By Alex Wakelam | @A_Wakelam
Archives can be peculiar places. Each comes with its own personal variety of watchful archivists, identification requirements, seating regulations and occasionally (for those who’ve tried to enter the almost impenetrable fortress that is the Bodleian) oaths to swear. They sometimes seem like sacred historical spaces (Cathedral archives often literally are) where only the enlightened, the blessed, the chosen brothers and sisters of history speaking “shibboleth” may enter. They are, of course, anything but. Despite the grumbling academics trying to expel anyone but themselves from the British Library and presumably from anywhere they deem “their territory”, those documents labelled “Public Records” are, as the name suggests, publicly owned and publicly accessible. The 1958 Public Records Act even specifically requires the provision of ‘reasonable facilities … available to the public for inspecting and obtaining’ historical records.
By Fred Smith
The British Library is overflowing with young, frappuccino-supping undergraduates more interested in checking Facebook and watching Netflix than carrying out ‘serious’ research. At least this is the impression one might take from reading an article in The Times newspaper last month. Several prominent academics, including former professor of Renaissance literature at the University of Leeds, David Lindley, have voiced concerns over the overcrowding of an institution they believe should be reserved for individuals with a genuine research interest – individuals who currently struggle to find a seat and face ever-increasing waiting times for books. They believe that the once-exclusive library has become a trendy meeting place for London’s students to socialise over a cup of coffee and take advantage of the free wi-fi.
By Kayt Button, @kayt_button
Today we collect a vast array of readily available information in the form of statistics, stories, reports, and videos available publicly on the internet or through more official channels. These are created by journalists, public servants, and the public at large who are able to self-publish. Before the advent of what has been named “Big Data”, events were written down, or photographed, by a few individuals and published. Before that, pictures and oral histories recorded important events. All these sources have their own difficulties – in the case of Big Data, as the name suggests, the volumes of available information can be overwhelming. Hard copy written sources were authored by someone and understanding the writer can be as important as what they reported, which is also true of oral history, drawings, and photographic evidence. Read more
by Marta Musso
On the 3rd of December, the Institute for Historical Research hosted a conference on the challenges and opportunities that the digital world offers to researchers in the humanities. As we live in the middle of the digital revolution, we don’t have full perception of the massive changes that the switch to digital is bringing about. However, over the past 30 years, more and more human actions have been conducted through digital tools (from MS-DOS computers all the way to smartlets) and, especially in the past 15 years, the web has created an exponentially crowded place of action and interaction. As ephemeral as web content is (a tweet is published and lost in just a few seconds), the problem of preserving online data for future studies is now an integral part of research in the humanities.
by Emily Ward
The British Library is one of those resources which can be so initially overwhelming that you don’t know the first place to start in order to make the best use of it. With over 56 million items, even navigating through the 17 different online catalogues seemed a daunting prospect to me. It was for this reason that I decided to attend one of the Doctoral Open Days run by the library, which are specifically aimed at postgraduates in the first year of PhD study.