Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 2   Monday, October 24, 2005

ISSN 1748-3603

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Feature article
Reflections: ALT-C 2005
Case studies
Electronic Voting Systems
Developing tools for visual communication
Project updates
E-learning and accessibility
The FAIR Enough Project
Conference reviews
E-learning - making it work
Post-secondary e-learning conference in Canada
Software reviews
TalisList: web-based reading lists
ALT news
Director's report
Executive Secretary's Report
Supporting education in India and Thailand
News from members
Blackboard and WebCT to merge
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Past Issues
Issue 1
August 5, 2005
A sample course reading list
A sample course reading list
TalisList: web-based reading lists
Web-based reading lists made simple!
by Michael White

TalisList is a system for creating and managing easy to use web based reading lists. It uses browser-based Reference Harvesting Tools and web forms to make the creation of lists relatively straightforward. Librarians can oversee the list creation process for courses in their faculty, improving the quality of the lists and facilitating library stock management. The system is produced by Talis ( as part of their suite of library solutions, however it can be integrated with other Library Management Systems, for example here at Stirling we use Innovative’s Millennium LMS.

TalisLists can contain plain text entries, but, perhaps more usefully, a TalisList can contain linked entries that take students straight to the appropriate library catalogue record for a resource, or directly to any web based electronic resources, such as relevant websites or eJournal articles. Entries can also be annotated with pre and post text to provide further information and guidance.

At the top level in TalisList are Courses. Each Course can contain one or more Lists (e.g. Recommended Reading, Supplementary Reading, etc), which in turn can contain a number of levels of sub-lists. Courses can also contain Modules, which in turn can also contain lists and sub-lists. This makes for a very flexible hierarchical structure for any Course, although our experience shows us that a fairly flat structure is generally easier for students to use.

Creating a list

At Stirling we provide both a central list creation service and training for academic staff who wish to create lists themselves. The system is, however, easy enough to use that a number of staff are using it successfully with no formal training. Before staff can create lists in the system, they require a TalisList account. Academic staff also require their TalisList Courses to be set up for them and their accounts associated with the appropriate courses. List creators also need to add the "Reference Harvesting Tools" to their web browser’s Links toolbar. This is relatively easy to do and only needs to be done once on each machine the list creator is using.

List creation is a straightforward process. Passive entries and linked entries, where you know the URL, can be added manually using straightforward web forms. List entries that link to the appropriate library catalogue entry are easily added by browsing to the record in the library catalogue and simply clicking the reference harvesting tools. This imports the reference details into the list and creates a linked entry back to the catalogue record.

Talis have worked to configure our system so that reference details that are added to the list when harvesting from the library catalogue approximate to Harvard citation style – in most cases this is sufficient, but entries are easily edited if the academic prefers a different style or insists on a rigorous citation format.

List entries that link directly to arbitrary websites can also be added very easily using the reference harvesting tools. Again, the staff member simply browses to the webpage in question and uses the reference harvesting tools.

If the system has been properly configured, it is also possible to harvest eJournal articles. We have not had much work done on our system in this area, so we currently use Manual URL entries to link to eJournal articles using Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), or other persistent links, where they exist.

Accessing lists - the student perspective

As TalisList is web-based, students can access their resource lists anytime, anywhere. They can gain easy access to all relevant electronic resources and the direct links to the library catalogue enable them to quickly check the availability of resources and reserve items. There is also a print option to enable users to create a printer-friendly version of the entire list.

Stirling students access the lists for their courses directly via the appropriate WebCT sites. Our WebCT authentication is integrated with our Portal logon, and our Portal logon also implements Athens Devolved Authentication. This means that by the time the students arrive at their TalisList, they are already Athens authenticated and can simply click straight through to access any Athens protected resources relevant for their course.

Managing and maintaining lists - the librarian's role

When lists are set up in the system, the appropriate librarian is associated with each list enabling them to quickly see all the lists in their faculty. This allows them to oversee list creation, helps them to manage library stock, and allows them to easily assist with any reference enquiries they might receive from both staff and students.

Lists in the system are also associated with pre-defined time periods. The system can then be configured so that only the lists from the current time period are visible to the students. Lists also have an associated expiry date, and lists that are about to expire are flagged up to the academic staff responsible, and the appropriate librarian, which greatly improves the ongoing maintenance of lists.

Setting up TalisList

Setup of the TalisList system was very easy. We purchased the recommended hardware when we bought the system and the hardware was delivered with the system already installed and ready. In general the system has been very reliable and Talis have been responsive whenever there has been a problem.

The system cost us £23,500 (including VAT). This covered the software, the server hardware (a DELL PowerEdge rack mounted server), server setup and software installation, and delivery. We also pay a £3,000 annual fee (excluding VAT) for software support and upgrades.


The introduction of TalisList at Stirling seems, so far, to have been a great success. We first introduced it in Autumn 2004 and the feedback that we received from both staff and students during our initial pilot phases was generally extremely positive. Whilst it is still fairly early days, we have been very pleased with the level of uptake of TalisList by academic staff. Staff and students both find the system easy to use, and, even though it means a little more work, librarians are happy that they can now ensure that the resources staff are asking their students to read are actually available!

URL of a sample list:

A sample course reading list

Michael White
eLearning Developer/TalisList Administrator
Centre for eLearning Development
University of Stirling
Stirling FK9 4LA

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