For the second year running, the Academic Book Trade Conference (ABT) was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon; also for the second year running the BA chose two gloriously sunny days. The conference took place on Thursday and Friday, 10th and 11th of May.
This year’s conference theme was The TEF, Brexit and More: what’s happened, what’s happening, what to do next. As in previous years, Gold Leaf’s Linda Bennett put the programme together, and what an exciting programme it was! Without having briefed any of the speakers on this specific aspect, “telling a story” was a recurring motif raised in various ways by the different speakers.
The chair of the Academic Booksellers Group, Lynne O’Neill, was first to pick up on this theme. She quoted Romeo and Juliet to illustrate the symbiotic, sometimes turbulent relationship enjoyed between booksellers and publishers: “Two households both alike in dignity …” She referred to the huge changes that have taken place in the academic landscape over the past year, especially the setting up of the Office for Students [OfS]. Richard Fisher, the conference chairman, added that HEFCE officially came to an end in April, to be replaced by the OfS and UKRI [UK Research and Innovation].
The next speaker – William Bowes, Director of Policy and General Counsel at the Publisher’s Association – spoke about the UK and the its importance in publishing, nationally but also internationally. He said that, although there has never been a better time to be involved in publishing, “for an industry whose sole purpose is to tell stories, we’ve not been very good at telling our own”. He concluded that Brexit offered publishers the opportunity to start telling their story better: an opportunity they all need to take advantage of.
Meryl Halls, recently appointed MD of the Booksellers Association, announced the launch of the Academic Publishers Shopfloor Project, which encourages publishers to spend time working in academic bookshops – “even doing the hoovering” – to experience what being a bookseller entails. A similar initiative was managed very successfully by the BA in High Street bookshops last year.
The keynote talk was given by Dr Clare Goudy, Director of the Education Planning Office of the Vice-Provost at University College London. Dr Goudy gave the audience a very honest view of how UCL had approached the TEF and how “telling a story” had made them receive a TEF Silver award, whilst the metrics alone initially had put them into the Bronze category. An important part of telling this story had been the Library – the Library Services had played a pivotal part in this narrative of academic research and teaching achievement. However, taking the same approach at subject level for the upcoming subject-level TEF will be a challenge in many ways.
Louis Coiffait, Associate Editor at WonkHE, gave a captivating talk entitled “The Shipping Forecast: What’s really going on in HE?”. He elaborated on a number of interrelated stories, including the mystifying and complicated issue (which he expertly unpicked) of how many individual government and related bodies influence funding and decision-making at universities; and stakeholder pressures with regard to who pays / who should pay, not least from students’ parents. His final message for universities was to stay focussed on the passengers and to embrace the challenges new types of study and students bring.
The talks were followed by a panel session, in which Helen Adey, Resource and Acquisition Supply Team Manager at Nottingham Trent University, Dr Peter Jones, Principal Lecturer in Social Sciences at Greenwich University and Dr Clare Goudy discussed the needs of students today. The panellists agreed that students now need all kinds of help besides provision of resources – for example, information about how to give presentations, how to read critically and time management. They want resources presented in such a way that they can understand exactly what is expected of them. From the Library’s perspective, electronic resources can be made more available to more people and are often more affordable: but, given the choice, many students still prefer print.
Introducing the report “How are Students and Lecturers Using Educational Resources Today?”, which was commissioned by Sage Publishing – print copies were given free to all of the delegates, kindly supplied by Ingram – Kiren Shoman, Editorial Director of Sage and Annika Bennett of Gold Leaf provided insights into the mixed picture of resources requirements in UK HE today. 81.4% of the librarians and 69.4% of the academics who participated in the research said that the resources used have changed; reasons for this included the increasing prominence of “flipped learning” and technologically-enhanced learning. However, their views on which resources were being used were markedly different. Another important finding was that there are often discrepancies between the resources people actually use and the ones they say they use. A second report will explore this further, but in the meantime, more details on the current report will be published soon in a separate blog post.
Mark Hunt and Laura Annis, of Ingram and VitalSource, presented the findings of a recent survey, one of which was that 89% of the participating students said that e-textbooks and related course materials had had a positive impact on their learning experience.
At the awards ceremony which followed the conference dinner, OUP won Publisher of the Year (and has now won this title 9 years running) and Greig Watt of Blackwell’s Aberdeen won the Bookseller of the Year Award. The after-dinner speaker was Ziyad Marar, whose recent book, “Judged”, is about the value of being misunderstood.
The second day of the conference was opened by Greig Watt (Blackwell’s) and Emma Farrow (John Smith’s), who gave two different accounts on booksellers’ best practice and how they can flourish in both traditional and non-traditional surroundings. This was followed by two workshops run back-to-back, one a student panel, the other devoted by Helen Adey to demonstrating to publishers the sorts of decisions librarians have to make when managing resources funds. The conference was wrapped up with a Q & A between Richard Fisher and Louis Coiffait. Sadly, Richard Fisher has decided to conclude his chairmanship after this, his third year – he has been one of the most distinguished chairmen the conference has ever had.
(c) photos: Sharon Benton