lunchBOX interview 006
Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium
02 February, 2021
lunchBOX: Hello, good day, and welcome to lunchBOX. On the menu today, we're delighted to welcome Gavin Phillips from the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium for a suitably socially distanced lunch, separated as we are by a large stretch of the River Thames. textBOX and the ASPIRE accessibility statement review service are delighted to be partnering with SUPC, and we are grateful to Gavin for his commitment to ASPIRE and his dedication to improving accessibility across the library sector. Join us and find out all about Gavin's work, his favourite people, his reading + listening habits, and, of course, we'll answer the burning question of the day: what's his lunch order? So, without further hesitation, let's find out. Bon appetit everyone...
1. Who are you and what do you do?
GP: I’m Gavin Phillips and I’m a Category Manager at the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC). My role includes developing and managing the framework agreements that English and Welsh academic libraries use to procure books, e-books, and periodicals. Our agreements are used primarily by HE, but also to an extent by FE and other organisations.
2. How did you come to be involved in the world of accessibility?
GP: Prior to joining SUPC I was Acquisitions Manager for the Library Services at Imperial College London and, as our spend shifted increasingly from print to digital resources, accessibility became a key factor in purchase decisions. My role also included sourcing accessible formats for disabled students and I was able to work with Occupational Health colleagues to better understand the perspective of students with dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties to further inform our decision-making processes.
At SUPC I am applying those same concepts, but at a sector level and with input from a group of English and Welsh librarians.
3. What does accessibility mean to you?
GP: An equitable experience, which means considering all the elements of the way someone discovers and then uses a resource, be it digital or physical. Some barriers can be addressed with specific functionality, but many barriers can simply cease to exist at all with a bit of thoughtful design and understanding of the beginning-to-end user experience.
Very often, the improvements that can be made from an accessibility perspective are actually improvements for everyone, so an equitable experience is usually a better one all round.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in promoting accessibility?
GP: I’m fortunate that the suppliers and the libraries that I work with are very much on board. The challenge for me is that accessibility is something that is spread through the supply chain. We need everyone to do their bit but those efforts need to be joined up if they are to be compatible and as effective as possible. SUPC quickly becomes just one part of this picture so I need to understand how best to work as part of that wider picture.
5. What’s been your biggest success in relation to accessibility?
GP: I hope this is yet to come! My first year at SUPC has been impeded by the pandemic, but I think we are on the right track in updating accessibility requirements for our forthcoming Books/e-Books tender. Finding the right partners is often better than trying to be an expert in everything and our link with ASPIRE is an important step in the right direction. That needs to be the start of something bigger and I hope that time will see us harnessing more of the considerable sector expertise, so that we can work further with our suppliers.
6. What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
GP: Working at a sector level means I have more potential to make the most of my efforts. I enjoy the process of that, finding the right people to work with and discovering the best way to mix the expertise into the procurement process. I’ve not been in the post long enough to see this fully pay off yet, but we should see this in 2021 and what we’ve done so far around metadata and with ASPIRE has had really positive feedback.
7. How have you or your organization made a difference?
GP: I think we operate on a couple of levels. We have a purpose to provide routes to market that are compliant with public sector procurement regulations, and by providing frameworks we make that process far more effective for both institutions and suppliers. Within that process we can help to drive development and innovation.
However, increasingly we are able to involve ourselves in related areas that add value for our members, representing their interests and even giving them forums to share experience. In my own field we’ve been able to input library insights into sector activity following the VAT changes to e-publications and we have started a special interest group for metadata librarians. My colleagues have been working on projects concerning sustainable/responsible procurement and sourcing PPE for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.
8. If you could click your heels and make one thing easier for yourself at work, what would it be?
GP: I would like to magically have the encyclopaedic procurement expertise that some of my colleagues have. My role is intended to mix both library and procurement expertise and nobody has both to begin with – you start with one and then learn the other. This was planned for at SUPC, but the pandemic has slowed my progress.
9. What is the most exciting development you’ve seen this year in the accessibility sector?
GP: Normalization. Accessibility is not a new topic, but it seems to feel more normalized now that expectations exist and if someone isn’t meeting them they can expect to be called out on it. People seem to be more vocal about it even in the less formal realms of social media when posted images or videos lack description. This normalization is not just about people complaining, it seeps in to the process of creating content and designing platforms.
10. Where do you see accessibility in 10 years? Any new developments you are keeping a close eye on?
GP: I suspect a lot of attention will be on machine learning and AI, which will be interesting, if a bit outside my area of expertise. I hope we’ll see a continued focus on how different platforms and systems work together though. That’s more of a basic foundation issue and less sexy, but when these things don’t work well together the user experience is flawed before anyone even gets close to the fancy new stuff.
I’m also interested in metadata, which is another area undergoing a significant shift. It’s a fundamental enabler of library operation so has considerable potential to improve accessibility if it contains the right information
11. How and where do you learn about new accessibility initiatives in the sector?
GP: Twitter, engagement with members, suppliers, and other sector groups.
12. What or who is your accessibility inspiration?
GP: The original E-book Accessibility Audit, which was the precursor to ASPIRE, and crowd-sourced the expertise and capacity to address this situation. I was hugely impressed with the team behind this and the way they made participation manageable across institutions. I have a happy memory of the Acquisitions and Subscriptions teams at Imperial having an audit party one morning and had the privilege of introducing the team when they were awarded the NAG award for excellence in 2017.
13. Which single accessibility tool do you use the most?
GP: I have found ClaroRead very useful for screen tinting and for the reading ruler. I don’t have any diagnosed accessibility requirements but while exploring these tools to understand them better I found they just make it easier to focus on complex documents without printing them out. It’s another example of how consideration of accessibility requirements actually improves usability for everyone.
14. Tell us your favourite accessibility story.
GP: The one that sticks in my mind is from an accessibility seminar hosted by UCL several years ago. A blind student demonstrated screen reader software with two popular e-book platforms, both of which checked all the accessibility boxes. One platform read as expected, but the other picked up all the header, footer, and watermarked elements, rendering it practically useless. It was a powerful demonstration and lodged the concept of ‘how does this work in real life’ firmly into my mind.
15. Which lunch would describe your organization and why?
GP: We work for our members and are owned by them, so I suppose SUPC would be a buffet lunch with a wide (but not profligate) selection to try and please everyone within reason!
Personally, I like a bit of sushi.
16. What would be your favourite setting for that lunch?
GP: Definitely somewhere outdoors with a view. I enjoy Lardon Chase, a few miles west of Reading, on a hill overlooking the Thames Valley.
17. Which 10 people from any time or place would you invite to your lunch?
GP: I really prefer to lunch alone or with someone I feel very comfortable with. That’s no fun for the purposes of this interview, I’m afraid. I think I would enjoy lunch with Peter Cushing or Henry Rollins and if I were to pick some grand historical figures, just to see what they were like, I’d probably invite the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal and Catherine the Great.
18. What are you reading at the moment?
GP: We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror by Howard David Ingham.
19. What are the applications/services that you couldn’t live without at work or personally?
GP: Spotify is easily the answer if I had to remove all but one. It provides the soundtrack to work, travel, running and with a bit of help from Instagram is a way for me to discover loads of new music before deciding whether or not to buy on vinyl. I’m listening to a new (to me) album on Spotify as I’m typing this, in fact. It’s ‘Hexed’ by Children of Bodom and, yes, I will be buying the LP.
Twitter is very useful network for work, though it can blur the boundary between work me and home me, so I’ve been stepping away.
Just don’t be taking away my Spotify!
20. Anything totally secret to tell us? We’re amongst friends…
GP: Despite a lengthy career in libraries I don’t actually use them and am not a member of one. I do think they are hugely valuable, but they don’t serve a need that I have (other than employment, I suppose!)
lunchBOX: Your secret is safe with us, Gavin. At least you don't have to worry about late fees...
Thank you so much for taking the time to join us for lunch today. We can certainly agree with you on the natural beauty of Lardon Chase and the Goring Gap. Beautiful. And we are appreciating the choice of Ashurbanipal, who we learned was the creator of the first systematically organized library in the world. We got Dewey eyed at that one.
Thank you for your patronage. We know that you could choose other luncheon establishments. We'll take care of the bill...
You can visit their website to learn all about the work of the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium. And Gavin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss procurement, libraries, and vinyl records. Or follow him at @gavinjphillips. Just don't steal his Spotify!