Community innovations at the British Library

The innovative work of the British library around their collections is quite exemplary. Not only have they been able to solve the challenge of providing open access but also celebrating the creative commons. This can be seen in project such as the crossroads of curiosity by David Normal. In December 2013, British library labs and digital research teams released 1 million algorithmically snipped images from 65,000 digitised books on to the Flickr Commons. Since then, the British Library Flickr Commons photostream has amassed a staggering 260 million views. The use of a mechanical curator digitised and open sourced images from the library archives on Flickr let to the crossroads exhibition.

Their use of open innovation through competitions and letting artists, researchers and entrepreneurs use their collections is creditworthy. Their innovation competition entries have 3 categories:

i). Research: This is work that has been done in the context of a research project or activity. It should show the development of new knowledge about the British Library’s digital content, research methods, or tools.

ii). Creativity:This is work that uses the British Library’s digital content in the context of artistic or creative endeavours. It should inspire, stimulate, amaze and provoke.

iii). Entrepreneurship: This is work that delivers or develops commercial value. It could be in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the British Library’s digital content to produce commercial value.

The tools and processes that are used in the creative-entrepreneurial work is made available online for the public and other libraries to learn and get inspiration from. Their commitment to open access and open source is noticeable in the directives of the competition entries and in the digital tools and resources they make public on their webpage.

They also encourage political debates by organising activities such as the wikithon on food, digital rights events, mapping historical political meetings etc.

Other notable projects include:
My digital rights: Magna Carta for the digital age


Meta-Data games

Metadata Games, the National Standard open source crowdsourcing game platform, is used with over 45 Collections represented at 11 Institutions. It includes tens of thousands of media items (images, audio, video) that have generated 167,000 tags, with even outlier images garnering nearly 100 tags each.

Descriptive metadata cannot be generated by computers, as it’s dependent on what’s in images, audio files, and videos. Adding metadata is prohibitively time consuming for individuals or small institutions with large media collections. Metadata Games allows you to harness the power of players to easily enhance information about your collections.


Further reading:

The Library as a Map

Rick Prelinger and Megan Shaw Prelinger’s library in New York defies usual library cataloging and classification standards. The library is primarily a collection of 19th and 20th century historical ephemera, periodicals, maps, and books, most published in the United States. Much of the collection is image-rich, and in the public domain. The library specializes in material that is not commonly found in other public libraries. The library has three major sections: The main shelves, the ephemera collection, and, in Row Six, holdings of standalone collections and oversize materials. Below is an extract from an interview of the founders (by Contents magazine):

When I first learned about the Prelinger Library, one thing that stopped me in my tracks was the idea of a collection arranged for serendipity. Can you introduce the arrangement of the physical library?

Megan Shaw Prelinger: The library’s arrangement scheme was designed in response to several conditions: First, the collection is unique to our combined areas of particular interest. It has never tried to be a general-interest research collection. Second, therefore, the library did not really fit the taxonomic systems of either the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal. For instance: Art and politics? Hand-made films? Nature-culture interface? History of the demonization of youth in society? These are just a few of our subject areas that are not clearly articulated in pre-existing taxonomic systems.

Third, for us—for myself in particular—the process of research is inseparable from the physical process of exploration of the world. In my experience, creative and intellectual work flows from physical engagement with the landscape. There are literal manifestations of this, such as the discovery of forgotten places and the collection of forgotten literature from the shelves of a rural shop. More intangibly, the processes of walking, hiking, or taking a road trip are useful activities for developing new ideas or thinking through puzzles.

Given these conditions, it became self-evident to organize the library’s shelves in a way that harmonizes with the process of exploration: Where are you when you begin each exploration? What parts of the world do you engage first in the process of exploration? Where do you “end”? etc. The result is a landscape-based, geospatial arrangement system. This system, in outline, “starts” where the library is, in San Francisco, and “ends” in outer space. Its rough structure moves from place-based subjects to the made worlds of art, media, and culture, to abstracts like society and philosophy, to space exploration.

For example, the first row progresses from the San Francisco section eastward, across the North American landscape to the Atlantic, where it makes a transition to general landscape-based subjects such as natural history, nature-culture interface, agriculture, rural life, and extractive resource industries.

The associative subject flow itself is designed to facilitate serendipity, and serendipity is enhanced by the practice of creative juxtaposition of materials within subject sections. Government documents are shelved near modern monographs that interpret them, and satirical histories are shelved next to serious ones. Subject-matter fiction is interspersed amongst nonfiction, and trade literature can sometimes stand for a whole topic. (Our run of “National Safety News” is the whole “safety” section.)

The library is in two major parts: The open bookshelves, and the boxed ephemera collection. The geospatial arrangement system is duplicated in both places, but only the bookshelves offer the surprising juxtapositions. The flow of subjects within the geospatial arrangement system is described in some detail on our site.


Further reading: Sorting things out

Visual Browsing

Like many public libraries across the United States, university libraries are undergoing massive changes as their catalogues and parts of their collections have been digitized, and their physical collections have outgrown their physical space. Browsing the collection now often happens online. What are the possible ways we can browse the collection and learn about how networks of knowledge are created across the Columbia University community?


Reading groups and generative libraries

We see growing links and protrusions across time and linguistic space: our friends and collaborators speak through books that range from the administrative to the deeply poetic realm of a child discovering for the first time this odd assembly of possibilities between the pages of a codex. We gather and we read. And between these pages starts a dialogue that is just beginning….

Read more

The augmented library. A concept service by Siri Johansson

How could we extend the library’s reach and make urban environments more playful and social in the process? In this project, the challenges facing public libraries and the emerging trend of involving users in library development have been combined with inspiration from the field of urban media design.
The aim has been to explore what behaviors media surfaces designed for culture, exchange and dialogue could possess, and what kind of presence an institution such as the library could have in the mediated city.


Public interactions in a town hall

The study of the town hall interactions was conducted through candid observation at the current Delft town hall and a online questionnaire  which was given to 20 random visitors, enlisted at the town hall. This ensured that they answered the questions while their visit was fresh in their minds. The information was recorded through field notes and sketches as photographs were not permitted in the town hall for security reasons. Quotes from the respondents are given in support of some of the arguments presented here.

The key observations are listed here:

a). Visitors

Apart from single visitors, many of the people were accompanied by their friends and relatives. Especially in the case of elderly, pregnant women, migrants. It was observed that the dutch migrants often came with their family for example a Turkish family of 9 members were observed to come to the municipality for a marriage registration of one of their family members. It was observed that parents often get younger children, to the municipality especially when schools have off or a half day.

b). Waiting time

The waiting time was found to be 5 to 10 minutes if an appointment had been booked via internet or phone. Otherwise, without an appointment people waited for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The frequency of visit to the town hall varies between people, but on an average once in 4 to 6 months.

c). Accessibility

People suggested that extended opening times especially after office hours, and multiple locations for service would increase the accessibility of the town hall services. Open service desks on weekends was cited as another preference.

d). Planning a visit to the town hall

60% of the people plan their visit in advance, most of them take an appointment on the phone and a lesser number on the internet. The remaining drop by spontaneously and take an appointment at the reception counter. Some respondents stated that they ask their friends who have gone there for similar reasons or check blogs (e.g. for other people’s suggestions before a visit. Not everyone is aware of what could be done online and for what services you are required to visit the municipality. People who do not know dutch, elderly, computer illiterate people prefer to use the public counter at the town hall or the telephone in comparison to the web service.

e). Behavior

The tendency for people is to sit opposite the display screens waiting for their turn. Some of the people engage themselves with newspapers, a crossword, arranging their papers or with their mobile phones, there is minimal talking between the visitors. The announcement of the queue number on the display screen makes people stop all their activities and check if its their turn (the unpredictability of it is often stressful in itself).The waiting room contains a bookshelf with literature, which is rarely referenced by anyone as most of the information is available online. People are there for permits and other more serious issues like deaths, thus they want to be done with their work as soon as possible, as one of the respondents remarked –

“i don’t like to ask friends to accompany me to the town hall, as it is not exactly a fun experience for them!”.

f). Physical environment

The current environment has seating that faces outward, thus people do not face each other but the display screens. The waiting room is small and closed, with few windows. The colors used in the furnishings is mostly blue and white (going with the municipality logo), this creates a very clinical atmosphere (similar to a hospital).

g). Service satisfaction

80% of the respondents were satisfied with the service (although it is seen that satisfaction differs with the intent & seriousness of the visit). Some recommendations like confirmation information for a successful transaction or a constant progress update on your application were put forward. Other suggestions included- to be made aware of alternate procedures to do a task and if there was a delay in their application, a reasoning be given. A problem pointed out was the heavy authentication procedure (via DigiD) for simple services like getting the Delftpas.

h). Information

Most people prefer to get the information via the internet apart from the special groups mentioned before (non-dutch speaking, new migrants, illiterate, elderly). For city events, festivals and activities people prefer to ask other people and friends or check miscellaneous web sites. Some people state that they are not sure what information they should be aware of, as one correspondent quoted –

“ The problem for me is what is it that i should know, and what information i should have”.

A suggestion by a respondent identified a wish for a more personal interaction, in her own words –

“More than the intelligence its the emotional quotient which the city lacks. I am sure any other kind of information can be very much available from various other sources but the city lack this emotional bonding”.

i). Participation

On asking people how would they like to participate, and if there was any information that they would want to communicate at the municipality for others a wide variety of responses were given, few quotes are given below –

“ I could contribute information about unsafe places and other issues related to safety”

“ Professional information/ skills to civilians. Maybe a kid needs help on doing a presentation for elementary school, and on one way or another he would know that I am able to help him, because I am skilled and could teach him a couple of things.”

“Yes, where to get your bike repaired for cheap….How to get started in Delft as a foreign student, cheap places to eat, weekly events etc.”

“it would be nice to have an interactive map. i’d love to point out my favorite book shop, cafe, park, etc and I’d like to discover places that other people find interesting.”

If asked whether they would like to contribute to the governance and developments in the city, the majority said they would leave it as a job for the authorities.

User journey at existing town hall

A service system mapping and user journey flow chart represents the system in place at the current town hall. This gives a good indication of the array of services and how the user interacts with them in time.

It confirms out assumption of providing the service during the waiting time before an appointment.

Mini study on citizens with special needs

Since social cohesion and inclusion is an important part of the cities and the libraries agenda, a look into the conditions, motivations and concerns of special need groups was undertaken. This was done to gain empathy for such users, as the end product/service designed should be friendly to them as well.

Major questions addressed were:
who are these special need people? what problems do they face?, how do they currently cope with them?, what (and when) do people find themselves in a need?, what are possible aid solutions?

By special needs citizen we imply people in poverty, immigrant population,
newcomer population, lone-parent families, people with home language not Dutch, visible minority status, unemployed, youth unemployment, less than high school education, households in core housing need. The most important need for them is to not feel different than others, this can be achieved community support. For example by helping migrants to adjust to dutch culture, students to learn the dutch language, helping an elderly woman with household chores or participating in shared activities.

Other special needs like lack of education, technology challenged would also need special consideration when offered civil services, most importantly by keeping alive traditional channels of communication like letters, face to face contact, telephone.

The information to create the personas was collected through literature, interviews from social NGO and voluntary organisations in Delft which including Buren hulp central, Bedrijf en samen leving Delft and Wat eten wij vandaag. Additional to that a creative facilitation session was conducted with students of the TUDelft having experience working with special need groups on academic projects.

And the personas that came out of it: