THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Living Knowledge blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

Introduction

Experts and directors at the British Library blog about strategy, key projects and future plans Read more

13 November 2018

Open and Engaged: Open Access Week at the British Library

Open-access-laure-haak-crop
One of the key arguments in favour of open access to research is that the public should have the right to read the results of publicly funded research. While much effort is put into creating policies, workflows and business models to enable openness, are we succeeding in engaging the public with research?

On Monday 22 October, the British Library celebrated the beginning of Open Access Week with the event, Open and Engaged (see #openengaged). It brought together representatives from higher education, funding organisations, libraries, charities, publishers, NHS, government, industry and independent research organisations such as museums and archives. The purpose of the event was to broaden the conversation around open access from a largely compliance-driven approach to one of engaging wider audiences through open research. Instead of just looking at issues relating to open access publishing, the focus was on the importance of public engagement and the public’s understanding of research. In the current climate of fake news and a mistrust of expert opinion, it is becoming even more important that the opening up of academic research leads to meaningful dissemination and confident public interactions with research results.

The scene was set by opening speaker, Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association (BSA), making it clear that open does not necessarily mean accessible. As BSA research clearly demonstrates, there is a lack of engagement with science in the UK, sitting apart from core areas of culture like music and sport. While it is important to move towards openness, particularly in promoting greater transparency, Katherine emphasised the need for organisations to help disseminate such research to the different areas of the public in an effective way.

These are organisations like the BSA, Sense about Science, the Alliance for Useful Evidence, House of Commons Library and the many public libraries throughout the UK. Katherine argued that academia would benefit from operating within a system that incentivises meaningful engagement with the public, potentially through a set of global principles that could then be adapted on a local level. If we are going to promote and invest in open research through funder policies, then thought must also be given to extending the reach of this openness beyond academic audiences.

The second component to openness and engagement is ensuring that when information is delivered, people also have the skills to assess it. This raises a myriad of issues, related to information literacy, complex terminologies and transparency around data provenance to name just a few. We learnt about AccessLab, a BSA initiative to improve judgement of information through citizen-scientist pairings. We learnt about Sense about Science’s work on making sense of uncertainty in research, and the importance of tools that target lay researchers, such as Impactstory’s Get the Research, a project being taken forward with the British Library.

At the core of information assessment is the issue of trust. Trust was a theme that came up time and again despite the difference in topics of our presenters. Martin Lugton, Product Manager at the Government Digital Service, spoke of how trust and transparency were the primary motivations for the opening up of government data at the beginning of the decade. In fact it was part of a transparency agenda to address the low level of trust in politics. While we can see that this opening up has had significant impact, particularly through the 400 plus apps that have been created using data from data.gov.uk, there is still important work to be done in the space. As Theresa May stated in 2017, “it is not enough to have open data; quality, reliability and accessibility are also required”. The story so far around government open data, offers considerable parallels to the issues being addressed throughout the day at Open and Engaged. Yet the starting point for the government was still that initial push to openness, one that has seen the UK lead the way on the Open Data Barometer.

For scholarly publishing, there are still many challenges to overcome in the movement towards open research. Our second keynote speaker of the day, Professor Jane Winters from The School of Advanced Study, spoke about the evolving relationship of humanities research with open access. Despite a long tradition in the humanities of writing for the public, the transition to open access modes of publishing has been slow. It is still hampered by a lack of awareness – two thirds of early career researchers have little awareness of open access and the other third are confused –, but also a lack of funding to expand on small scale experiments in open publishing. Jane expressed a desire for a more diverse scholarly publishing scene that embraces the benefits of digital by moving away from merely replicating print content in PDF format. An issue that was echoed by Hollydawn Murray in her presentation on the work by F1000 and their efforts to bring science publishing into the 21st century.

Overcoming such obstacles is particularly pressing in the monograph space, a key medium for humanities researchers. Helen Snaith from Research England addressed this topic looking at the challenges and solutions for open access monographs. Helen also invited feedback from workshop participants. Many focused on the opportunities a change in publishing models could bring, such as an improved online reading experience, collective organising to re-invent academic publishing, and new models that focus not only on gold and green open access but incorporate public value, engagement and collaboration. That being said, there are some fundamentals of publishing that need to be addressed, and this brought the conversation back to transparency. Transparency was also a key theme in the presentation Laure Haak (see photo above) and Josh Brown from ORCID gave on persistent identifiers. Properly implemented, identifiers can not only help to discover content but also to create trust by making it clear who created, contributed to, funded and reviewed it.

The theme of transparency carried through to the concluding panel discussion that raised questions about the UK’s national approach to opening up research. To a large extent, the discussion was shaped by the recently announced Plan S. Panel members raised questions about the suitability of hybrid open access and called for a more ‘exciting’ open access model. They discussed the proposed cap for article processing charges in the context of a call for greater transparency around the costs of publishing. It was argued that only when the scholarly community are better informed to the costs of publishing, can they define an acceptable price for the dissemination of their research. Professor Parveen Yaqoob, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Reading, questioned the current business models for open access, in particular for monographs, along with the funding allocation.

Matthew Day from Cambridge University Press highlighted the publisher’s commitment to open science alongside the difficulties of achieving a transition through national policies in a global publishing market. Professor Haidy Geismar, from University College London, encouraged us to imagine a cooperative ecology for open access, and to embrace a blurring of the line between research repositories and publishing. Chris Banks, Director of Library Services at Imperial College, brought us back to the opening idea of the day, speculating whether we need to broaden our idea of openness, to focus on research communication more widely and breakdown content delivery models that no longer seem useful in the online age.

We hope that by having such a varied mix of people in attendance, those somewhat outside of the open access debate became better informed about progress and obstacles in the transition to open access. Equally, those who were more familiar with these debates, had the opportunity to view them from a new perspective, to consider an expansive definition of openness.

Open-access-PANELThe panel at one of the Open and Engaged plenary sessions, discussing what a UK national open research plan should look like. Photos by Torsten Reimer.  

In the closing remarks, Torsten Reimer, Head of Research Services at the British Library, emphasised the need for broad reflection of scholarly communications. He argued that we need to shift the focus from making research open to making it legible for different audiences. Crucially, this has to include an analysis of the way information is discovered and the role algorithms play, for good and bad. It is concerning that as technology allows us to produce and share ever more knowledge, it also seems to narrow our world view to what machines consider we want to see on social media.

Through activities like Open & Engaged the British Library hopes to contribute to a broad discussion on the future of scholarly communications, within and beyond higher education. Open & Engaged is part of a wider programme through which we expand and modernise our services under the Library's Living Knowledge vision. This programme includes projects such as a shared-service platform for access to open knowledge and new approaches to open research content up to a wider audience. As the national library, we will continue to play a pivotal role in the provision of knowledge and help to shape the global information ecosystem to deliver more equitable access to information.

 

Dimity Flanagan

Scholarly Communications Lead at the British Library

 

Any requests for information can be sent to OpenAccess@bl.uk

12 November 2018

Introducing our new Chevening Fellows

SLP-093 - GroupIn September we were delighted to welcome three new international researchers to the Library as part of our collaboration with Chevening, the UK government’s international professional development programme. With their year-long fellowships now well underway, in this blog post Akmal Bazarbaev (from Uzbekistan), Rihana Suliman (from Syria) and Sanja Stepanovic-Todorovic (from Serbia) look back on their first months at the Library (and in London) and tell us about their plans for 2019.

Meanwhile, we look forward to continuing our partnership with Chevening in the years ahead, with two more fellowships starting in September 2019 – one focused on digitised archival material from Latin America and the Caribbean, another looking at African-language printed books collections. These unique projects are a fantastic way for colleagues across the Library to both support and benefit from the professional development of international researchers, capitalising on the breadth and depth of our collection, resources and expertise.

SLP-243Top image: our new Chevening Fellows, Sanja Stepanovic-Todorovic, Rihana Suliman and Akmal Bazarbaev. Above: Rihana and Sanja at work at the British Library. All photos by Sam Lane.

Akmal Bazarbaev

SLP-048 - AkmalMy Chevening fellowship project is on exploring and enhancing the British Library’s Turkic-language collections. By cataloguing and publicising Turkic materials in the Library’s collection, the project will add to our knowledge about the nature and extent of publishing in Turkic languages throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’m working under the supervision of Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Collections Curator.

I am interested in materials and sources concerning the Turkic world written in Turkic, Persian and Arabic languages. My Chevening Fellowship is a great way to explore this subject. By working with staff and researchers at the British Library, I am learning new ways to explore and enhance historical sources. At the same time, this fellowship is helping me to increase my academic network. It is a wonderful opportunity!

Before coming to the UK, I already knew that the British Library was one of biggest libraries in the world. Now I am seeing that it is even more than that. It is not just a place that passively keeps huge amounts of material; it is also a leading research institution in its own right and a vibrant cultural centre.

I have earned my Bachelor and Master’s degrees from Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies. Having worked at the National Library and Central State Archive of Uzbekistan, I have held different positions, such as librarian, senior archivist and senior researcher. My current post in Uzbekistan is as a researcher at the Institute of History in the Academy of Sciences. I’m really excited about how the Chevening Fellowship will allow me to build on this experience over the months ahead.

 

Rihana Suliman

My fellowship is based within the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), which is co-ordinated and hosted by the British Library and supported by Arcadia. My project is focused on helping EAP to strengthen its activities in North Africa and the Middle East. I’ll be doing research into archival collections held in those regions, engaging with archival experts locally and internationally, and developing a targeted engagement strategy and outreach programme. All of which is incredibly exciting! SLP-087 - Rihana

For me personally, one of the great things about this fellowship is the chance it gives me to belong to an active research community. I have most recently been working as an assistant professor at Damascus University in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics. The circumstances of the war in Syria have almost completely ruled out the possibility of conducting research, especially for academics of English literature and other foreign languages. So this fellowship is a particularly treasured opportunity. It will also allow me to benefit from the broad range of professional expertise in the Library and reflect on my professional, academic and personal growth.

The first months of my fellowship have been full of thought-provoking engagements within the Endangered Archives Programme, the British Library and London. I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Library’s photographic exhibition Beyond Timbuktu: Preserving the Manuscripts of Djenné, Mali – a digitisation project funded by EAP. I have also visited the Treasures of the British Library and the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War exhibitions here, in addition to attending the recent V&A conference on Middle Eastern Crafts: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet and network with researchers from all over the world but more specifically from the Middle East and North Africa.

I would use words such as super productive, hugely inspiring and very exciting if I am to describe my first months here. But I should also use one more word: lucky. I am very lucky indeed to have the wonderful support and encouragement of my supervisor Jody Butterworth, the EAP curator, and other colleagues. I am looking forward to the many accomplishments to be made in the year ahead!

 

Sanja Stepanovic-Todorovic

SLP-053 - SanjaI feel pleased and privileged to spend the 2018/2019 academic year in the British Library as a Chevening Fellow. I come from Serbia’s capital Belgrade, where I have been working in the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

My project, Academy and Society in the Balkans: 1850-1950, covers 9 countries: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. It takes place within the Southeast European section of the Library’s European & Americas Collections team, under supervision of curator Milan Grba.

Our aim is to increase the visibility and accessibility of the Library’s collection of Balkan academic publications to both researchers and the wider public. Through a combination of bibliographic work and research, the project will throw fresh light on the publishing efforts of Balkan academic institutions since the second half of the 19th century.

So far I have spent many fruitful hours in the Library’s basements, physically surveying and identifying Balkan academic publications. It has been slightly mind-boggling to be amongst such a vast and diverse concentration of publications from all over the world! Looking ahead, I’m excited about starting work on the main outputs of this research – a new database and collection guide. I’ll also be liaising with conservators around any items that require additional preservation and conservation treatment. And rest assured I’ll be helping our curators to start filling any gaps that we identify in the most relevant series!

 

Interviews by James Perkins

Research & Postgraduate Development Manager

 

24 October 2018

The Single Digital Presence for public libraries: our research so far

NYPL
The Single Digital Presence is An Arts Council England and Carnegie UK Trust funded project, exploring what a national online platform for public libraries might look like. I’m currently working as researcher on the Single Digital Presence scoping project here at the British Library.

Working with public libraries across the UK, we’re lucky enough to have lots of inspiring conversations with inspiring librarians about libraries, their value and their future. One of the questions we get asked most frequently– and it is also a question we frequently ask ourselves – So what is a ‘Single Digital Presence’?

Well, as Liz introduced in our first blog, that really is the million-dollar question for this whole project. What does a national digital platform for public libraries look like, and how could we create a digital platform that reinvigorates, refreshes and rearticulates the values and purposes of the library in an information-rich society?

When I started my role with the project back in February, my first job was to look beyond the UK to see how other library services internationally have tackled this question. For someone who loves libraries, this was a pretty exciting task, and it didn’t disappoint. From shared catalogues, to intelligent discovery tools, centralised e-lending platforms to digital libraries, digital innovation has streamlined and enhanced users access to trusted and authoritative knowledge, as well as, we shouldn’t forget, the simple pleasures of a good read.

But while we were researching what digital innovation in libraries looks like, we’ve also had our eyes on how public libraries worldwide are changing. We’ve seen the library space evolving to facilitate different and diffuse types of activity and knowledge exchange. Libraries are increasingly used - and valued - as a safe, trusted and flexible civic space for work, study, debate, and creation that some traditional performance metrics (book issues, active memberships) fail to capture. Steady declines in physical borrowing and active memberships are an almost global phenomenon, however libraries are continuing to attract new users, as increasing physical visits statistics in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Denmark attest to, even as physical borrowing patterns change.

In our hyper-connected world, this evolving library space often involves a forward-thinking digital space or offer. One that reinvigorates the public libraries by communicating more effectively the services it provides, while also reflecting the changing needs of our users. A digital space that is flexible and personalised. One that responds to user needs, that promotes co-creation and connection without stipulating the form this takes, and a space that enables this both digitally and within the walls of the physical library space.

In what follows I’ve chosen a few examples of libraries and librarians tackling these challenges.

The City Space as Library: New York Public Library’s Digital experiments

NYPL-subway-intImage at top of page and above: both copyright New York Public Library. See: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2017/06/08/subwaylibrary

For many of us who follow the work of the New York Public Library, we’re often left with considerable library envy. Two projects that caught my eye in particular were #subwaylibrary and Insta Novels. In both cases NYPL take the library offer and direct it towards the spaces a 21st century library users spend a lot of their time, namely the subway train and the social feed.

For #Subwaylibrary, the NYPL partnered with New York’s transport authority, to offer subway passengers free access to hundreds of e-books and short stories, appearing on the ‘splash page’ as soon as users’ login. To celebrate this, the Subway commissioned a ‘library train’, designed to resemble the NYPL’s main reading room, bringing the library literally outside its walls.

And if users want to read a book without even leaving Instagram, the NYPL now have this covered, with their exquisitely designed Insta novels series. Starting with Alice in Wonderland last month, the NYPL will release a full public domain each month through the Story feature.

Alice_gif_smallNYPL's first Insta Novel, Alice in Wonderland. Image copyright: New York Public Library https://www.nypl.org/blog/2018/08/22/instanovels

Both of these examples highlight the possibilities digital when combined with expert strategic thinking and beautiful user-centred design. NYPL have thought seriously about where the current library user is and how they want to access material. What I really like about these projects is that they are additive to NYPL’s core physical offer. They grab our attention, make us more likely to read a few pages on the subway, and visit a library to check out the rest of the book. What the NYPL shows us is how beautiful digital products and services can sit perfectly well within a wider library eco-system.

A Central Presence, Multiple Platforms: The Scandinavian Approach

Around 10 years ago, libraries in both Denmark and Finland began large-scale digital projects to radically overhaul their central infrastructure and improve the digital offer for all of their library users.

In 2012, the Danish Ministry of Culture established the ‘Danish Digital Library’, an arms-length governmental body and the lead agency in designing new digital services for library users. The DDL noticed very early on into their research that users had a strong preference towards their local library website, even when offered the choice of a highly functional, well designed national aggregator to find library materials.

Danish-national-library

'Litteratursiden': An online magazine ran by the Danish Digital Library, copyright: Danskerne Digitale Bibliotek

With this in mind they developed a shared website design with a core infrastructure, that is then adjustable for each local library authority. To get a good feel for this, I’d recommend you take a quick look at Copenhagen, Aarhus and Gentofte libraries’ website. As you can see, they share a basic design articulating a clear and uniform library brand and style that is national in scope. However, local libraries retain autonomy over their own content, and have a local digital space for a local physical space.

Finnish Public libraries are taking a similar approach, and over the next five years all libraries will use the ‘Finna’ interface, a highly intelligent and open-source search tool developed for the Finna digital library. Finna is as a central discovery tool and digital library, allowing access the holdings of all libraries, galleries and Museums in Finland, developed by the National Library of Finland. However, with libraries migrating over to the shared interface, users will retain a local digital experience, while accessing a clear and recognisable digital cultural brand.

National Library of FinlandFinna.fi, A digital library and national search tool, copyright: National Library of Finland

This Scandinavian approach is great because it recognises the great strengths of both the library (it’s local, and loved because it is local) and of digital (to work at scale and to forge both national and global digital communities).

In these instances, the local library website is powered by national clout and joined up thinking but remains the main gateway to the library for users who crave meaningful cultural experiences that are fundamentally local.

Transforming Collections in the Digital Age: AVA in Berlin

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to speak at Next Library in Berlin, a coming together of librarians to share ideas and stories from the front-line of library innovation and best practice.

Next Library Festival BerlinNext Library Festival Berlin, ZLB/Copyright: Mike Auerbache

Here I heard about AVA, a library owned video streaming platform, granting users access to on-demand films both in the library and at home or on the move. What makes AVA unique is that it partners with Europe’s leading film-festivals (the Berlin Film Festival being their primary partner), to curate a selection of unique Audio-visual packages for users, showcasing some of the best independent filmmakers, as well as offering some content that is exclusive to the AVA platform.

For me, this is an audio-visual platform that doesn’t just mimic its commercial rivals, but offers something distinctively of the library, a platform for enjoyment yes, but also for research and inspiration, and a space that encourages connections to new cultures and cultural production. I’m particularly impressed at the partnerships AVA has forged, and it’s unsurprising that film festivals want to work with Public Libraries. In the conversations we’ve been having it’s clear that cultural institutions are eager to work more closely with libraries, and as AVA shows, digital platforms are well placed to build stronger connections between libraries, their collections, and beautiful, inspirational content from other arts organisations.

Get involved!

These are just three examples of some of the most exciting developments happening world-wide, everywhere we look there are committed libraries and librarians embracing digital to ensure the Public library remains at the heart of a thriving and vibrant civic culture. But we’re always on the lookout for more, so if you know of something happening in your local library, or your country, do get in touch. We see ourselves as part of a global conversation about the future of public libraries, and we’d love to hear your thoughts.

We are also running workshops with library users across the UK. Coming up we have two hour workshops in:

  • Stratford upon Avon, 25 October
  • Glasgow, 31 October

For more info and to sign up please email: singledigitalpresence@bl.uk

Jacob Fredrickson

Research Officer, Single Digital Presence Project

 
Jacob-profile-small

Jacob Fredrickson is a Research Officer working on the Single Digital Presence Project at the British Library. He is also a M3C/AHRC Funded PhD Student at the University of Birmingham. When he’s not reading about libraries he’s probably reading a history book or riding a bike.

Get in touch with Jacob @ Jacob.fredrickson@bl.uk