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using the case study of ProQuest’s digitized trench journals from World War I. We’d heard a bit about digitization of historical documents from the libraries we’d toured earlier, so this was a good chance to learn about this sort of process as experienced from a publisher’s side.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.

London Day 12: Cambridge

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 8: Miscellaneous

Today, we took the day off to do some laundry, catch up on some work and reading, and explore some more of London by making the general plan to wander toward Buckingham Palace, then toward some of the museums near Cromwell Road, stopping whenever we saw something interesting.

Highlights of the day included:

  • the Forbidden Planet Megastore, the city’s–and according to their website, the world’s–biggest comic book and general science fiction shop (where, alas, it was a bit too crowded to take any pictures)
  • Burlington House, where many things were closed, but where we got to spend some time touring a free Royal Academy of Arts student art exhibition
    Burlington HouseRoyal Society of Chemistry headquarters, Burlington House
  • Buckingham Palace, where we stood outside the gate and took some pictures, and found out we did not make it out there at the correct time to witness the changing of the guardGates, Buckingham Palace Queen's Guard, Buckingham Palace
  • Via one of those random detours we made along the way, a rather unique World War II landmark known as “the hole in the wall” in Rutland Estate, which we found due to a very charming local guide who saw us looking at a map and walked us to the spot, giving us a bit of history of the neighborhood on the way there.
    The Hole in the Wall Closeup of plaque explaining history of the hole in the wall Rutland Estate residences

Unfortunately, things we did not see included the museums we had hoped to visit, due to the fact that our journey took a bit longer than expected, and we got to the area quite a bit after closing time. The Victoria & Albert Museum is actually on our schedule for next week, but the Science Museum and Natural History Museum might need to wait until another trip.

At this point, we were all getting hungry, so we took the (extremely crowded) tube back to our neighborhood and then went out for something to eat. All in all, a nice break and a good chance to see some of the city we’ve been visiting before what looks to be another full week of class activities.

London Day 8: Miscellaneous

London Day 5: Digital Monographs

A display of Harry Potter books at Bloomsbury Publishing
A display of Harry Potter and other books published by Bloomsbury.

Today was devoted to exploring how digital technology is transforming the world of book publishing, and potentially the book itself. Much of what we see currently in eBooks is an electronic version of the print text, but Anthony Watkinson gave some examples of “Book 3.0,” or texts that are starting include features enabled by the web, such as embedded multimedia content. Online platforms may even change how strictly text-based monographs are written, as interest in discovering and accessing content by chapter may not only require providing rich metadata at the chapter level, but also authors and publishers to make sure each chapter of a scholarly book can be read as a standalone unit.

Next, Ruth Jones from the distributor Ingram discussed how digital technologies are transforming book distribution, for example, allowing dynamic, location-based print-on-demand services, new subscription models, and the ability to create “new” monographs from combining multiple sources. (Copyright clearance, as ever, remains a concern here.)

After this, we headed to Bloomsbury Publishing, best known for publishing the Harry Potter series, to talk to some of their staff about their various digital initiatives, including Drama Online and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. This last intrigued me, as I’ve been reading a lot about the use of social media in academia as a potential substitute for (at least some part of) traditional publishing. This is not that. Rather, it’s an attempt to use social media, as well as online freemium content and in-person learning events and conferences, to build and energize a community around a still-traditionally published reference resource. This is much like the model behind how2become.com that we learned about earlier, with additional resources devoted to building an online community for users. Bloomsbury also uses a sort of gamification, a rewards points system to further encourage purchases and the creation of user-generated content. Users gain a certain number of points for various activities, for example, making a comment on a blog. Points can eventually be traded in for free books or discounts on services.

I’m not sure whether any of this could translate into the world of scholarly publishing, particularly given several recent discussions about how academic motivations for creating content are so strongly tied to, and tend to be limited to, those activities that support career advancement, but there are ideas here worth pondering.

The day ended early, so I spent the rest of it exploring more of the British Museum. I got through the Egyptian sculpture gallery, as well as a bit of Assyrian and Greek sculpture, before closing time. Alas, at this pace, I do not think I will make it through all I want to see before we leave.

London Day 5: Digital Monographs

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