Accessit Library Talks - Episode 1 - Kevin Arscott of Coleg Gwent

Listen to our first podcast as Ken talks with Kevin Arscott of Coleg Gwent in the first episode of Accessit Library talks, our podcast series where we talk with Accessit users for insights into how they run their libraries and the important role they play at all levels of education.

Table of Contents

0:56* Kevin’s Role at Coleg Gwent
2:40* Reordering the library – how Coleg Gwent has reorganized the Dewey system to suit their students.
5:53* The Unique Accessit Web app interface for learners
6:45* How Accessit uses live data
8:08* Accessit by campus
10:48* Online Engagement with the Web App
14:05* Transitioning to Accessit
17:12* Training with Accessit
19:21* Curating Podcasts for the Library
23:13* The Accessit Help Desk

Transcript

Ken: Hello and welcome to this episode of Accessit Library talks. Our podcast series where we talk with Accessit users for insights into how they run their libraries and the important role they play at all levels of education.

My guest today is Kevin Arscott of Coleg Gwent in Whales. Coleg Gwent is a top achieving further and higher education college with almost 5,000 students across their five campuses. Coleg Gwent recently deployed Accessit across their libraries to manage their wide range of learning resources for students and staff. Not only for their books and eBooks, but as a central resource for all their online databases and digital content.

Kevin, thank you for joining us today.

Kevin: No, thank you for having me. It’s an interesting conversation to have, I think.

0:56* Kevin’s Role at Coleg Gwent

Ken: I wonder if we could start with you telling us what your role in the college is and how long you’ve held this position.

Kevin: Well, I’ve been with Coleg Gwent for a very long time. Ah, since 2008 in a variety of different roles. Essentially, I started out with a sort of teaching background and doing learning support so I’ve always felt that I’ve been quite learner focused in what I’ve been doing. I’ve gradually worked my way up to the role I am in now, which is the learning resources manager. So, that’s managing the five library sites, managing some of the print rooms, and the print facilities for the college and being involved in kind of the wider learning services, learner journey. So, I like to think that when I was working in a support capacity, I was working within the libraries, so I’ve always been in and around the library spaces, seeing how they’re used, seeing what learners are looking for, supporting learners in their academic works. So, I’ve always been really focused, not so much on perhaps what you might consider the traditional library side of things, which is you know; Dewey numbers, and strict cataloguing and stuff, but more interested in actually how do learners find stuff. Because, you know, I was never concerned with sticking the extra meta Dewey numbers and things like that. So, I was always happy to reorder where things were on shelf, move things out of the Dewey system and actually make it so it is more logical for learners., so that’s always been my attitude really. I’m engaged with the librarian side of things and I understand that kind of element of the importance of really good data, but obviously having a technically superb catalogue is no good if learners still can’t find what they are looking for.

2:40* Reordering the library – how Coleg Gwent has reorganized the Dewey system to suit their students.

Kevin: Yeah, I mean I think like, we do obviously a huge range of courses from entry level right the way through to HE and foundation degrees and affiliations to other universities. And one of the really big areas that we do is childcare. Now Dewey splits child care into three or four different places in really different areas, so, if a learner was going to get a cash level three book, they’d be going to one part of the stack and they’d only see those cash textbooks and other textbooks of different levels in that area. They wouldn’t see the fact that there could be three or four hundred books on childcare but actually that’s three or four stacks away because they’re completely split up. So, we took them out of the traditional run system completely. So obviously your normal library would go in a run from, start at zero and go right the way through and end up on kind of History and World History at the end. So, we took them out of the run and actually combined all those childcare, all those subject area books covered under childcare into one space so it didn’t matter if the first few books were 300 and the next lot were 600 and then there were some seven, eight, you know, whatever it is. We put them all into one place so that if you were going for that cash level 3 textbook you would still be able to find it really easy because you know it is all very well labeled and you would know where it is. But when you look around that textbook you see all the other childcare books. And we noticed that the checkouts and the engagement with that subject area went up really, really hugely, because it’s that visual thing where learners get sent for a textbook because they need to go to a chapter on say play work or outdoor play and at the same time then they see there is actually a huge section here in outdoor play. Now Dewey would put that in a completely different place so they would never see it, only if they did a search and then realised that – oh there’s actually three of four different areas of childcare in the Dewey system. So, we did that for obviously sport and PE. Physical education is in one place miles away from where sport is. So again, learners who are interested in sport would not see the PE side of it, and vice versa. And so, we just tried to do some kind of approach that a bit more mirrored what you might get in a book shop where things are a bit more subject based and kind of there is obviously whole different cataloguing system for books in book shops because Dewey doesn’t really work for kind of browsing in that way.

Ken: We first met, what, about four years ago at a CILIP conference in London, do you remember?

Kevin: (laughs) Yes.

Ken: Indeed, how time flies. Given what you’ve just said about taking a practical approach and being able to place resources where it’s more logical from the learner’s perspective. Even if that’s not quiet how the Dewey system would do so, but was there anything about your first encounter with Accessit that you felt, you know, dovetails that kind of thinking.

5:53* The Unique Accessit Web app interface for learners

Kevin: I think there’s two main things and I think they’re quite distinct. The first one was the learner interface; the acquisitor Web App and the whole web look and feel was so different to other LMS (Library Management Systems) systems we were looking at. It was clearly a very modern system. I know it sounds odd, but there are a lot of library management systems that other front ends for learners all look quite the same. And they seem to of perhaps been developed along the same train of thought, so they have all ended up in the same place. So, things like the drag and drop feature and just the way it was very graphical, was really different to the other ones. There were some features there that were just night and day, we’ve not seen that before.

6:45* How Accessit uses live data

And then the second aspect was what the library staff are really interested in terms of what their job role is. The cataloguing, how you work with that kind of data, and again it just seemed to be done differently. It seemed to follow what I would, obviously in my advice, for me, what makes sense to me in terms of how you would structure data and how you would be interested in using that. And it was much more about live information. Other systems seem to be about reports. So, you go and run a lot of different reports to find things out, and then you tweak those reports to narrow it down. Where with Accessit, you’re working with live data so you can constantly filter and change that filter and the data just changes right Infront of you, rather than having to go away and work out what report you need to get certain things out of it. And then the way that it works via collections and locations and that kind of stuff, it just seemed to really mirror, in a digital space, what we are trying to do in the physical space. In as much as make sense of the information we’ve got for learners; make sense of the subjects we deliver, the kind of things they are looking for. And we can actually start to collate that online in the same way that we were moving things around in our physical spaces.

8:08* Accessit’s management of multiple campuses

Ken: So Coleg Gwent is a large institution, up to 5,000 students at a time I believe, can you tell us about how Accessit Library has helped the libraries across your campuses.

Kevin: I think that, obviously, we’ve got five distinct campuses, you know, geographically and sometimes via kind of subject matters. Obviously, we’ve got Usk which is a working farm, you know, big outdoor spaces, big sort of vet nursing courses now and animal care. So you know they’ve got a curriculum that’s really bespoke to them. We’ve got obviously some tertiary type campuses where we’ve got the full remit of A levels, HE, and all the vocation stuff. So, with Accessit, it’s about the fact that you can organise your data by campus, and you can obviously have themes running across the five campuses. But you can really separate them out. So, the learner who goes onto the Usk library home page, the way it’s laid out, the way the collections are built, the data that sits behind it has been developed for that specific campus. So, whilst those learners can still access any of the four other libraires, they can still access all of the online resources, do all that, they still get that really special treatment for being on that Usk campus. So, I think that it is the way that you can manage collections per campus, that was really key for us. We spent a bit of time when we first got the system, obviously the data was migrated then we had a really good look at what is the best way of us structuring in this so we get the cross campus. We want to get across that we are one campus and if you join Coleg Gwent, you get access to all of the campuses, all of the library spaces, all of the resources that it entails, but also recognizing the physical separation of campuses and where learners will generally will spend most of their time at their home campus – so making the data work for those. Then we found that with the collections, and the way that you can set those up, it really does work. And we still want to do some more advanced stuff with the location side of it to start actually locating collections within the library space, so a learner can be directed to where that physical resource is in the library as well, but it’s good to know that the systems got that stretch we know we can get there.

10:48* Online Engagement with the Web App

Ken: Kevin, how do you think the holistic combination of physical and digital resources in one single system is helping the students to engage with the library, as in, how are they using Accessit?

Kevin: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s obviously been a very different time to be launching any kind of new system really. with all the various in and out of lockdowns and all the rest of it. But no, the having a really good online presence has been more important than ever. So, even though we were switching at a time when things were up in the air, we knew that the new experience was going to be really, really nice and slick for learners. So that really fitted in with the idea of actually running click and collect services all of that kind of stuff, it just already fitted in. So, we were able to kind of launch Accessit in a new way because there was suddenly this real need to actually have a click and collect service, have isolations whilst on campus, have learners using the online interface because they couldn’t come in and browse the books either. So, the learners have, the fact that we had so many requests and so many bookings come through and all the rest of it, really shows that the engagement right from the off was really strong. We know we still, we want to do a lot more to the home dashboards to highlight different things. But we know from the engagement we are already getting it’s the core product really strong. So, you know we’re just more concerned with promoting other different bits and pieces through that homepage. But no, the learners have really enjoyed the system and it’s been really good to see every level of learner engaging and so we know that the system is. It works for HE and it works for the entry level learners as well. You know it’s a very flexible system in that way.

Ken: Have you been able to measure any other positive learning outcomes following the changeover to Accessit?

Kevin: I think it’s not possible at the moment to really do that just because due to COVID we’ve got a lot fewer learners visiting the on campus, so we’ve had a lot more online resource uses as a result of that, so I think it’d be interested to compare over a bit of a longer trend and hopefully, who knows what’s happening, but hopefully in September, I think most colleges have to plan to return to some kind of normality and I think if we were to do that, I think that the click and collect service will always be a benefit with learners so I think that would actually help increase circulation. Learners being able just to find stuff online and come and collect it from the front desk rather than having to come in and go to the selves themselves. So, I think circulation will defiantly show an increase, we just need to comparable year to the last full year of the old system really.

14:05* Transitioning to Accessit

Ken: So, can I step you back now in time to the time of transition to Accessit. Did you find that a disruptive process in any way or you know, how long did it all take?

Kevin: Yeah, I mean we were pretty lucky really, in terms of we had the existing system running for a set time period that enabled us to have an overlap, so we could essentially go through the migration process with the old system in the background still being there if it was needed. But in all honesty, it was no stress at all. Had a few really productive meetings around the data that we had. We had worked hard over the last few years to tidy our data as much as possible before, because we knew we’d be going out to tender for a new system at some point so we wanted to get the data as good as possible. So, the migration itself was really quick, so obviously they took a time stamp set of data from the old system, moved it into the new one, and we were able to sort of do any little syncs and things that had changed between that period. But it was really very quick. I mean I know ours is pretty straight forward in terms of, we didn’t migrate any learner data over, so we didn’t migrate any check outs, we chose to do that manually because one of the great things with Accessit is that it is synced up with our student system. So Accessit knows when a learner has left the college which sounds like quite a simple thing but the old system didn’t. The old system required us to manually remove learners each year and it was always really hard to know if they are all removed. So, we didn’t want to move that data over because it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t match what we had in the system. So, what we did, is we took some manual reports on the old system of what learners have what books checked out, migrated all of the catalogue data over, then we ran a fresh import of the learners onto the new system. So, we then knew at that point the data should be fairly solid because we’ve worked hard on that. We will do a stock check this summer as well to get that finally tidied up as well, but we knew the learner data would be spot of because it was coming in live from our system. So, we just manually went through then and just literally checked out those items for those learners and did that and that was done in a day or two. So, then we knew we had the best of both worlds. It meant the data that we knew is pretty good, the data that we knew was not very good we did a fresh sync to our system. So, for me, I don’t know, I’ve played with a lot of IT systems in the past, done lots of various thing but for me it was completely stress free. We had the schedule and the schedule was met completely. And yeah, when we got in there the data was exactly what it was expected to be and where it was expected to be as well.

17:12* Training with Accessit

Ken: And, how did you find the training given on the new system, of course it was during the time of lockdown so it was all online training, how did that go for you and for the librarians?

Kevin: Yea, we obviously had quite a generous package of training, and we’ve been able to, one of the great things was there was no kind of pressure to right less frontload all the training because we obviously had staff working remotely. We had some staff who were off for quite a while as well. So, we’ve been able to not just do the training for the bulk of the staff who were around, we’ve had enough spare that we’ve been able to offer one-to-one training with Accessit as well for those staff retuning. So, it’s been really good, to be honest, like a lot of it is just very straight forward. Things work as you expect them to work. So, we’ve found ourselves doing quite a lot of stuff, just playing with the system really and learning it that way. We were quite confident when we were having the training that things were going to stick so we tried to make sure the training was synced up with, like so we’d have a load of stuff ready for cataloguing and there’d be the cataloguing training, and then the staff would go away and start doing that before things become too rusty in the mind. But yeah, I think it’s the back end for staff makes a lot of sense, it’s all pretty logical, it’s very easy to tweak and change things around, so it’s very hard to make, what I would think would be mistakes that have you banging our head on the desk. So, it feels like quite a safe environment to do stuff in. But no, the training was very good, we had good feedback from staff on that. Obviously, it was all carried out remotely due to COVID, and I actually think remote training works really well. I think that online training when you have all got the screen in front of you and you can all see, you all have equal access to that which is not always the case in a physical training environment. I think actually online works really well.

19:21* Curating Podcasts for the Library

Ken: That’s really interesting that you’ve started curating podcasts for the library, but I’m intrigued by the possibility around recording and curating conversations about library use and issues raised by learners. That must open up a whole new dimension of the relationship between the learner and the library online.

Kevin: Yeah, because we, obviously I am from a support background, and we still offer academic support in the libraries and you know learners come in and they use them, they’re using the computers, they’re using the laptops, they’re doing their work. So, we see the same issues all the time, and we talk about it all the time amongst us as a team. And I think actually like that’s a really nice way in for learners if you just have conversations, like, when I get an essay from a learner and they want me to give them some feedback on it, these are the things I would see and have a conversation about those common mistakes and stuff. And I think that conversation approach, I mentioned I do huge amounts of walking so I do huge amounts of listening to podcasts, and actually, rather than someone formally talking about a subject, they have a conversation about a subject and you get the natural flow of the exposition of the understanding something. And I think that is really interesting. So, I think actually if we had the support staff just talking about it right, what are the top five things that you see that could be so easy changed from a learner’s piece of work as a conversation would be very different to trying to formally structure a resource about those five things. And it’s easy, it’s a conversation, you record it, and then it’s a resource.

Ken: Okay and then you up that into the Accessit catalogue?

Kevin: That’s the plan yeah, that’s the plan. So currently we are curating existing podcasts and one of the potential things is, I tend to Acast because they have a really wide range of stuff and it’s all free to air, free to listen to. So, when I catalogue that kind of resource, obviously we are cataloguing against the website because the learner can with one click you can go straight to that episode and then they can play through the Web App. So, there’s no barriers to them accessing, they haven’t got to sign up, they haven’t got to register, they can just literally hit play and listen to that podcast. And then obviously then within Accessit on the front page, were starting to build it in the background now, but we’re actually putting links into the apps and stuff; how they can download the Acast app and subscribe to their favorite podcasts, that kind of stuff. And I’ve got the staff being challenged to go and find a podcast that they think is really interesting and start cataloguing some of those episodes. And we’ve got some of our teaching and learning team producing the odd podcast, as a kind of trial, and we’ve got some new equipment to do that. So, we are hoping to start recording our own podcasts and uploading them to Accessit as a kind of library support type space. We want to get into some book reviews and you know an online book club as well. We want to try and really push just the reading side of stuff. The library is not just the place you grab a textbook or a short read of information, but actually just reading books, fiction, nonfiction, you know just reading in itself is such a huge gateway to so many different skills and information. So, we want to try and really strip Accessit back in some ways to be that really reading focused platform in certain areas.

23:13* The Accessit Help Desk

Ken: Okay, finally, are there any comments that you would like to make about your use of Accessit so far, has it perhaps changed the way you work with the library?

Kevin: So, for me, because on the old system I was really involved in the technical side of it. So, I spent huge amounts of time deep in the system where no one outside of IT should really be venturing, and to try and get things working, so it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with a system where we know we’ve got the right support package in place. And I’ve had a couple things recently actually where staff have been contacting me with a technical query, and me saying put it on the help desk, because I’m not the technical person anymore. I don’t have to worry about running the system and making it all work. We’re focused on the front end of it and making it work for the learner. If something’s not working, or if there is something you are not sure about, then ask Accessit, put it on the help desk. So, I think that the mindset of staff is still catching up with that idea because before it was very much “ask me”, and I would go away and get some more grey hair trying to fix these issues and stuff, whereas now I can go on, I’m not sure about this, I’ll ask. And obviously I’ve not done as much with the system recently because I’ve been dragged away into other things, but I’ve put in a few questions recently about some of the things I’ve been looking at like the booking system and things like that and I guess the other thing worth mentioning as well is you’ve recently changed the kind of notification system. So, what’s really cool is when you load up the system it will say there’s been an update, and then I think before you’d click through to the support website and it’d tell you what the updates done, it’d say “it’s done this, it’s done that, this has been added this has been tweaked.” Whereas, I think now, that’s all built into the little comms platform within Accessit. So, when a new version comes through or a news item. It comes through in the system so, you know, on the old system you used to go updates, and then you’d go into it and you’d think “well I’m not sure what’s been changed here”. Whereas with Accessit it was just literally going like this, oh that’s really cool that’s a cool new feature.  I know obviously we could be keeping in better touch with Accessit around what’s up and coming, but like the fact you can fall back when an update does come through, really clearly labeled what’s come through, what’s actually changed – that’s just been night and day. That live data, the fact that when you log in, you’ve got those notifications, oh there’s been five learners withdrawn oh there’s been a change here, there’s that many things overdue. That live data is something we didn’t have in the past, so that’s been really, really valuable.

Ken: Okay, thank you Kevin it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. I’m sure our listeners have been happy to hear of your positive experiences and perhaps gained an idea or two in terms of the conversational approach to guiding learning. Its certainly got me thinking about additional ways to provide support to learners through Accessit. Let me wish you and Coleg Gwent continuous success with all your library endeavors, and to say to our audience, thank you for listening, until next time, goodbye.

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