-distribution requires a different approach to print; the ongoing responsibility to build collections to support deeper learning; and the concept of ‘mix-and-match’ chapters for the ‘iTunes’ generation.

Commenting on Talis Insight 2016, CEO David Errington said: “Talis Insight Europe 2016 allowed us to share our achievements over the last year and what we have planned for the coming year as well as providing a platform for thought provoking discussion on the higher education sector.

“We had a great speaker line-up, with a range of speakers from library staff, library directors, partners and learning technologists who shared some insightful ideas on learning and teaching and shared their experiences of using Talis Aspire. As always, it’s a great opportunity for us to hear from customers on how they are getting on, as well as providing an opportunity for a wide range of people from within the higher education community to come together.”

This year’s event also included keynotes from Liz Jolly, Chair of SCONUL, Simon Thomson, Head of Digital Pedagogy at Leeds Beckett University (above) and JISC’s Futurist Martin Hamilton. It really was a top line-up and a great event to network, share best practice and learn some important lessons for the future. And with the incredible pace of change in the sector, there’s sure to be a lot to discuss in 2017 too…

For all the photos from this year’s event visit

Free live webinar & QA

The digital difference - Build a culture of reading with ebooks & audiobooks

Free Education Webinar with OverDrive

Friday, June 24, 2PM London BST

In this webinar, hear from Havant Academy Librarian Joanna Parsons to learn how she uses ebooks and audiobooks to help boost reading among her secondary students.