British Library Day Fourteen: Electronic Services and Digital Scholarship


Second last entry!

Today was a pretty long day, with a lot of talking.  I did take a fair amount of notes, but it was a case of information overload, and I don’t know that specific projects in the departments I was in are all too relevant as opposed to a general overview.

I started with the Electronic Services team, who sit kind of between the reading rooms and tech-support in the grand scheme of things. The department is heavily involved with the Explore the British Library catalogue, ordering systems, print services, user accounts, database subscription and management, IT testing, and training staff in new applications among other things. I spent some time with each member of the team, and each went over their area with me.

Sebastian is in charge of database licensing and testing. As well as checking all the database invoices and budget figures, he also deals with any database issues which arise from the reading rooms – access being the most common. Other database work includes managing/reporting broken links, and keeping statistics of data use.

Sebastian also explained the system behind patron printing accounts a little bit, and confirmed what I’d been hearing about its major problem being that Pharos (the printing system) is not as compatible with the other library systems as would be ideal – hence users needing to create a new log in. The printing system and printers themselves are actually on loan/lease from (and maintained by) an outside company so the situation is unlikely to change soon.

I spoke to Andy next, whose main responsibilities are book tracking, and handling problems with the software side of the book ordering system. He runs a report each morning which identifies miss-scanned items, and items which have gone missing ‘en-route’. I can’t recall with full accuracy what happens after this, but I think I remember that lists are sent to appropriate locations so people can conduct a physical search for items in their area. Once a year, a massive book recall report is generated, to gather items which staff may be holding for personal/professional use – perhaps beyond the allowable (6 month) lending period. Some staff have even had extended lending privileges removed as a result of this book recall.

Andy is also the person the reference desks call in the cases where an item appears on the catalogue, but needs to be split into orderable parts, or if there is another glitch. The first problem I witnessed was simply a click of the button for him to solve. He is also in charge of generating the report on registration and reader statistics.

Glen deals with the recent upgrading process for reader registration, and the basket function which allows a reader to store catalogue entries for ordering at a later date. Glen’s biggest project at the moment is handling the integration of all of the newspaper content arriving from Colindale. The items should already be catalogued, but their internal links and ordering systems need to be created and tested. Having been to Colindale and seen a portion of the collection, I can see this is a massive task.

I was only given a short overview of what the other two members of the team do, which is more involved with the website, and maintaining internal links and lists of resources etc.

Side projects are a common aspect of everyone’s position (a recent example being the redo of the Frequently Asked Questions), and they have a rota to handle /respond to input generated from the ‘feedback’ button on the catalogue because it is not something anyone enjoys.

After all this information, I was impressed by how much work these people do, and how integral they are to the smooth running of the reading rooms. I wonder if this is appreciated by the people working on the reference desk when they call about an issue.

I had a bit of lunch – and boy, was I sick of sandwiches! – and then it was off to Digital Scholarship for an hour or two.

I have to admit, I questioned the meaning of the department title, just to make sure I understood. This isn’t a grant offering body, it is a department concerned with scholarship in a digital environment, or using digital resources. They are concerned with producing digital content, integrating and presenting it in the best way possible to enable ease of use and continued interest in the collection. The collection/work encompasses maps, drawings, visual arts, sound and vision, and moving image.

The department constantly has an abundance of projects on the go, with monthly progress reports. Like the Picture Library, curators can pitch new digitisation projects to the department after filling out a proposal. Another team entirely handles digital migration.

I spoke to two staff members about specific projects, but at least with one, things are a bit hush-hush, so I’ll remain quiet on that front, except to say that it involves digitization on a massive scale.

The second person I spoke to, Mohinder (probably not the correct spelling), works to increase engagement of researches to digital content. People can do a lot of things with digital content which they wouldn’t be able to with physical, and to capitalise on this, Mohinder has introduced competitions to encourage participation. Academics were encouraged to submit ideas for new uses the collection could be put to, and this year 2 winners were picked to work closely with developers and the digital scholarship team to realise their product or software idea. Expenses paid, and with a cash prize up for grabs.

Again, everyone in this office seemed very passionate about advocating for the library, and advancing services.


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