CILIP Youth Libraries Group unconference 19/3/17

On Sunday 19 March, CILIP’s Youth Libraries Group organised an ‘unconference’ at Richmond Library. As was explained at the beginning of the event, attendees of an unconference decide what will be discussed and lead the discussions themselves. So at the beginning of the day we were invited to suggest ideas for discussion, which were then used by the event organisers to plan a programme for the day.

The author, Elizabeth Laird, gave a short talk to launch the event. She talked about her new book, Welcome to Nowhere, about a family forced to flee during the Syrian civil war. She also talked about a collection of Ethiopian folk tales that she recorded and edited to make them accessible to children. They are available for free online – http://www.ethiopianenglishreaders.com/.

The first session I attended was on how to demonstrate the value of a school or public library. Ideas included:

  • sending termly reports to your line manager based on circulation data and ‘display interaction’ data (i.e. counting up how many times you see people interacting with a display)
  • ensuring students write the resources they’ve used in homework
  • citing research showing the benefits of reading (e.g. by the National Literacy Trust and Book Trust)
  • having a governor linked to the library
  • highlighting targeted collaboration with teachers, e.g. a book club that supports a particular curriculum area

The next session was on running events in the library. Want to get an author to come and speak at your school? Try and catch them when they’re on a publicity tour. Publishers also love to hear how the visits went afterwards. Another great idea was to invite feeder primary schools to events. Not only does this share the event with more people, it can be a good incentive for the more in-demand authors to come to your event as they’ll reach a wider audience.

In the afternoon I joined a discussion on knowing and developing your stock. Lovereading4kids and Books for Keeps were both mentioned as good sources of book reviews, recommendations and more. Apparently, Peters suppliers also allow those who sign up to see book reviews without having to buy books. Literary prizes, such as the Wellcome Book Prize and the Branford Boase Award, can be a good way of scouting out new books. Finally, keeping teachers abreast of new stock is important and then encouraging them to read it by, for example, challenging them to read a teen book over the summer.

I also attended a session on information literacy. Discussion focused initially on how to teach students about fake news. This IFLA poster was suggested as a good resource:

How_to_Spot_Fake_News

By IFLA (http://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And breakyourownnews.com, a fake-news generator, could come in useful for displays.

The discussion then moved to the problem of plagiarism in schools. Teachers are increasingly seeing plagiarism in pupils’ work. However, the frequency with which it is occurring is also making it harder to crack down on. This is clearly an issue that needs addressing by both teachers and librarians.

Finally, mention was made of two ways in which secondary school qualifications are now including an information literacy component:

  • A-level history coursework requires students to undertake independent research
  • GCSE biology students have to reference works they have used in lab reports

This blog post has given a taster of what was discussed and some of what I took away from the event. I really liked the ‘unconference’ format and the informal approach (make-your-own name badges and bring-your-own cake). And it was a great opportunity to network with other librarians, authors and publishers.

 

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Supporting Young People in the Digital Information Age: report on event at CILIP 30/11/16

On Wednesday 30th November 2016, I attended an event organised by CILIP’s Information Literacy and Information Services groups: ‘Supporting Young People in the Digital Information Age: the Role of Libraries in Promoting Transition Skills’. The event was held at CILIP’s headquarters in London. It was a really useful chance to share ideas and meet other librarians in schools, universities and public libraries. The following account is a report on the event that I wrote for the Information Literacy Group.

Today’s event started with a talk by Natasha Skeen, Community Liaison Librarian at The Hive, University of Worcester. Natasha’s talk focused on how she supports Key Stage 5 school students in their independent learning. The Hive is both a university and a public library. As such, the public benefit from longer opening hours and access to resources (including on-site access to electronic journals) that they might not have in other public libraries. Natasha said she starts by reminding students of the benefits of reading books. Then, to help them navigate, or ‘decode’, the kinds of book they’d be using for research, she explains some of the academic jargon (Latin terms, ‘peer review’, ‘abstract’) and how to use reference lists and indexes. Moving on to newspapers and social media, she cautions students to look for bias but also uses them as an example of how to write succinctly. Can you tweet the message you’re trying to give? Moreover, she shows students how to trace the sources of statistics so they can check them. When it comes to internet research, Natasha looks at evaluating sources and Google’s Advanced Search, including features such as being able to search by file type. She also recommends using university libraries’ subject guides for curated lists of websites. For access to online journals, Natasha points them to the Directory of Open Access Journals, Google Scholar (useful for citation searching, particularly if students are expected to use recent resources) and Access to Research (online access to publically-funded research at participating public libraries). Finally, she also reminds students that librarians might also know the best resources for something or other means to get information (e.g. interlibrary loans) and can help with things like academic writing. She advised public librarians interested in schools outreach to get in touch with Heads of Sixth Form, EPQ Co-ordinators and teachers, especially Heads of History as there is more of an emphasis on independent research in the new history curriculum.

 

After the talk, David Haynes of City University of London asked if Natasha discusses online safety, e.g. with regard to privacy and social media, with school students. Natasha pointed out that online safety is usually already taught by schools and mentioned Internet Safety Day (7th February) as a useful opportunity for raising awareness. Natasha was also asked if she’d noticed that students are more stressed, to which she replied that this is something she’s noticed from the students (over 2000!) that she has taught information literacy skills to.

 

In the next session, Simon Finch and David Bowles, Librarians in the Information and Learning Team at Bexley and Bromley Shared Library Services, talked about their work with local 6th form EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) students. Some of the groups are quite large, which makes it difficult to give targeted advice to individual students, however they try and include ‘worked examples’ based on a list of students’ topics supplied beforehand by schools. In their talk, Simon and David emphasised the need to remind students about what public libraries hold and offer as many students had not used one recently. In their sessions, they stress the continuing value of books and demonstrate how to use the library catalogue to find books. They also talk students through the online resources available to them. Access to Research, for example, gives free online access to publically-funded research at participating public libraries. The initial search for articles can be done anywhere but students must come to the library to read the full text. (And they must use a library computer to read the articles, although they can print them.) And yet, they also acknowledge that much material students might need could be in FE College Libraries to which they might not have access, suggesting a need for more liaison between 6th form heads and FE Colleges. Finally, Simon and David also talk students through how to assess resources and reference them. They summed up by saying that dialogue with teachers/librarians is important as what is required will vary, and that students showed interest during the sessions and said they were useful.

 

Next, Elizabeth Bentley gave a presentation on Teen Tech, a national STEM and innovation competition aimed at pupils from Y7-13. She focused on the Information Literacy Group’s work with Teen Tech to come up with the Research and Information Literacy Award. Students entering for the TeenTech Awards can also be entered (by their teacher or librarian) for the Research and Information Literacy Award, which rewards use of high quality information and a suitable bibliography amongst other things. The ILG provides freely available resource sheets for schools undertaking the award, including guidance on intellectual property, Google search strategies and evaluating information. The 2016 awards were the first complete cycle for the ILG award and the 45 entries showed relatively poor evidence of IL skills. However these are still early days. And certain barriers might be standing in the way of more entries from schools, such as school staff awareness and understanding. Furthermore, as one participant pointed out, unless teachers support the initiative it won’t go ahead. However, the prize of £1000 to the winning school should be a good incentive! Another participant asked whether the judges give feedback to entrants. Elizabeth said they are thinking about this. Finally, there was a discussion about the fact that the term ‘information literacy’ is not widely understood outside the library community – many teachers/senior leaders in schools haven’t heard about it. It was suggested that greater government endorsement could help rectify this.

 

In the discussion session, participants were invited to share experiences, tips and ideas. Katy Waters from Poole Libraries talked about her organisation’s recent acquisition of a 3D printer and floated the idea of linking up with Teen Tech. Another participant stressed the value of ILG’s resource sheets for the Teen Tech awards and the need to promote them.

 

Then, Amy Icke of The Girls Day School Trust (and formerly St Paul’s Girls’ School) and Linda Kelley of St Paul’s Girls’ School talked about how they support sixth formers undertaking Senior Scholarship (SPGS’s equivalent to the EPQ qualification). They said they start by giving a one-hour talk to students at the beginning of the Senior Scholarship programme. It can be difficult to differentiate for different subject areas in one hour. However, they ask girls to put their subjects on post-it notes and then can use these in examples and/or give specific advice in follow-up material. Amy and Linda started by showing us a mind map made using the app Bubbl. This showed the range of topics they needed to cover in one hour, which was quite large! They then showed us a list, which was made using Padlet, of different resources that can help students doing their projects. For example, it recommends EPQ guides created by the universities of Manchester and Birmingham and the Open University’s Being Digital activities. Amy also mentioned The Girls Day School Trust’s videos for students and parents on internet safety – Live My Digital.

 

Amy then talked more about her research into approaches to information literacy training. She described an apparent gap between teenagers’ knowledge of information literacy skills and application of them. Indeed, according to a recent Ofcom survey, teenagers’ information literacy skills tend to go down as they get older. Amy suggested that doing information literacy training with smaller groups would help. And at a conference she attended, the researchers talked about auditing skills before training to see if they had the right approach. Finally, Amy also talked about a placement she did at Queen Mary University London, where she learnt about ‘free writing’, a technique used by researchers before starting their research, in which they spend five minutes writing everything they want to find out without stopping. This could be a useful technique for students to try before embarking on independent research.

Public music libraries facing closure, redundancies and more

I was sad to learn last week that Yorkshire Music Library has had to close. This is due to its parent company, Fresh Horizons, going into liquidation. Yorkshire Music Library had the largest collection of performance sets in the UK. It loaned over half a million scores and orchestral sets to 2,000 choirs and orchestras (Glover, 2016). Two librarians ran this popular service and both have been made redundant.

Apparently, the Society of Chief Librarians Yorkshire and Humberside, who are the legal custodians of the stock, are trying to find a way make the collection available again (Making Music, 2016 (a)).

I met one of the librarians, Sophie Anderson, at a IAML Study Weekend in 2014. She seemed really lovely, bright and passionate about her job. I hope her talents can quickly be put to use in a similar job elsewhere.

Unfortunately other regional music libraries are also reducing their services due to cuts in funding. Last year, Birmingham City Council proposed closing down Birmingham’s music library altogether (Making Music, 2016 (b)). The music library had only just moved into the new Library of Birmingham and offered users fantastic services (see earlier blog post). The proposal was contested and the library is now up and running again. However, there are less staff and the interlibrary loans service is no longer running. Similarly, Manchester’s Henry Watson Music Library is no longer providing interlibrary loans.

The amateur orchestra that I play in (London City Orchestra) has borrowed orchestral sets from Westminster Music Library and (via interlibrary loans) the Barbican Music Library on several occasions. Without these services, we would only be able to use out-of-copyright sheet music available from sites like IMSLP or hire from music publishers, which would be far more expensive. We also use music libraries to help us plan programmes and do research for programme notes. For example, Barbican Music Library gives members free, remote access to the reference work, Oxford Music Online, and music streaming service, Naxos Music Library. I have used both of these resources to research programme notes for our concerts.

On 19 March, I went on a tour of the Barbican Music Library organised by Making Music. This is a public library run by the City of London Corporation but you don’t have to be a resident of the City of London to join. Their collection includes sheet music, books, ebooks, magazines, CDs, DVDs, journals and various electronic resources like Oxford Music Online and Naxos. They also have two practice pianos, which can be booked. And they regularly put on exhibitions in the library space (the current one is on punk rock, featuring photos by a renowned rock photographer). This is such a fantastic resource. I only hope that regional music libraries will be protected from further cuts and closures.

Glover, C., 2016. Social enterprise, Fresh Horizon, in liquidation [online]. Huddersfield Daily Examiner. Available: http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/social-enterprise-fresh-horizons-liquidation-11042034

Making Music, 2016 (a). Music libraries campaigns update and Yorkshire Music Library news [online]. Making Music. Available: https://www.makingmusic.org.uk/news/music-libraries-campaigns-update-and-yorkshire-music-library-news?utm_source=inotes&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=march

Making Music, 2016 (b). Birmingham music library: back up and running! [online] Making Music. Available: https://www.makingmusic.org.uk/news/birmingham-music-library-back-and-running

 

 

 

Autumn term highlights

The following gives a flavour of some of the things I’ve been working on in the school library this term.

Library Inductions

One of the main jobs at the start of a new academic year is to timetable and start giving Year 7 library lessons (each class has one lesson a fortnight). Library lessons alternate between sessions where pupils can read and choose books and sessions where they are taught how to use the library. This term the latter involved how to find books in the fiction section, how to use the catalogue and self-issue system and writing book reviews for the blog on the VLE. In general, the Year 7 classes that I teach are keen readers. I also noticed that a lot of them spent time in the Library during break and lunch times, which is perhaps as much because it provided a quiet space where they could take time out from the excitements of starting a new school. I was struck by how keen they are to read books that others have recommended. In fact, a few books/authors/genres are so popular it is hard to meet the demand for them. We also had interesting sessions learning how to use the catalogue, with pupils having to think out of the box in situations where their apparently well-formed search terms did not retrieve any results, despite there definitely being copies of the book in the library.

As well as Year 7 library lessons, we also ran ‘library refresher’ sessions for other years during the first half of term. These had to cover pretty much everything that is taught in Year 7 in one 40-minute session. If only there had been more time as there were the beginnings of some interesting discussions, for example on use of library resources for EPQ essays and the relative merits of Google and library resources.

Read Around the World

This term one of the geography teachers asked for help with creating a list of books (fiction or non-fiction) available from the library about different areas of the world. I used an existing list and edited it to show only the books available from our library. Pupils were then challenged to read about as many different countries, continents and different environments as they could. As well as keeping a list in their geography books, they could also write the books they’d read on this display.

Read Around the World display

Interactive display for Read Around the World challenge. Includes lists of books by country, continent and environment. The labels are for pupils to write the books they’ve read and/or places they’ve read about.

Author Visit

Another big project this term was to organise a visit by the author, Candy Gourlay. Candy is the author of ‘Tall Story‘ and ‘Shine‘. She gave a talk to Year 8 entitled ‘The Hero’s Journey’, which focused on the eponymous plot device and her own journey to becoming an author. She was a fantastic speaker and shared lots of funny stories, tips and insights into creative writing and becoming a published author. This idea stuck with me: (I paraphrase) ‘Don’t write about what you know, write about who you are, which is harder.’ There was a book signing after the talk and Candy stayed to have lunch with a few of the pupils, which was great. I hadn’t realised how much work goes into organising an author visit (this article provides some handy hints) but it was definitely worth it for inspiring girls about reading and following their dreams. Candy also has a great website and is on Twitter (@candygourlay).

New OPAC

A new version of the OPAC was installed this term and its new features include an app for mobile devices and an interface that is easier to customise. After pupils have had some time to get used to it, it will be interesting to hear their feedback.

Other

I have also had the chance to supervise a student doing an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). EPQs allow pupils to write a 5,000-word essay or do a project such as a piece of creative writing or a performance. They are worth half an A-level and are marked on planning and research skills as much as the final product. School libraries are perfectly placed to help with this kind of work and it has therefore been very interesting to be involved as a supervisor.

New job at Channing School

In January I started working in a school library. It’s my first job in a school library – previously I worked for a publisher. The school is an independent secondary school for girls, Channing School. It also has a junior school, which has a library with its own librarian.

The library I work in is for all students from Years 7 – 13. It has fiction and non-fiction books (classified using the Dewey Decimal system), DVDs, newspapers, magazines and subscriptions to electronic resources, including JSTOR, the Economist, the British Medical Journal and Encyclopaedia Britannica. There are two librarians – myself and the senior librarian. The senior librarian is based in the Sixth Form Centre where she supervises the sixth form study areas.

The library space is generous for what is not a very large school campus. It is also in the middle of the school so easily accessible. The fiction area has comfy chairs and bean bags; the non fiction area has space for quiet study and six computers. There are also two ‘seminar rooms’ for group work or meetings.

My main duties are answering user enquiries about the library and its resources, processing circulation transactions, overseeing the study areas, providing library inductions and routine shelving and stock tidying. Promoting reading for pleasure and reading around one’s subjects are also part of the job, which can take the form of giving book recommendations and contributing reviews to a blog on the Virtual Learning Environment, Firefly.

My first two terms in the job were very much about learning the ropes. Coincidentally, the Year 7s only began to have full access to the library when I arrived (due to building work in the previous term) so I gave them inductions at the same time as I was learning my own way around. Each Year 7 class has one 45-minute lesson in the library a fortnight where they are shown how to use the library, contribute book reviews to Firefly, use the online resources and more. Some sessions pupils are just allowed to read, especially around exam time.

In April, our LMS supplier, Access-It, gave a workshop at the school on a new version of the software that will soon be released. The new version will have more options for how to customise the OPAC. For example, it will be possible to add a blog to the homepage and it will be easier to catalogue electronic resources. Comparing the OPAC to OPACs for university libraries has been interesting. Certain features – such as visual search (allowing you to search using a visual symbol rather than a keyword, like in the International Children’s Digital Library) – show the ways in which systems can be geared specifically towards younger users.

The school runs a scheme whereby all pupils are lent an iPad throughout their time at the school. I see a lot of children opting to read books on their iPads but there are also plenty who still choose to read physical books. The library is considering introducing a scheme which would allow pupils to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from Haringey’s digital library service.

Next year, plans include organising author visits and taking part in the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme. This scheme allows pupils to shadow the judges of the Carnegie Medal by reviewing books on the judges’ shortlist. They can post reviews to the scheme’s website and find out about other school groups taking part in their area.

Overall I’ve enjoyed my first two terms a lot but still have a lot to learn. Questions I have been pondering over the summer include the best way to introduce DDC to Year 7s, how to create more space for certain collections, how to encourage reluctant readers, how to develop the comics and manga collections and more. As I embark on my first full academic year with the school I should have lots to reflect upon in this blog. I have also started contributing book reviews to Good Reads (to share some of the reviews I’m giving to pupils), which can be seen on the right-hand side of this blog.

Innovation and the future of the book

Very belatedly, I’d like to write about the last two sessions of the module ‘Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society’ which I took earlier this year. In the penultimate session, we had two speakers – Matt Finch (@drmattfinch) and James Baker (@j_w_baker). And in our last session Alastair Horne (@pressfuturist) gave a presentation. The common theme was innovation in libraries and publishing.

Matt Finch, a writer and educator, wrote his PhD on the Warburg Institute, a research institute in London that focuses on the study of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, described by the New Yorker as the world’s weirdest library. This library apparently arranges its collection by the ‘law of the good neighbour’, which apparently means that each book should be able to ‘stage a conversation with its neighbour: ask a question, provide an answer’ (Steinberg, 2012).

Matt’s talk was entitled ‘Words and Pictures, Space and Play’ and focused on how comics, storytelling and theatre can be used in libraries. For example, in Parkes, New South Wales, public and school libraries hosted retailers and comics creators in Australia’s first rural comics festival. And in another public library, Matt staged a live-action zombie siege where participants got to decide the outcome of the story. This was in a library that only opens four hours for one day a week so the event was great for raising awareness of the library. Matt emphasised that no extra money was spent on the event either – they worked with what they had. Another community project in public libraries that Matt was involved in was the over-18s Dark Night: Library Burlesque festival, which featured comics, cinema screenings, cabaret evenings and more in partnership with Auckland’s public library service.

James Baker is a curator in the Digital Research team at the British Library. As such he has been involved with projects such as the Million Images from scanned books project. This involves releasing images from digitised books in the British Library’s collection onto Flickr – you can see their photo stream here. I particularly like the fancy letters you get, such as:

11140592193_cca9b30ebe_m   11145712576_af02111e9a_o

James also talked about text-mining tools for humanities research, citing Google’s Ngram viewer and the Infectious Texts project as examples. In his slides he showed us a graph created using the Ngram viewer of the use of the word ‘prison’ in books on Google Books. It showed sharp rises in the use of the words ‘prison discipline’ in the mid-nineteenth century and ‘prison camps’ in the mid-twentieth century, which could reflect societal preoccupations with prison reform at these times. James’s work on personal digital archives – i.e. laptops and phones belonging to writers deposited at the BL – was also fascinating to hear about.

Finally, in our last session, Alistair Horne, who works on innovation at Cambridge University Press, lead an interactive session on ebooks, publishing business models and more. We covered so much that I think perhaps the best would be for me to give you a flavour of the discussion through a few questions and some of the answers we came up with. Alistair’s blog is well worth checking out for further information.

Why are ebooks cheaper than print? This was a bit of a trick question as actually ebooks are sometimes more expensive than print. There is an expectation that ebooks should be cheaper and when Alistair probed us about this we realised it was because we assume that ebooks have less production costs. But actually it turns out that ebooks have similar production costs to print books – they’re just different. So instead of having to pay to store books in a warehouse, for example, you’re having to pay for space on a disk or in the cloud to store files.

What ebook subscription services currently exist? I’ve found three so far: Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited.

How do these ebook subscription services work financially? The customer pays a monthly subscription ($9.95 for Oyster, $8.99 for Scribd, £7.99 for Kindle Unlimited) in exchange for access to vast digital libraries (between 500,000 and 1 million books depending on the service). In the case of Kindle Unlimited you also get free access to Audible audiobooks. The range of books might sound huge but it’s important to remember that not all publishers are signed up to these services so it’s worth checking which publishers are available before you sign up.

Imagine that you are a) a publisher; b) an author; c) a reader. What do you want from a subscription model? What are your fears? As a publisher, I would have mixed feelings. On the one hand it might make my authors more discoverable and increase sales of their work. On the other hand, it might decrease print sales or ebook sales via other platforms and negotiating fair royalties with a giant like Amazon might not be easy. As an author, I would be interested in a new way of making my books available to readers. However, I might have similar concerns to publishers about royalties. I might make comparisons with Spotify, which offers a subscription model for music streaming. Spotify pays artists $0.001128 per play of one of their tracks, which means they have to get lots of plays to make it worthwhile (Guardian, 2015). I might also worry that less well-known authors would be harder to discover by users of subscription services as they’d be sharing shelf-space with thousands of other authors. As a reader, I’d want a subscription model to mean that I could access books on any device, offline as well as online. I’d also want as wide a range of content as possible, including front list titles from a range of publishers. Otherwise I might think that free elending via my local public library would be a better option.

References:

Michael P. Steinberg, 2012. The Law of the Good Neighbor. Common Knowledge 18.1: 128-133. Project MUSE. Web. 17 Jul. 2015. <https://0-muse.jhu.edu.wam.city.ac.uk/&gt;.

Guardian, 2015. How much money do musicians really make from Spotify, iTunes and YouTube? Web. 17 Jul. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/03/how-much-musicians-make-spotify-itunes-youtube

Links from Matt Finch’s talk: Matt’s blog | Tabletop superheroes game | Comics grid | Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

Links from James Baker’s talk: Slides | James’s website | The Mechanical Curator

Links from Alistair Horne’s talk: Internet of Things

‘Libraries as Publishers’ and Encyclopaedias

In this lecture we learnt about the work of a research librarian and the potential for academic libraries to get involved in publishing. Diane Bell (@dianelouisebell), research librarian at City University, gave us a talk entitled ‘Developing digitally: researchers, social media and libraries as publishers’. We also explored the world of reference publishing, with a talk from Katharine Schopflin (@schopflin) on encyclopaedias.

Libraries as publishers

Diane Bell’s work encompasses three main things:

  • helping with resource discovery and publication
  • collection and service development
  • building partnerships between researchers and academic staff

Training researchers is a big part of this and I was interested to hear of the variety of topics she covers with them from library inductions to strategic literature searching to open access to using social media to create an online presence.

City University has an institutional repository, City Research Online, which provides open access to research by staff at the university. The library helps run this service. In other universities, libraries are also involved in helping to run university presses. For example, libraries at Stanford University and John Hopkins University help run the electronic publishing initiatives of these institutions – HighWire Press and Project MUSE respectively. And in 2015, UCL will launch UCL Press, which will make all publications available open access in digital form as well as commercially in print-on-demand and ebook formats. This will be a division of UCL’s Library Services although it’s not clear exactly what involvement librarians will have.

Libraries as publishers arguably makes a lot of sense in the academic context, whether it be managing an institutional repository or publishing electronic journals. For librarians’ skills in metadata and their understanding of the needs of both authors and end-users means they are well placed to support scholarly communications. Also, the serials crisis makes it imperative for librarians to have more influence in scholarly publishing and push open access. Whether or not the resources for these initiatives are available is another question. In the US, university presses have been helped by institutional/grant funds as well as by organisations like SPARC – the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (Harboe-Ree, 2007). However, the current financial climate doesn’t bode well for UK institutions.

Encyclopaedias

In the second half of our lecture, Katharine Schopflin (@schopflin), librarian and information manager, gave a talk on encyclopaedias. Having written her PhD on the subject, she was able to cover everything from the ancient versions known as summa to Wikipedia and also to explain the complex ways in which these vast works are put together.

We started with some definitions. Katharine described the characteristics of an encyclopaedia as:

  • accurate
  • unbiased
  • up-to-date
  • authoritative
  • covers its subject in sufficient and appropriate depth
  • succinctly written

In practice, it seems that most encyclopaedias display some of these characteristics but not all. Britannica, a commercially published online encyclopaedia, is written by researchers and so is likely to be accurate and authoritative. However, even though it’s updated daily, this probably isn’t true for every article. On the other hand, Wikipedia is edited by so many volunteers that individual articles are more likely to be kept up to date. And yet, these volunteers may not have the same expertise as Britannica authors to cover topics in sufficient depth. And as most Wikipedia editors belong to a narrow demographic it is debatable whether its articles present an unbiased view. Research cited by Heather Ford (2014) has shown that ‘Wikipedia’s representation of place is skewed towards the developed North’, that its ‘coverage of history suffers from an over-reliance on foreign government sources’ and that there are ‘significant gender-associated imbalances in its topic coverage’.

The work that goes into creating an encyclopaedia is considerable. Katharine defined it as follows:

  • market research
  • long-term projects
  • permanent editorial teams
  • continuous revision
  • electronic production
  • metadata

Apparently Oxford University Press has been particularly successful at using metadata. All its products, from journals to reference works to the Very Short Introduction series, have to provide the same, rich metadata, which can then be used to search OUP’s content in various ways from its search and discovery gateway, Oxford Index. With the reference publishing industry struggling to compete against free alternatives, perhaps such value-added tools are the future for this market.

For me, part of the interest of the lecture was also learning more about the first encyclopaedias, including Diderot and d’Alembert’s. Their ‘tree of knowledge’, which prefaced the encyclopaedia, shows Memory, Reason and Imagination at the top, showing perhaps a desire to promote the Enlightenment ideal of scientific knowledge:

673px-ENC_SYSTEME_FIGURE

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I like this image as it shows how encyclopaedias aim to give structure to human knowledge but are also biased in their world view. However much we try to be objective, when we write about the world we do so through a ‘filter bubble’ (Ford, 2014). This doesn’t mean that encyclopaedias aren’t useful but it does encourage us to be sceptical about claims that they represent a neutral point of view.

References:

Ford, Heather (2014). Wikipedia and breaking news: The promise of a global media platform and the threat of the filter bubble [online]. Available: http://cii.oii.ox.ac.uk/wikipedia-and-breaking-news-the-promise-of-a-global-media-platform-and-the-threat-of-the-filter-bubble/

Harboe-Ree, Cathrine (2007). Just Advanced Librarianship: The Role of Academic Libraries as Publishers. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 38:1, 15-25, DOI: http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/00048623.2007.10721264