THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

20 September 2019

Labbers of the world unite to write a book in 1 week through a Book Sprint

Posted by Mahendra Mahey Manager of BL Labs.

I can't believe it's been a year since people from national, state, regional, university libraries (as well as a few galleries, archives and museums) met in London to attend the first global 'Library Labs' event at the British Library on 13th and 14th of September 2018. These 'Labs' are increasingly found in cultural heritage and academic institutions around the world and offer a space for their users to experiment and innovate on-site and on-line with their own (and others') digitised and born digital collections and data.

We had over 70 people from 43 institutions and 20 countries attend the London event and it was really wonderful, with a very full programme. There was a palpable sense of excitement and willingness to want to share experiences, build new professional relationships and witness the birth of a new international 'Labs' community. Through the event, we were able to understand more about the digital 'Labs' landscape around the world from the results of Library Labs survey. For example, we learned that many institutions were in the process of planning a 'Lab', many wanted to learn more about how to set them up, maintain and sustain them and learn the lessons from those that had already done it. About half of the attendees in London had already set up Labs in their organisations and wanted to share their experiences with other professionals so that they could build better Labs and help others so they didn't have to reinvent the wheel to save time and precious resources.

Growing an international Cultural Heritage Labs community
Some of the presenters from the first Building Library Labs Event at the
British Library, London, UK on 13-14 September 2019

The event was a mixture of presentations and lightning talks, stories of how labs are developing, parallel discussion groups and debates, many of which were videoed. At the end of the event, the collaborative document we had created contained over 60 edited pages of notes, together with a folder of other useful documents and presentations. It was concluded that it would be wonderful to come together to perhaps convert these shared experiences into a useful book/guide, perhaps through a Book Sprint. A Book Sprint is where up to 15 people come together for a week, and with minimal distractions work together to create a book. Each day when the participants sleep, a team of illustrators and editors transform their content for the next day remotely. The week ends having created a book! A great idea for busy people! We felt it was a nice fit for the Labs community we work in or want to create, which are largely based on a 'mindset' of experimentation, taking risks and being prepared to learn from your mistakes. I started to research how it might be possible to hold such a Book Sprint by talking to the Book Sprint company that has had over 20 years experience organising and running these book creation events.

Collectively as a group we decided that we would continue to build the Labs community and establish a mailing list. Clemens Neudecker wrote an excellent blog post about the event.

Zoom meeting Building Library LabsA screen grab from a virtual zoom meeting of the building Labs community

Subsequently, we held various meetings from October 2018 through to February 2019 (some virtual and some face to face) and agreed to hold our next global Labs meeting at the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, Denmark on 4-5 March 2019, again with an action packed programme with the help of Katrine Gasser and her team at kbtechlab. Directly after that event, some of us participated in a pre-conference workshop as part of Digital Humanities Nordic 2019, DHN-Labs - Digital Humanities and the National and University Libraries and Archives (in the Nordic and Baltic Countries) on the 6 March 2019.

Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark

Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark where the second
Building Library Labs event was held between 4-5 March, 2019

Over 50 people attended the 2-day event in Copenhagen, although similar to the previous event in London, this time we agreed we would hold it under Chatham House rule (an idea from Kirsty Lingstadt from the University of Edinburgh) which many of us found was very liberating.

Again, we managed to produce over 60 pages of notes and collect other relevant and helpful information. It was even more abundantly clear at the end of this event that we would definitely need to find a way for some of us to come together to write a book through the Book Sprint methodology previously proposed.

A very kind and generous offer of exploring funding from her institution was made by Milena Dobreva-McPherson Associate Professor Library and Information Studies at University College London Qatar. Abigail Potter from the Library of Congress Labs also kindly suggested that she and her team may be able to hold the next global Labs meeting in Washington between 4-6 May, 2020 in the USA.

Myself and Milena met in Qatar at the first Musuem's and Big Data conference in Qatar organised by her colleague Georgios Papaioannou Associate Professor of Museum Studies, in May 2019. We formulated a proposal to UCL Qatar (funded by the Qatar Foundation) which was successful. Milena also managed to also obtain funding from the University of Qatar. There has also been support from the British Library Labs, the Library of Congress Labs, Book Sprint Ltd, who agreed to donate half of the Book Sprint fee to run the event and finally Qatar National Library.

What was important from the outset was that the digital version of the book should be made FREELY available on the web to reuse, in line with the spirit and ethos of the group.

Milena also managed to secure funding for research assistants Somia Salim and Fidelity Phiri to help create a global directory of organisations which are doing Labs style things or might want to. They have also helped out and are helping at various Labs style events including the Book Sprint.

From the first building library labs event in September 2018 to the present day there have been various events where the work of this community has been mentioned. Here is a small sample:

In July 2019, we released an open invitation to apply to be part of the Book Sprint and received some fantastic entries. We would like to thank everyone that sent an application and we would like to reassure everyone that they can still contribute to the community even if they were not chosen on this occasion.

We can now finally announce who will be attending the Book Sprint...drum droll...:

  1. Abigail Potter, Senior Innovation Specialist with the Library of Congress Digital Innovation Lab. She tweets at @opba.
  2. Aisha Al Abdulla, Section Head of the Digital Repository and Archives at Qatar University Library.
  3. Caleb Derven, Head of Technical and Digital Services at the University of Limerick with overall responsibility for strategy and operations related to collections, electronic resources and library systems. He tweets at @calebderven.
  4. Ditte Laursen, Head of Department, The Royal Library Denmark responsible for the acquisition of digitally born cultural heritage materials, long-term preservation of digital heritage collections, and access to digital cultural heritage collections. She tweets at @DitteDla.
  5. Gustavo Candela, Associate Professor at the University of Alicante and member of the Research and Development department at The Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. He tweets at @gus_candela.
  6. Katrine Gasser, Section Head of IT at The Royal Library Denmark managing a team of 40 IT experts in programming, networking and research. She tweets at @blackat_ and kbtechlab
  7. Kristy Kokegei, Director of Public Engagement at the History Trust of South Australia who oversees the organisation’s public programming, digital engagement, marketing, learning and education programs across 4 State Government funded museums and supporting and enabling 350 community museums and historical societies across South Australia. She tweets at @KristyKokegei and @SAGLAMLab.
  8. Lotte Wilms, Digital Scholarship advisor managing the KB Research Lab and Digital Humanities in libraries advocate, co-chair for the LIBER working group Digital Humanities and a board member of the IMPACT Centre of Competence. She tweets at @Lottewilms.
  9. Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs (BL Labs), an Andrew W. Mellon foundation and British Library funded initiative supporting and inspiring the use of its data in innovative ways with scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, educators and innovators through competitions, awards and other engagement activities. He tweets at @BL_Labs and @mahendra_mahey.
  10. Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar with international experience of working in Bulgaria, Scotland and Malta. She tweets at @Milena_Dobreva.
  11. Paula Bray, DX Lab Leader at the State Library of NSW and responsible for developing and promoting an innovation lab utilising emerging and existing web technologies to deliver new ways to explore the Library’s collections and its data. She tweets at @paulabray #dxlab @statelibrarynsw
  12. Sally Chambers, Digital Humanities Research Coordinator at Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities, Ghent University, Belgium and National Coordinator for DARIAH, the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities in Belgium. She tweets at @schambers3, @GhentCDH and @KBRbe
  13. Sarah Ames, Digital Scholarship Librarian at the National Library of Scotland, responsible for developing a Digital Scholarship Service and launching the Data Foundry. She tweets at @semames1.
  14. Sophie-Carolin Wagner, Co-Founder of RIAT Research Institute for Art and Technology, Co-Editor of the Journal for Research Cultures and Project Manager of ONB Labs at the Austrian National Library.
  15. Stefan Karner, Technical Lead of the ONB Labs at the Austrian National Library, providing access to diverse data and metadata sources within the library, developing a platform for users of the digital library to create and share annotations and other user generated data with each other and the public.
  16. Armin Straube, Teaching Fellow in Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar. He is an archivist with work experience in data curation, digital preservation and web archiving and tweets at @ArminStraube.

Laia Ros Gasch will be facilitating the Book Sprint and has 10 years of experience as a cultural producer working all over the world with all kinds of groups. Laia speaks English, French, Spanish and Catalan. 

More detailed biographies are available here.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

We all realise how incredibly lucky and privileged we are to be chosen. However, we want to hear from those of you who are interested in this area. What do you think we should be writing about, who should it be for, what style of writing should we use? Please HELP us by completing this questionnaire by Monday 23 September at 0600 BST! We will consider your thoughts and opinions seriously when we sit down to write the book on Monday morning in Doha in Qatar.

We would also like to get your help when we will be disseminating information about how to get hold of the book on social media, and at various events around the world, especially to coincide with International Open Access week 2019 (21-27 October 2019). Planned activities in 2019-2020 include:

We plan to run a 'Read Sprint' in the near future to review the Book and perhaps create an improved version. We know what we will produce next week won't be perfect!

We have plans to ensure that the book is published on a interactive platform so that it becomes a 'living' book, so that others can add chapters, make amendments, enhancements and add new case studies. We will be making announcements about this soon after the book has been completed.

On a personal note, I feel incredibly grateful, lucky and privileged to have been involved at the very start of this journey. I also feel daunted to be part of the Book Sprint but excited too!

I really want us to create a useful handbook to help cultural heritage organisations build better innovation labs which are often strapped for resources and need help. I have a strong desire that our ‚ÄėBook‚Äô will genuinely help and inspire galleries, libraries, archives, museums, universities and other cultural heritage organisations to learn and benefit from those of us who can talk honestly about and share our experiences. I want to share the risks we have taken, mistakes we have made, provide realistic lessons and give sensible advice about what we have learned over the many years in setting up, maintaining and sustaining innovation labs. I believe this approach could mean it may prevent many institutions from having to re-invent the wheel and save them time, money and resources too.

The people in this community have a passionate desire to create something useful and meaningful that will help all of us be better at our jobs and build better innovation labs for the benefit of all our users. Hopefully, we will be following the principles of kindness, generously sharing and understanding and having empathy for the contexts in which we work. In short we hope it sincerely makes a difference and prove that sharing and kindness really can change things.

Now that I have written this, I realise I have done it again, I have written too much! However, I am glad I have written the story of how we got here. What I realise is what a busy year it’s been for everyone and particularly for people in this community, it’s amazing what we have achieved and I want to thank everyone who has played an active role, no matter how small. Let’s hope it continues to grow.

Monday morning, fifteen of us have got to write a book, gulp!