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Talking Times Higher Education Awards with 2022’s ‘Outstanding Library Team’

We ask the Lancaster University Library what it’s like to win the THE Award for Outstanding Library Team.

The Times Higher Education Awards (aka THE Awards) are known as the ‘Oscars of higher education’ and offer a moment of pause to recognise and celebrate the achievements of those driving innovation in the sector.

It won’t be long until the THE Awards 2023 is open for entries and, as long-standing sponsor of the award for Outstanding Library Team, Kortext caught up with last year’s deserving winners, Lancaster University. We asked Tom Shaw, Lancaster’s Associate Director of Digital Innovation and Open Research, what it was like to win a prestigious THE award and what he thinks gave the Lancaster University Library the edge this time around.

What did it feel like to be crowned as the ‘Outstanding Library Team’ at the THE Awards?

“It was an absolutely great feeling – the buzz, the excitement, the positivity that we’ve all experienced. Initially, we couldn’t quite believe we’d won.

“It’s done two things for us that I think have been really lovely. One of those is to endorse and recognise our vision as a library – all of the work we’re doing and our approach, being deliberately innovative, really trying to change the whole sense of what a library is and what a library does.

“Secondly, it’s a lovely recognition of the hard work of our staff. This is not just about our senior team, this is about absolutely everybody across the entire breadth of the library. Colleagues at all levels have been so heartened by the fact we’ve won the award.”

Has winning this accolade had a positive impact on the library and the wider university community?

“Yes, winning the THE Award is having a positive impact in all sorts of ways. For a start, library staff see this as an award that’s for them as much as anyone else which is great.

“Very soon after the award, we discovered that our local MP put forward an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons to celebrate the award win, something that was then entered into the formal parliamentary record. It was an exciting affair. She came to visit us at the library to meet the staff, and gave us a framed copy of the Early Day Motion to keep and display.

“To have our local MP recognising the work we’ve done and the reasons we won the award in terms of building links and partnerships with our local communities… that meant a huge amount to us and wouldn’t have happened in the same way without the award. That’s a very substantial, notable way in which we’re seeing real positive impact.

“We already had a good reputation as a library, but the award is something that has helped and will continue to help that journey for some time to come.”

What does your university library mean to your students?

“Our library is very much at the heart for our students, especially in terms of the physical space which is right at the centre of campus and is incredibly popular.

“We get excellent feedback from students about the physical space and also what it means to them. Looking at feedback through the NSS and other routes, it’s clear that students really feel a sense of belonging…something that has elements of a place of sanctuary. We try to create a place that is welcoming and inclusive. It means a whole lot more than a building with books in it.

“But the physical building is just one component. We have a host of digital and online services that are here for students as and when they need them – from our digital and online library collections to our support services. For students who are off-campus, or can’t or don’t want to come into the physical space, we aim to ensure their experience of the library is just as good as the physical experience.”

What do you think gave Lancaster University’s library the edge over the competition for this THE Award?

“I think what might have given us the edge is partly our vision which was developed collaboratively with all of our library staff and stakeholders across the university and beyond. It’s a very holistic and inclusive vision and that really was at the core of our submission.

“We are deliberately innovative and want to be active in areas that aren’t traditionally seen as library business, and our submission really calls out how we live to that element of the vision.

“For example, we offer a Community Card for free to the local community, giving them access to the library’s services, from borrowing books to using the library space and attending events. This is a clear and deliberate community initiative to help connect the local community with the university.

“Another element of our community outreach work has been our partnership with the Lancaster Black History Group and their work on the Slavery Family Trees project. We worked in partnership to support research into Lancaster’s role as one of the big ports in the transatlantic slave trade, helping to trace the history of some of the merchant families and culminating in a conference that was open to the wider community outside of the university.

“It’s important to recognise that we’re not the only library doing great things. We’re really grateful to have won in 2022 but, for us, one of the things that is actually just as lovely as winning is being part of a wider ecosystem across the HE library sector where there is so much innovation. A lot of that is driven by disruptive change where we’ve had to innovate and adapt, but it’s an incredibly rich, vibrant area now with opportunities to work collaboratively between universities and between libraries for the benefit of our students, institutions and the wider community.”

THE Award nominations open again soon – do you think you’ll give it another go in 2023?

“I genuinely cannot say. We’re thrilled to have won and I’m sure in the future, as our work continues, we will throw our hat into the ring again, but at this stage we haven’t made a commitment for 2023, so time will tell!”

We’d like to extend a big thank you to Tom for taking the time to talk to us here at Kortext. We love hearing success stories from the HE library community and look forward to seeing what the future brings for Lancaster University and, of course, for the THE Awards 2023.

Has your university library got what it takes to win the THE Award for ‘Outstanding Library Team’ in 2023? Look out for the entry window this spring and check out our top tips for writing a killer THE award entry here.

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