Digital scholarship blog

3 posts from March 2020

30 March 2020

Just stand-up and Kanban!

This is a guest post by Laura Parsons, Digitisation Workflow Administrator for the British Library's Qatar Foundation Partnership, on Twitter as @laurakpar


It takes unexpected and extreme world events, such as a pandemic and forced lock down, to make you realise the value of things and routines you previously took for granted. In the Workflow Administration team of the British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership Project, one of our everyday, normal, taken-for-granted activities is our daily stand-up meeting at our Kanban board, complete with post-it notes, magnets and coloured pens. We thought we would explain our stand-up and Kanban process, how it helps us and how it has changed, and what we are doing now.

Time lapse video of our Kanban board showing it changing over 2 months from October 2019 to January 2020
Time lapse video of our Kanban board showing it changing over 2 months from October 2019 to January 2020


Who are we?

The Workflow team is responsible for helping manage items through all the stages of the digitisation project workflow. It is a diverse role where we use problem solving, innovation and cross-team communication. Tasks range from administering our Microsoft SharePoint database that tracks the items we are digitising, to assisting the various teams throughout the workflow with technical questions and issues, and working to create the end product that is uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library. To help us complete these tasks and to ensure we juggle the variety of work, we manage our individual and team work using post-it notes on our Kanban board and by participating in a stand-up meeting.


At 9.45am everyday, on a normal pre-COVID-19 day, the Workflow team gathers around our Kanban board. This time is ingrained into our morning routine and without it the day does not seem to begin properly. By having this brief but regular catch-up with our team we get our brains thinking, focus on priorities, seek help, and share both achievements and frustrations.

Directed by the Board Leader, the responsibility for which rotates through the team each week, we take it in turns to report on three things: what we did yesterday, what we’re going to do today, and any issues we are having that are blocking our work. This often leads to a discussion about how the team could help, suggestions for who to ask or ideas for what we could try.

The whole stand-up process has rules and expectations, all carefully documented, and we are quick to tell someone (good naturedly) if they are not following the rules! Our rules govern things like colour coding of post-it notes and magnets, maximum number of tasks in your column (which is not always adhered to), and order of priority for tasks.

By the very nature of a stand-up meeting, it is kept short, sometimes less than five minutes for all seven of us to have our turn. This also helps any of us who do not like talking in front of a group; it’s fast, relaxed and supportive. If further help or discussion is needed, we can ask for some “Ticket Talk” later, where we talk with a colleague about our tickets.

Kanban innovation

We are very proud of our Kanban board. It is the product of many hours of team-work, creativity and striving to work more effectively, efficiently and collaboratively. It has a column for each person with the tasks that they are allocated to them. When we need more work, we pick up a task from the “New” column and then it stays in our column until we have completed the task, when it is finished it is moved to the “Complete” column so we can celebrate how productive we have been! Whilst we record and complete our work on an online system, we find that this tactile process helps us manage our workload and the workflow, as well as simply giving us visual feedback and a valuable sense of achievement.

Our board has developed over time with monthly “Retrospective” meetings used to brainstorm ideas for how we could improve our stand-up practice and our Kanban Board. In these meetings we each put forward suggestions for what we think we should start, stop and continue. This has been useful to raise new ideas and ensure that we all have a say in how we work. By regularly examining how we work, and suggesting and trying new things, we are always aiming to work more efficiently and effectively. In recent months we have: implemented the weekly rotating role of “Board Leader”, personalised name headers, invited visitors from other teams, included our Imaging Team as a regular stand-up participant, introduced magnets for regular tasks, started a weekly “What I learnt this week” section, and updated rules such as writing the days you are away this week under your name.

Kanban board from May 2018
Kanban board from May 2018...
Current version from February 2020
...and current version from February 2020


Without stand-up and Kanban

As we have begun working from home, we now have to become used to a new routine, or the lack of our previous one. We no longer have our physical Kanban board but we can still communicate daily with each other and our new team Slack channel has allowed regular chat. To help with this uncertain and isolated period, we are trialing our daily “stand-up” using emojis, where we communicate our thoughts and feelings for the day using three emojis (with a sentence explanation, only if you want to). While we learn new ways of working, at least this will remind us of our useful stand-up meetings and our much-loved Kanban board.

Daily stand-up update using emojis.
Daily stand-up update using emojis.



24 March 2020

Learning in Lockdown: Digital Research Team online

This blog post is by Nora McGregor, Digital Curator, Digital Research Team/European and Americas Collections, British Library. She's on Twitter as @ndalyrose.

With British Library public spaces now closed, the Digital Research Team are focussing our energies on transforming our internal staff Digital Scholarship Training Programme into an online resource for colleagues working from home. Using a mixture of tools at our disposal (Zoom conferencing and our dedicated course Slack channels for text-based chat) we are experimenting with delivering some of our staff workshops such as the Library Carpentries and Open Refine with Owen Stephens online, as well as our reading group and staff lectures. Last week our colleague in Research Services, Jez Cope trialed the delivery of a Library Carpentry workshop on Tidy Data at the last minute to a virtual room of 12 colleagues. For some it was the first time ever working from home or using remote conferencing tools so the digital skills learning is happening on many levels which for us is incredibly exciting! We’ll share more in depth results of these experiments with you via this blog and in time, as we gain more experience in this area, we may well be able to offer some sessions to the public!

Homeschooling for the Digital Research Team

And just like parents around the world creating hopeful, colourful schedules for maintaining children’s daily learning (full disclosure: I’m one of ‘em!), so too are we planning to keep up with our schooling whilst stuck home. Below are just a handful of some of the online training and resources we in the Digital Research Team are keeping up with over the coming months. We’ll add to this as we go along and would of course welcome in the comments any other suggestions from our librarian and digital scholarship networks! 

  • Archivist’s at Home and Free Webinars and Trainings for Academic Library Workers (COVID-19) We’re keeping an eye on these two particularly useful resources for archivists and academic librarians looking for continuing education opportunities while working from home.
  • Digital Skills for the Workplace These (free!) online courses were created by Institute of Coding (who funded our Computing for Cultural Heritage course) to try to address the digital skills gap in a meaningful way and go much further than your classic “Beginner Excel” courses. Created through a partnership with different industries they aim to reflect practical baseline skills that employers need. 
  • Elements of AI is a (free!) course, provided by Finland as ‘a present for the European Union’ providing a gentle introduction to artificial intelligence. What a great present!
  • Gateway to Coding: Python Essentials Another (free!) course developed by the Institute of Coding, this one is designed particularly for folks like us at British Library who would like a gentle introduction to programming languages like Python, but can’t install anything on our work machines.
  • Library Juice Academy has some great courses starting up in April. The other great thing about these is that you can take them 'live' which means the instructor is around and available and you get a certificate at the end or 'asynchronously' at your own pace (no certificate).
  • Programming Historian Tutorials Tried and true, our team relies on these tutorials to understand the latest and greatest in using technology to manage and analyse data for humanities research. 

Time for Play

Of course, if Stephen King’s The Shining has taught us anything, we’d all do well to ensure we make time for some play during these times of isolation!

We’ll be highlighting more opportunities for fun distractions in future posts, but these are just a few ideas to help keep your mind occupied at the moment:

Stay safe, healthy and sane out there guys!


The Digital Research Team

16 March 2020

A Season of Place – Journal Article Published!

This blog post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She's on Twitter as @BL_AdiKS.

Last year the Library’s Digital Scholarship Training Programme (DSTP), delivering training to BL staff, featured several training sessions dedicated to digital mapping, covering topics such as cataloguing geospatial data, geoparsing, georeferencing, working with online mapping tools, digital research using online maps, and public engagement through interactive platforms and crowdsourcing. We called it the ‘Season of Place’.

A year later, Gethin and I published a paper about it in the Journal of Map & Geography Libraries: Advances in Geospatial Information, Collections & Archives, in a special issue dedicated to Information Literacy Instruction. Our shiny new article is entitled “A Season of Place: Teaching Digital Mapping at the British Library”, and is available through this DOI: This is the abstract:

“One of the British Library Digital Scholarship team’s core purposes is to deliver training to Library staff. Running since 2012, the main aim of the Digital Scholarship Training Program (DSTP) is to create opportunities for staff to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to support emerging areas of scholarship. Recently, the Library has been experimenting with a new format to deliver its training that would allow flexibility and adaptability through modularity: a “season”. The Digital Scholarship team organized a series of training events billed as a “Season of Place”, which aimed to expose Library staff to the latest digital mapping concepts, methods and technologies, and provide them with the skills to apply cutting-edge research to their collection areas. The authors designed, coordinated and delivered this training season to fulfill broader Library objectives, choosing to mix and match the types of events and methods of delivery to fit the broad range of technologies that constitute digital mapping today. The paper also discusses the impact that these choices of methods and content has had on digital literacy and the uptake of digital mapping by presenting results of an initial evaluation obtained through observation and evaluation surveys.”

A Season of Place: Teaching Digital Mapping at the British Library- article screenshot

One of the things that we wrote about was the results of feedback survey sent to course participants three months after their training. Participants were asked questions about their levels of confidence in applying their learning within their work, relevance of the training to their work, frequency of applying knowledge or skills gained from the training days, and uptake of digital mapping tools following the training days. Survey results were published in the article mentioned above. However, in the meantime we’ve sent out a 1-year-later feedback survey, to see what people’s position was a year after undertaking our digital mapping training.

We had six responses to this 1-year survey. Respondents indicated that in most part digital mapping was not directly relevant to their areas of work, however if/when they would like to apply learning from the courses, they have some confidence in doing so (50% some confidence, 33.3% fairly confident, 16.7% confident). It was noted that areas of learning from the course applied to one’s work relate more to data clean-up and analysis rather than directly to maps, but that it was useful to know which software is available for when the need does arise in the future.

When it comes to specific tool usage, Google My Maps was the most popular tools that we’ve taught, followed by Recogito – this matches the levels of popularity indicated in our 3-month survey. Lastly, course attendees haven’t yet created, visualised or analysed geospatial data with the tools taught in the course (or others) – but did say that they’d learned a great deal, and that when the opportunity arises to start a relevant project – they’ll know where to start!

So, all in all, we’re happy that people have found our courses useful. The Library is now recruiting a Curator for Geospatial Cultural Heritage, contributing to the ‘Locating a National Collection’ project, a Foundational Collaborative project in the ‘Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World’ programme, funded by the AHRC. Do join us!

Apply here: – closing date is 22 March 2020.