Lessons from the Labs

This blog post was written during a presentation at the British Library Labs Symposium in November 2014. It is likely full of errors and omissions having been written real-time.

Adam Farquhar, Principal Investigator of the British Library Labs project

In summer 2014 BL ran a survey to improve understanding of digital research behaviour. Around 1600 particpants, 57% femail, 50% academic inc. 32% postgraduates. Nearly 75% were registered readers at the BL. 58% from Arts & Humanities, 21.5% Social Sciences, 13.1% STM. 42.4% from London and a further 35% from other parts of the UK.

92% would recommend the library and 82% said the Library plays an important role in digital research – which was 3 times more than the result for the same question in 2011.

63% of users are satisfied with BL digital services – remote access to more BL electronic resource, the option to view BL digital content on personal devices could improve this.

Some things not changing – perhaps against expectations. Most readers work alone still but using social media more than previously.

1 in 6 respondents were using programming in their research.

Digital collection at BL has been growing rapidly – now around 9million items (huge jump in 2012 from under 2 million to almost 7 million). But remember a book counts as one item – even if many images and pages made available separately, and an ‘item’ in the web archive is a WARC file that can contain many thousands of websites. Looking at size of content in gigabytes the growth is more linear.

The Digital Collections are extremely varied – datasets, images, manuscripts, maps, sounds, newspapers, multimedia, books and text, web archive, journal articles, e-theses, music, playbills.

Lessons from work so far

  • Lesson 1: More is more
    • it’s about digital content – without this you can’t do digital scholarship. Getting the digital content is “bloody hard work”
    • digital deposit coming and will be the basis for the national digital collection in years to come – but not a panacea
    • partnerships – e.g. DC Thomson for further Newspaper digitisation
    • partnership with Google to digitise around 250k works
  • Lesson 2: Less is more
    • Delivering a single ‘perfect’ system won’t be perfect for everyone
    • Deliver people more systems that give more access to more content
  • Lesson 3: Bring your own tools
    • People want to bring their own tools with them – need to enable this to happen
  • Lesson 4: Be creative
    • Let people be creative with the content
  • Lesson 5: Start small – finish big
    • Easy to start with small things – 5 books, 50 books – do this before trying to work with larger collections

Conclusions
* Researchers are embracing digital technology and methods
* Digital collections with unique content are large enought to support research – with some caveats
* Library staff need training to keep pace with change
* Open engagement fits ermeging practice
* Radical re-tooling is needed to support researcher demands…
* … but existing technology provides what we need

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