I’ve been on holiday this week, but I went on a bit of a busman’s holiday, and popped in for a quick seminar on developments in the British Library – part of the British Library Roadshow. There was a bit of a mix-up and so I ended up in the seminar for commercial interest rather than the HE seminar, but as I was really interested in attending for my wider career development rather than my current work, it didn’t really matter which I attended.
First, and most frivolously of all, I highly recommend the British Library chocolate we got free. Yum. There was also some interesting content.
One thing that I didn’t expect to be hearing was about the British Library’s dissatisfaction with copyright laws. In some senses this was rather hypocritical of me. In our own library we constantly have to persuade students that our attempts to stop them from breaking copyright law aren’t part of our evil library plans, just a genuine professional need to demonstrate that we are enforcing the law. Somehow (subconsciously) I must have felt like the British Library had evil library plans of its very own, as hearing a spokesperson for the BL say it was actively campaigning to change copyright law to be more appropriate to everyday needs was almost shocking! Balancing legal requirements with my idealism is something I’m going to have to get more used to doing as a librarian, so it’s good to have a role model for doing exactly that! I also heard about the projects they’re working on, the Turning the Pages project and British Library Direct Plus.
Turning the Pages is basically e-book software designed to present manuscripts and ancient texts, but what is fascinating is the way that focusing on a specific style of text changes design requirements from the textbook e-books we see in academic libraries. The ability to view the actual layout of books and the actual quality of pages and text with this software is enthralling, and you can really understand why it’s useful with unique and beautiful illustrated works.
British Library Direct Plus is (or at least, will be) a database searching tool that lets you plug in and search across different databases to which your library subscribes. It then links to the British Library’s holdings, and your own library catalogue, and explicitly states the cost of article supply through the British Library. My own experiences of cross-database search engines as an academic library user have not been overwhelming. The University of Nottingham eLibrary Gateway I used as a student seemed to hide the functionality of individual databases, encourage the user to confuse databases and e-journals, and limit interdisciplinary users by a rigid use of subjects to categorise databases. At first glance, the British Library system seems like a bit of a step forward: the wide catalogue of the British Library, saved searches and alerts and promising local integration means it’s something I’d be interested in working with as a librarian, despite my continued reservations about the limitations of grouping searches and results from a range of database styles.
Lastly, and second-most-frivolously, the new British Library building at Boston Spa is going to be staffed (well, enabled) by robots! This is obviously very exciting, and almost certainly quite practical too.
I’d highly recommend the roadshows: I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for them in future years. It’s quite a relaxed session, it’s interesting to see what the British Library are up to, and I imagine if you attend as a full librarian at the correct session it could be quite a useful networking event too!