Living Knowledge blog

3 posts from July 2018

27 July 2018

An explorer on what James Cook: The Voyages means to her

Cécile Manet has worked as an expedition guide for PONANT for many years, specialising in expedition cruises sailing to both the polar and tropical regions.

In contrast to James Cook, who started his voyages with the South Pacific and Tahiti, Cécile visited the poles first before sailing the South Pacific. She spoke to us about what Cook’s voyages – and the current British Library exhibition – mean to her as an explorer.

Where does your interest in exploration spring from?

Cécile Manet, expedition guide for PONANT   PONANT cruise ship
Cécile Manet, expedition guide for PONANT

I have a passion for history and more specifically the history of explorations, the stories of the first navigators who circumnavigated the globe, the ones who completed the first landings in Antarctica, the ones who tried (and sadly failed) to reach the North Pole, the incredible story of the North West Passage…

There must have been so much excitement and pride in these explorations. A lot of fear probably too, but people like James Cook were cut out for the job. I feel privileged to be able to tell our passengers how much he has done and to show them the places and seas he’s seen and sailed.

Which item in the James Cook: The Voyages exhibition did you find most memorable and why?

Engraving by J K Sherwin, after William Hodges, The Landing at Tanna
Engraving by J K Sherwin, after William Hodges, The Landing at Tanna

The engraving of William Hodges’s ‘Landing at Tanna’. It is a famous representation which perfectly captures the often-double-edged nature of first contact between explorers and inhabitants. While Cook is shown in the foreground trying to land peacefully with a green branch in his hand, in the background the ship’s cannons can be seen firing over the heads of the people on the beach. But it is also an incredibly detailed piece of work which says a lot about the talent of the artists Cook had with him to record every single aspect of his explorations.

Notwithstanding the harsh reality of the engraving, the first thing that jumped at me when I saw the artwork in the Cook exhibition is its name ‘Landing at Tanna’. It is quite an iconic name for me as it is, I believe, the exact name we gave to this excursion on the cruise programme.

What I find incredible too is that looking at the engraving I actually recognised that beach and the volcano in the background, almost before I saw it confirmed by the text in the caption. That volcano is an absolute wonder. Mount Yasur is an active volcano, and probably one of the most accessible of all. It not only displays fumes but also flying lava and debris.

Mount Yasur at Tanna, photograph by Fred Michel
Mount Yasur at Tanna, photograph by Fred Michel

The inhabitants of Tanna always welcome us warmly and offer to take us to look at the volcano – it is incredible: we can hear it way before we reach it and the idea is to get there at twilight to see the action at its best. Tanna never leaves anyone unmoved.

Did you come across anything in the exhibition that surprised you?

It is not exactly something that surprised me but rather moved me: to see the copy of the chronometer used by Cook on his second expedition. The story of this chronometer is quite amazing as a clockmaker named John Harrison worked on it his whole life. Indeed, the Board of Longitude offered huge prizes to those who could find a method to precisely determinate a ship's longitude at sea. In 1761, on his fourth attempt, Harrison succeeded in creating a clock that was accurate to within seconds per day.

This scientific instrument was designed to keep accurate time at sea, making it possible to calculate longitude more easily than by the method of lunar distances used on Cook’s first voyage. Several copies of Harrison’s design were made for Cook’s second voyage (1772-1775) and one of these kept the correct time with an error of only one minute over the three-year expedition. It took a long time for Harrison to get the prize promised by the Board of Longitude but, aged about 80, he was eventually awarded £20,000 (equivalent to £2.5 million or more today).

James Cook: The Voyages, open until 28 August, is supported by 
PONANT Yacht Cruises & Expeditions and UK Antarctic Heritage Trust

25 July 2018

British Library joins the Open Library of Humanities

A-view-from-inside-the-kings-library-at-st-pancras (1)

Recently, we have seen a massive increase in open access publishing as the scholarly community acknowledges the importance of breaking down barriers to research dissemination. In the UK this is at least partly driven by research funders who, like the Research Councils and the Wellcome Trust, make funds available for authors to publish open access in journals that charge a fee.

Some universities do the same, but budgets are usually fairly small. This causes a particular problem for researchers in the humanities and those without academic affiliation as they often don’t have project funds to cover such costs – costs that can reach thousands of pounds.

The British Library believes that a lack of funding should not be an obstacle for scholars who wish to make their research as openly available as possible. It is for this reason that we are proud to join the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) as an institutional member.

The OLH is an academic-led venture that facilitates open access publishing by removing all author charges. It is part of a growing global community of commercial and not-for profit publishers that explore different business models and innovative approaches to open publishing.

How does the OLH model work? Instead of charging authors the OLH is funded through institutional memberships. The idea is that research organisations and libraries make a relatively small contribution that covers the costs of running a publication platform on which peer-reviewed scholarly journals can then be published as open access.

The cost varies depending on the size of the member institution and the country it is based in, with the annual membership fee ranging from 500-2100 Euro. This means the highest institutional membership fee is about equal to the average article processing charge for a single open access article published in a hybrid journal (a journal that charges authors to publish articles open access in addition to being funded through subscriptions).

This makes the OLH model particularly suitable for the humanities, as institutions can support it with a relatively small contribution that allows authors from all over the world to publish their research.

Currently, the OLH publishes 27 academic journals, including the titles ‘19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century’, ‘Digital Medievalist’, ‘Glossa: Journal of General Linguistics’ and the ‘Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal’. More journals are constantly added. The OLH is a registered charity founded by Professor Martin Paul Eve and Dr Caroline Edwards. In addition to membership fees it is currently supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Birkbeck, but the aim is to fully transition to a sustainable model funded by members.

The Library joins with a growing group of member institutions that includes the National Library of Sweden, King’s College London, MIT, Princeton University and Trinity College Dublin. Professor Martin Eve, co-CEO of the OLH, said: “The British Library is one of the largest and most significant libraries in the world. To have the support of this institution for our open access initiative is humbling and an extremely positive sign. It is fantastic for the national library of the UK to lead the way in supporting open access to research material.”

Being open is at the heart of the vision of the British Library as a global knowledge organisation. We are happy to work with the Open Library of Humanities, and indeed other publishers and stakeholders, to find ways to a sustainable scholarly communications environment that facilitates access for both readers and authors.

Dr Torsten Reimer

Head of Research Services


11 July 2018

British Library partners with Impactstory for open access discovery


The British Library exists to provide access to the world’s knowledge for everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment. But what does this mean in a publishing environment where increasingly more and more scholarly work is being published open access? As funders, researchers and universities realise that research must reach beyond academia, more research is now made publicly accessible. However, access to information is only half the battle. Before we can all benefit from the accessibility of this research, we first need to find it.

One of the organisations working to advance open access discovery is Impactstory, a non-profit dedicated to increasing the impact and openness of science. They are most well-known for their Unpaywall service and related products. Unpaywall, launched late 2016, is a database of over 20 million open access articles. Unpaywall also offers a free browser extension and a free API that is used in thousands of academic libraries and handles over 1.5 million unique uses daily. Impactstory are now turning their attention to an exciting new service: a free scholarly search engine for everyone.

This project is funded by an $850,000 grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. The search engine will be built on the Unpaywall index and will be targeted at those outside of academia who will have different user needs to those working in research institutions. One of the main arguments for open access is that research will have a broader impact if it is able to reach beyond academia, to include citizen researchers, policy makers, charities, businesses, media, schools and anyone else with a thirst for knowledge. By creating a search interface that is targeted at the general public, Impactstory plan to focus on providing context to the scholarly content through tools powered by artificial intelligence.

Opening up knowledge for the widest reuse is at the heart of the British Library mission. In an increasingly open research environment this requires a new focus on supporting the use of relevant content beyond our local collections and the physical walls of our buildings. The Library’s service strategy for research reflects the challenges around discovery and recognises that information is increasingly discovered beyond traditional library catalogues. Therefore it is important for libraries to be actively involved in the discovery space so that we understand the algorithms that are shaping our engagement with knowledge.

The British Library is committed to adapting to the rapidly changing information environment through pursuing innovative approaches to information access. Importantly, we acknowledge that collaboration is key, knowing that we can accomplish more together than we can by ourselves. These ideals are encapsulated through this new partnership with Impactstory and we look forward to supporting this exciting initiative.

A beta version of the search engine will be launched in autumn and will include support for multiple languages, an open API, and integrated altmetrics. Early adopters can sign up for advance access at

Any requests for information can be sent to

Torsten Reimer

Head of Research Services