British Library Study Day: Engaging through the Online World

On Thursday 17th February, we attended a study day at the British Library, along with other Bodleian staff in the social science division and representatives from LSE and the British Library. The objective was to discuss prospects and problems for social science librarians and researchers regarding engaging through the online world.

After a nice cup of tea, but sadly no biscuits, Jude England, Head of Social Sciences, gave an introduction to the day and recent developments in the BL. This included their fittingly named ‘2020 Vision’, which will see, among many others, mass participation, crowd sourcing, and supporting research for economic and social benefit.

This introduction was then followed by a talk from guest speaker Karen Phillips, the Editorial Director from Sage Publications. She began by giving a brief outline of the picture of research around the world today, highlighting a growth of investment, a changing geographical and disciplinary spread as well as a move towards new models of publishing as technology changes, including open access and multi-media websites. To illustrate these, she offered the examples of SAGE Open and SAGE Research Methods Online. Overall her talk provided a unique insight into the relationship between publishers and libraries, at times inspiring almost heated debate. It was certainly interesting to see a publisher fend off a room full of librarians!

A little later than scheduled, presentations showcasing Online Developments at the British Library began with Linda Arnold-Stratford, Lead for Management and Business Studies, introducing the new Management and Business Studies Portal, which offers remote access to the BL’s business collections.

Following this, Gill Ridgley, Lead for Sport, Sociology and Cultural Studies, gave an overview of the new site Sport and Society: examining the Summer Olympics and Paralympics through the lens of Social Science. This site, divided into subject, showcases the BL’s collections on sport and Olympics. It includes contributions from academics, publishers, archivists, politicians and BL colleagues. The site also offers links and gateways to a range of related resources.

Next Luke McKernan, Lead for Moving Image, presented Video Server, part of the current Growing Knowledge exhibition. The moving image collection works with outside providers to create a comprehensive collection of news programmes, recorded selectively across 18 channels. These video clips are searchable by subtitle text, making television as searchable as a newspaper. Video Server will become a reading room service from September 2011, though unfortunately will not be made available for remote access due to copyright issues.

To round off the BL’s presentations of their online developments, Jonnie Robinson, Lead for Sociolinguistics and Education, gave an introduction to the popular BL exhibition Evolving English: one language, many voices. Including archival sound recordings, for example of accents and dialects or children’s playground games, this page is the most visited on the BL website, with 15,000 visits or plays per month, and figures suggest Evolving English will be the most visited BL exhibition ever. The exhibition demonstrates the social, cultural and historical influences on the English language through a collection of material, such as slang dictionaries and medieval manuscripts, as well as copious sound recordings. You can even leave your own recording at one of the ‘voice banks’, either by reading a chosen passage from Mr Tickle, or a list of six words. The website also offers the chance to ‘map your voice’, and listen to those who have already contributed. For both of us, this was definitely the highlight of the day.

After lunch, Matthew Shaw, Lead Curator of North American History, reflected on the Growing Knowledge exhibition, which showcases a variety of innovative research tools. The public are invited to try out these 25 different tools, with the most popular including Mendeley, the UK Web Archive, and joVE.

The day rounded off with a workshop session, discussing prospects and problems for researchers and librarians in an online world, as well as collaborative ideas for the coalition in the future. Although this was a rather terrifying experience, it was really interesting to hear discussion on such important topics in the information profession from people who have experienced these issues first hand.

As an optional extra, we were then given a tour of the Evolving English exhibition, a lovely way to round off the day despite having to make a dash for the train. We definitely recommend a visit!

Ruth and Lauren

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