The 2018 British Library Symposium

***Rachel Cummings, Omar Ebanks and Nicola Swann***

LIS professionals as agents of change – Rachel

Well, the 2018 British Library Symposium was truly an incredible experience! The symposium is considered to be both a conference and a conversation, providing a place to network, and to build friendships and connections. What I really took away from the day filled with speeches, talks, awards and snacks, was the concept of LIS professionals (and future professionals) as agents of change.

We, as LIS professionals, become agents of change, through the sharing of information and knowledge, as well as from the sharing of our experiences, whether it be success or failure. It is our natural instinct to only want to promote our successes, as we often believe that showing our failures means shining a spotlight on our weaknesses. In the keynote speech given by Daniel Pett, he talked on the value of sharing all of our knowledge, because our mistakes are important. We grow from mistakes, we learn from mistakes, and most importantly, we can teach others from our mistakes. With sharing this knowledge, it helps us make connections.

Connections to the community that you are serving is incredibly important, and as LIS professionals we should be keeping the concept of connections in the backs of our minds. Not only do LIS professionals need to share, and keep sharing our knowledge, but we also need to be aware of what’s coming next, such as new and innovative technologies, and to be able to adapt successfully to these new trends and technologies.

How can the agent of change work with BL’s material? – Nicola

How to bring these characteristics of the LIS professional which came out on the day, and which Rachel’s identified – agent of change, sharer, connector, future-watcher – to bear on the raw material that BL offers?

The shape of the BL Labs Symposium gave myriad suggestions, as the event gave our national library the chance to celebrate people and projects who had won awards for inventive use of the data and digital collections that the library has made available – including its own staff.

The BL website says that the library is ‘only just beginning to appreciate the distinctive, dynamic roles that libraries have to play … as curators of vast and rapidly growing collections of digitised historic items and born-digital content; as creators and analysers of new datasets.’ The winner of the staff award was a joint project between BL and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which built on 800 digital images to create a new curated website and project book in both languages. Another partnership – between the public and the library – is using crowdsourcing to make playbills from the late 18C to end-19C more accessible, giving a ‘chance for the human eye’ to the public as they transcribe information about playbills, share discoveries and improve the catalogue.

Are changing, connecting, sharing and future-watching gateways to sustaining the work of BL Labs? It would seem so, in that on the 11th the BL outlined its Living with Machines project, on the mechanisation of work practices and speaking to the consequences of AI and robotics, which the library is about to start work on with the Turing Institute. The link will make the most of the institutions’ co-location, push at the disciplinary boundaries of data science and digital humanities, and foster collaboration. BL has already spent a lot of time explaining library timelines, ways of working and tacit knowledge – and everyone’s learned how to use GitHub. This project will be fascinating to watch.

Case study – Ambient Literature

BL digital curator Nora McGregor noted that the digital scholarship dept keeps an eye out for the next big thing to impact the sector – one being interactive ways of telling stories and format changes. Two and a half years ago the British Library hosted sessions for the public to experience work from a collaborative project between UWE Bristol, Bath Spa and the University of Birmingham on ambient literature – an emergent, experimental form of literature that responds to the presence of the reader.

Three authors wrote new works exploring the impact of new technology on the reading experience. To take just one, Duncan Speakman’s It must have been dark by then offers an audio walk and physical book. The audio walk chooses locations for you or lets you choose, playing you sounds from other locations in your own environment; the collaborators felt the process influences mood and attentiveness to the world, leading you to see people and places differently. The walk experience video is mesmerising; you’re left in your own sound world in a unique, altered state – appealing, save for the use of earphones next to St Pancras traffic, forgive a prosaic thought. Speakman himself says he’s not sure it works yet – so next step for this observer is to find out how BL might have tracked this project since last reports, and to look out experiments that might be taking place now.

More creative projects, LIS chants and the potential of 3D – Omar

Whilst she was reading my blog, I was happy to see a friend explain their take on aspects of LIS, and was enjoying it to the point that I began to chant (in my best hypnotic cult movie voice); “One of us, one of us.”

I am so enthused whenever I get the chance to express why LIS has the impact it does, (on what? I hear you murmur, patience oh wonderous readers of thine blog, all will be revealed) and it was, at the perfect location and the perfect event; British Library Labs Symposium. A marvellous experience filled with innovative thought. The exposure and networking opportunities were an extremely important aspect of the symposium. Learning from colleagues and leaders in the field of LIS and being introduced to new ideas.

So what observations were made in creativity and research? The British Library’s digital content was showcased through Nabil Nayal’s fashion collection and Richard Wright’s Elastic System Project, inspired by 19th century librarian Thomas Watts; these artists found ways of expressing data artistically through their respective mediums, which were absolutely phenomenal creative ways to bring the British Library collections to life. LIS projects possess the power to reach audiences far and wide, even the virtual world isn’t safe from LIS, that’s right people, you heard it here first, or if you were present at the symposium, then you heard it there first, or if you were there but you somehow missed it, then once again, you heard it here first … or maybe you knew about it all along, in which case kudos to you, you futuristic go getter (or is that simply a ‘haver’, because I’m assuming that a futuristic go getter would already have whatever it is they needed … hence the name. “Great Scott!”) and did I cover all the scenarios? I digress, or do I? Let us get back to the real world of virtual reality.

The keynote speaker, Daniel Pett, shared his experience in 3-D modelling within the G.L.A.M (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) sector. I was highly interested in this topic and enquired about the training he provides at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University. Feedback from CityLIS students who attended this training was very positive. Daniel Pett mentioned that he has also started to train colleagues in 3-D modelling. One of the main benefits this has to exhibitions and projects within GLAM is the accessibility to allow the public to handle objects, as a tool for teaching, and to increase the knowledge of professionals who can gain valuable information from extensive access to detailed replicas … that’s right, it’s all about information, how to gather it and share it with the masses … L..I..S, L..I..S..(there goes my cult movie voice again)

The BL labs symposium was a day to remember, if only I could make my thoughts as an image, put said image into a 3-D printer, make multiple copies and, oh, wait, that’s a blog. Eureka?

About Joseph Dunne-Howrie

Joseph is a practitioner scholar in theatre and library information science. He teaches at several universities including City, Rose Bruford College, and UEL. His research interests include immersive performance, performative writing, digital culture, documenting and archiving, and audience participation. You can learn more about Joseph's work at www.josephjohndunne.com.
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