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.

London Day 10: Oxford

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