Back in February, I attended the Doctoral Students’ Open Day for Social Sciences at the British Library. This was a great opportunity to experience the British Library from the point of view of an advanced researcher (as opposed to my previous experience of using it whilst doing my Information Science Masters course).
After an introductory talk, which gave us a flavour of the breadth of the British Library collections, we had a presentation from one of the reference specialists at the Library. The reference team deal with a wide range of work, including: dealing with subject specific enquiries; answering questions about the use of the British Library catalogue; offering 1-2-1 sessions on specific resources; and being able to suggest other libraries and archives to users.
She specifically recommended the Help for Researchers webpage, as being a great time-saver for library users. It contains links to portals, lists of items, lists of shelf marks, etc.
The Open Day attendees then split up for optional sessions. Needless to say I chose Business and Law as being my preferred sessions! The Business Management and IP presentation involved a demonstration of their Management & Business Studies Portal. This is a fantastic free resource: you just need to register in order to access management-related research reports, working papers, conference papers and many more items.
The Trade Literature collection was something that also caught my interest, as the presenters explained how product leaflets and catalogues can help us with our understanding of 19th and 20th century life in Britain. The same applies to intellectual property: researchers may be interested in exploring whether peaks in particular trademark classes can be correlated with particular social events/happenings.
The presentation on Law was also very interesting for me. I learned more about the particular strengths of the British Library for legal researchers: for example I can see how useful the collections are for socio-legal studies and legal biography research. The British Library offers so many resources, that legal researchers who want to look further than the strict provisions of the law, have a wealth of information to draw on e.g. they can view news media coverage of law; examine literary treatments of law; access market research on personal injury litigation etc. When the session ended, I felt much clearer as to the British Library resources that I can recommend to our Law PhD students.
Towards the end of the day, we all met up again for a talk on ‘Research in the Digital Age’. The British Library has lots of interesting projects, which involve opening up their collections to new ways of research/the creation of new ideas (as can be seen from their Digital Scholarship Blog). So, for example, visualisation tools can be applied to the UK Web Archive; and the ‘Off the map’ project encourages students to develop video games based on digitised British Library items such as maps.
We ended the day with a talk from a social sciences researcher and author who has lots of real-life experience of using the British Library. She stressed the importance of historical information for social sciences researchers – and warned of the dangers of viewing the past through the eyes of the present. The depth of the British Library’s collections allows you to think historically…and it also opens up lots of exciting research possibilities!
I really enjoyed my day at the British Library. As well as learning lots of new things about the collections, it gave me a chance to speak to some PhD students and learn about what they are working on and what kind of challenges they face. I was particularly impressed by the new types of research and products being created with the use of the British Library’s digital collections, and would now like to learn more about these!