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