A Scholarly Works Policy for the University of Bristol

A new Scholarly Works Policy was approved at the April meeting of Senate. Here we set out the reasons for the policy, what it does, and how it will work. 

Why are we introducing this policy? 

The University is committed to improving research culture and – as part of this – supporting and enabling open research practices. The ability to publish our research Open access, ensuring free and unrestricted access to research outputs, is an essential part of this. Open Access has also become an expectation of research assessment exercises such as the REF, as well as a requirement of many funders (including UKRI and Wellcome).  

Gold Open Access (paying publishers to publish the “version of record” Open Access via Article Processing Charges (APCs) and “transformative agreements”) is well established in many disciplines, but now green Open Access (self-archiving the author manuscript in an institutional repository) is becoming increasingly common.  

The development of a robust green route to Open Access publishing promotes an inclusive research culture by making Open Access publishing available to all, regardless of academic position and current funding, and mitigates the risks of choosing to publish Open Access for individual researchers when navigating a complex publishing landscape.  With most Russell Group Institutions implementing similar policies, it also strengthens our collective hand when negotiating with publishers for Open Access services.  

The University’s new Scholarly Works policy uses the concept of “rights retention” to support authors in choosing to self-archive. With Rights Retention, authors can disseminate their work as widely as possible while also meeting funder and any future REF requirements. 

What is rights retention? 

Traditionally, publishers require that authors sign a Copyright Transfer Agreement. The only way to access the article after publication is to pay for it. Rights Retention is based on the simple principle that authors and institutions should retain some rights to their publications. 

The policy provides a route for researchers to deposit their author accepted manuscript in our institutional repository, and, using a rights retention statement, both retain the rights within their work, and grant the University a licence to make the author accepted manuscript of their scholarly article publicly available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence.  

What does this mean for researchers? 

This policy should not involve a major increase in administrative burden for researchers. There will be very little change to researcher workflows – in fact, as part of the review of workflows Library Services is undertaking, there will be a reduction in the number of steps required for Pure submissions in many cases.  

Library Services will be updating their webpages, guidance, training and instructional videos so that researchers can feel confident about using this policy. If you have questions, comments or feedback, please get in touch because it could be helpful in shaping this guidance. You can contact us by emailing lib-research-support@bristol.ac.uk

The Uncertain Space: a virtual museum for the University of Bristol

The Uncertain Space is the new virtual museum for the University of Bristol. It is the result of a joint project between Library Research Support and Cultural Collections, funded by the AHRC through the Capability for Collections Impact Funding, which also helped fund the first exhibition.

The project originated in a desire to widen the audience to some of the University’s collections, but in a sustainable way which would persist beyond the end of the project. Consequently, The Uncertain Space is a permanent museum space with a rolling programme of exhibitions and a governance structure, just like a physical museum.

The project had two main outcomes: the first was the virtual museum space and the second was the first exhibition to be hosted in the museum. The exhibition, Secret Gardens, was co-curated with a group of young Bristolians, aged 11-18 and explores connections between the University’s public artworks and some of the objects held in our rich collections.

Entrance to the Secret Gardens exhibition
Entrance to the Secret Gardens exhibition

The group of young people attended a series of in-person and online workshops to discover their shared interests and develop the exhibition. The themes of identity, activism and environmental awareness came through strongly and these helped to inform their choice of items for the exhibition.

hand pointing at manuscripts on a table
Choosing items from Special Collections for the exhibition

Objects, images and audiovisual clips, to link with each of the public artworks, were selected from the Theatre Collection, Special Collections, the Botanic Gardens and from collections held in the Anatomy, Archaeology and Earth Sciences departments. For some of the choices, digital copies already existed, but most of the items had to be digitised by photography or by scanning, using a handheld structured light scanner. The nine public artworks were captured by 360 degree photography. In addition, the reactions of the young people were recorded as they visited each of the public artworks and these are also included in the exhibition.

scanning a piece of malachite
Scanning a piece of malachite for the first exhibition

As the virtual museum was designed to mimic a real-world exhibition, the University of Bristol team and the young people worked with a real-world exhibition designer, and it was found that designing a virtual exhibition was a similar process to designing a real-world exhibition. Some aspects of the process, however, were unique to creating a virtual exhibition, such as the challenges of making digital versions of some objects. The virtual museum also provides possibilities that the real-world version cannot, for example the opportunity to pick up and handle objects and to be transported to different locations.

Towards the end of the project, a second group of young people, who were studying a digital music course at Creative Youth Network, visited the virtual museum in its test phase and created their own pieces of music in response. Some of these are included in a video about the making of the museum.

The museum and first exhibition can be visited on a laptop, PC or mobile device via The Uncertain Space webpage, by downloading the spatial.io app onto a phone or VR headset, or by booking a visit to the Theatre Collection  or Special Collections, where VR headsets are available for anyone to view the exhibition.

We are looking forward to a programme of different exhibitions to be hosted in The Uncertain Space and are interested in hearing from anyone who would like to put on a show.

You can read more about the making of The Uncertain Space and its first exhibition from our colleagues in Special Collections and Theatre Collection:
Our collections go virtual!
Digitising for the new virtual museum: The Uncertain Space

Case Study: Library Research Metrics Service

This is the first of a series of qualitative case studies exploring the work and impact of Library Research Support activities and services. This case study focuses on the Library Research Metrics Service.

What we do

The Library Research Metrics Service provides support to individuals with research metrics queries, via training on a range of research metrics platforms, and education and outreach to ensure the university’s commitments to responsible use of research metrics are upheld. This is designed to complement support offered by the Department of Research, Enterprise and Innovation’s Research Information and Evaluation team which has a wider remit covering strategic research intelligence and support for large grant bids.

As well as an email enquiry service and web guidance, the Library Research Metrics Service provides training via online workshops, open to all academics and postgraduate researchers. These serve as an introduction to the concept of citation metrics and alternative metrics, what they can and cannot be used for, the principles of responsible metrics, and the importance of data accuracy – including how this may be improved through the use of ORCID researcher identifiers. Sessions also include live demonstrations on the tool, platform, or process of attendees’ choice: for example, how to create bespoke reports in SciVal, how to find alternative metrics in Scopus or Altmetric Explorer, or how to clean up author profiles in Scopus and other bibliographic databases.

Outreach activities are a key part of the support service; currently the ORCID promotion campaign is the main focus for outreach activities. This campaign seeks to increase ORCID signup rates among research staff and PGRs, which with support from Faculty Research Directors will be achieved in a variety of ways:

  1. Direct communication with the small subset of researchers that have an ORCID but have not fully synchronised it to their Pure profile
  2. Talks at School assemblies and other relevant gatherings
  3. PGR-led promotion activities
  4. Passive communication via posters and banners in key locations
  5. Active encouragement via a prize draw for new ORCID signups
Enquiry types

The email enquiry service receives a range of enquiry types: primarily these relate to 1) use of specific metrics platforms, 2) requests for metric support for grant for promotion bids, 3) queries about the use of metrics to support decisions on journal choice. Often a large part of the response to these enquiries is educational rather than direct provision of the resources requested. For example, both DORA and the University’s own statement on Responsible Research Evaluation state that research outputs must be considered on their own merits rather than the reputation or ranking of the journal or publisher. Therefore, a significant part of enquiry work is responding sensitively to researchers with these types of queries, to explain why metrics may not necessarily be helpful in making these decisions and to signpost to alternative tools and methods for journal selection. There are some instances where specific metrics can be useful: for example, establishing proportions of article types published in a given journal to identify titles most likely to be receptive to submission of similar manuscripts. In these instances, the Library Research Metrics Service will demonstrate how these metrics can be obtained or provide bespoke reports.

Another common query category comes from researchers who are finding unexpected results when seeking metrics data on their own publications: typically, missing publications or missing citations. Support in these instances usually takes two formats: 1) an investigation into and explanation of any data inaccuracies and suggestions for how these may be addressed, and 2) education on the limitations of metrics platforms – which is particularly relevant for researchers working in disciplines that are not covered well by the main bibliometrics platforms (arts, humanities, and those working in languages other than English, to name a few).

Outcomes and next steps

Responses to these education and outreach activities have largely been positive, with researchers praising the service for providing “really helpful” information. Certain departments or units are frequent flyers to the service – for example ALSPAC – but generally users tend to have a single query only. It remains to be seen whether the raised profile of the Library Metrics Service provided by the ORCID promotion campaign will result in larger volume of enquiries. In future, workshops will be run in person as well, and online workshops will be provided asynchronously to enable wider uptake.

Shiny shells and steamships: an experiment in phototexturing a 3D model.

In the Library Research Support team we have quite a bit of experience of 3D scanning and of photogrammetry, but have never tried combining digital photographs with scan data to make a ‘photorealistic’ 3D model.
When we were asked to scan a large, engraved shell belonging to the Brunel Institute , we decided it was time to give it a go, using our Artec Space Spider structured light scanner and the ‘phototexturing’ function in Artec Studio 16.  This phototexturing option allows photographs of the object to be combined with the digital model to improve the model’s textures and produce a more photorealistic result.

The shell in question has a shiny surface and is engraved with text and images, including depictions of the SS Great Britain and Omar Pasha, an Ottoman Field Marshall and governor. Shiny surfaces can be problematic when scanning, but we dialled up the sensitivity of the scanner a bit and encountered no difficulties. We were also concerned that the very low relief engravings would not be discernible in the final model, which did indeed prove to be the case.

We were careful to capture both scans and photographs under the same conditions, scanning one side of the shell and then, without moving it, taking photographs from every angle before turning it over to scan and photograph the underside.

When processing the scan data, the main difficulty was fixing a large hole in the mesh which occurred in the cavity of the shell where the scanner had not been able to capture data. Because of the complex geometry, Artec Studio’s hole-filling options simply covered the hole with a large blob. Therefore, we used the bridge function to link opposite edges of the large hole and subdivide it into smaller ones, which could be filled with a less blobby result. We then used the defeature brush and the smoothing tool to reduce flaws. The result is not an accurate representation of the inside of the shell, but gives a reasonable impression of it and, without any holes in the mesh, the model can be printed in 3D.

Adding texture from the photographs was simply a matter of importing them in two groups (photos of the top and photos of the underside) and matching them to the fusion. A handful of photographs couldn’t be matched but there was enough overlap between the other photographs to complete the texture. The phototextured model does show some shadows as we were not using dedicated lights, but there is significant improvement in the resolution and in the visibility of the engravings.

an engraved shell
The shell before phototexturing, showing texture captured by the scanner.
an engraved shell
The shell with texture from the photographs applied.

When we came to experiment with printing the model, we found there was not enough 3d geometry to reproduce the engravings, though we had avoided simplifying the mesh during processing. As the faint engravings on the shell are mostly visible through discolouration, we think that 3D printing in colour would be a good solution and the Brunel Institute are also considering other possibilities, such as engraving directly onto a 3D print. We look forward to seeing the result of their chosen solution.

More on finding open access research

The library has subscribed to two services that will help you to find open access articles, as well as those subscribed to by the library.

LibKey Nomad is a browser extension that will connect you to full-text articles that are either available via a University of Bristol Library subscription or open access. Read more on the Library webpages.

LibKey.io allows you to access journal articles which are available either by library subscription or open access,  by using either a digital object identifier (DOI) or a PubMed identifier (PMID). More information is on the Library webpages.

See also our previous post on finding open access articles.

Finding Open Access Research

It has become common practice for researchers to make a copy of their research articles available for free online. Many of these ‘Open Access’ papers are held in institutional or subject repositories – which can make them challenging to find. However, there are several useful tools designed to make this a lot easier.

Useful Open Access Resources


CORE aggregates the Open Access full text content of many Open Access repositories, including PubMed Central, so that you can search and read it all in one place.

Searching here will help you find many articles that you can open and read for free. CORE also contains electronic PhD theses and other works that are hard to find elsewhere.

EndNote Click

EndNote Click is an extension for your internet browser that quickly tells you if you have access to a version of a journal article that you are looking at. It detects when you are looking at an article’s page and if you have access, either through your library’s subscriptions or through an Open Access version, it will provide a link to the document.

This is generally the most convenient way to find Open Access work if you’re used to searching academic journals and databases. The extension will work in Google Chrome.


Unpaywall is another useful browser extension. It adds an icon to the right-hand side of any page where it detects an academic article. The icon indicates whether there is an Open Access version available and clicking it will take you to the appropriate document.

Unpaywall draws on slightly different sources to Kopernio, but does not check if you have access through your university. It may be helpful to install both. The extension will work in Google Chrome and Firefox.

Open Access DOIs

If you’re familiar with DOI numbers, then you know that you can use them to link to articles. (e.g. http://doi.org/10.1038/ng.3260 ) However, this will usually only link you to the publisher’s version, which might try to charge you for access. If you use the Open Access DOI format instead – (http://oadoi.org/10.1038/ng.3260) – you can create a link to an Open Access version of the article, if one is available.

This is a good way to find out if there is an Open Access version. It’s also a good way to share an Open Access paper with someone else who might not have access to the publisher’s version.

DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals)

DOAJ curates a list of Open Access journals across a range of subjects. If you want to find Open Access journals within your discipline, this is a good place to look. You can also use their search function to find resources from across their database of journals.

They provide criteria for good practice in Open Access journals and can be a useful place to check the quality of a new Open Access journal that you weren’t previously aware of. Inclusion in DOAJ implies that the journal follows their principles and is therefore likely to be a reputable source.

DOAB (Directory of Open Access Books)

DOAB is a collection of Open Access books from a range of subjects and publishers. It is a good place to search if you are looking for more in depth Open Access materials and is a useful companion to a DOAJ or CORE search.


The Electronic Theses Online project run by the British Library collects electronic theses from UK university and makes them available through Ethos. You can search Ethos to find results from a large collection of PhD theses. The search may also return works that are currently under an embargo, but you can limit your search to Open Access resources if necessary.

Pandemic Publication Panic – what to do when you need to publish your data from home

Tl;dr – If you don’t have time to read the full post, here are three things you can do now which will speed up the process. This shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to set up, and will probably take a lot less. (If you’re a PI and don’t already have an RDSF account, you’ll need to do that first.)

  1. If you’re a Data Steward of a project with multiple users, nominate Deputy Data Stewards so you can delegate some of the duties (creating a record, associating data, tidying up files). You can have two deputies, and ACRC can do this for you
  2. Install and set up the University’s VPN so you can access the network securely via Single Sign-On.
  3. Map your project as a drive on your computer, so you can see all of your folders and files. Here’s how to do it on a Windows machine.

That’s it. If you want to know why you need to do this, read on!

Data Security Breach‘Help! We’re mid-pandemic, I’m at home, and I need to publish my data! I need a DOI for a paper!’  We’ve heard this a lot over the past few months, and there are some issues which keep cropping up. So, we thought we’d take a moment to give you a rough guide on what to do when you have PPP (Pandemic Publication Panic).

As with so much else this year, COVID-19 has brought a huge change in working practices. From March 2020, the majority of research has been carried out at home. Research and professional services staff are all working from home where possible, and only on-campus when necessary.

For researchers, it affects the way you work with and store data, which in turn affects your workflow for publishing and sharing data.

To publish data in the repository, data first needs to be in the Research Data Storage Facility (RDSF), so we can copy it across. But how do you get it in there if you are working remotely?

Hang on – RDSF v data.bris repository – what’s the difference?

DataThe Research Data Storage Facility (RDSF) is where you STORE data. The Research Data Repository (data.bris) is where you SHARE data.

The RDSF is a secure, private, University storage facility, designed specifically for research data. It’s so secure and private, users can only access it through the University’s network. You can store sensitive data there, but it needs to be encrypted first. Advanced Computing Research Centre manage the RDSF.data.bris, AKA the Research Data Repository, is a public gateway to research data, with citeable, Google-indexed Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for datasets. Data are shared to data.bris staff and we check and publish the dataset with a publicly accessible dataset record –  data are either available on demand as Open Data or after an agreement has been signed if there are access restrictions. The Research Data Service (that’s us) manages data.bris.

So, once you’ve decided what you want to share, you put it in a designated folder in your RDSF project (it has ‘Data-Bris’ on it) and you share it with us. But to do that, you need to get into your RDSF folders.

Accessing the University of Bristol network

On-campus, University computers link to the RDSF through the network – either through hardwired desktop machines or via the VPN software or hub cables on NWOW laptops. At home, you will need to establish a secure connection to access the RDSF.

There are three ways of doing this, but for ease and speed, we recommend using the VPN:

Virtual Private Network
VPN Overview

The VPN puts your computer on the University network and allows access to a number of services including the RDSF. University-managed Windows computers have the VPN software already installed. The VPN is often needed to access files on Filestore when using a managed University laptop. Details are available on how to install VPN on your Windows, Mac and Linux machines and on iOS and Android devices.

If you’re using a personal device, please follow instructions on the IT website.

Setting up the VPN is a simple 2-stage process for Windows or Mac:

i. download the BIG-IP Edge Client app, to install on your machine (you only need to do this once)
ii. start the app and log in to open the VPN and access the network

Publishing data

Once on a secure connection, you can access the RDSF, and deposit data for publication in data.bris. We’ve got a short video you can use which shows the publication process:

We’ve also got a webpage with more detailed instructions on the publication process.

In particular we’d highlight our short Data preparation rules, and what you to include in your essential Readme.txt file to help anyone encountering your data for the first time to ‘unpick’ your data, access your file formats, check  your data sources and understsand your file naming choices – basically make understanding your data as simple and supported as you can!

And that’s it. As soon as you have ‘requested publication’ we can look at the dataset.


How much is our open access research downloaded?

In October 2017 Our link to the IRUS stats portal was broken. Thanks to some recent changes (including the new look for Explore Bristol Research) this link has been restored. This means we can start analysing how much use our Open Access Research gets.

A lot of work has gone on in that time and more people are using our resources than ever before. I’ve picked out a few interesting points below.

Downloads now compared to 2017

In May 2017, there were 16,619 downloads from visitors to Explore Bristol Research.

In May 2020 there were 69,186!

It’s not because of the lockdown, either. January was actually higher with 75,541! Open access has clearly taken off in the last three years and more people are using our work than ever before. 

Top countries people are downloading our work from in 2020:

  1. United Kingdom,
  2. United States
  3. China
  4. India
  5. Germany
  6. Australia
  7. France
  8. Canada
  9. Netherlands
  10. Spain

Most Downloaded Records so far in 2020:

“The Consumer Rights Act 2015 – a bastion of European consumer rights?” an article by Paula Giliker: 4299 downloads

“Vicarious liability in the UK Supreme Court” a book section by Paula Giliker: 3932 downloads

“(Trans)forming single gender services and communal accommodations” an article by Peter Dunne: 2557 downloads

“A long, hard road to go by : a study of the support work carried out in women’s aid refuges” a thesis by Hillary Anne Abrahams: 2473 downloads

“Psychometric properties and diagnostic usefulness of the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination-Revised in a Chilean elderly sample” an article by Carlos Muñoz-Neira: 2447 downloads

“Borderline personality disorder: an update for neurologists” an article by Paul Moran: 2275 downloads

“The Politics of Industrial Policy: The Case of Malaysia’s National Automotive Policy” a thesis by Firdaus Suffian: 1947 downloads

“Deviant Security: The Technical Computer Security Practices of Cyber Criminals.” a thesis by Erik Van De Sandt: 1602 downloads

“The changing face of English freemasonry, 1640-1740” a thesis by Peter Kebbell: 1480 downloads

“Poverty, gender and violence in the narratives of former narcos: accounting for drug trafficking violence in Mexico” a thesis by Karina Garcia: 1330 downloads


I hope this goes some way to demonstrate how far our Open Access research travels and how many people benefit from it.  For more information on how to make your work open access visit: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/staff/researchers/open-access/

Russell Group sign the Sorbonne Declaration on research data rights

Yesterday, Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, signed the Sorbonne Declaration on research data rights.

Signing the declaration publicly states the research community’s commitment to sharing data, using FAIR data principles, and recognises the importance of sharing data in solving global concerns – for example, curing diseases, creating renewable energy sources, or understanding climate change. The declaration builds on and complements the Concordat on Open Research Data signed by Universities and funders in 2016, and the final report from the UK’s Open Research Data Task Force  published in 2018.

The declaration was also signed by the Association of American Universities, the African Research Universities Alliance, Coordination of French Research-Intensive Universities, the German U15, the League of European Research Universities, Research University 11, The Group of Eight, and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, collectively representing  160 research institutions across Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

In practice, the declaration underscores the commitment of Russell Group members and other similarly positioned research universities to encourage data sharing across institutions and geographical borders – by integrating FAIR data principles into institutional research data policies and supporting researchers in sharing data  through training and rewards –  which is fairly ubiquitous across similar declarations and documents. However, it also reiterates the need for an interoperable global research data environment which includes instruments and repositories which can work with each other, and asks that funders and governments provide funding and resources to facilitate this, and avoid lock-in to commercial platforms and data services, in the true spirit of ‘openness’.

New decade, new focus, new partnerships, all with an eye on the path for progress.


Notes from DCDC19: Navigating the digital shift: practices and possibilities (#DCDC19)

Notes from the Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities (DCDC19) conference, organised by The National Archives, RLUK and JISC, which took place 12th-14th November 2019, in Birmingham.

The theme of DCDC19 was billed as ‘navigating the digital shift’. As the conference progressed, however, unofficial themes soon emerged. On the first day of presentations (officially day 2 of the conference) it became apparent that the conference would be as much about ‘collaboration, consultation and communication’ as about the digital dimension. The scale of the digital endeavour means that these three aspects are essential to achieving digital projects that are relevant for their intended audiences. A second thematic strand around ideas of truth, misinformation, accurate representation, marginalisation and bias ran through many of the papers, as speakers questioned how well the Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum (GLAM) sectors represent communities or historical events, and examined issues of authenticity in the digital dimension. The first afternoon and evening were occupied with preconference events and the main business of the conference took place on days two and three, with keynotes plus a variety of panel session papers and workshops running in parallel.

Opening Keynote: Tonya Nelson, Director of Arts Technology and Innovation, Arts Council England

Tonya Nelson, giving the opening keynote, was the first of several speakers to consider the possibilities for representation of a wider range of perspectives in the digital world and the challenges and opportunities of the digital environment. She examined three key issues in the digital shift:

  1. Making sense of information Tonya asked how we can help people make sense of the vast range of information available and gave examples of different ways this may be done.
    • Historical data may be used to make sense of current phenomena, as in Anna Ridler’s Mosaic Virus , a video work generated by artificial intelligence, which links the “tulip-mania” of the 1630s to current bitcoin speculation.
    • Data may be visualised in new ways, such as the digital sculpture by Refik Anadol, Black Sea: Data Sculpture, based on high frequency radar collections of the Black Sea.
    • Immersive technology may be used to give a sense of the world around us, as in Resurrecting the Sublime, a digital art project recreating the smell of extinct plants in a herbarium collection, using DNA.
  1. Transforming information into power Tonya asked how we can help our audiences transform information into power so it can change their communities. Examples of this were:
    • Cleveland Museum of Art, which has made its collections open access and is encouraging people to remix and use them in interesting ways.
    • The British Library’s Imaginary Cities exhibition, which used the digital map archives to create new fictional cityscapes.
    • The Justice Syndicate, an immersive performance exploring how we navigate through information and misinformation, in which the audience act as a courtroom jury in a murder trial and are periodically fed information according to how they interact with the system.
  1. Supporting new forms of authorship Tonya considered how we can support new forms of authorship, particularly from underrepresented communities, and grapple with issues of authorship, ownership and artificial intelligence (AI) biases in the digital age? For instance:
    • Some marginalised authors self-publish poetry on Instagram, leading to the challenge of capturing and archiving material published on social media
    • Choreographer Wayne MacGregor’s Living Archive, used his extensive video archive to train AI to choreograph new dances, raising questions around authorship and the transparency of the training which underlies machine learning.
    • Machine learning bias was uncovered in a project aiming to identify black people in old master paintings, when machine recognition was unable to detect the black face in Manet’s Olympia, thereby further marginalising the minority figure. Machine learning needs to be inclusive.

In the question and answer session, Tonya discussed the need for organisations to identify which skills need development and announced the launch of a tool to help organisations benchmark their digital capability and make plans for improvement. The Arts Council also have Tech Champions to provide support. Tonya highlighted the need to consider the relationship with the audience for digital productions. As a good example of where wellbeing and the intersection between technology, art and health has been thought about, she cited Marshmallow Laser Feast’s We Live in an Ocean of Air, a virtual forest that monitors the participant’s body so they can see their breath and pulse. Tonya asked whether we are doing enough to draw in influences from the wider world? The Arts Council are working on the relationship between the tech sector and the cultural world. Other challenges were considered such as a lack of flexibility to act for archives in organisations that don’t have an interest in the forward-looking use of their services; upskilling the leadership and the need to meet the core remit. Key messages to take away were the importance of communication with intended audiences, collaboration with colleagues and fostering an innovation mindset in order to evolve from repositories to information laboratories and data activists.

Developing digital platforms

The panel sessions all comprised three papers, followed by questions and answers. The Developing Digital Platforms session was chaired by Chris Day of The National Archives.

Eating the elephant: tackling the Express & Star photograph archive one bite at a time

Scott Knight (University of Wolverhampton) and Holly McIntosh (Wolverhampton City Archives) described a partnership between their institutions and the Express & Star newspaper to digitise, catalogue, preserve and make available a photograph archive of 20th century life in the West Midlands. Having a Heritage Lottery Fund development grant to digitise the photographs meant that they had the help of an HLF mentor to understand the challenges of large-scale digitisation and of copyright issues. Public engagement and consultation were a significant element of the project and brought wonderful stories into the archive. Social media was used, which helped to identify locations and to connect people with the photographs and with long-lost relatives, and the project was also promoted through the Express & Star and on local television news. There was no dedicated project manager or team, but there were volunteers. This brought challenges of managing expectations, but a lot of sorting and tidying occurred as an additional benefit. The project is ongoing and now funded by local organisations.

The GDD network: towards a global dataset of digitised texts

Paul Gooding (University of Glasgow) described the AHRC-funded, Global Digitised Dataset Network, led by the University of Glasgow. It aims to address the feasibility of a global dataset of digitised texts and is working primarily with monographs. The key issue is that although much digitised text exists, there has been a lack of co-ordination at national and international level, which leads to fragmentation and problems of discovery. Paul outlined some of the context in which the network was working, such as a lack of supporting infrastructure to allow collaboration; the shift towards mass digitisation; and the growth of data-driven research. There was a need to move away from the idea of ownership and to balance the involvement and agendas of partners in the network. Paul also considered what global means, for example linguistic, cultural and technological inclusion, and how this relates to the remit and holdings of the national libraries. Discovery, access, and efficiency are priorities. Consistency would also be a benefit of a global dataset, for example having one first edition for referencing would be useful. However, the network found problems matching data between catalogues, so that detecting duplicates internationally will be difficult. A prototype dataset and report are expected in December 2019.

Manchester Digital Collections

Ian Gifford and John Hodgson (Manchester University) introduced Manchester Digital Collections, an enhanced version of the image viewer developed by Cambridge University, enabling viewing of high quality digital images, with the ability to zoom in on fine detail, download, or share on social media. The project involved collaboration between academics and cultural institutions at Manchester, as well as with Cambridge University colleagues, which brought a range of challenges and learning experiences. The different organisational structures and cultures (autonomous and devolved versus more centralised, technology driven versus researcher driven, risk taking versus risk averse) meant a risk of communication failure. This was addressed by a project board bringing together stakeholders to learn from each other. Another challenge was the difference in technical approach. Cambridge have a dedicated digital library team and use the cloud for hosting, while at Manchester, the Library team had to upskill themselves and take the lead, collaborating with their central IT department over local hosting. The benefit was a new co-operative relationship between the library team and IT services. Unlike Cambridge, whose digital content tended to be developed via funded projects, Manchester had to import a wide range of legacy data in various formats from various sources, which could not be achieved via an automated process, so much effort was required to transfer the content. Manchester are reviewing processes and training staff in order to standardise data more in future. Future directions include working on public engagement, moving towards an open source model, online exhibitions, and prioritising researcher requirements. In keeping with the unofficial conference themes, lots of the lessons learned were about the importance of communications and collegial working. It is hoped to eventually widen the partnership to other institutions.

Questions to the panel
The panel was asked about the sustainability of projects. It was felt that impact is important and there is a need to keep returning to the audience to make sure the project serving their needs and to see how the resource can be used in different ways for other activities and applications. There should be engagement with other projects to avoid replication. The panel discussed behaviours for effective collaborations and suggested these were transparency, understanding internal drivers, building a close relationship, not assuming goals or wishes, questioning assumptions about how things should be done, meeting face to face and mutually respecting expertise and differences. There was also discussion on dealing with anomalies in digital collections or catalogues. It is not possible to achieve perfection, but the audience can help point out deficiencies. It is important to use health warnings and to try to debias and be aware of worldwide audiences.

Keynote: Navigating the Digital Shift: Partnerships in Practice Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian, The British Library

Liz Jolly explained how the British Library’s strategy document ‘Living Knowledge’ encompasses the idea of making heritage accessible to everyone for research and also for inspiration and enjoyment, before going on the discuss its six purposes: custodianship, research, business, culture, learning and work with international partners. Her talk focused on the themes of partnership and engagement, openness and accessibility of spaces and information, and on diversity and inclusion. Examples given of partnerships were:

  • Business and IP centre National Network, in partnership with public libraries, which supports entrepreneurs across the UK to help start, protect and grow businesses. There is evidence that this is supporting diverse groups and being very effective in terms of return on public money invested.
  • Living Knowledge Network, a collaboration with national and public libraries to exchange knowledge and develop experiences for users.
  • Single Digital Presence report, which investigates what a national online platform for public libraries might look like. A single digital presence could mean different things: a deep shared infrastructure or single Library Management System for the country; UK-wide content discovery; unified digital lending; a social space; or a single library brand for public libraries, which would make it easier to advocate for public libraries.
  • UK Research Reserve, which partners with academic libraries in a space-saving exercise to deduplicate journal holdings around the UK.
  • The UK web archive, collecting digital publications and also material on the web.
  • The Living with Machines project, in partnership with the Alan Turing Institute, using big data for digital humanities research on the impact of technology on people’s lives during the Industrial Revolution.

Liz reflected that the benefits of working in partnership include learning from other organisations. She stressed that many of the elements of working successfully in the digital world are the human elements and we need to put co-creation of services at the forefront of what we do. Liz also focused on the importance of diversity and inclusion in partnering with our communities, pointing out that a CILIP workforce survey showed 97% or workers in the information sector identify as ‘white’ and 79% are female, though males in the sector are twice as likely to get a top job. Lessons learned included: the need to listen to our communities; the need to share our professional knowledge; that digital literacy needs to be bespoke, i.e. people need to be digitally literate in ways relevant to their work; becoming a reflective practitioner is important. The keynote ended by emphasising the importance of working together with communities to become more effective partners in the digital world. During the question and answer session, Liz explained that engaging minorities successfully is about going out and building relationships with people and also making spaces inviting and not intimidating. Liz spoke about dismantling barriers for entry to the profession, suggesting that perhaps the profession had focused too much on one method of entry and there should be multiple ways in that are different. Liz described libraries as constructed around 3 elements: content, space, and staff, with community being placed in the centre, but pointed out that it is the librarians who make the space a library.

The digital workforce: navigating the skills shift.

This panel session, chaired by Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, aimed to explore how organisations are navigating the shift in skills, practices and professional culture in the digital age.

The everyday (digital) archivist

Jo Pugh (The National Archives) introduced the digital capacity building strategy Plugged In, Powered Up, with a focus on engagement, access and preservation, which are all key in increasing access to collections. Jo suggested organisations might approach digital engagement in different ways, such as using social media to tell stories, wikithons or engagement through Minecraft. As part of the strategy, digital engagement grants are offered to organisations interested in working participatively with audiences (deadline for applications January 2020). Jo referred to a survey, carried out with JISC earlier in 2019, which showed only 1 in 3 archivists feel they have the digital skills they need. The work being done by the National Archives on digital engagement includes

  • Working on a pilot to crowdsource cataloguing
  • Guidance on how to do research with digital collections
  • ‘Novice to Ninja’ digital preservation guidance
  • A taught course at TNA, ‘Archives School’, covering the practical skills of delivering digital preservation
  • Development of a digital leadership programme
  • DALE, the Digital Archives Learning Exchange, a network for archivists involved in digital work
  • Looking at alternative routes into the sector as current archival courses don’t equip people with the digital skills they need

Jo concluded by stating that archive professionals must continue to develop their skills as this is the biggest challenge facing the sector.

Keepers of manuscripts to content managers: navigating and developing the shift in archival skills

Rachel MacGregor (University of Warwick) looked at the hybrid environment in which archives are operating, which means that archivists need to keep their old skills as well as developing new ones to manage digital collections. Rachel outlined the barriers to developing new skills as time, resources, IT support, confidence and subject knowledge. The SCONUL report, Mapping the Future of Academic Libraries examined ways in which libraries could move into the digital sphere. Rachel said that archivists should stick to the values that define what they do and be open about practice, however in the digital realm, the pace of change is fast so it can be hard to get to grips with this practice. Rachel outlined some risks of not doing anything, including loss of reputation, inadequate resources and an inability to support users. Other challenges include descriptive standards, which may not be fit for purpose, and campaign for change is needed. Rachel acknowledged that digital collections can be difficult to make available as there are questions of copyright and data protection, but said that we should share good practice about how we make things available and how we present and promote collections.  She felt that it is unrealistic to expect to always meet the gold standard, but better to do something rather than nothing.

Archives West Midlands: new skills for old? The shift from analogue to digital.

Joanna Terry (Staffordshire Archives & Heritage) and Mary Mackenzie (Shropshire Archives) spoke about Archives West Midlands, established in 2016 as a charitable organisation with 16 subscribed members across the West Midlands. They outlined how the member organisations harnessed the power of collaborative learning to establish ‘digital preservation readiness’ and then to establish policies and guidance for navigating the skills shift from analogue to digital. With the help of funding from TNA and Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology service, and using The National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation, they surveyed the current situation and ongoing requirements, identifying technical gaps, limiting factors and priorities for development. They followed this with practical work. Workshops were delivered looking at Preservica and Archivematica, they engaged with IT services at a regional level and also developed documents, such as a digital preservation template, guidance for depositors and a business case that other archives can adapt and use. The last stage of the project was a knowledge exchange with another similar project.

Questions to the panel
The panel gave suggestions for getting started on the digital route, including taking stock at one’s own organisation to see what needs to be done, using free tools, finding something small to start with and talking to another archivist. The main message was just to have a go. There was also discussion of ways into the ‘Archives School’ course and it was emphasised that there should be different routes in, but that everyone is working together.

Value and the Digital Archive

Neil Grindley of Jisc chaired a panel session exploring how we assign value to archives and what competing notions of value mean in the digital space.

The end of value? Digital archives as cultural property

James Travers (The National Archives) shared the initial findings of his research into perceptions of the value of digital archives and asked whether the digital shift is a challenge to the view of archives as cultural property. He asked whether digital archives have the same financial, evidential, iconic, magical and social benefit as physical archives. Though the evidential value should, in theory, be the same for digital as for other archives, his research suggests that this might not be the case. James suggested a range of possible digital futures

  • The current mechanisms cope with digital archives
  • There are minor gaps in knowledge and skills that can be mitigated
  • Digital archives present a radical challenge and radical change is needed
  • New mechanisms are required to maintain archives as cultural property
  • Archives lose their status as cultural property and will need to seek funding from other sources.

The current hybrid collecting pattern will reach a tipping point where archives will become predominantly digital. Will these digital archives have less financial value? James concluded that despite the lack of a market currently, digital archives will maintain their value, but the rights may transfer from owner to institution.

Can digital archives be emotive? Developing a digital platform for the Manchester Together archive

Jenny Marsden (Manchester Art Gallery) described a project to catalogue and digitise items from the Manchester Together Archive of tributes left by the public following the Manchester Arena attack in 2017. Jenny explained that visits to the physical archive space are often emotional and there may be therapeutic value for families in visiting. The reasons for digitising the archive mostly related to the sensitivities surrounding the archive, for instance some people don’t want to come to Manchester and some still treat the archive as a memorial, not wanting items to be handled. There are similar online memorials for the 9/11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing and these digital archives are often seen as living memorials. Part of the project involved identifying potential audiences and engaging people to discover opinions. It was found that people responded strongly to photos of the memorial and liked the organisation and order of the archive, interpreting it as showing care. It is intended that the platform will enable storytelling. One idea is to undertake oral history interviews and to crowdsource data from those who left an item and are willing to say why. There is also interest in the geography of the collection and the journeys that items in archive have made. There were difficult questions to tackle surrounding the sensitivity of the archive. Some visitors felt the material was too personal to put online and some children were worried about the lack of control of comments about items online. Jenny asked whether it is responsible to create heightened emotion when no-one is there to provide support and concluded that physical and online archives don’t do the same things.

Touching the past through ‘digital skin’: communicating the materiality of written heritage via social media.

Johanna Green (University of Glasgow) discussed the importance of the sensory experience for students studying medieval manuscripts and the fact that digital images fail to represent “the smell, the heft, the texture, the sound” of texts. Her talk explored the potential of social media to bridge this sensory gap. Johanna used an Instagram account, as Twitter is perceived by students as “for old people”, to post images she had taken herself, trying to show what it’s like to be in the reading room. The comments showed students engaging with the images. It was found that traditional images fail to engage senses other than sight, whereas scruffy or complex items seem to capture the audience’s imagination. Images or video clips portraying the codex as a complete object, e.g. showing pages being turned, were the most engaging. The inclusion of curatorial hands in the image communicates sensory information, such as size, or how the book is opened, and as a result, students develop a deeper understanding of how and why manuscripts are complex objects.

Questions to the panel
The panel was asked how well the idea of value is understood. They answered that it is necessary to adapt the way you talk to your audience. Also, that it is easier to advocate for a project if there is support from the audience. Value comes from the engagement, which can be cast in monetary terms, e.g. having attracted x number of students to a course. One questioner asked about the emotive experiences of staff working on the Manchester Together Archive project. Staff worked with the Manchester Resilience Hub (set up in response to the Manchester Arena attack) on how to support volunteers. Volunteers are warned that the material might be upsetting and receive a debrief at the end of each shift. The monetary cost of projects requiring technology was raised and it was pointed out that though there might be a point where the monetary cost outweighs the value of the objects, there will be social value that accrues. Johanna Green was asked how important is it for one’s personality to come across on social media? She replied that there is an expectation of the types of comments that will be provided with the images and decisions to be made about how much to reply to comments or add information. Replying to comments can be time-consuming and a social media account takes lots of work .

Keynote: A Reckoning in the Archives / America’s Scrapbook Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, University Archivist, University of Maryland

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins delivered an impassioned and well-received keynote, using a vision of “America’s scrapbook” to illustrate the erasure of minority communities from history. She challenged the archives sector to confront the colonial, racist, sexist and classist approaches of traditional archival practice. She recounted her own realisation as a student that black history is underdocumented in the archives and said she became an archivist because she wanted archives to represent the full breadth of human experience. Much of her work has involved liaising with individuals and communities to overcome the distrust of institutions. Lae’l described her work in capturing student activism on campus, which is not represented in the traditional media, but in social media posts. There are challenges in archiving this material fairly as it is fragmentary and can lack context. Lae’l observed that “we are still unpacking what it means to archive the Now”. The keynote concluded with a challenge to the profession to let go of ideas of neutrality and to move to “be more honest with who we have been and have hope for what we might become”. The discussion following the keynote returned to the idea of neutrality and the fact that the act of deciding what to keep in an archive is not a neutral act. It also focused on the importance of working with communities. Lae’l described working with student activists to make them part of the process of determining how they want to be represented and remembered. She also discussed the necessity of outreach and engagement to gain the trust of potential donors.

Digital transformation: organisations and practices

This panel session, chaired by Karen Colbron (Jisc), considered how the digital shift is transforming our organisations and relationships with our audiences.

Ask your users. Then ask them again: embedding user research in a big institution

Jenn Phillips-Bacher (Wellcome Collection) spoke about the Wellcome Collection’s approach to putting user research at the heart of product development. The Wellcome Collection had found that typical digital project culture, with tight budgets and timelines, temporary teams and outside IT expertise tended to result in a proliferation of separate websites and a disjointed user experience. At the end of projects, websites are launched, evaluated too early and then left and expertise is lost because the team was temporary, but resources could be allocated differently. Wellcome are taking a holistic approach to bring together the Wellcome Library and Wellcome Collection under one banner in a single domain model and to shift from a projects model to a product model. The team includes the necessary IT expertise and also a user researcher to help grow a team understanding of user needs. Key aspects of practice that have transformed work are

  • Contact with users and moving to a more user-centric design
  • Frequency of testing with users
  • Recording and sharing the results of user research

User research matters because it

  • Means needs are better understood
  • Helps agile working as teams get immediate feedback and can shift direction accordingly
  • Increases visibility of users
  • Increases engagement with the website

Challenges include

  • Recruiting neurodiverse and minority groups
  • Recruitment logistics, e.g. finding the right people at the right time
  • Balancing larger research studies with week-to-week design testing
  • Time

Advice for getting started

  • Grow user research skills from within
  • Set aside time and talk to users regularly
  • Shift project-based research to the beginning and middle phases

Karen ended by asking how should the sector recruit for future tech leadership and digital roles and make itself more appealing to people with tech skills?

Life before and beyond the ‘absolute unit’.

Kate Arnold-Foster and Guy Baxter (University of Reading) talked about how building digital strategy into their work led to the success of the Museum of English Rural Life’s (MERL) Twitter account and their #digiRDG project. Before their Twitter success, MERL thought they were under recognised and under used and felt that digital engagement would raise their profile and cut some of the hard work of attracting visitors. They discovered by trial and error that one person taking control was a better way of managing a Twitter account than sharing the duty of posting around the staff. They undertook some user research to understand how the new rural generation were using digital technologies and they obtained Arts Council funding. The #digiRDG project took a broad approach to digital culture and used agile techniques and regular digital content meetings to bring rigour to work. There is now also a following on Instagram and they have moved into 3D scanning and 3D printing. Not all staff had digital skills but had to stretch themselves. Kate and Guy felt it was important to focus on the conversation between themselves and their users, on the conversation between the museum, library and archive at Reading University, and on the conversation between the digital and the physical.

The wobbly stool: same goals, new roles

Joanna Finnegan (National Library of Ireland) described digital preservation as a three-legged stool, with a balance of technology, organisation and resources, and outlined how the National Library of Ireland has balanced these elements in managing the impact of the digital shift on collecting practices. She said that policies need to include collecting digital content and to recognise that “digital is different”. It was found that co-locating collection and technical staff was helpful. The resources which are most difficult to obtain and keep are staff. Demand for IT skills in Ireland is very high, as it is a large exporter of software. It was found that starting with technology can be a barrier, especially for small organisations, whereas digital preservation is much more than a technological issue. Joanna said that the important element is people and the ability to build relationships with creators and users. There is a need to work with these at an earlier stage than when collecting physical materials. For born digital collections, establishing relationships with donors is important.   There is a need to be more proactive in building relationships with creators and users. The digital collections need to reflect diverse aspects of Irish life, as archiving the .ie domain is not part of Irish legal deposit regulations. Joanna summarised the relationship between physical and digital archiving, saying the goals are the same but the roles are different.

Questions to the panel
The panel was asked about planning. MERL had policies and procedures, but not everything was planned. Wellcome have shortened their planning time frame, looking three years ahead rather than ten. Co-operation between the GLAM sector and Google, as well as other large social media organisations, was discussed. It was felt that this would have to come at a governmental level, but that the main challenge is the one-way relationship of giving away content without learning anything about the usage or engagement. By using social media tools it is possible to engage with a huge audience for free. There was a question about what to deprioritise in order to achieve the digital shift. At the National Library of Ireland everybody kept on doing what they were already doing. MERL prioritised employing someone from outside the sector who had a real understanding of social media.

Keynote: Digital scholarship: Intersection, automation and scholarly social machines David de Roure, University of Oxford

David De Roure discussed the role of digital scholarship in research, sharing stories of his journeys into the evolving knowledge infrastructure. He defined digital scholarship in terms of the balance between people and computers, with more computers leading to distributed computation, more people leading to social networks, but lots of both resulting in digital scholarship and, eventually, to automation and machine learning. David first talked about social machines, where “people at scale meet computation at scale or the crowd meets the cloud”. His example, Galaxy Zoo, was a citizen science project where people helped classify large numbers of galaxies. It has now grown into the Zooniverse platform where anyone can build a citizen science project. Whereas one model of citizen science involves people doing independent work without talking to each other, in the case of Galaxy Zoo there was interaction between contributors which led to new discoveries. Galaxy Zoo also introduced machine learning, where contributors could assist the galaxy-classifying robot to improve. Reproducibility was covered next. Researchers need to keep records of how data has been processed, for purposes of reproducibility. David described the myExperiment project for sharing workflows, which led to Research Objects, which aims to improve reuse and reproducibility of research by supporting the publication of data, code and other resources and enriching them with any information required to make the research reusable and reproducible. Another social machine, MIREX (Music Information Retrieval Evaluation eXchange) brings the music information retrieval community together to improve the analysis of musical features. This is non-consumptive research, where a code is run over an archive without extracting content, meaning it can run over copyrighted material. It was used to analyse data in the SALAMI project (Structural Analysis of Large Amounts of Music Information) which applies computational approaches to the large volume of digital recorded music now available, in order to develop an infrastructure for conducting research in music structural analysis. David talked about new and emerging forms of data, such as tracking data, satellite imagery, social media data and data gathered by other online interactions, e.g. the internet of things, and also about found data, which is a side effect of other research and can cause tension with the established Social Science practice of carefully designed data collection. He said that understanding the processes that create the data is crucial in understanding the data. There is also sometimes an accidental assembly of processes, for instance if devices autocorrect text and accidently jump onto a different social machine. There are huge reproducibility issues with these data, for example it would be hard to reproduce a piece of research using the same Twitter data. Data is increasing massively in scale and the digital is interacting with the human (e.g. in social media) and with the physical (e.g. the Internet of things). The Living with Machines project, previously mentioned by Liz Jolly, was given as an example of the work of the Alan Turing Institute, which brings together Humanities and Data Science. Among the data-driven approaches it has used are experiments conducted though hackathons or datathons and machine-learning. A takeaway message was that “machines are users too”. David’s final story was about a project to build an AI based on Ada Lovelace’s ideas about the possibility of programming music with Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. It would be possible to take a historical figure, study what they wrote and create an AI for them. The conclusion of the keynote was that we need to experiment. We have all the pieces of the future but haven’t figured out how to put them together yet.

Enabling digital scholarship

Jane Stevenson (Jisc) chaired this panel session focusing on how digital scholarship is facilitating and supporting innovative research.

Shaping the market: Developing scalable, researcher-oriented TDM services

Mike Furlough (HathiTrust) and John Walsh (HathiTrust Research Center) talked about text and data mining (TDM) services in the context of US copyright laws. They explained the HaithiTrust is fully funded by over 150 members. It builds the collection, preserves it and makes it accessible but also does other work such as investigating copyright status, collection management, e.g. linking print accessioning and deaccessioning to digital preservation, and work around TDM. The collection is predominantly books, with about half in English. The use is restricted with only about two fifths open for public reading. The collection is generally representative of North American libraries and is hosted at the University of Michigan, though some services and activities are hosted elsewhere. The members share expertise in order to do more with the collection. The HathiTrust Research Center was set up with the aim of developing scholarship in ways that haven’t been used before. The idea for developing the Center originated in part from the ruling that non-consumptive use was to be considered fair use in US law, though this is complicated by licences and it is important to be careful about how analysis is carried out on the in-copyright material. Services provided by the HTRC include:

  • Extracted features – downloadable datasets of page level metadata and word counts, that can be used for topic modelling, linguistic analysis, among other things. They are not suitable for the novice user
  • Web based algorithms for text analysis, which are more suitable for novice users.

Outreach and training are also provided. An example of research enabled by HaithiTrust was an analysis of 104,000 novels, which found that as gender equality gradually increased over time, the number of female characters and proportion of female authors decreased. Two important issues were raised. One is that research questions are not limited to individual collections, but span content that comes from different sources or aggregators. Questions of copyright can be confusing with content from licensed resources. For ECRs and new researchers, there are only limited training resources to help. Secondly, data from multiple sources will be provided in different forms, so it is necessary to do data cleaning. This adds to the need for training. Mike and John ended by asking how best to provide infrastructure and support and whether partnerships might be the answer.

Living with ‘Living with Machines’

Mia Ridge (British Library) discussed some early lessons learnt from working on the “Living with Machines” project, a 5 year partnership between the BL and the Alan Turing Institute to develop data science methods to ask historical questions using digitised collections at scale. The project brings together historians and data scientists and also invites the public to join the process. It makes methods, tools and code available for others to use. It is enhancing the BL data holdings, e.g. by disambiguating place names. The project is also asking how the work with the collections can be integrated into teaching data science and is trying to help politicians understand that the GLAM sector can do innovative digital work. The BL hopes to incorporate data science into its events programme. Challenges have been:

  • Copyright – balancing openness with rights
  • Expense of working at terabyte scale
  • Challenges around workflows and ingest
  • Sharing openly and early without gazumping people’s research
  • Competing goals and deadlines at the BL
  • Thinking about both scale and complexity at the same time
  • Integrating crowdsourcing with academic processes and explaining academic processes to the public
  • Bottlenecks that arise from having to wait for expertise
  • Aligning ideas about whether to make code from scratch
  • Access in the secure environment

Early research outcomes have been shared and the team skills have increased.

Providers, partners, pioneers: the development and diversification of digital scholarship services within Research Libraries and the potential for cross-sector collaboration

Matt Greenhill (RLUK) presented the results of a digital scholarship survey, published earlier this year and explored the role of the research library in delivering digital scholarship services. Some of the findings covered were:

  • Defining digital scholarship is challenging, especially identifying what it means in practice for a research library, but 78% of organisations did have a definition, which was often aligned with their strategy. As it is a fluid term, lots of activities were encompassed in the survey.
  • For activities surrounding the collection, respondents were confident and proficient. In more technical and specialist areas the proficiency was emerging and these activities were less likely to occur within the library.
  • There is a mixed economy of support and the library is just one of the places researchers may go for support, though this situation appears to be changing.
  • Many libraries are involved in digital scholarship initiatives, many of which originate from academics. But this can mean it is reactive in its services.
  • Many libraries are looking to move from the role of service provider to active, costed partner, in order to have more of a voice throughout the process and to work in a more sustainable way.
  • There are implications for the ways that libraries are structured. 11 libraries now have dedicated digital teams. These can ease communication, providing a single point of contact. New roles have been developed or rescoped. Dedicated spaces are also being created, providing physical and intellectual space for creation and collaboration.
  • Activities are now increasingly being driven by overarching strategy.
  • In the shift from analogue library to mixed digital and analogue economy, there is a two-way relationship between digital scholarship and digital collections in the library. The increasing volume of digital collections is opening a wider range of opportunities for researchers and this in turn is highlighting the role of the library as a digital repository.
  • The increase in born digital collections brings challenges, such as the need for automated processes and secure access.
  • The Library has the potential to be an active broker between multiple groups. It can provide spaces and be a catalyst for collaboration. It can act as a shop window for the institution, a place for experimentation and an incubator for collaboration.
  • There is potential for cross-sector collaboration, e.g. between public libraries and universities around digital skills and scholarship, and also for collaboration in the international sphere, which RLUK is exploring.

Questions to the panel
The panel debated whether the term ‘digital’ creates an artificial division. It was thought that in terms of advocacy and because it is quite new, it can be a helpful term, but it depends on the audience. The term ‘digital humanities’ may eventually disappear, but for now it has a lot of utility. There was some discussion about the introduction of bias when there are sources missing in large aggregations and about how to represent “negative metadata”. It was thought that the structure of the library within the institution and whether it is conjoined with IT Services may have a bearing on the success of efforts to create partnerships. Some people thought that having a dedicated digital team helped. One museum/archive has made their collections data open access so they have their own dataset to use for demonstration and training. They run a library carpentry session for researchers.

Blockchain: the future for collections?

The final panel session, chaired by Matt Greenhall (RLUK) explored how blockchain technology could be used in the cultural sector.

ARCHANGEL – Trusted archives of digital public records

Alex Green (The National Archives) reported on research carried out in collaboration with the University of Surrey and the Open Data Institute on the potential of blockchain to underscore trust in digital records. He explained that digital files may be altered by archivists for legitimate reasons, e.g. conversion of the file format for presentation purposes, but users need to know that the file is a genuine copy of the original and not maliciously altered. The research project, which ended in June, used blockchain technology to prove that no changes had been made to a record, or that any changes made were legitimate. Checksums, which are like unique fingerprints for a file consisting of letters and numbers, and other metadata were written to a blockchain. Multiple organisations then held a copy of the contents. The distributed network meant that consensus could be achieved because nothing written to a blockchain can be changed. The chain that links blocks together is made of the checksum of the previous block and a new checksum, which is generated based on the content and on the old checksum. For files that were legitimately altered, it was thought that checksums of the software used to change the file could be added to the blockchain. Alex emphasised that collaboration between archives is key to the successful use of blockchain.

Blockchain and the museum: turning digital fragmentation into social value

Frances Liddell (University of Manchester) drew on her collaborative PhD project with National Museums Liverpool in order to address the question of what blockchain can do for the GLAM sector and how we might turn digital fragmentation, found on blockchain technology, into social value. Ideas of being collaborative, visitor-focused, inclusive and ethical and cultivating social value were all incorporated into the project. Frances discussed the concept of collective ownership, which is less about physical ownership and more about co-operation, with the focus is on guardianship rather than cultural property. Collective ownership in the digital domain has an extra layer of complexity because it challenges the notion of authenticity as well as the idea of the museum acting as keeper or authority over items in its collections. Frances linked this idea to the Open Museum movement, which releases digitised collections online under creative commons licences. Frances explained the qualities of blockchain, using the example of the blockchain game CryptoKitties, and how blockchain can prove the authenticity of a document. Blockchain can be used when selling digital art, as the consumer knows that the art’s authenticity can be proven. Shared ownership can also be tracked on blockchain and a sense of social community can be formed. Frances concluded that blockchain is not a fully formed solution to issues of ownership online, but can help build collective ownership and shared authority between museum and audiences.

Introducing Project Arbour, a digitisation and cultural blockchain catalogue access project

Geoff Blissett (Max Communications) discussed a collaborative project with Centre for Scientific Archives and Cognizant to digitise catalogues of the manuscript papers of scientists and make them cross-searchable, adding blockchain technology for verification purposes. A prototype application was built and testing with user groups has begun, which has been effective in identifying potential risks and problems and quantifying how useful it will be. They are currently in the process of developing use cases. Like the other panel speakers, Geoff briefly explained the principles of blockchain and said that the blockchain element helps with transparency and giving users confidence in the veracity of the material. It provides traceability as it is possible to see where any changes are made and it provides an audit trail, showing where an item has come from and the steps it has made on its journey, so it can help with identifying human errors, or questions or disputes about ownership of a document or copyright. Geoff outlined the workflow: The collection holders provide the material, which is digitised and digitally preserved by Max Communications.  The package, including metadata and PDFs, is then passed to Cogizant who put it into a blockchain and load it into the cloud.

Questions to the panel
The panel were asked about the environmental considerations of blockchain, in terms of energy usage. It was explained that a private blockchain takes less energy. There were concerns that blockchain technology could become obsolescent quite quickly. Whilst acknowledging the dangers, it was generally thought that blockchain is here to stay but is in its infancy. The community is still trying to see if it works and can make a difference.

Videos of some of the keynotes and audio recordings and slides of some of the panel session papers are available.

Conference delegates were left with plenty of food for thought (and plenty of time to think about it on the way home, as trains from Birmingham New Street were delayed by flooding disruption). Take home messages included the importance of collaboration, as partner institutions can achieve more together. Collaboration also needs to take place with stakeholders and with end-users, and good communication is key to collaboration. The GLAM profession needs to become more representative of communities and to be inclusive and welcoming. There are challenging questions to tackle of authenticity, bias and ownership in the digital world. We need to learn new digital skills, take some action and embrace the digital shift.