#citylis Student Perspectives: Wendy Durham on Work Experience at the British Library Labs

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact Ernesto Priego at ernesto.priego.1@city.ac.uk

This guest post is by #citylis student Wendy Durham.

Here she writes about her work experience volunteering at the British Library Labs while doing her master’s degree in Library Science at #citylis.


#citylis student Wendy Durham having a giggle at the ‘Book of Humour, Wit and Wisdom’ that she transcribed for the Victorian Meme Machine competition winner, 2014.

#citylis student Wendy Durham having a giggle at the ‘Book of Humour, Wit and Wisdom’ that she transcribed for the Victorian Meme Machine competition winner, 2014.

I am a part time master’s student in Library Science at City University London, and currently at the end of my first year of studies. Having spent 20 years in both UK and international Primary Education, I am attempting a career switch to an area of LIS where I can use the transferable skills I have from my experiences within teaching and learning environments and hopefully thread together my roots in the arts.

City University London does not require previous library work experience as a prerequisite, but my voluntary work at the British Library Labs project has been significant in making many module elements meaningful and focusing assignment choices on ‘real’ practice. For me as a complete beginner to LIS, having this context has been essential. I would strongly advise anyone in a similar career change position to consider either a graduate traineeship or seek entry level / voluntary part time positions to complement the course.

The British Library advertise vacancies and internships on their career website pages and standard vacancy listings. For a more prospective approach, try checking the Library’s current developments within its different departments from the regular blogs and enquiring politely by email what opportunities could be available. One of the best ways to network is getting along to the Library events or BL Labs events to engage with staff.

British Library Labs is an initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, currently in its third year. The project actively encourages researchers and developers to work with the Library and its digital collections to address research questions. To achieve this, Labs run yearly competitions, promotion events and assists the Library in the exposure of its digital content for reuse and repurposing. BL Labs work closely with the Digital Scholarship team and run a regular blog.

During my time volunteering with Labs, I have mostly been involved in the ‘opening up’ access process. My responsibilities have focussed on using filtering criteria to ascertain which collections hold most potential for investigating with regard to the challenges of access and copyright. Upon selection, I have initiated research and contact with collection curators to build a background narrative in preparation for a department presentation and review for publication.

In addition to content research, I have found myself organising delegate packs and mail shots for events, updating the Labs wiki website, researching and composing tweets, transcribing material for winning competition projects and editing film for potential press releases. As the Labs team are pretty busy, I have had to work independently, think on my feet and look up new topics, take a vertical learning curve with Google Drive, spreadsheets and understand the Library’s own database management systems. It’s been demanding and unpredictable but also exciting and satisfying, developing my knowledge of access issues and allowing me to communicate with professionals in the field.

I joined Labs a year after the Flickr 1 Million release, just as the project was approaching its first anniversary and reaching some intriguing developments such as the mass algorithmic tagging of maps by the prolific coding wizard and artist Mario Klingemann (Qusaimondo) and the striking reuse of the images by collage artist David Normal, (exhibited for the 2014 Burning Man Festival, now set for being showcased at the British Library).

My time with Labs has been serendipitous. Seeing the competition research proposals, technological innovation and creativity elements have inspired my vision for how educational learning environments could operate in the future, such as Theo Kuechel’s 2014 competition entry, ‘BL Toolkit’ which provides a framework for helping schools engage with the British Library Digital Collections, and how that engagement can benefit students in their learning. I am certain that the work experience gained with Labs will greatly influence my choice of dissertation next year and it’s been a fantastic introduction to understanding the diverse opportunities and challenges that a digital library holds.

You can follow Wendy on Twitter @wendydurham2. You can follow British Library Labs @BL_Labs.

Find out more about postgraduate study in Library and Information Science at #citylis, meet alumni, current students and staff on our next open evening on 10 June. Register here.

About Ernesto Priego

A lecturer at City, University of London. My research interests include digital humanities, library and information science, human computer interaction design, comics scholarship, scholarly communications, open access, open data and open educational resources.
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