Students Staff
University of Essex

October 9, 2017

Black History Month in the Library: using digital tools to increase student engagement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — sjkelly @ 9:00 am

Welcome to the first ever Digital Skills Group blog post! This week, we’ll be talking about how the Library has used Talis Aspire and Box of Broadcasts (BoB) to create an engaging and interactive reading list to tie in with our Black History Month celebrations.

This month, the Library is working with the Students’ Union to tie in with their Black History Month programme. We have created this reading list, which will accompany a book display in the Library throughout the month, to highlight relevant resources in our collections both in the Library and online. We’re also using the list and its resources to promote our Black History Month book club event, which will take place on Tuesday 24th October. So, how did we do it?

Our Black History Month book display

Our Black History Month book display

Making the list

Making a basic list in Talis is fairly straight forward. There is a ‘bookmark’ tool that allows you to add links to items in the library catalogue easily as well as linking to outside content on the internet. So we could bookmark to journal articles, books as well as DVDs and websites. Bookmarking to online resources also allows students to click straight through using the ‘online resource’ button. This flexibility means that the list is more accessible to everyone and is also more interesting than just a list of books.

It was important for us to think about how we organised the list as we didn’t want it to be too wordy which might put students off. So we made use of different sections as well as notes to give information in a more structured way and to make it easier for students to navigate it. We could also have made use of pages if we had bulky bits of text that we didn’t want taking up a lot of the list (see the top tip for how to use pages in Talis).

Talis has been fairly straight forward to use but like any software, it does have some issues. The length of the list could still put off students and it can sometimes be difficult to navigate. There is also not a lot of choice as to how you set out text, so the list isn’t necessarily that aesthetically pleasing. It can also take some time to create a brand new list; although once the list is created it is not difficult to update with extra bookmarks or to move around sections. There have also been some technical issues but Talis are very quick to respond to any issues that we have had.

Enhancing the list: rich media

One way to make the reading list more engaging and accessible for students was to go beyond simply using library resources and to include rich media, for example videos or sound recordings from BoB and YouTube. These resources can easily be linked to directly from the reading list, making it easy for students to access a wide range of multimedia resources.

In our Black History Month list we used BoB content in a variety of ways. For some works, we were able to link to film or television adaptations of a work. Elsewhere, we included interviews with authors or documentaries to help give background context to the resources. Not only does this give students using the list the opportunity to discover more about a topic and develop a richer understanding of it, it can also increase the list’s accessibility by providing access to resources in a number of formats.

For example, with our Black History Month book club choice (Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) we were able to include a link to the film adaptation. This will enable more students to get involved in our event; including those that do not have time or interest in reading the book. In addition to this, we were able to include links to television and radio interviews with the author via BoB and the YouTube video of her TEDx talk. For any students interested in learning more about our chosen author, there is a rich variety of materials for them to explore.

Screenshot from BoB

Screenshot from BoB










This approach could be applied to any reading list, and is simple to do. It’s just a case of searching BoB, YouTube or elsewhere for the rich media content (adaptations, documentaries, debates and so on) and creating a bookmark which you can then add to the list.

Review of the process

We think that our use of Talis and BoB has helped us to create an engaging resource list and a way of providing additional information for an event that we are running. It has not been that challenging to create and has also enabled us to make use of all the different resources that are available via the library.

Digital Skills_Blog post Photo1

Steph and Hannah working on the reading list

Whilst there were some issues along the way, Talis provides support with technical problems and they continue to develop the reading list platform. For example, there is due to be a list view ‘refresh’ soon and this should help with how the list looks and how students interact with it. There is also an online community made up of users of Talis, who can raise ideas for development. Thus, we can help to shape how Talis develops and so it is always worth mentioning your ideas. (If you have any ideas do please feel free to suggest to and we suggest it to Talis).

Furthermore, Talis and BoB have not only proven to be useful tools to help us to engage with students but also to work with other departments. Whilst in this instance we have been collaborating with the SU, in the past we have also worked with employability and careers to provide support for students looking for jobs as they leave the University. This is something we are keen to continue and so if anyone has an idea that we could help support do get in touch.

For those of you who are leading a module and need to update your reading list but are not sure how, there is information on the library website for getting started. The library is also on hand to provide support for editing lists if you get stuck and we are happy to come to your office to go through it with you (drop us an email:

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