UoL Library Blog

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Growing Knowledge at the British Library

Posted by emmakimberley on 5 January, 2011

On Monday 13th Dec Terese Bird and I paid a visit to the British Library to take part in an assessment session for the Growing Knowledge exhibition. The purpose of the Growing Knowledge exhibition is to showcase ‘innovative research tools’ to researchers. The exhibition space itself provides a futuristic space for experimenting with new technologies. Attractions include a tweet-o-meter, computers with 2, 3 and 4 screens as well as a touch screen, and a Microsoft Surface. The idea is to evaluate how researchers are working in different ways: we’re doing more things at once, so do we need more screens to support the multi-faceted nature of research work?

The exhibition room

As part of the evaluation we were let loose to play with the research tools on this range of devices. Terese Bird and I used the touch screen computer to look at some of the academic initiatives online, including the Allen Brain Atlas, Semantic Web Applications in Neuromedicine, Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts and the Journal of Visualized experiments. Each of these shows ways in which the web is being used by scholars in diverse fields for research, collaboration, visualisation and dissemination.  

Terese has identified the Microsoft Audio Video Indexing System (MAVIS – a software system using speech recognition technology to allow searches of audio and video files) and the Galaxy Zoo as her stand-out tools in her blog post about the day. Both of these tools facilitate research that would be arduous or even impossible without them. My own favourites were the Journal of Visualised experiments and the eDance project.

JoVE leads the move toward making the communication of research more visual by presenting research methods in video format, thus “allowing the intricacies of new methods to be demonstrated far more effectively than is possible in text.” This is the kind of knowledge that really benefits from being shared in non-written media.

The eDance project has developed tools for collaboration between performance and practice-led research in dance, enabling researchers to chart movements in three dimensions. While I didn’t have time to gain a full understanding of how these technologies can be used, they seem symbolic of a shift in ways of thinking when it comes to research in the Arts. The idea that description and comment can happen on the artwork itself, rather than as a separate piece of writing, surely has implications for research into any kind of visual or moving-image text.

My favourite piece of hardware was the Microsoft Surface, which displayed a digital version of the 19th century Garibaldi Panorama – the world’s longest painting – and shows how the challenges of viewing and collaborating on such an artefact can be overcome.

Microsoft Surface Table

As a whole, the exhibition raises questions about the role of libraries in storing and curating digital heritage and in supporting new academic behaviours, some of which are discussed in the podcast of the British Library debate: Is the physical Library a redundant resource?

One Response to “Growing Knowledge at the British Library”

  1. My personal opinion – certainly in HEIs I think the day of the big building full of books and journals is on the wane. I still believe that libraries and their expert staff have a role to play, not just as organisers and guides to the wealth of information at everyone’s fingertips, not solely as curators of intellectual treasures and rare materials, and not just as advocates for the scholarly work of the institution. Oh no.

    There is also the role of a library as a third space, a place between home and work to come to study, reflect, to sit, to muse and to think. How easy is that to do in your office or dorm? Not easy, and so you need a space. And while in that space why not take advantage of the experience and wisdom embodied by the library staff to guide you to resources, or to show you just how the techniques you picked up for querying an information resource 10 years ago aren’t quite the most time effective way of conduction a review of the literature.

    There’s also the increasing role of libraries to be embedded within and with depts., as collaborators on research, as fellow scholarly practitioners as an organisation and individuals who can make researchers and students lives easier, richer and their pursuits more fulfilling.

    That said we still need to see a willingness to embrace this, potentially terrifying, step change across the board! Count me in, I love a challenge…

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