Living Knowledge blog

2 posts from May 2020

18 May 2020

Be Bold With Bananas, or rediscovering your personal library

Podcasting is a medium which has exploded in recent years and now offers incredibly rich and varied content, from documentary series, investigative journalism and fiction, to business programmes, foreign language tutorials and more. Like a book or an exhibition, they take us on a narrative journey, offer a snapshot into a different reality or lift the curtain on unsuspected stories. Yet, while a book requires concentration and immobility, and an exhibition can be enjoyed in good company, a podcast is a wonderful companion for chores, walks or commuting.

At the start of the year I was appointed to the British Library Advisory Council, and this prompted me to listen to the British Library’s podcast series, Anything But Silent. The episode that immediately grabbed my attention was [Redacted], promising a dive into the library’s risqué titles. The episode slightly confounded my expectations, as it was not actually about X-rated literature, but I found it delightful nonetheless. In particular, a large part of the episode enlists two engaging librarians working in Detroit’s Plymouth District Library. Some 10 years ago, Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner started a project which eventually turned into the website Awful Library Books. It sprung from their realisation that many of the books on their library’s shelves were no longer relevant to the issues that most concerned their users – this was 2009, a time when 80% of people walking into the library wanted information about how to find a job, or how to deal with foreclosure or bankruptcy. They started ‘weeding’ the library to make space for new, more up-to-date or topical books. Through this process, Mary and Holly unearthed quaint and hilarious books from Glamour Puss, the Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs featuring cats wearing wigs, and A Liberated Lady’s Guide to Cars, to Be Bold with Bananas from the Banana Control Board – yes, such board did exist in the 60s – which offers a wide range of banana recipes accompanied by an array of somewhat phallic images. Today, the Awful Library Books website continues, more vibrant than ever, and regularly augmented by submissions from world readers.

It was so entertaining to hear Holly and Mary talk about the titles that they have come across and their views about how they have evolved their library collection. It is equally enlightening to listen to how they distinguish between books as everyday objects, books as the preoccupation of museums and galleries, and books as vehicles for information. Libraries are not static universes, guided by inflexible collecting rules, they are collections, which evolve to remain relevant to their context and users. Their shelves offer a survey of social history: they point to what made a society tick, the topics that were in vogue at a certain time, and what people looked for as inspiration, guidance and help. While they are a space for cultivating the minds of the future, libraries can also function as a sort of time capsule of the concerns and desires of former generations, and in so many ways continue to be relevant to our lives.

The British Library, though, differs from Mary and Holly’s Detroit library. As a reference library it must keep an example of every book published in English and thus there is no weeding the British Library, however, more than many other libraries it bears witness to our travails through the ages, our artistic production, and provides a deep catalogue of all the ways in which we create with words. It keeps books of course, but also patents, sound recordings, music sheets, scientific publications, and more, a treasure trove within which there is much to discover.

We all possess our own libraries, paperbacks novels or non-fiction, cookery books, comics, magazines, dictionaries make up our personal collections, which we accumulate and sediment over the years. With more time at home, I embarked on a rediscovery of my own collection. I came across many books I had forgotten about and now want to re-read, in particular The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy by Bruno Bettelheim, which I have longed to read for many years, without realising I owned it. And as Holly and Mary, I have found some cracking old titles lurking around, which made me wince, and perhaps worthy of a post on the Awful Library Books’ shelves.


Alice Black,

Ambassador, Mayor of London’s Cultural Leadership Board, and member of the British Library Advisory Council


07 May 2020

The British Library’s Response to the UKRI Open Access Review Consultation

The British Library holds Independent Research Organisation status with UK Research & Innovation. This has enabled us to develop an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships Programme and to work with various partners to attract joint funding for major research projects. In addition to our UKRI-funded projects, the British Library seeks to support research across all disciplines.

The British Library’s open access policy recognises the wide range of social, economic and cultural impacts that result from open access to the research conducted in the UK. This echoes our mission to make our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

We support the aim of UKRI’s proposed open access policy to ensure that the published outputs of publicly funded research are made widely and freely accessible to all from 2022, with no delay and with liberal allowances for reuse. The importance of enabling access to research outputs is evident in publishers’ responses to times of crisis or public emergency, with many seeking to enable at least temporary access to relevant research articles. We hope to see a more definite move to immediate open access as a result of the proposed policy and the policies being implemented concurrently by other cOAlition S funders.

Although we support the overarching principles of UKRI’s proposed policy, there are a few areas which we would argue require clarification, and a number of areas which require redress or added emphasis. A summary of our response is below. Read our detailed response here.

  • Open access options which are free for all authors should be emphasised, including green open access and non-APC models. It is pleasing to see the vital role of repositories highlighted throughout the policy
  • ‘Transformative’ subscription deals should have a defined end point. We note that while they may be a useful transitional tool for some institutions, transformative deals may disadvantage many researchers within and outside the UK
  • Including monographs within the open access policy is a positive step and UKRI should actively seek to support non-BPC models, with the COPIM project likely to indicate potential opportunities
  • It would be useful to introduce stricter definitions of what constitutes an out-of-scope monograph, such as ‘trade books’. We assert that the potential for a wider sales market should not be a reason to exempt a publication from the open access policy
  • UKRI should encourage the minimal use of exceptions, including the allowance for more restrictive Creative Commons licenses. We suggest the CC BY license should be the default license for monographs. This aspect of the policy may be usefully supported by extending copyright training programmes in libraries
  • The opening up of research during times of public emergency, most recently with the COVID-19 pandemic, has underlined the importance of immediate open access. However, the proposed policy focuses on preprints in the context of emergencies, which perhaps inadvertently suggests researchers should not routinely post preprints and other research outputs like data
  • The extensive list of technical requirements for publishers and repositories is useful to develop best practice that ensures efficient discovery of open content and the interoperability of metadata. Some organisations may require support to meet the more resource intensive requirements, such as providing open citation data
  • Another aspect that requires further attention across repositories and publishers is Digital Accessibility, so that everyone can access and make use of research outputs. Further guidance and support in this area would be welcome
  • UKRI could usefully invest in the infrastructure that supports open practice, particularly projects focused on the humanities and which address a gap in current provision
  • UKRI may consider implementing eligibility criteria to direct funding to initiatives which operate transparently, are committed to FAIR principles, and actively participate in the open source community
  • We would like to see a stronger stance on the value of open data and other areas of open research. We assert that data, code, software and other underlying research outputs should be at least properly cited using a persistent identifier
  • To further the shift towards 100% open access, continued collaborative and international effort is required.

The British Library reiterates its support for the aims of Plan S, which the proposed UKRI policy draws upon. We recognise the hard work that researchers, librarians, publishers, the open source community and others have made to date, and we do not underestimate the continued effort required to reach the goal of 100% open access. In particular, we note that a more global shift in policy and the behaviour of researchers is needed to effect change, given that UK research amounts to 7% of the global total.

Dominic Walker

Scholarly Communications Lead