Saturday, August 15, 2015

Research: The British Library

British Library Gate, London
My last day in London, I made it back to the British Library to investigate their use of digitization and online collections. 

The British Library (BL) engages in large-scale digitization projects, ranging from photographs, newspapers, manuscripts, journals, and books, and all digitization is in-house. 

Unsurprisingly, they encounter a problem common to all libraries: funding. The British Library does not set aside funds for digitizing collections. Instead, they find a sponsor, a party interested in the records for their own use or for public use, to fund the undertaking. A team is then assembled for a specific project, spanning from conservators checking the state of the documents to quality assurance personnel testing the end product. Separate departments handle each step of the process: selection, conservation, cataloging, imaging, quality assurance, and data packaging. 

In the end, the digitized manuscripts become available according to the agreement with the sponsor. Because the sponsor funded the project, they determine when the records can be released to the public. For example, companies digitizing ancestry records for a subscription-based site may not allow the records to be free online for a set amount of time. 

One of the BL's greatest assets is their online collections. More than simply images, the BL includes scholarship, long descriptions, and occasionally plain-text transcriptions and/or audio of their online works. 

Jamie's Name Badge
British Library Courtyard, London
The Discovery portion of their site is dedicated to scholarship and research. In addition to the digitized images and manuscripts available, there are articles referencing these works as primary sources and curated collections, grouping related items together. The Discovery site is utilized as a teaching and research tool which engages high school and university age children with primary source documents. 

Another resource, the Online Gallery displays collections from exhibits--such as the gorgeously detailed and interactive Magnificent Maps exhibit--as well as the bulk of their digitized material. One can search or take a stab at popularly searched terms.

By far the most remarkable bit of technology available online is Turning the Pages, a software which recreates the feel of turning the pages of a manuscript. When the technology was first launched, before the popularization of eReaders, it was revolutionary. However, it's still a fascinating experience.

The British Library's online resources are massive, more than I can possibly do justice to here, so I'll leave all the best tidbits for the research paper!


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