London Day 10: Oxford

Bodleian Library, Oxford
Bodleian Library, Oxford

Today was an early day, as we had to get up on time to catch the 6:40am bus from London to Oxford for a tour of the Bodleian Library and a visit to the Oxford University Press. I’m glad I got the nap on the bus and the extra cup of coffee I needed to be awake for this tour. Our library tour guide, Bill Clennell, took us around the Old Bodleian as well as the Radcliffe Camera, telling us about the history of the library, including its founding, early classification schemes, and current role as a working university library, supporting researchers and physical as well as digital collections. This was quite unlike the National Art Library in that a number of the Bodleian’s historical collections have been digitized and made available online, and the library continues to work to digitize even more.

After a college tour and lunch, it was time for a visit to Oxford University Press, where we learned about a number of their digital initiatives, including University Press Scholarship Online (which offers users 292 options for social sharing of digital content!) and the Oxford English Dictionary, now being updated and published entirely as an online resource, with new words being added every quarter, including this quarter’s addition of the word “twerk.” Digital technology also contributes to the dictionary in another way, as the increased digitization of older texts makes word origins and usage much easier to discover.

The first two editions of the OED were print editions. During the brief tour of the Press’s small museum–in which I also got to have a try at a printing press–I asked if what’s online now could be called the third edition, and was told the answer is both yes and no. The “third edition” will technically be completed when the work of updating the content of the second is finished, probably some time around 2030. At that time, there has been talk of offering a very limited print run, for those people and institutions that have enough money and shelf space to spend on a very large multi-volume set that will be obsolete as soon as they receive it. But from another point of view, the OED as it exists now is a constantly-updated evolving online resource to which the word “edition” might not be able to be properly applied.

Sobering thought from the same tour: At some point, our descendants may tour an OUP museum of the future and wonder aloud how we ever used something so old-fashioned as the Internet. Technology, much like language, never stops evolving and changing. And being used in unexpected ways.

Following the planned activities, a group of us toured Blackwell’s Bookshop, then stopped for a drink at the Eagle and Child, famous for being the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to spend a good deal of time. I was still full from our earlier meal, so I departed before dinner time and caught the next bus back to London.

Things to re-watch and re-read (in my copious amounts of free time or after getting this degree): Harry Potter (both books and movies), as well as Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel series, now that I’ve seen some of the featured places. Also, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is a fantasy based on the London Underground, for the same reason.

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London Day 10: Oxford

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