‘Why digitise?’: A trainee’s introduction to getting special collections on the internet

As part of my traineeship at the Weston Library, I’m undertaking a project to improve access to the Broxbourne collection—some 4000 items, including 2000 specimens of fine binding from the 12th to 20th centuries, donated by John Ehrman in 1978 in memory of his father, Albert Ehrman. The project has two major objectives: capturing high-quality images of these excellent examples of bookbinding, making them available online on a public platform; and writing the copy-specific notes for each book in ALEPH (our library management software) so that they are searchable on SOLO. To date, over 350 books and their descriptions are available on the Bodleian Rare Books Flickr page.

The latest batch of uploads (the capture process is always evolving) clock in at around 100MB per photo, and are available for download in high resolution. From elaborate Grolieresque gold-tooled bindings to outstanding examples of blind-stamped religious panels from England and the Netherlands, the Flickr platform is so far a visual success. This is due (in no small part) to the nature of the collection: Albert Ehrman amassed one of the greatest collections of fine bindings in Britain. Many possess fascinating provenances, such as a presentation copies (Broxb. 24.3, bound for Robert Dudley with his bear-and-ragged-staff emblem, comes to mind), or even a book whose boards have been hollowed out to house a dead man’s will (Broxb. 14.8). Some exceptionally beautiful items include embroidered bindings (typically executed to a pattern, but unique each time), books with painted enamel plates (Broxb. 12.16), and several fine Louvain ‘Spes’ panels.


Detail from Broxb. 26.3 (‘Consonantiæ Iesu Christi’) showing a ‘Lucretia’ panel, which often accompanies the ‘Spes’ (‘Hope’) panel. The panel is Dutch, mid 16th century, blind-tooled onto brown calf.


At the start of my traineeship, I loved books and appreciated a good binding, but was inexperienced in describing them, let alone in recognising ‘sixteenth century Saxon pigskin, rebacked’. Even the best compendia of bookbindings rely strongly on an informed readership, taking for granted many bibliographic terms and descriptions. Six months ago, when I began my traineeship, I had no idea what most of these things meant. The Flickr project has been a revelation, providing visual reference-points for these often complicated descriptions—and I hope that it will be useful to others in this way, too.

Nevertheless, even the copious eye-candy that digitising provides does not make a collection ‘accessible’. Our Flickr platform is designed to complement—not replace—the proper catalogue records (no matter how good it might look!). Physically, these books are still located in the Weston Library’s vast underground stacks, sitting in grey conservation-grade boxes. This isn’t to say that Broxbourne has been underappreciated (it hasn’t, and great studies of bookbinding have been written about it) but we want them to be found by anyone, not just the specialist who already knows where to look. Albert Ehrman’s books are a highly valuable scholarly resource which can contribute to research not only about bindings, but also into the book trade, ownership, art and cultural taste, and so on. To that end, all the information they contain must be findable as metadata in the Bodleian’s library catalogue. Writing copy-specific descriptions for these books continues the work of the incomparable Paul Morgan, who compiled the card index to Broxbourne in the 1980s, and is a matter of putting in all the valuable information (such as its country of binding, time period, material, style, provenance, and bibliographic references) to transform the findability of our records. Here’s a Broxbourne record, with all the new bibliographic data highlighted in yellow:



Before, there were no descriptive elements; anyone looking for ‘lions rampant’ would have missed Broxb 28.6. The metadata simply wasn’t there. It’s a bit dramatic—but not too much of a stretch—to say that a significant amount of Ehrman’s collection, beyond the really famous stuff, would have gone to waste. And that’s only if you know what you’re looking for!

Another, major advantage to taking libraries into online spaces is the ability to share resources and research. Even in these early stages of the Broxbourne project, we’ve been enabled to bolster our own records (and even challenge assumptions written about binders in the bibliographic canon) thanks to other projects—notably the British Library Bookbindings Database, Philippa Marks’ exemplar after which many decisions about my own project have been modelled. The short version of one of our best discoveries is that Broxb. 24.4 was bound by the ‘Salel’ binder not Etienne Roffet—a discovery that would not have been possible without digitised resources (see below).

I would encourage anyone with a manageable selection of books, especially fine bindings, to consider creating a digital collection. In this, I’m guilty of propping up a bad habit of ignoring trade bindings and cheaper books, but, as is widely known, finer books are more likely to survive (and carry their artistry, provenance, waste paper, marginalia, and all manner of treasures with them). As a teaching resource they have great potential to provoke an interest in materiality and histories; as topics of academic research there is great benefit to a system that allows straightforward and immediate side-by-side comparison (not in the least because many are too fragile to handle regularly). And they’re even nice to look at on a rainy afternoon at home, when a global supervirus threatens life as we know it.

Follow the Broxbourne Project here.


Collage of the Salel binder’s work, showing (i) Broxb. 24.4; (ii) Esmerian 66, from a digitised page of the ‘Bibliothèque Raphaël Esmerian’; and (iii) Davis229, the British Library copy. Matching tooling errors allowed us to confirm the binder.



Reinventing Libraries- Part 2 of E Developments Graduate Trainee Session

On 20th November 2019, the graduate trainees attended a session on E Developments at the University of Oxford’s Libraries. The first talk was given by Sally Rumsey, Head of Scholarly Communication and Data Management. She covered open access regarding academic research, which was featured in a blog post last week. The second talk was given by Michael Popham, and was all about digital developments at the Bodleian libraries.

When I first told my family and friends that I had got a job as a trainee in an academic library for a year, most of them were very supportive and happy for me. Others, not so. The most frequent comments I received was…

‘Do we still need physical books when everything is online?’

As ignorant as that comment seems, the people that said it did have a point. If you have a browse on Solo or any other academic catalogue, many resources have been digitized and are available electronically. My former university’s library advertised its resources available online with posters describing how their collections of physical books was ‘only the tip of the iceberg’. Their E resources appeared to be vast and unlimited in comparison to their smaller, physical book collections.

The physical books are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to academic libraries!

Michael Popham, head of Digital Collections and Preservation, opened his talk discussing how digital libraries are the future. The Bodleian already has a Digital Library. At the moment, the library is purely online, where it pulls all digital collections into one discovery platform. However, Michael suggested how a digital library could become a physical space. It is interesting to think of how this space would look. Would a digital library be a place to study with a few more PCs than a regular library? Michael suggested that the word ‘digital’ implies that the library would be expected to be open 24/7. Anything digital, after all, should be instantly usable and accessible even on Christmas Day! A digital library would contain services and tools to support discovery, access, and reuse of digital content.

So if digital libraries are the future, will we now see less of the printed book? Maybe, but not at such a fast rate as one would expect. There are many issues with digitization and for the Bodleian Libraries, the main problem is that digitization lacks consistency. This is because the university currently relies on grants and funding, in order for projects to go ahead. Books which are earmarked for projects tend to be strongly visual in nature, as digital collections are driven by what the team receives funding for. According to Michael, the funding bodies and even the team behind the digitization process often have an agenda which affects how the digitized books are presented. There could be more of a focus to digitize certain aspects of manuscripts and subconsciously ignoring other areas of interest. These issues are difficult to address, as accessing funds is integral to enable a digitization project.

The Bodleian was the first outside of the US to join the Google Books Partner Scholarship. It was a huge project which aimed to digitize the library’s vast collection of non-copyright material. Google digitized books at an incredible rate. Overall, 300’000 works were digitized, including board games, binding designs, museum objects, CDs, and tapes! However, there were many cases of books which had not been moved or opened in over 150 years, being unable to fit on their previous shelves. During the digitization process, these books had expanded, leading to a huge pile up when it came to reshelving. Books involved in digitization projects are often older and rare manuscripts, so they require further special handling and conditions which affect the cost of projects. In order to digitise such material, the Bodleian uses special scanning machines. The cradle of these machines uses a vacuum which gently sucks the pages down. These machines are certainly cool, but are not without their high financial cost.  

Digitization isn’t just for old manuscripts either. The Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts (BEAM) is a digital repository service which manages born-digital archive and manuscripts. The service was established as the Bodleian was receiving an ever-increasing amount of digital material. This material can come in the form of whole computers, disks and other types of external media. This brings the future of digitization into a new light. How do we process information which is already digital? The files stored on devices may appear in older file formats with no equivalent paper form. BEAM’s existence is integral as it allows the Bodleian to adapt to the digital age. Electronic legal depositories are important as in 2003, the revised Copyright Act of 2003 recognised that much of the nation’s published output in digital form was being lost. The Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-print) Regulations 2013 was passed to address this. Any digital publication is covered under the Regulations including CD-Roms, works published online that are issued from a UK domain, and items on microfilm. The British Library and the National Libraries of Wales and Scotland collect the material on behalf of all Legal Deposit Libraries. Bodleian readers can access these resources using the British Library’s digital system. Restrictions do apply, as these resources will often display an amber dot next to it on Solo. This indicates that the digital resource can only be accessed on a Bodleian terminal. These restrictions are often annoying for readers who may have to patiently wait their turn to view a resource, as the system will only allow one viewing at a time. However, preservation of digital material is essential to prevent future loss.

Preserving digital material is essential

So is digital preservation the future for the Bodleian? It certainly seems so, but the scale of digitization is not as rapid as one may think. There are 13.2 million printed items at the Bodleian libraries, with only half a million digitized. Overall, that is only 3-4% of all collections. Rare manuscripts are being digitized, but that does not mean they are instantly thrown away! They are reshelved and preserved for future generations to enjoy. So, the printed book isn’t going anywhere. The digital age also poses new problems for digitization, in that digital resources can easily disappear if technology does not exist to access them. 

E Developments at the Bodleian appear to be concentrated on adapting to the rise of the internet, either by ensuring that good quality research is freely available and that manuscripts and digital records continue to be digitally preserved. One may say that the concept of libraries is being reinvented. Information does not need to exist physically in order for there to be a need to organise, maintain, and preserve it. Libraries are no longer necessarily physical spaces, they can be virtual ones which are easily and freely accessible. And that certainly makes for an exciting future. Many thanks to Michael Popham; this post is based on his original and fascinating talk.

For More Information:

To see the Digital Bodleian for yourself: https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

For more information on BEAM: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/beam

Picture Credits:

Iceberg, Rita Willaert, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rietje/76566707/in/photolist-7LqBD-FR7C4F-4oN9jm-YMrydu-PPqJhB-ZjKcnp-nriVKy-24teKYF-2cspuq7-bzN6sW-Ewoi2-7ryN1h-9cr7Hf-utjEv7-HhMKU-j2UXkm-7M5qKc-SCgvfN-uCnjP-6FzvPG-8SjsBk-JcZy8S-6sgjc-Ews2ai-Vyzdyv-7C5VU3-CHq3N3-hTp4Dg-VuEuZB-dRuMzt-F4qkYF-EfrZaX-Nn2nXz-bJQusz-6r7MwV-Cd2ngQ-7XiHcy-D3fkcT-oe39w-53biiQ-5V5evP-7JqhZY-23SzkvZ-7jLyJG-gcucpK-4CgUBb-2hiaBzm-8qxaMx-6r7MMt-5PUh2p

Memory stick, Sh4rp-i, https://www.flickr.com/photos/85638163@N00/4193757695/in/photolist-7oA74a-6tUYAs-6tUYzy-6tUYyw-p8gg6K-8DvsW-4HNdv7-261BKnD-H43vF2-6hcXNN-4TxvvC-9hneDd-6hcXJj-mFWvM-9hneA3-9hj7yM-6DWkAB-mFWFM-E78fsZ-HRD28U-4KCZUd-6Fz4Qj-71ZiH9-8hQQ4w-7W6m5B-DmgcFC-ouDJ95-6m23DD-22fMfJp-5U19C6-22YwBXe-21cVaTX-24jSdC1-wBgEv-bjZCoo-oqisc3-3Wxph-5ZuNL2-mGG5Dn-pVxW13-4sTq9Z-dhm2pq-MnVMJS-dhm2UQ-dhm2C3-KPWTmF-7nzMe3-dhm1g8-BVCg6H-MnVMW5


Engaging with Digitisation.

By Duncan Jones, Hannah Hickman and Sarah Arkle

The world we live in is changing or, really, has changed because of the internet. This has had an astounding impact on libraries, from the advent of online catalogues (although the EFL still have their card catalogue from 1989 if you want to get really old school) right the way through to having fully digitised resources like e-journals, e-books and digitised manuscripts. As a result, libraries have had to adapt to these changes in order to keep up with the demand for easy and instantaneous access to content that the internet has afforded us all.

Aquiles Alencar-Brayner from the British Library visited Oxford last week to talk about ‘Widening Access to Collections and Services’, giving examples of digital projects the British Library has embarked upon using their vast collections. The opportunity to expand access and facilitate collaborative research were two of the key driving factors behind the British Library’s digitisation work — two motivations that run through the Bodleian’s digital work as well. This was an interesting experience for the trainees in attendance, as we had recently had a session with some of the Bodleian Digital Library Systems & Services (BDLSS) team regarding E-Developments within the Bodleian Libraries.

Getting down and digital at the Bodleian Libraries  

In our acronym-filled E-Developments training session a few weeks ago, we were talked through a number of different projects, including the Digital Manuscript Toolkit, EEBO-TCP, and Sprint for Shakespeare, by some of the team from the BDLSS.

The Digital Manuscript Toolkit (DMT for short) project aims to create new ways to use digital manuscripts; instead of having a static catalogue of images to simply look at, the intention is to build a programme that would allow the manuscripts to be used, developed, and repurposed. The DMT looks to be an incredibly exciting and rich way to approach digitised material – we were given a run-through of some of the ways it hopes to compare different editions of the same text or different manuscripts from the same workshop, or to bring together dispersed or fragmented manuscripts across international collections, or change the sequences of the leaves… Importantly, the DMT project will involve its users from the beginning, offering mini-grants to scholars to discover the desiderata before developing functionality. The toolkit works to the standard of the International Image Interoperability Framework which promotes access to digital resources through the use of Linked Data to share information across collections. Another project focused on the digitisation of more recent, ephemeral material, is the John Johnson Archive. Again, the delivery focused on the users, with the ability to create a lightbox allowing you to store images in a personal collection, but the site also has a curated side, with six themes drawn out from the items ranging from “popular print” to “crimes, murders, and executions”. The accompanying blogs are here and well worth reading.

 Not part of the DMT project, but from a Bodleian manuscript (Bodley 764). From the BodLibs Pinterest page

Not part of the DMT project, but from a Bodleian manuscript (Bodley 764). From the BodLibs Pinterest page

EEBO-TCP (or Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership) is a joint venture between the University of Oxford, University of Michigan, and ProQuest, which aims to produce a fully transcribed and searchable database of every unique title in the English language early modern corpus, using TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines to tag certain structural features: stage directions, epilogues, letters, and so on. It’s kind of a mind-blowingly huge project – especially since OCR (Optical Character Recognition) could not be used due to the variation and complexity of the texts, so only human transcribers could be used — and will have a huge impact on the use value of an already highly used resource. The first phase of texts (a whopping 25,363 of them) will become freely available to the public as of January 2015.

Sprint for Shakespeare was a 2013 crowdsourcing project to find money to fund the digitisation of an unused First Folio. Unused?, I hear you cry. Well, unstudied. The First Folio in this case is the only Folio extant with its original binding – which is so fragile that it cannot be given to readers or even sent to conservation. So, the target of Sprint for Shakespeare was to raise enough money to digitise the text and make it accessible online in order for it to get the scholarly attention it deserves — and they managed it. The digitisation itself was publicly funded, and the release of the corresponded full text funded privately. you can check it out here. As for Pip’s ‘Elephant’ – that is a pun that would lose its comedy in the explanation. But trust me, it’s solid library humour.

Imaging technology in use -- not an instrument of torture (from Sprint for Shakespeare) http://shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/files/2012/07/Grazer.reduced.jpg
Imaging technology in use — not an instrument of torture (from Sprint for Shakespeare)

What the British Library did next…

In comparison to this, although the British Library projects were about encouraging collaborative research, it was not necessarily with such an academic thrust. Where the Bodleian E-Developments were very much working toward improving scholarly research opportunities, the British Library’s projects seemed more focused on creating and encouraging collaborative research communities without an obvious agenda for the participants they crowdsourced.  With one project, they released maps on Twitter to be Georeferenced by anybody who wanted to be involved – in less than a week the maps were complete.  Crowdsourcing is fast becoming a solid means of making things happen and it’s amazing to see how many volunteers you can get for digitisation projects if you merely ask.  Another successful use of crowdsourcing was for the British Library’s Europeana 1914-1918 exhibition, where people brought their own untold stories of wartime to life through artefacts, letters and other ephemera which the British Library have turned into a digital collection.

Another really quite delightful project is the Mechanical Curator, which uses a code to find images from early modern British Library holdings at random and posts them online with metadata to contextualise exactly what it is the ‘curator’ has decided to spit up at us.  There is no obvious scholarly agenda behind this website. It’s a tumblr site – hardly something to be referenced in an academic context – but it reaches out and brings libraries forward into the 21st century by connecting with a new generation of potential library users – the all tweeting tumblr- pinterest-post-myspace generation who might learn something interesting from following something like the curator online.  This is something that is really great to see an institution such as the British Library working on, because it really shows the value that libraries still maintain in society, and it’s also just very impressive in terms of innovation.  The Mechanical Curator may seem gimmicky to some, but it’s improving access to collections that people will otherwise never be able to see – a share here, retweet there and before you know it, more people have seen a digitisation of an image from an 18th Century book in 24 hours than have seen it in real life in 10 years, hypothetically.  An interesting side effect of this sort of crowdsourcing is the curation which users undertake themselves when they assign tags in order to group relevant images together.  In this way, digital collections spring up and increase the opportunities for discovery and exploration.

An image from the Mechanical Curator - Not an acceptable way to treat a book! (http://41.media.tumblr.com/c80cbf35db05df103820a910995ef78e/tumblr_nfx68gpxOa1sjzy3lo1_1280.jpg)
An image from the Mechanical Curator – Not an acceptable way to treat a book!

Back to the Bod – the innovative use of Crowdsourcing to widen access to collections. 

The Bodleian are also utilising crowdsourcing as a tool to widen access to collections, which is actually very much in sync with what the British Library projects are trying to achieve. Using the ‘citizen science web portal’ known as Zooniverse, the Bodleian has been finding volunteers to help transcribe their vast collection of music scores to make them more accessible – publicly. 38, 127 sheets of music have been transcribed so far, which amounts to 44% of the collection.

Where do we go from here? Issues with digital-born content and the future….

However, when working with digital content, certain issues do arise that are not so evident with physical items. One of the topics which Aquiles raised during his talk was the challenge that information services face in handling so called ‘digital-born’ content in an archival context. Historically, a writer’s papers might contain multiple drafts of a piece with opportunities for a scholar interested in analysing the creative process.  Word selections and alterations could be seen in scored out lines, with arrows denoting the rearrangement of sentences or paragraphs.  A copy of this digital document would only show the polished product and not the processes of collaborative revision (although perhaps Google has all of that filed away somewhere?).  That sort of data can be extracted from computers using forensic software but there are privacy implications in its analysis.

Furthermore, it is easy to imagine that websites and digital data have a sort of timeless permanence on the internet but this is not the case.  Hosting all of this data requires physical computer servers and the reality is that something like 75% of web pages are deleted within a year of creation.  Many others will alter hugely in style and content over that time period.  The Internet Archive is a project which takes snapshots of any and every web-page at set intervals and offers, amongst other things, opportunities to see how media coverage changes on a day by day basis around a significant event or simply to access material on a site which is no longer actively hosted.  The Bodleian has a focused project called the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive which is concerned with archiving the University’s pages and also anything that could be considered useful to research.  These sorts of projects and technologies are really still in their infancy with little idea of their usefulness in later research.  It would be interesting to know if future generations consider that we have succeeded in preserving records of our digital lives.

It’s really great to be given the opportunity to learn about these projects and see that the work that academic libraries do is not always with the view of keeping things locked away strictly for those privileged enough to go to university. There appears to be one goal underpinning all these projects, and that’s access – making information freely available to as many people as possible, utilising as many people as possible to do this along the way, connecting people, collections and information, creating a huge research community, and kind of just making the world a better place as a result. Moreover, from a career perspective it is also very interesting as few of this year’s trainees can really remember a time when they didn’t have access to the internet. it is therefore easy enough to feel like we live in a society where we can’t really go that much further with digital developments, but this is far from the case, and it is an exciting time to be coming into librarianship as a career as there’s no real certainty regarding where we can go in the future – the possibilities may well be endless.

More information…

Listen to Aquiles Alencar-Brayner’s talk for yourself here

More about digitisation at the British Library

BDLSS website – general enquiries to digitalsupport@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Emma Stanford, BDLSS

One of our Gutenberg Bible images, CC BY-NC-SA Bodleian Libraries.

Hello! I’m Emma, and I’m the trainee in Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services. I’m from Washington State in the U.S., and I did my B.A. in literature at Middlebury College. During my degree I worked in our interlibrary loan department and studied for a year at Oxford, and after graduating I spent a year working in electronic reserves and copyright processing for a library in California.

My position is new this year, so it’s a bit undefined, but basically I’m working with the digitization department at BDLSS. We’re doing a partnership with the Vatican Library to digitize millions of objects starting this year, and we’ll be working on making these easily accessible to the public. A lot of what I’ll be doing once we get started is processing the images and assigning metadata (page numbers, content labels, etc.), but so far I’ve been working a bit on the project website and reading a LOT about metadata and digitization standards. Today I learned how to retrieve images from the archive. The images we’re using are very high quality, so they take up a lot of space, and they’re actually stored on tapes that get physically fetched by a robot every time we need to copy something from the archive. This happens much more quickly than I would have expected–it only takes a few minutes.

The people I’m working with are a lot more tech-savvy than I am, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the software and languages we’ll be using. I’m also excited to be dealing with such beautiful images, and to be involved in the effort to make them more accessible.

BIALL, CLSIG, SLA Europe Open Day 2013 part 1

Kat Steiner here again, one of the graduate trainees at the Bodleian Law Library. On Wednesday, Frankie Marsden and I headed down to London for the BIALL, CLSIG, SLA Europe Open Day, a day of presentations and tours based at the CILIP headquarters near Russell Square. We thought we’d give you a few of our thoughts on the day, especially on what we individually will take away from it.

A few acronym explanations before we start. BIALL is the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians, CILIP is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, CLSIG is a special interest group within CILIP standing for Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group, and SLA Europe is the European and UK division of the Special Libraries Association. Still with me? Just the names alone were a lot to take in!

Copyright Wellcome Library
The Wellcome Library

Over the day, we heard 9 speakers, whose places of work included London law firms, the Law library of City University, the Wellcome Library, the British Medical Association, the Inner TempleLinex (a company offering current awareness tools and aggregation for subscribers), and the British Library. It was fascinating to hear the stories of how they had reached their current jobs (often by a combination of luck, enthusiasm and perseverance), and their varied positions. It particularly stood out to me how many people mentioned TFPL, a recruitment agency, as being invaluable in helping them find jobs. I hadn’t heard of them, but I will definitely be looking into them now!

There was also the opportunity to go on a tour of either the Wiener Library, a collection for the study of the holocaust & genocide, the library of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, or the library of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. As Law Bod trainees, Frankie and I both chose the IALS, and enjoyed a detailed tour and talk by David Gee, the Deputy Librarian. As the library takes three graduate trainees every year, he had a lot of insight and suggestions for what to do afterwards if you are thinking of going into law librarianship.

Several speakers were also from law firm libraries, or law librarians in other institutions, and it was very interesting to hear about their jobs in detail. I hadn’t personally thought much about specialising, or moving away from academic librarianship (I’m hoping to stay at the Bodleian while I do my library school masters), but there definitely seemed to be a lot to recommend ‘special libraries’. The chance to do real legal research was very attractive to me as an academic challenge (at the Law Bod, students are expected to do their own research, although there are lots of classes to help them learn how to do it). However, I’m not sure I could cope with the increased pressure, longer hours and difficult deadlines that come along with it. The rather better pay might sweeten the pill, though.

Copyright Inner Temple Library
The Inner Temple Library

The talk that really stood out for me was from Simon Barron, a Project Analyst at the British Library. He focused on the concept of  ‘digital librarians’, and the way that technology is transforming the information profession and will continue to do so. In the days of ‘big data‘ (a current buzzword that I’m still not hugely clear on – in my understanding, it can mean data sets so large that they allow statistical programs to crunch through them and draw remarkably accurate conclusions without any attempt at explaining how the causation between the conclusions and the data works), librarians who can code, use technology, and be willing to learn new technological skills will be more and more in demand. He described his current project with the British Library and the Qatar Foundation to create a digital National Library of Qatar. This is an ambitious project, involving huge numbers of documents to be digitised, including 14th- and 15th-century Arabic manuscripts. Simon’s job seemed to involve a lot of technological problem-solving, for example ‘how do we get this data out of this piece of software and into this other piece of software without losing it, or having to do it by hand’. He explained that his coding knowledge was entirely self-taught through Codecademy and that, although he didn’t consider it his crowning achievement, his colleagues were still very impressed when he made a spreadsheet where the boxes change colour depending on the data you enter.

Simon’s talk made a big impression on me, and really confirmed my feeling that the MSc in Information Science is for me. I have some basic experience with coding good practice (a 10-week internship at a software company, writing code in Perl), and the main thing I took away is that it’s really not that hard or scary, it just requires logic, perseverance (read: stubbornness even when it doesn’t work), and the willingness to have a go even if you’re not sure what you’re doing. I believe anyone who really wants to can learn to use technology, but they may not see the point. Simon emphasised the use of technology to automate what would be fairly simple human processes. This is a great point – if you can automate a simple action on a computer (for example, removing formatting from a text file, or averaging each row in a spreadsheet), you not only save time, you make the process scaleable to much larger sets of data, which would take humans far too long to deal with, and you reduce the possibility of human error, as long as your code actually works!

Anyway, you can see that this made quite an impression. Another thing I will take away is how many things are worth joining to get more involved in the information profession. You can join CILIP for £38 a year if you’re a student or graduate trainee, definitely worth doing! You can join SLA (of which SLA Europe is a chapter) for $40 a year if you’re a student (even part-time, but I’m not sure about graduate trainees). You can join BIALL for £17 a year if you are a full-time student. You might want to consider registering with TFPL. SLA Europe offers an Early Career Conference Award, which three of the speakers had won, allowing them to go to amazing conferences in San Diego, Chicago and Philadelphia. BIALL also offers an award for the best library school dissertation on a legal topic. And, finally, Information Architect is a job title it might be worth looking out for.

That’s pretty much all I have to say for this post (I’ve waffled for more than long enough). Frankie will be talking about the aspects of the day that she really liked, and I’m sure they will be very different! I just want to thank everyone who helped organise the conference – it gave me loads to think about, allowed me to meet plenty of other graduate trainees, and generally have a great time. For anyone who wants a more general idea of the day – the slides from the presentations that everyone gave can be found on the CLSIG website.

Library Trainee Day in the Life – Day 8

Before posting the 8th ‘Day in the Life’ of an Oxford Library Trainee, I think it would be useful to introduce myself, as I have failed to do this so far… I’m Francesca, and I am the Academic Services trainee at the Law Library. I graduated from the University of Hull in 2009 with a BA in English Literature, and completed an MA at the University of Reading in 2010, before spending a couple of years experiencing the delights of office admin. Finally, I decided to attempt to pursue a career in Information Services and Librarianship, and here I am!  Having been working at the Law Library for five months now (times flies!) I know my way around and seemingly manage to undertake my role without asking too many questions! As it is Wednesday, and we have training this afternoon (today’s session is ‘Effective Training Sessions: pitch , plan , present!’), I have based this post on a fairly ‘typical’ day from two weeks ago, that highlights best what I do…

08:45-11:00: Desk Duty

Image from http://www.law.ox.ac.uk/bodleian_law_library.php

Two mornings every fortnight (Thursday and Friday), it is my turn to open up and work on the Reserve Desk first, where the high-usage reading list material is kept and scanned out to readers for use in the library for  up to one day. Today is one of those days, so my first task when I arrive is to go round unlocking the photocopy room, the two computer rooms,and the seminar room, as well as switching on the enquiry desk computers and taking a reader count  from the exit gate for the previous day. I also check desks for left books and scan in any reserve books from the previous evening that were handed in at the last minute, and in turn respond to any queries about overdue noties received for these. I then check my emails and settle in to my desk shift . Like Kat, they are my favourite part of the job. I enjoy interacting with the readers and helping them with their enquiries. I am always happy to succeed in answering their questions as quickly and efficiently as possible. Readers seems particularly grateful when there is success in resolving issues with the photocopiers! Today, another regular query comes up. A reader wants to consult a book signed out to another reader on a research desk. This has to be located using Aleph, taken from the research desk and given a secondary consultation slip before being given to the reader. They must return the book to the Reserve desk for us to put back on the research desk when they have finished with it. I also get on with some loose-leaf filing, explained in Kat’s earlier post.

11:00am-11:20am: Break

11:20am – 12:00pm: Document delivery

One of my main tasks as the Academic Services trainee is to process and send document delivery requests to law firms for consultation or use in judicial proceedings, or to private individuals for research. The number of these requests varies , but on average there are probably 2-3 requests per week, mainly from law firms wanting the copy for commercial use. The requests are for copies of law cases, journal articles or book chapters. Today, I received a request from a law firm for a copy of  a journal article. I check  that we have it, and scan the copy. Back at my desk, I tidy the document so that it looks professional, and process the order using our Access database, ensuring that I assign the correct usage (e.g. Commercial UK, Commercial EU, Private Study or Judicial Proceedings), and therefore the correct charge. The details of the person/company being sent to, and the details of the item scanned, must be detailed accurately. I then create the invoice for the request, and send this along with the copy and a credit card form. These requests are usually processed as quickly as possible, and it is always satisfying when you receive thanks from a grateful researcher for getting the copy to them speedily ! Today’s request is simple and straightforward, but there are often copyright restrictions and other issues to consider before sending the copy.

12:00pm-1:00pm – New book shelving and moving books to the secondary collection

After Kat has labelled new books in Information Resources, they are brought down to the shelves in Academic Services for shelving. There can be only ten at a time, or sometimes twenty to thrity, depending on the day’s/week’s intake. Shelving books sounds simple enough, but there are certain collections in the library that are somewhat lacking in growth space! Shelving one new book can sometimes involve moving four or more shelves of books along to fit a new one in, as was the case today in a sequence in the library’s International Law collection. It is certainly good exercise moving them all about, and going around the four floors of the library to shelve them! Today, many of the new books are also new editions that supersede ones already on the shelf. These are easier to shelve, as I remove the old one and replace it. The old editions that I have gathered whilst shelving the new books are marked with a red x. I then take them to the 1st floor and shelve them in the secondary collection. (Today, I do this immediately; sometimes I leave it for another time if I need a sit down by this point!)

1:00pm- 2:00pm : Lunch

2:00pm-2:45pm: Inter-Library Loans claims

Another of my tasks in Academic Services is to process Inter-Library Loans claims to the British Library for Inter-Library Loans that we have provided to UK institutions. I do this once or twice a month. Today, there are twenty one to claim since just before Christmas. I complete and submit the form on the British Library website, detailing the British Library account number for the claim, the institution’s request number, and the cost. I then send the details of the request to Accounts. I record the date on which the claim was submitted in the Excel database, and print and file the documents in the claims folder. Admittedly, this is not the most exciting part of my job, but someone’s got to do it!

2:45pm -3 :05pm – Bodley Box

Like Sophie, one of my tasks at the Library is receiving and returning the books from the Book Storage Facility. We have two deliveries a day, at approximately 9:30am and 3:30pm (although the latter often arrives earlier – I suspect that it has been there a while today!) I do two morning deliveries and two afternoon deliveries per week. In the morning, I collect all the books that come up on the returns list from the shelves next to the Reserve Desk, research desks or carrels, and return them to the boxes in the packing room, before bringing the new ones upstairs and scanning  them in. I then put them in the correct place depending on the reader. The number of books varies, but there is never usually more than a box of books  – certainly not the number at the main Bodleian! This afternoon, there are only six books to scan in and put out in the reading room.

3:05pm -4:00pm – Foreign Dissertations Database

Finding myself with a quieter moment without a pressing task, I spend some time working on the Foreign Dissertations Database, where my (slightly average) French ‘A’ Level is put to minor use at last! I usually work on this when I have nothing urgent to complete. It involves recording handwritten card catalogues of foreign law dissertations from the early 20th century into a searchable Access database, for which there is a link on the Law Library website. There are approximately 40,00o to add, and since the project was started about 20,000 have been recorded – half way there! I input French language dissertations (although I do find the odd rogue  Dutch one which makes little sense to me!) but deciphering the handwriting can sometimes be tricky! I enjoy this task as it makes my brain try and recall the French it has learnt, and it is a worthwhile project to make a record of these documents that is searchable, so that they might be used. I manage to input twenty new records.

4:00pm – 5:00pm – Odds and Ends

I spend the last part of the day checking my emails and adding a couple of things to my calendar for next week, including our fortnightly Academic Services meeting, other team meetings, my desk duties, and the next couple of week’s training sessions. I spy a few final new books to shelve before hometime!

I hope that this post has given some insight into my role at the Law Library, and this day seemed to have an element of most of the things that I do (although don’t be fooled by the day’s steady pace – sometimes things happen all at once, or a document delivery request appears at 4:45pm!) Other projects that I am involved in include helping with the reclassification of the USA collection that Kat talked about, and working on projects with the Web Team and the Communications Team.

E-Resources at Oxford

Our training session today was on e-resources at Oxford and it was a great insight in to what resources Oxford has, what we produce, what we buy, how we allow users to access the resources and the current state of play with regard to open access.  Talks were given by Michael Popham (Head of Oxford Digital Library), Jonathan McAslan (Electronic Resources Manager), and Sally Rumsey (ORA Service and Development Manager).  They were all incredibly informative and fascinating to listen to but there were a few points that stuck out for me:

  • Accessibility: As a large proportion of the e-resources accessed are done so from outside Oxford this implies lots of people needing to use the resources of the university are unable to come directly in to the university (or are unable to).  This raises interesting challenges for how many more resources are going to be required online and the increasing demand on each resource.
  • Funding of digitisation projects: Universities have little funding themselves to be able to fund digitisation projects but there are still a lot happening due to external people/companies coming up with the cash to fund specific projects.  Problems can arise when the cash runs out but as long as Oxford still owns the original images there is a lot we can do with them.
  • Journal access: Jonathan raised some interesting issues that I certainly wasn’t aware of, such as the phenomenal cost of journals, the negotiation that goes on to buy access, and the VAT that is payable on e-journals.  This has certainly put journals in to an entirely new light for me.
  • Open Access:  Sally’s talk was fantastic and gave us all a lot to think about with regards to open access to research and data.  This seems like sure a lively and progressive area that is fast moving at the moment in terms of rule changes and new budgets.

All of these talks certainly highlighted for anyone still in any doubt that digital assets are a vital resource that a university has and this will only become more the case in future years.  The overall impression I got from this session is that Oxford is committed to providing it’s vast resources to meet the needs to the users, in a format which they need it.  It also seems focused on providing access to the fantastic research that is done here in a fair and open way to any one who wishes to view it, and as far as I’m concerned that can only be a good thing.

Library Day in the Life Round 8: Friday

This is the fifth of five blog posts written for round 8 of the Library Day in the Life Project  by the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library.

8.50am: Turn on computer, check emails.

9am: Carry on with summarising door entry statistics (see yesterday’s post)

9.30am: Shelving

10.05am: Door entry statistics

10.45am: Visit to the library in the department of Earth Sciences.  Most of the science departments in Oxford no longer have their own libraries, but when the Earth Sciences Department moved to their new building in 2010, they decided they wanted to keep their library.  I’ve been wanting to visit this library for a while, particularly because my undergraduate degree was in geological sciences.

There is 24-hour access to the library for members of the department and while not very large, the library, and librarian(!), seem to be well used and valued by students.   Although, with the 24-hour access some items do go missing, all items on undergraduate reading lists are kept in a locked cupboard and students must ask the librarian if they need to use them.  The library also holds map collections – geological and topograpgical maps are important to the teaching and research in the department.

12pm: Back in the RSL I write up some notes about the Earth Sciences library.

12.20pm: Door entry statistics.

1pm: Lunch

2pm: Door entry statistics.

2.30pm: Shelving

2.45pm: Scanning a journal the publishers have given us permission to digitize.

3.40pm: Tea break

3.55pm: Working on the LibGuide I am creating on reference management.

The afternoon’s activities were interspersed with dealing with various emails.

5pm: End of the day.

This is my final post for round 8 of the Library Day in the Life project.  I’m very glad I did it and would encourage anyone considering taking part in a future round (or writing a post about their week for this round) to do it. 

Library Day in the Life Round 8: Thursday

This is the fourth of five blog posts written for round 8 of the Library Day in the Life Project  by the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library.

8.50am: Arrive at the Radcliffe Science Library (RSL), switch on computer, check emails – I have quite a few this morning.  Go through email inbox, moving emails into folders and deleting ones which are irrelevant to me.  I do this about once a week as it makes old emails so much easier to find.

9.30am: Shelving

10am: Meeting with the serials librarian.  I learn about the process required to get a periodical issue from the post room to the shelves and find out that if someone wants to find out if a pre-1993 issue was received we have to check in a large card catalogue.

10.30am: Onto one of my weekly tasks – adding all the new psychology books to the library’s LibraryThing account.  This involves searching for the book, checking the information is correct, adding tags (Library of Congress cataloging-in-publication data is very useful here) and checking that the link to SOLO (our online catalogue) works.  I also check on SOLO for the shelfmark of the books I added last week, as most of them will have been processed now, and add that.

11.10am: Tea break

11.35am: Back to a project I started before christmas.  On Thursdays and Fridays I work with the subject librarians at the RSL, alternating between physical sciences and life sciences spending four weeks with one and then four weeks with the other, though those timings can be flexible.  This week I’m back with life sciences and so back to an ongoing project I started in November.  I am digitzing a journal the publishers have given us permission to digitize and put on our website.  This basically means I have lots of scanning to do.

12.05pm: I am asked to fetch and loan out to ARACU (Accessible Resources Acquisition and Creation Unit) some items requested by them for them to scan for disabled readers.

12.30pm: Back to scanning

1.15pm: Lunch

2.15pm: Meeting with the life sciences and medicine subject libarian to discuss what I will be doing on Thursdays and Fridays for the next couple of weeks.  I am going to be producing some pretty graphs in Excel from our door entry statistics, broken down by subject and user category (undergraduate students, taught postgraduate students, research postgraduate students and staff).  I’m looking forward to this – I enjoy playing with spreadsheets.

2.50pm: Shadowing another member of staff’s SOLO Live Help session as I will be joining the SOLO Live Help team soon (see yesterday’s post).

3.15pm: SOLO Live Help is very quiet so I start work on the door entry statistics.

4.15pm: Tea break

4.30pm: Back to the spreadsheets and I have some very pretty pie charts.

5pm: End of the day and I’m off home.