Ready, set, read, read and read some more!

Rather later than my colleagues (according to their active twitter accounts and blog posts), I am finally getting down to my dissertation. Yes… I know… it is nearly mid-August and I have yet to start! Not a very good beginning to the adventure of dissertation-writing but I had no choice. I need to explain: no sooner were essays over, we had a family crisis. My 91 year-old father had a fall and broke the top of his femur and my 87 year-old Mum wasn’t coping very well at all. They live in France. We shared the care between us siblings (living in the UK, France and Italy) but the recovery took longer than what was anticipated and things are still touch and go despite overall good progress.

Shortly after that, our eldest daughter got married and that was THE happiest day ever, a true match made in heaven, but very down-to-earth couple!

Image 10-08-2019 at 21.47

They wanted a hot day and they got it: the hottest day in June in 40 years! Wow! Friends and family from all over the world converged to London for an international celebration. We donned our Ukrainian dress and the groom’s parents, their Korean dress and we were all splendid (including the bride and groom, of course…)

Finally, to top it all – because a relative’s fall and one’s daughter’s wedding isn’t enough activity and busyness in the space of 2 months (!), we were served a notice, as our landlady was selling up the flat where we have lived for the past 3 years. So, July was spent hunting for another place to live and moving. I have not enjoyed this past month. Pretty much everyday, I was telling myself that my treat at the end of this stressful and crazy time was starting on my dissertation… I know, I know, I am a bit weird like that.

My ‘treat time’ has come and I am itching to go… But first and foremost, I need to re-read my proposal as a reminder of what I am about to undertake. I have already resumed the reading of Succeeding with your Master’s Dissertation by John Biggam, which is a step in the right direction. And there is the material from 8 whole modules which I sense I should have retained better. Has the information been catalogued in my brain in such a way that I am able to find it again, retrieve it and use it? Maybe this mug and the tea I will drink from it over the next few months will help… Let’s hope so anyway.

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Thoughts on the BL Digital Labs Symposium

Joint blog post written with three other students from City, University of London’s MSc Library and Information Science course

The British Library Labs (BL Labs) Symposium showcases innovative projects that use the British Library’s digital content and data, and provides a platform for development, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field. (Programme for the Sixth British Library Labs Symposium, 2018)

Stephanie McMullan:
All too often we think of data as lifeless and uncreative. Reams of numbers, words and images being collected and flashing in front of us quickly and momentarily, being used to generate statistics and graphs to reflect on what has happened in the past.
However, as I left the BL Digital Labs Symposium three weeks ago I was struck by the creative purposes data was being used for; data is bringing new things to life. I found this most striking in the “Imaginary Cities” project by Michael Takeo Magruder. Magruder is using the British Library’s collection of historic urban maps on Flickr to create artistic, fictional cityscapes for modern audiences. The images will constantly change over time and using 3D technology, these cities will become accessible to the public through VR headsets for audiences to explore.
As we discussed in CityLIS week 6, information is needed for creativity and innovation. By making available digitised images from the British Library’s collections the BL has shown how the information libraries provide can be disseminated in new ways and be used to inspire new generations of artists, researchers and scholars. The BL Labs Symposium showed us this again and again.

Sarah Feehan:
The symposium showcased the seemingly limitless uses for digitised content from the British Library Labs. The four awards – comprising the categories Research, Artistic, Commercial and Teaching & Learning – gave the audience a fascinating insight into what I’m sure is just the tip of the iceberg.
The winner of the Teaching & Learning award was Jonah Coman with their Pocket Miscellanies: a collection of miniature zines which each provide a short lesson on a different aspect of Medieval visual culture, primarily featuring marginalised bodies that are so often missing from the historical mainstream media. The zines use images from the British Library Labs Medieval digital collection, which Jonah has permission to reproduce and make publicly available online as part of a free resource. However, the copyright of the images does not allow for them to be sold – so Jonah, an artist, has instead set up a Patreon so that this work can be supported, but without infringing on copyright law which prohibits the sale of the zines.
This is an area we touched upon in our morning session with Dr. Jane Secker in week 8, and which we will no doubt be revisiting soon as it is imperative information scientists and librarians understand it fully.

Susanne Trokhymenko:
I believe the purpose of knowledge is to create meaning in our lives, and true meaning can only be achieved if something is passed on to others to enrich and benefit their lives. A product, in this case the digital content and data of the British Library, is truly meaningful when it keeps on giving.
At the British Library Symposium, not only was I amazed at the winners of the awards but at the whole range of finalists. The use of the digital content available has been such a source of inspiration for many. From research awards demonstrating the development of new knowledge to artistic awards, and from commercial to teaching and learning awards exhibiting the creation of quality learning experiences, it was truly remarkable to see the innovation and use of the BL content for sharing the knowledge and cascading it further afield.
From collections being used for a fashion show – designer Nabil Nayal researched his PhD in Elizabethan Dress – to Jonah Coman’s zines (see above), the awards celebrate and recognise creativity, and encourage international collaboration (Pocahontas and after) with effective and exciting research and activities which enhance the Library’s digital content. All in all: Go BL! Can’t wait for next year…

Tim Darach:
During Daniel Pett’s talk at the BL symposium I was struck by how unreal the 3D objects looked up on the screen, floating phantasmal as if waiting to be picked up in a computer game.
I was expecting something more realistic, after all they were made from photographs! But at that point I didn’t understand what these 3D objects were or how they are made.

During the break I put on a VR headset and tried to walk around a lion – nearly knocking over an expensive looking camera in the process.

What I’d experienced was actually a model – based on measurements derived from photographs (photogrammetry) – with colours and textures copied from the photos stretched over the top of it, bulging ever so slightly like a stuffed animal in a museum. These 3D models are an interpretation – like archeological line drawings – except they are generated algorithmically rather than with a human eye. (The person producing the drawing has to decide where the boundaries are – where one feature ends and another begins – whereas for the 3D model this is done mathematically.)

Detail of Roman bust in 3D modelling software
Wireframe detail from a PhotoScanPro 3D model of Roman bust in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The idea of copies allowing an enhanced experience is not new, see for example the plaster casts that populate the Victoria and Albert museum’s sculpture gallery and other 19th century institutions:

“In the mid nineteenth century new casting techniques allowed for the production of huge architectural fragments. Well-selected collections could ideally display perfect series in galleries in which the visitor could wander among monuments and experience architecture history on full scale (Lending, 2015).”

Although in this case the physical properties of the materials used to make the cast and the model mostly defined the outcome.

Viewing these 3D models on a screen or through a headset enhances the isolation of the artefact – that they can be objectified, can be seen on their own out of narrative context. We have been trained to accept the surreal juxtapositions of objects in museums and other cultural institutions, so in a way 3D modelling is another facet of that process.
The interposition of explanatory text and curatorial order is supposed to mitigate this surreality – or even disguise or rationalise how the artefacts came to be on display in a grand building. (Further complicated by our tendency to think we are looking at something authentic, whereas the provenance of many artefacts is in tension with this notion: such as restorations; reconstructions; fakes; copies made by the original craftsmen for collectors; authorised copies; versions made specifically for museums but left incomplete for cultural reasons…)

I wanted to learn more about the modelling process so I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum Photogrammetry workshop last week and there Daniel Pett taught us how to use modelling software to make 3D models from artefacts we photographed in the museum:

3D Model of theatre head
Click on the image above to view a 3D model of a stone head from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

If you swivel the model around you will see there is a hole in the top – you can look inside at the back of its face – I like this flaw; it is a reminder that you aren’t looking at reality.

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Programme for the Sixth British Library Labs Symposium. (2018). [ebook] p.1. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FZ6pLSDSe4Kc8VQP_8Hhlmuc-4usXxhK/view [Accessed 2 Dec. 2018].

Lending, M., 2015. Promenade Among Words and Things: The Gallery as Catalogue, the Catalogue as Gallery. Architectural Histories 3, np-np. https://doi.org/10.5334/ah.da

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Building my own taxonomy

<title>Building my own taxonomy</title>

I have a favourite place where I can look at the expanse of the sea spreading from Dungeness to the coast of France. Okay. Not every time as a lot depends on the weather but you get the picture… It is an awe inspiring panorama which I never tire of and which is never the same twice. There are days when you cannot see where the sea ends and the sky starts, and other times it looks like someone has taken a dark blue pencil to the horizon and drawn a line with a ruler. You can also start with one view to the East and while your eyes are sweeping the skyline, it has changed dramatically to the West.

What I see with my eyes pleases me but I know that although it looks like a line has been traced with a ruler, the reality is very different. If I were to sail out there, there would be no line. Instead I would find waves, fish, birds and algae, petrol traces, ferries and other boats. There is another dimension going on out there that cannot be seen from my view point up on top of the cliffs.

My view is the world of information. From up there, how can I seize even a small part and make something of it? Make sense of it? Home in for a better understanding of what I see? That is my longing. Or maybe I should that was my longing; because I think that very slowly it is actually becoming a reality. 

I am starting to see taxonomies I never saw before. I had a concealed knowledge that they existed all along but wasn’t able to break them down into parts which would give me a complete insight. It’s like discovering a muscle you never knew existed after a first run on the beach. You know it is there by the pain you experience. You might have learned about it in year 7 biology class but until you use it and maybe strain it, you can’t really connect it either to your body or to your exercise routine. After the pain subsides, you have to stretch, rest, build up and strengthen that muscle before it can be used again.

At the start of this course, I was looking at the world of information which surrounds us, acknowledging it but not really knowing much about it. Over the last few weeks, I have been trying to identify processes, to understand databases and to retrieve information, and most of all to connect all these together. Just like finding the demarcation between sea and sky, sometimes it is unseen, and other times so clear. I am finding that through these lectures I am being equipped to see and analyse and, yes, enjoy and grow an appreciation of what my mind encounters. 

Now, it might feel like a terribly romantic way of describing my learning process, but I communicate optimally through pictures and illustrations because those are the ones, if we are totally honest with ourselves, that we remember best.

Information belongs to the people, but who is trying to find our information? How can we facilitate access to it? Which model do we use to keep records of information? What information should we keep and what should we discard? Is this form of data collecting ethical? These are questions that have been raised over the past weeks which now never quite leave my mind… I cannot look at the world of information around me without asking myself how it can be improved upon and what role I could have in the greater picture. How can I make a difference in my little boat on the sea? Maybe once I have linked the data in my brain, I will see the bigger picture. 

In the meantime though and to enable me not to go mad, I do need to occasionally climb up to the hills, sit back and enjoy the view!

Bring It On!

Considering I missed the first 2 weeks of my course pretty much in their entirety, I am a little stuck (to say the least) as to what to reflect on… I was busy sunning myself in the South of France – a holiday booked long before I even knew I would apply to do an MSc in Information Science at City University of London! I was also busy celebrating 24 years of marriage (my own!). So I did have a valid excuse…

Nevertheless, I have a confession to make. 

After the induction session, I was on a roll – so excited to be learning about a subject fairly new to me albeit familiar within the context of my job for the last year: Customer Service Assistant in a public library in Kent. I was SO ready to go back to Uni (after 16 years!) and learn some more. Despite this excitement, I did go away on holiday but rejoined the rest of the students at the end of week 2. I feel a little intimidated, scared even, at the content and scope of some of the modules but I am prepared to give it my best, to learn and absorb with intent and enjoy every minute of it. 

I might not have much to reflect on but the little I have heard so far in lectures and the basis on which I have interacted with fellow student colleagues, is already spurring me on to read and research to gain better understanding of what a vital subject Information Science is to our ever-evolving society. From the depths of time to the distant future, I will have been privileged to be a minute part of its history.

Bring it on!