London Day 4: The British Library and Digital Marketing

Statue of Isaac Newton outside the British Library
Statue of Isaac Newton outside the British Library

Today began with a tour of the British Library, the U.K.’s national library. According to its website and our BL hosts, the library holds a copy of every publication produced in the U.K. and Ireland, as well as a number of publications from other nations, with a total collection of over 150 million items, almost all of which are housed in closed stacks. We learned how to search the collection (which one should do before visiting, as the stacks are not browsable) and how to apply for a Reader Pass.

The King's Library at the British Library
The King’s Library at the British Library

The highlight of the trip was learning about the digital scholarship and preservation projects currently being undertaken by the library, particularly the British Library Labs.

Select tools and resources we learned about:
British Library Flickr account (what it says on the tin)
British Library Online Map Archive (where users can help georeference digitized historical maps)
IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework)
The Mechanical Curator (posts random digitized illustrations from historical books every hour to Twitter and Tumblr)
The Programming Historian (online tutorials for humanities scholars interested in digital tools)

These represent changes digital technology is bringing about in not just in how humanities scholarship is done, but how it is accessed, and who does it, with crowdsourcing tools similar to those for citizen science.

The presentation that interested me most was Jason Webber’s talk on web archiving in the U.K., and the contrast between two of its initiatives: the Open UK Web Archive, a collection that anybody with a web connection can search, but that includes only select web pages collected since 2004 for which the creators have given permission for public display, and the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive, which collects all freely available web pages from UK domains or hosted in the UK, but which is only accessible to users able to view the collection from deposit library reading rooms. Neither is a completely elegant solution to preserving and making available the often ephemeral content of the web, which is of course a significant issue for those concerned with the preservation of information; seeing the graph of just how much web content available in 2004 had disappeared by 2013 was a bit shocking.

Our final presentation was from Christina Duffy on imaging the Magna Carta documents. Following this, we got to spend a brief time in the Magna Carta exhibit itself before heading to our next appointment. I fully intend to go back if I can.

Things learned by accident: the name of the Pizza Express next to the library is deceptive. The food involves pizza, but isn’t be delivered at a speed that can be remotely described as express.

The afternoon was spent at a forum on digital marketing. It was interesting to see the strategies publishers use digital technology and digital data to identify and market to various audience segments. I was most interested in a presentation from Kate Smith of Wiley, not because it represented the best digital marketing strategy–indeed, it was more of a cautionary tale–but because it involved a tool, the Wiley Online Bookstore for Libraries that helped address a genuine pain point for practicing librarians: the difficulty of placing small orders with scholarly publishers. I would have liked to have given this one a try while I was still a practitioner dealing with a collection.

London Day 4: The British Library and Digital Marketing

London Day 3: Digital Publishing and Digital Humanities

Apocalyptic book display at Waterstones , stating The End is Nigh
Is this the end of scholarly publishing as we know it? Probably not. (Apocalyptic book display at Waterstones)

My third full day in London was actually the first full day of the course proper. We spent the morning talking about digital publishing and the afternoon learning about the research being done in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. This was followed by a reception in which we had the opportunity to mingle with a few of the researchers we had met earlier.

First up was Anthony Watkinson, who discussed the history, present and possible future of digital scholarly publishing, including the pressure on publishers to meet increasing user expectations for digital products and functionality, the role of (green and gold) open access, the Force 11 Manifesto, and some of the research CIBER Research Ltd. has done on trust, in which it was found that scholars still tend to place trust in traditional peer-reviewed journals, and less in sources such as social media and repositories.

Next, Michael Mabe from the International Association of STM Publishers gave a talk on the future of journal publishing, in which he noted that technology has changed researcher behavior very little and has not changed people’s motivations for publishing scholarship. In the publishing world, we are still “using new tools for old purposes.”

He also discussed the fundamental needs of researchers, and how these differ when a researcher is in author mode versus reader mode, which explains much of the variation between the results librarians and information scientists get when we study researchers and those publishers get: we’re studying the same populations in different modes, where different sets of needs dominate.

It is difficult to say at this point how the changing public and political attitudes towards open access Mabe discussed will ultimately change scholarly publishing or scholarly behavior. Certainly, the increasing number of mandates for sharing the results of research do force change in the behavior of many of the researchers to whom they apply. They also require technical solutions for the problems of storage and access.

But will these replace or even fundamentally alter traditional scholarly publishing? As Mabe pointed out, institutional repositories and pre-print archives exist, but neither fill the function of the scholarly journal. Researchers who use these tools are still publishing their research in traditional ways.

Is the end near for traditional scholarly publishing? From a researcher behavior standpoint, it would appear not, as most researchers who use tools such as repositories, preprint servers, and social media don’t seem to be using any of them as a substitute for traditional peer-reviewed publication. The business models for publication may be changing in some significant ways, however. I look forward to learning more about this in the coming weeks.

Things to read later:

And now for something completely different…

The afternoon’s presentations in digital humanities at KCL Drury Lane highlighted some impacts of technology on research that I hadn’t previously considered. Department Head Sheila Anderson notes that researchers there are studying not just digital humanities, but “the digital human,” and how technologies are changing both human lives and the way we produce culture.

As my focus for the past several years has been on STEM research and researchers, I’ve thought less about how new technologies are changing the kinds of research that can be done in the humanities, but we learned about some truly nifty things being developed and used, such as Faith Lawrence’s tool for annotating and analyzing fictional narratives, and the DigiPal tool for analyzing medieval handwriting. At the reception, I got to talk to many of these researchers about their dissertation work, and how communication and information sharing varies by discipline and by environment (academia vs. industry).

Finally, a group of us departed for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, then home.

London Day 3: Digital Publishing and Digital Humanities

London Day 2

Shops at Covent Gardens
Pollock’s Toy Shop, Covent Gardens

Today was our introductory day for Scholarly E-Publishing. This was the day we got to meet with our instructors, as well as our student counterparts from Pratt and do the housekeeping part of the course. We got our identification, went over the course schedule, discussed assignments, and–perhaps most importantly–found out where we will be having class during most of the unit. Lunch was at Covent Gardens, where I also found a few interesting shops I would like to visit later.

I am very excited about the syllabus for this course. I’ve experienced scholarly publishing from the library perspective, but know comparatively very little about the publisher perspective, so I’m looking forward to being able to meet and interview people from that side, and get their perspectives on the future of digital publishing. Also, our field trips include visits to the British Library, the National Art Library and the Bodleian Library. Overall, it looks like it’s going to be a busy two weeks. Inevitably, there probably will not be enough time to get to a small fraction of the things that were suggested for doing during our free time in London, though I’m hoping to be able to take in a show and spend some time in at least a few of the museums before departing.

Our plan after class was to visit the British Museum. Fortunately, we made it before they closed. Unfortunately–after a detour which involved attempting to run a couple of errands on the way and getting temporarily disoriented–we made it with only ten minutes to spare. This was just enough time to get to see the Rosetta Stone, which was probably both the cultural and information-related highlight of the day.

Other information-related observations: I did not realize how much I’ve gotten used to both readily available unlimited mobile data and my own personal search result filter bubble. The latter because now that Google knows I’m in the U.K., the search results I’m expecting to be at the top of the page in a number of searches…aren’t. In a much more obvious way than the changes that occur when I’m wandering around the Lower 48. It’s unsettling.

Tomorrow is a long day ending in a reception, so I had probably better turn in.

Today’s culinary highlight: Fish and chips.

London Day 2

London Day 1

Day 1 in London. I’m journaling my adventures here at what I hope will become my regular blog.

Have fulfilled two very important goals: 1) visit Foyle’s and purchase the new Terry Pratchett (and also a bonus Sarah Waters novel), and 2) acquire a bunch of British candy.

Books and British candy

Also saw Big Ben:

Big Ben

And had some tasty street food:

A bread loaf filled with veggies from Bunnychow in London

Skills practiced: Taking the Tube, navigating the city without Google Maps.

Tomorrow will be our first day of classes, and my first proper daily trip journal post.

London Day 1