London Day 12: Cambridge

Punters on the River Cam, Cambridge
Punters on the River Cam, Cambridge

Today–after a brief visit to King’s Cross Station’s famous Platform 9 3/4–we took an early train from London to Cambridge. Our first stop was the ProQuest offices, where we were given snacks and three different presentations: one an overview of the company and how it works with libraries, one on customer experience, and one on digitization projects, using the case study of ProQuest’s digitized trench journals from World War I. We’d heard a bit about digitization of historical documents from the libraries we’d toured earlier, so this was a good chance to learn about this sort of process as experienced from a publisher’s side. While much of the other presentation content was at least somewhat familiar to me from my librarian days, it was also interesting to hear about the multiple sources for ProQuest’s new digital product concepts. Products originate in various ways: sometimes from identifying unmet research needs, sometimes from identifying a specific collections to be digitized, and sometimes because a source institution approaches ProQuest with a proposal.

Following this visit, we had lunch at a local pub with delicious sticky toffee pudding on the menu. Our plans for a visit to King’s College Chapel after that fell through, so we had some opportunity to sightsee in the afternoon. I considered trying punting, but after that proved to be cost prohibitive, opted instead to spend the free part of the afternoon sitting by the river, watching ducks, boats, and students.

We finished the day with a tour of the Pembroke College Library hosted by Librarian Pat Aske, where we learned how the library has changed and grown over the years to accommodate new technologies and students, while retaining historical facilities and collections. Digitization of Pembroke collections has begun, but is so far limited to a very few books available on CD-ROM.

As the area is still in the middle of an unusual heat wave, the train ride back was a bit uncomfortable, and by the time we were back in London, I was ready for a very long nap.

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London Day 12: Cambridge

London Day 9: Sharing, Data and (Lack of) Digital Preservation

King's College London, Strand Campus
King’s College London, Strand Campus

This morning began with a presentation by Carol Tenopir, adapted from one given earlier this week to Elsevier, on article and research data sharing. This was followed by a presentation by Graham Patron from CEDA (listed on their website as the Centre for Environmental Data Archival, but according to our speaker, recently changed or in the process of changing to the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis) on data and data centers.

Some takeaways from the morning:

  • There is a strong culture of “bootleg” sharing of academic articles.
  • Discipline continues to be the biggest predictor of sharing behavior.
  • There is an emerging change in behavior in that people are beginning to cite versions of articles other than the published version of record.
  • Article sharing is seen as a positive good by researchers. This contrasts with research done on data sharing, in which “sharing” and “reuse” are often seen as dirty words.
  • In the case of data, we may need to separate preservation from access.
  • What is needed is not just repositories that can provide access to data, but a variety of other services for accessing and interpreting data, including support for both search and browsability, persistent identifiers, and peer review of data sets.
  • There is an argument to be made for keeping even bad data–for example, after an article has been retracted–so that it is available and discoverable by other researchers.
  • While we talk a lot about ensuring the persistence and stability of data sets, there seems to be no long-term funding models that ensure the persistence and stability of data centers themselves, and possibly no agreement on whose role and responsibility this is.

The afternoon was spent at the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. We were allowed to tour the library itself, as well as see some of its impressive collections, including some very old arts books. Unlike the British Library, the NAL proved to be an example of an institution that is not taking much advantage of digital technology, either for preservation or for collection access. According to our guides, this is primarily due to a lack of resources, including both lack of funding and lack of staff for digitization activities. It may also be the case that much of this difference could also be attributed to differences in library missions and priorities, but it was difficult to tell from our brief tour.

After this, we had a bit of time before the museum closed in which we were able to tour the exhibits before we went home. My favorite: What Is Luxury?, which served as a reminder that the definition of luxury changes with culture and technology, and brought to mind a discussion during a recent trip to New Mexico in which someone pointed out that we could again enter an era in which paper books would fit into this category.

London Day 9: Sharing, Data and (Lack of) Digital Preservation

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