Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

23 November 2022

Doctoral Open Days – 15 years and counting

DOD-1A Doctoral Open Day attendee and a curator looking at a collection item during  a ‘show and tell’ session.

Earlier this year, we celebrated our 15th season of Doctoral Open Days (DODs). These annual events are designed to introduce first year PhD students from across the UK and beyond to using our collection and resources in their doctoral research. The ways that we’ve run these events has shifted over the years, and as we start to plan season 16, we’re looking to reshape our DODs again.

For the first decade, DODs were several day-long events at our St Pancras site in London, each focused on broad subject, geographical and chronological areas. In 2017, we added an event at our Boston Spa site to our annual programme. The Boston Spa event offered a broad introduction to our collection, and particularly to the resources available in our Reading Room in Yorkshire.

DOD-2Attendees at a Doctoral Open Day walking towards the main entrance of the British Library’s St Pancras site.

The last time we ran the series in this format was at the beginning of 2020. The final event of the season was the Americas day on 28 February, just a couple of weeks before the first lockdown.

In 2021, we pivoted to an online offer, with eight weekly half-day webinars. The series included an introductory module focused on the practicalities of finding resources in our catalogues, and seven sessions exploring areas of our collection in more detail.

This year, we ran a similar series of webinars, and we were also able to offer four orientation sessions at our St Pancras site. The events focused on practicalities of getting set up as readers and navigating the building. Our reference team hosted a surgery-style drop-in to help attendees get to grips with searching our catalogues. We also had ‘Show and Tell’ sessions where some of our curators offered attendees a glimpse of items from our vast and varied collection, and our conservation team demonstrated how to handle collection items safely.

It was great to welcome PhD students for in-person DODs again. For many attendees, this was the first time they had visited the Library. We were delighted that 100% attendees that responded to our feedback survey felt that the event met its aim to offer a practical introduction to our St Pancras site.

At the same time, attendance numbers and audience feedback show that an online offer makes it easier for more students to attend one or more sessions. Lots of PhD topics don’t fit neatly into one of the broad thematic areas of the events, and the online modules make it easier for students to pick and mix relevant sessions.

Feedback from both attendees and Library colleagues involved in these events tell us that a mixture of online and on-site sessions will be the right approach for the DODs in future years.

DOD-4A member of the Library’s conservation team showing students a book model.

After 15 years of DODs, thirteen on-site seasons, one online series and one hybrid programme, it’s a good time to reflect on what that mixture looks like for future seasons.

If you’re starting a PhD next academic year and are interested in attending our 2023 DODs, keep your eyes on the Research Collaboration webspace for news of the next series. You can also sign up to our quarterly research e-news to receive details of our research events, opportunities and stories of research at the Library. Request to join the mailing list by emailing [email protected]

We look forward to seeing you next year!

Naomi Billingsley

Interim Head of Research Development