It is customary for many digitisation projects to undertake user consultation activities during their development as a way to ensure that the content that is being digitised is relevant to the needs of target users. And so it should be.
However, while this activity is useful to ascertain the potential use that people might make of the content, in itself it doesn’t necessarily guarantee actual use of the content.
We need to raise the stakes of what to expect from digital content creation in relation to its use and the impact it can make.
Innovative approaches that are often adopted in the technology deployed for large scale digitisation projects, workflows or project management style, need be mirrored by innovative embedding activities from the outset of a project, so that resources start getting used soon after they become available online, at least by a core group of users – of course there will always be unexpected ways in which content will be used.
The opportunities for incorporating innovative embedding activities during a project are plentiful, especially with regard to how digitised collections can be used within teaching and learning.
- OpenLives, part of the current JISC Content programme 2011-13, Strand A: Digitisation and creation of Open Educational Resources (OER), has digitised oral testimonies, images and other ephemera that had been gathered through a previous research project on the experience of Spanish migrants to the UK and returning migrants to Spain.
The project’s blog describes how the team is embedding open research data in teaching and learning by creating OERs on research skills for oral history. Year 2 students have also been involved in creating interactive magazines based on the life experiences of the émigrés. A new module will be available at the University of Leeds based on the newly digitized collection, Discovering Spanish Voices Abroad in a Digital World. The project is lead by the University of Southampton in partnership with Portsmouth and Leeds.
- D-TRACES (Dance teaching resource and collaborative engagement spaces), funded under a previous JISC programme on Impact and embedding of digitized resources) incorporated the use of the Siobhan Davies digital dance archive in students’ Personal Development Plan (PDP), initiating the trend for students to keep digital scrap books and a blog about their work. The impact of this work is documented in the project’s final case study.
This inspired ArchitectUS (University of Birmingham) – which is digitising and creating OER from architectural drawings and models from a number of architectural practices – to follow D-TRACES’s example, as discussed in their blog.
- the University of East London has created a module on Performing the Archive based on the JISC-funded Online Theatre History Archive (OTHA), which investigates the use of archival research to document performance practices. Part of the students’ coursework is to create a documentary theatre performance responding to the OTHA material.
Digitisation is now mature activity but more could be done to encourage imaginative take-up of content from the outset of a project – ultimately this is why we digitise.
There are well-established digital resources out there that are being used in teaching, but we don’t necessarily know how. Let us know if you’re using them in your teaching and how. Thank you!
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This year the Consortium for European Research Libraries (CERL) will be holding their national seminar on Accessing heritage research collections through digitisation: models and use at the British Library on Tue 30 October 2012.
The programme includes contributions on licencing models, working with commercial partners, Google Books in Spain and the JISC Historic Books platform.
Attendance is free but delegates need to register at firstname.lastname@example.org
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If you use digitised newspapers or other large-scale digital collections in your work, research or for personal interest, then please fill in the survey at https://opinio.ucl.ac.uk/s?s=15519.
This survey is part of a research project being undertaken at UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, which aims to learn more about users of large scale digitised collections, and in particular digitised newspaper collections. The project is considering the impact of large collections of digitised material upon researchers, the public and the cultural sector, and is very interested to gather opinions from users of these collections.
The project is looking in particular at the British Library’s 19th Century Newspaper Collection, and this survey is one of a number of methods that are being used to gather data on how researchers are using the collection, how they access, view and store digital material, and the impact that digitised resources are having upon their work.
Additionally, if you have been involved in creating or managing large-scale digital collections, then the experience of your users would be invaluable; anything that you can do to disseminate this survey more widely would therefore be greatly appreciated.
The closing date for this survey is Friday 14th September. It contains 40 questions, and will take no more than 30 minutes to complete. Participation is, of course, entirely voluntary and anonymous.
If you have any questions, you can contact Paul Gooding at email@example.com
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There is an increasing focus within JISC’s Content Programme on social media, mobile technologies and multi-channel communications. We have moved away from being merely concerned with the practices of digitisation, and with core technologies such as metadata or website development. Projects are discovering that the way people use and interact with resources is critical to success and some, such as British Library Sounds, and Connected Histories, are developing multiple communication channels as part of their endeavours to reach out to their users.
Sophisticated marketing approaches have become essential to getting the word out about our offer. But then what? Once the word is out, what else can we do to ensure happy customers? Are we going to be able to manage day-to-day interactions; to respond to new demands for content or just deal with simple enquiries? Getting your resource to actually perform as a forum for scholarly pursuits requires a lot of planning and might need dedicated staff to look after communication channels. If we want to encourage scholarly interaction, it becomes vital to have people dedicated to responding to queries and seeding communications. Brian Kelly suggests we are moving towards a time when social media might impact scholarly research in profound ways and we need to be ready to respond the challenge.
Having said all this, I think high quality content is the vital starting point for effective communication. The act of digitising is still the first action which makes physical objects into items that can be shared and examined in so many new ways. It is easy to forget how much effort goes into making high quality digital images and ensuring that the original object is best represented in digital form. Current work on the Zandra Rhodes Style Bibles provides a fantastic example of the rigorous methods required to get the job done, whilst ensuring technical processes are adhered to, objects are well captured and most essentially digitally preserved. Releasing such valuable material is the first step in a long journey to developing a dialogue about it. When people enter into discussion (either on or off line) about the material, we can really say we have started to make an impact, but the more impact we make, the more we need to plan in order to keep our resource alive and supported long term. For some this is a virtuous circle for others a vicious one.
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Yesterday we ran an evaluation and impact synthesis workshop and I must say it helped me see that, rather than being dry topics, evaluation and impact are actually practices which we can all benefit from. To achieve good results it is essential to plan ahead and try to stand back from what you are doing to establish some measures of success; ultimately something we all want. The first half of the day was taken up with exploring approaches to formative and summative evaluation but with the emphasis on thinking long-term towards how one might measure impact. It was very interesting to observe how people are thinking about the processes of evaluation they might deploy. Suggestions ranged from purely numeric analysis through to full-on focus group deployment. Embedding activities within a project obviously offers the most effective way of carrying out evaluation, but not every project can spend time on implementing such an approach, so it is really about trying to evaluate key elements of a project and then develop a portfolio approach to impact.
The second half of the day was given over to three presentations from projects which have now moved on to become business as usual (to use some jargon). The first presentation from Sarah Whatley focused on the impact of D-TRACES a project run by the University of Coventry and funded by JISC. This presentation explored the development of an online community around dance practice. The thrust of the presentation was about user engagement and, in particular, getting students to use the resources provided on Siobhan Davies Replay. Dance students were encouraged to create their own resources (Personal Development Plans) by developing blogs but also to feedback on their experiences in a continuous feedback loop. Ultimately it is about reflective practice but also professional development. What I found most interesting was that no formal evaluation was necessary; the results of the project are evidenced by the number of blogs the students are employing to develop their PDPs, something they may wind up doing for the rest of their dancing days. The blogs provide all the evidence needed.
We then heard from Bruce Tate of the Institute of Historical Research about techniques deployed to evaluate the impact of British History Online. This was a more technical presentation focusing on aspects of using online tools to help in evaluating impact. I was most interested to hear that Google Analytics, though great for specific monitoring of web resources, tells one nothing about the use of metadata. If you want to explore how people are using your site you need to become adept at weblog analysis. Again it was horses for courses; deploy the right tools for the job in hand!
You can find more information about evaluation work for these projects and a number of other projects here.
The final presentation by Liz Masterman of Oxford University Computing Services looking at the use and re-use of digital resources, in particular to do with Open Educational Resources (OERs). The presentation explored an in-depth and scholarly way of evaluating impact, focusing on how lecturers use OER materials. The researchers deployed a mixture of qualitative methods, ranging from surveys through to the deployment of focus groups. The project was obviously purely about evaluating impact but it provided a good overview of qualitative methods which could be deployed in the current Content Programme projects.
All in all the day left one with a sense that these rather dry topics become quite interesting once they are no longer seen as an adjunct but rather as something we need to consider when planning our projects and, where possible, seek to embed some activities in the project to enable evaluation and impact analysis. We all want to demonstrate why we are putting up digital resources, to find out who might be using them, to identify how they are being used and to learn what this tells us about doing a better job in future.
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It is nice to see project blogs packed with interesting facts and updates. I recently enjoyed this post on musical and sculptural uses of Seal Level data from Rescuing Historical UK Sea Levels Data, a project being undertaken at the British Oceanographic Data Centre (see some more recent posts as well).
Then there is this lovely post about presenting historical maps using Google Maps technologies from the already launched Old Maps Online project (Google think it’s cool!). I really did not know that you could use so much free technology to provide your customers with an enhanced visual experience, though the post also shows that it is hard to please everyone all of the time.
Finally the Integrating Broadside Ballads project posted something a bit more technical regarding the quantification of Broadsides as part of the process of ensuring one-to-one representation between the catalogue record and the physical manifestation of the item.
This reminds me of my own experience of counting things in Libraries! During the Archival Sound Recordings project we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to ensure we had an accurate count of the hours of audio we had digitised. Our target was 4,000 hours, but how does one account for instances where a recordist has forgotten to press stop when taking a break from an interview, or gain an accurate count of 78 rpm discs where the original holding estimates were less than accurate? Then there was the instance of a single reel-to reel-tape containing 100+ edits; each edit could have constituted a recording or multiple parts thereof. Get your calculator out!
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The Digital Humanities Congress will be held at the University of Sheffield on 6-8 September 2012.
Digital humanities is intended to mean “the use of technology within arts, heritage and humanities research as both a method of inquiry and a means of dissemination.”
The programme is packed with sessions covering, among other topics, digitisation of historical texts, user interfaces, tools, impact assessement, evolving academic practice and 3D modelling in research.
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(From Stuart Dunn, King’s College London)
The increasingly networked nature of the academic world is raising important questions about how the humanities can interact with wider communities outside the academy. ‘Crowd-sourcing’ is a term that has come to encompass a range of activities involving such interaction.
It has been used in the past by physical scientists, principally to process very large datasets. It also relates – in different ways – to humanities data, including, but not limited to, transcribing, classifying, proofreading, tagging and commenting.
More recently, some humanities researchers have begun to experiment with ways of crowd-sourcing interpretative and creative material. This is a complex and partially-understood area, and to investigate it, the Centre for e-Research in KCL’s Department of Digital Humanities has received funding from the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme to conduct a research review of crowd-sourcing in the humanities. We hope this will uncover a range of ways in which the academy-based humanities can collaborate with wider audiences. The project website can be found at http://humanitiescrowds.org/.
We are currently seeking to identify contributors to crowd-sourcing projects, and are conducting a survey. This asks some questions about contributors’ backgrounds, the nature of the crowd-sourcing work they undertake, and about their motivations for doing so. Please forward this link to anyone who may have relevant experience or knowledge to share.
We are also aware that research and other relevant information in an area such as this is often to be found outside traditional academic publications, in blogs, tweets, project sites etc. We would welcome the contribution of any such links to our Delicious stack so that they can be included in our review.
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Despite its ubiquity as a website, Wikipedia is still underused as a mechanism for exposing digitised content. In a recent survey from the Enumerate project only 3% of digitised collections expose their content via Wikipedia.
However, Wikipedia, or rather the suite of platforms under the Wikimedia Foundation, offers universities and cultural heritage institutions a complementary approach to broaden access to the collections and content that they have digitised.
Another way of increasing traffic to digital content is by involving subject experts in creating, editing or enriching Wikipedia pages within their own subject discipline, as organisations such as Cancer Research UK , The Geological Society and lately JISC have done with support from Wikimedia.
This not only improves the quality and reliability of the content hosted within Wikipedia but can help surface content from relevant digital collections.
This interesting blog post on how the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library has engaged with Wikipedia and a network of contributors gives some idea of the benefits this can bring. A number of references to the John Rylands collections are now present in Wikipedia entries, including a whole entry focusing on one specific item, the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, “also known as the St John’s fragment (illustrated) which ranks as the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language”.
Recognising the value of such collaborations, the AHRC has funded a Wikipedian in Residence based at the British Library.
Over next few months, Andrew Gray will be working to help establish ties between the Wikimedia community and staff within institutions who are interested in contributing expert content to Wikipedia.
As part of the residency program, Andrew will be running a series of workshops around the country aiming to provide training and support to specialists who are interested in contributing to Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects, or learning more about engaging and collaborating with the Wikimedia community.
So, if you’d like to know more about the programme and how expert Wikipedians could help you raise the profile of your digital collections, you should contact Andrew – andrew.gray AT bl.uk.
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“How many lifetimes?” was the recurrent question that the authors of the One Culture report kept on coming up against in their investigations of the work of the first round of projects that took part in the Digging into Data Challenge.
The projects were all founded on a high degree of international collaborations and set off to analyse and extrapolate patters of meaning from huge data sets, including tens of thousands of audio files, trail transcripts, spoken word, and hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary text sources.
The programme was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) with the support of partners such as JISC in the UK, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in Canada, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US.
The report offers a number of “urgent, pointed, and even disruptive” recommendations that highlight how the digital research landscape is changing and how institutions and research activity should adapt to support these new emerging practices.
The top 5 recommendations are:
1 Expand our concept of research and what expertise is required for computationally intense research projects (eg domain (or subject), expertise, analytical expertise, data expertise, and project management expertise.)
2 Expand our concept of research data and accept the challenges that digital research data present, both in terms of how much data is used in research and how much is produced, and the need to look after it.
3. Embrace interdisciplinarity and work across academic communities and
traditionally bounded fields.
4. Take a more inclusive approach to collaboration and work outside own academic departments and institutions by involving library, information technology (IT), and other academic staff; graduate and postdoctoral fellows; undergraduates; and even citizen scholars.
5. Address major gaps in training for faculty, staff, and students through training programmes that correlate sound methodological strategies with appropriate new technologies.
JISC is also involved in phase 2 of the Digging into Data Challenge which has funded 14 projects, currently running.