CityLIS at the British Library Labs Symposium

***Akina Maeda, Amanda Cooper, Andrea Anderson and Andy Farquhar***

The Elastic System – Akina
Although it was a very short talk, one of the talks particularly grabbed my attention. Indeed I believe many other attendances were interested in it as well. The project was about The Elastic System, which is a very artistic project that shows collections in the British Library as a digital catalogue. Therefore, as it is said ‘Catalogue’, it is possible to see what collections there are and even to request some from the artwork.

The main purpose of this project is to make a connection between people and the collections in the British Library and to influence each other by seeing and knowing the collections within the digital catalogue. One of the most amazing points of the system is the structure of the picture. It shows a portrait of Thomas Watt, who tries to innovate how to store huge number of collections in the British Library. Then if someone requests one of the collections, the cover is removed from the book shelves and it shows the picture of people who are working on the basement in British Library.

I think it has a great significance because it illustrates that there are always workers behind the technology and they take care of users. City LIS students had lectures about digital sources and AI (Artificial Intelligence) before. Then we found quite a few of people considered a need to have a librarian in a library in future. However, I presume a librarian will not disappear and the picture of workers in British Library represents there are always people to help us from an invisible place.

Also I think it is quite fascinating that Richard Wright, who is in charge of the Elastic System, tried to show library collections on purpose. The collections in British Library are usually hidden from the public. I have heard from so many people that they could not find and see books, which is disappointing despite the visit to the library. Now he has been successful in letting the public see enormous collections and allowing them to even request to borrow some.

The Breadth and Depth of the Collections – Amanda
British Library Labs is a project seeking to encourage the use of the British Library’s digital collections in interesting and exciting ways. Innovation and collaboration is emphasised through competition and events such as the Symposium held on Monday 12th November 2018, which was the 6th Annual BL Labs symposium held at the British Library.

As an attendee at the BL Labs Symposium on Monday 12th November, I found the concept and project fascinating. It seemed to me that the digitisation of British Library content is a prime example of the benefits of a digitised and increasingly connected world. As an Antipodean, the possibilities resonate; imagine being involved in a University of Auckland research project, while being able to access the treasures of the British Library online and in digitised form? Not only might I be able to view and interact with British Library collections in 3D virtual reality, but I might also be able to connect with and collaborate with other researchers interested in my field and sphere of investigation. In the vernacular: how awesome is that?

Keynote speaker Daniel Pett, currently Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, set out to emphasise the importance of innovation and experimentation. A varied background has clearly influenced Daniel’s approach; while studying at UCL and Cambridge where “he managed to play too much rugby” and previously working on the trading floor of Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, an old merchant bank, his background suggests wide and varied experience – which drives perhaps his ability to “think outside the box”. Daniel advocates open access, open source and reproducible research.

Daniel spoke on “The Value, Impact & Importance of Experimenting with Cultural Heritage Digital Collections”, highlighting that the British Library’s collections are not just about books, but that their collections also contain patents, stamps, maps, sound recordings, musical scores and manuscripts. Daniel noted aspects to take into account such as sustainability and funding, mentioning using volunteers or crowd sourcing to assist with work. In his view democratising access to data means both institution and citizen benefit. Additionally, digitising means blending old and new becomes more viable, thus opening new avenues for future research, while also opening up new communication channels for museum professionals. Additionally digital content offers opportunities for renewing public interest in collections and social media can be used effectively to encourage pubic participation.

All in all the presentations made during the symposium served to highlight just how varied and extensive the British Library Labs projects are; incorporating areas such as the Asian and African Collections, European and Americas Collections, Western Heritage Collections, 18th and 19th Century Maps and utilising technologies such as 3D imaging, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. The possibilities for the future it seems are limitless, bound only by our imaginations.

Zine, Zeen! – Andrea

The Codex Gigas, 13th century, Bohemia.
Image from :


Slang expression used when one is in agreement with something that was said, similar to ok, yeah or yes.

Example Sentences :

Patois: Wi a go a Dunn’s River tomorrow, zeen?

English: We are going to Dunn’s River tomorrow, ok?


some sort of publication, usually mass-produced by photocopying (in some cases,

scanned, put on the ‘net, or copied via fax) on any range of topics, but usually filled with

passion. a means of telling one’s story, sharing thoughts, and/or artwork/comics/doodles.

Medieval Miscellany
I have always found old books beautiful, especially Medieval Manuscripts my mother use to say I was an old soul. Something within me admired the Calligraphy, it being so similar to a machine print meant accuracy was mastered over many years. The vibrant tone of velvety greens, oranges, and reds like old de-oxygenated blood on skin. Ironically most were printed on vellum (an animal skin). I admired the patience and artistry that the old scholar took in creating such stylish letters that illuminated, borders and other decorative elements. One of the most famous of these old manuscripts is the Codex Gigas, 13th century, Bohemia. The word itself is derived (from the Latin caudex for “trunk of a tree” or block of wood, book). These early books were intended for religious use, ether in church services or private devotions.

As a part of our immersive learning experience, the class of Library and Information Science took a visit to the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday 12th of November 2018, the full day event ran from 09.30-17.30 in the Library Knowledge Centre, St Pancras.

I was personally very excited to be attending the event, as it was promoted as showcasing innovative and inspiring projects which use the British Library’s digital content, providing a platform for development, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field as well as being a focus on the creative reuse of digital collections and data in the cultural heritage sector.

There were many exhibits and technologies that I loved but the one that captured my imagination won the digital scholarship ;

Pocket Miscellanies won the British Library Labs Teaching and Learning Award.

The British Library recognised the importance of printed zines.

“their recognition of the importance of printed zines that re-materialise digital collections is a radical stance. The discussions around the zines also highlighted the importance of fair copyright policies for historical images.”

The reason why I found it so interesting was it resurrected images about people who we often do not see or know of, being mentioned in Medieval Manuscript. The creator delved into the BL Historical Medieval Archives and unearth these fascinating images and text.

Image taken from (

The Zine format was a great choice for the creator to use, as historically it was the best and most cost effective from of printing, for members of socially marginalised groups. They alone would publish their own opinions in leaflets and pamphlets.

The common Zine styles were influenced by Dada, Fluxus, Surrealism and Situationism.

The lineage of Zines could also be traced back as far as:

Thomas Paine’s exceptionally popular 1775 pamphlet Common Sense, Benjamin Franklin’s literary magazine for psychiatric patients at a Pennsylvania hospital and The Dial (1840-44) by Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

It struck me has being very creative, and resourceful because it was low budget. To be able to educate the public as well as make a business from a small self publish pocket size item, I thought was inspiring and accessible.

It also looked pretty awesome, zeen!

VR Data Visualisation – Andy
Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend the symposium but I have since investigated many of the technologies featured, of which Project Lume particularly piqued my geeky curiosity. It’s a 3D data visualisation application that allows scientists, or really anyone with a lot of 3-dimensional point data, to “explore, comprehend, manipulate and share” their data in immersive virtual reality. The presentation was by Alexandre Kitching and the software itself is from Imagination Labs in partnership with The Lee Lab at Cambridge University. Drag and drop your .csv data files into the system, don your headset and grab your controllers, and you can dive into the data cloud and gain a totally new perspective on your research data. Even better, an alpha version of the software is already available to use free of charge, although it’s only compatible with an HTC VIVE VR setup. Very cool!

References and further reading

Elastic System

Project Lume

Dawood, S. (2018) This VR data visualisation tool looks to make dense research more “digestible”, Design Week, 16 November. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2018).

About Joseph Dunne-Howrie

I am artist in residence in the MA/MSc Library and Information Science department at City, University of London and module year coordinator for MA/MFA Performative Writing/Vade Mecum at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.My research interests include intermediality, live performance in digital culture, participatory and immersive theatre, performance documentation, archives, and performative writing.
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