London Experience, Day 3: High Class to High Tech

On the second programmed day of the London portion of my scholarly publishing course, we visited The British Library.

The building itself evokes the “stack of bricks” style of architecture, echoing an earlier brickwork victorian structure nearby, but still mildly clashing in form if not in hue.

Inside, cool marble ascends, centering the eye on a five story collection of books – “the King’s Library,” that terminates in a pool of black marble that sublty mirrors the collection and gives the appearance the collection extends to infinity. Seeing the personal collection of  King George III was impressive.  This is the reading collection of the man vilified by our founding fathers – even Thomas Jefferson’s library at Monticello was not so large!

While the library’s primary mission is to archive a copy of every single publication originating in the United Kingdom, translating to 5,000 publications per day, there is also some high tech wizardry going on in the digital forensics lab.  This was of particular interest to me because of nascent problems in the field of ecology – a relatively new field – where prominent early leaders in the field are now nearing retirement age.

As the DataONE Data life cycle points out, retirement of the primary researcher can be a key moment in the longevity of a dataset.

Enter Jeremy Leighton John. He has something of a Crime Scene Investigator’s capabilities- but his forensic investigations center on retrieving information from archaic computer systems.  With piles of floppy disks, hard discs, and computer programs no longer used, Jeremy has honed forensic computing to an art.  He can emulate ancient operating systems, programs, and doesn’t even need to turn the original computer on to access its files.

Interestingly, he’s an ecologist in a “library” world, much like myself and many other ecologists I’ve met interested in data science and data preservation. And has some fascinating research interests spanning from complex systems to bioinformatics.

He’s also on twitter:

While Jeremy’s talk was most pertinent to my interests, some other topics worth looking into include:

“Making maps accessibly through crowd-sourced geo-referencing;”

Digital Curator Nora McGregor’s talk on digital scholarship (@ndalyrose on twitter and there is a Digital Scholarship blog) where she presented some continuing education opportunities for librarians at the British Library.

Some courses I pulled from the list that I wish were taught at my own institution:

  • Data Visualization for Analysis in Scholarly Research
  • Georeferencing and Digital Mapping
  • Information Integration: Mash-Ups, APIs, and the Semantic Web
  • Managing Digital Research Information
  • Working Collaboratively: Using the BL Wiki and Beyond
  • Metadata for Electronic Resources: Dublin Core, Mets, MODS, RDF, XML

I may be able to track down some of these course offerings online – for instance the first course has additional readings online.

Finally I have in my notes the “Big Data project” from Oxford Internet Institute at <>, which is quite similar to the U.S. project “the Internet Archive” that takes a snapshot of the Web.  This is unique in that it is looking at .uk domain only.

Also of note was an exhibition on propoganda – from roman coins to twitter.  Twitter was perhaps the most interesting – as it employed a type of sentiment analysis to determine if a given tweet was positive, negative, or neutral.  There was a visualization wall as well, allowing a color-coded view of each tweet in real time or linked with a timestamp to a recorded event unfolding on TV, such as the 2012 Olympic Ceremony.

Finally, I got to see the Magna Carta, and many other rare books.  The abundance of rare books made it clear why security was incredibly tight for the entire facility – even employees of over 30 years were subject to intense scrutiny.

One last item of note – and as you can see there were many – was the Qatar digitization project. Funded by oil wealth, a floor of 14 information professionals, two with library science training, were busily digitizing the archives of the East India Trading company where their activities were focused in the middle east.



About Tanner Jessel

I am a recent M.S. in Information Science graduate from the University of Tennessee School of Information Science. I was formerly a graduate research assistant funded by DataONE (Data Observation Network for Earth). Prior, I worked for four years as a content lead and biodiversity scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Biodiversity Informatics Program. Building on my work experience in biodiversity and environmental informatics, my work with DataONE focused on exploring the nature of scientific collaborations necessary for scientific inquiry. I also conducted research concerning user experience and usability, and assisted in development of member nodes with an emphasis on spatial data and infrastructure. I assisted with research designed to understand sociocultural issues within collaborative research communities. Through August 1, 2014, I was based at the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee School of Information Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Posted on June 26, 2013, in London Experience and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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