Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Worst Journey in the World

McMurdo, Ross Island, Antarctica (Mount Erebus in the distance)
Flickr Creative Commons, © August Allen
This evening I shall join a virtual journey to Ross Island at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, following in the footsteps of Edward Wilson and Robert Falcon Scott on the Terra Nova expedition of 1910-1913.

This is just one of numerous events taking place across the world to celebrate the centenary of the British Antarctic (Terra Nova) expedition - see the calendar of events at http://www.scott100.org/

To view some spectacular photographs of the Antarctic, historic and modern, look no further than SPRI's picture library.  This includes their Freeze Frame project, which includes photographs from the original Terra Nova expedition, which can be viewed as a slideshow, and an 'image of the day'. Alternatively, you can search SPRI's picture library by expedition - and view pages of images from the Terra Nova expedition.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A fresh start or perhaps a polar dip?

The Arctic dip at Paradise Harbour (Credit: Iain B. of Over, Flickr CC)

Another academic year has flown by and and I'm bracing myself for a second frantic summer tackling 23 Things.  Having got so much out of the programme last year, I am keen to refresh my Web 2.0 skills, and reconsider how I currently exploit the possibilities they permit, as well as tackle the Extra Things promised.  I envisage an adventure-packed summer!

I have been blogging regularly for three years - see the South Asia Archive and Library Group (SAALG) blog - and recently assisted Clemens Gresser and Margaret Jones present a Library Skills workshop on Team Blogging. I've also recently starting blogging using WordPress for the UL's Special collections blog

The basics are very similar, but I have not found the instructions for working with images etc. as intuitive as those of Blogger. It will, however, be a great way to promote some of the non-South Asian gems in the Royal Commonwealth Society collections.  The blogging take-up has been so great that we have had to carefully schedule when posts are published. 

I have had fun this week tweaking the layout, settings and widgets displayed on the SAALG and Polar adventurer blogs, inspired by Week 1's Extra Thing.  I do still feel that pictures speak louder than words, so will endeavour to post as many as possible.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Time for reflection

Poolepynten (Polar adventurer, June 2010)

Huge thanks to the team behind 23 Things Cambridge.  You provided me with an excellent map for my polar adventures.  I may have strayed rather far to the north (800 miles from the North Pole in June, in fact), but found my way back just in time!  It has been a rewarding journey.

So what did I find most useful?
I'm pleased to say that it was a mixture of Web 2.0 technologies which I already used regularly (such as blogging, Doodle and RSS feeds) and new 2.0 techniques which enabled me to work on various computers and still link to the same version of a document, bookmarks or RSS feeds (Google Docs, iGoogle and Zotero), plus techniques for working on the same document with different people (Google Docs and Wikis).

I also found it incredibly useful to learn more about Creative Commons licences when searching for images on Flickr.  This was perhaps my top Thing!

Not useful at all?
I have to admit to not finding Twitter or LinkedIn useful at all, and although I can see the attractions of Facebook to undergraduate libraries, whose readers are probably heavy users of social media, I have yet to see it's useful role within special collections.  I would estimate that the majority of the users of my two special collections are not users of social media, and still prefer emails and, if at all possible, to talk to me on the phone or better still in person. 

Nor have I continued to use Google calendar, but that is because I already have a very full online calendar/diary accessible to my colleagues in both libraries and the thought of starting again, when I am booked up well into 2011, is daunting.  I realise I may have to change, but hope someone will write a clever program to enable me to transfer all my data from one to the other.

Another Web 2.0 Thing which I liked very much but have not persisted in using was LibraryThing.  I found it extremely easy to use, but can't imagine ever having the time to catalogue my books at home and do not think I shall use it at work as I don't have sufficient time to catalogue all the Centre's books using Voyager, yet alone add them to LibraryThing as well.

So what have I persisted in using?
iGoogle, blogging, Doodle, RSS feeds, Zotero, Flickr, and embedding podcasts, YouTube presentations, sound files, or Slideshare presentations into blog posts, Powerpoint presentations and web pages.

I am still hoping to find time to check and tag all my bookmarks on Delicious.  I successfully imported bookmarks from the two PCs I use most often, but the checking and tagging requires time I have not had to spare.

Back in May I hoped that participation in the 23 Things would enable me to better understand the world in which my researchers/library users operated and thus help me go some way towards meeting their expectations. To this end, I think the programme has been most successful - so many thanks all round to the contributors who made this happen.

Web 2.0 and social media have helped soften the interface between researchers and librarians, an interface which we must endeavour to keep smooth.  With so many new communication channels open to us, we should each be able to get our messages across, and enable our researchers to reach us with their thoughts and queries.  I believe we should remain free to choose those channels which best suit our ways of working and those of our users. Variety and choice can be good things!

And finally ... my tag cloud!
Polar adventurer's Wordle cloud

Monday, 23 August 2010


A wiki with which I am already familiar, and promote via the Centre of South Asian Studies website, and via the SAALG blog is the Libraries & Archives in South Asia (LASA) wiki.  It  is a collaborative attempt to produce an up-to-date guide to libraries and archives in South Asia, to help academics and researchers planning to visit South Asian countries to do research. Each wiki entry contains basic information - location and contact information, basic access and collection information and a link to the institution's website when it is available. More detailed information, including maps, photographs, links to online catalogs, etc. are provided when available. So far the wiki covers Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It was produced as part of the Digital South Asia Library project at the University of Chicago, and it is hoped that the researchers using libraries and archives in South Asia will increasingly contribute to LASA, keeping it up-to-date and developing it into a major portal for South Asian research.

The National Archives (TNA) have also introduced a wiki, My Archives, which they have been marketing to archives and special collections outside the National Archives.  It is a useful tool for researchers new to their collections as it includes electronic copies of many of the paper guides held in reading rooms. Researchers are in turn encouraged to contribute articles based on TNA's collections, enhance research guides or add data to the National Register of Archives. TNA warns readers that it does not vouch for the accuracy of data included in My Archives - as it goes without saying that it would be an impossible task to verify the huge number of entries.

I raised the idea of a wiki some time ago with the Cambridge Archivists' Group who manage the Janus portal, as I am constantly receiving emails from researchers/members of the public who have additional data about collections we hold.  Most would, I am certain, be happy to post their knowledge on a wiki similar to My Archives.  However, TNA employs paid staff to manage the wiki - a luxury we can not currently afford in Cambridge.

I was very interested to link to the TeachMeet Cambridge wiki and see what is planned at St. John's College from 5-7pm on 27th September 2010.  All being well, I intend to lurk enthusiastically (category 4.iv involvement)!

Podcasting to an international audience

The Centre of South Asian Studies has published several audio and audio-visual podcasts on YouTube and, with the assistance of the University's Office of External Affairs and Communications, has also published them on the University's Video & Audio web-pages as a means of promoting our oral history and film collections. They have enabled us to reach a far larger audience than might have been possible had we only made them accessible via our own web-pages. One such example is a short documentary covering some of the linguistic highlights in the Centre's oral history collection, introduced by Mr Ivan Coleby, who digitised this collection.
For further examples, please see: http://www.sms.cam.ac.uk/collection/654115

On YouTube, do see A glimpse of India, in which Dr Annamaria Motrescu and Dr Kevin Greenbank discuss the Centre's film collection and you can view highlights from our 300 amateur cinefilms.

We have been delighted by the positive feedback - do read the Comments section after you have viewed the  podcast.
Our next project is to produce a longer audio-visual piece, again with the help of the University's Office of External Affairs and Communications, which we can use at conferences and open days.  Sadly this will not be ready until October, so I will not be able to use it at this September's Open Library day. 

Podcasting has enabled us to entertain and inform audiences across the world.  It works especially well for oral and film collections, but I am considering how we might use it to promote more traditional library collections.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Google Documents to the rescue!

Screen shot from my Google Doc of an air-sea rescue off the coast of Svalbard
('Airlift ascent' by Anders Lanzen, 5th  August 2010, Flickr, Creative Commons)
The YouTube video introducing this tool was excellent - I recommend it to anyone who hasn't already played with Google Docs - and I am most impressed by how simple Google Documents is to use, bar its peculiar unwillingness to insert any photographs I have taken and saved to My Pictures.  It insists they are not valid image files, yet will accept any images I download from Flickr Creative Commons and store in My Pictures. Most peculiar, as I've successfully used many of my own images on this blog.
I witnessed an air-sea rescue exercise off the north-west coast of Svalbard (aka Spitsbergen) in June 2010 when the ship I was a passenger on, MV Plancius, was asked by the Svalbard Coastguard to take part in the exercise (and given just 10 minutes notice, so as to catch us off guard and be more realistic).  The helicopter (same one as photographed by Anders Lanzen above) hovered low above us; the noise was deafening, it sprayed sea water into my face as I watched from the deck.  It was incredibly exciting to witness the bravery of the rescue team dangling from the rope above and the skill of the pilot, the propellers of the helicopter whizzing round just feet from our ship's mast.

I can imagine using Google Documents to compose letters and minutes sent out by the Steering Group of the South Asia Archive and Library Group.  Currently our Secretary produces the first draft of our conference minutes and then emails it out to the Steering Group for additions and changes before mailing to members or publishing on our website. By using Google Docs we could all edit them, (whether in Edinburgh, London or Cambridge) though we would perhaps need a system of agreeing the final version?  Also who would archive the final version?  Would we rely on Google for file-storage and back-ups, plus our website provider?    I look forward to experimenting with this new tool and finding answers to these questions.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Marketing via social media

Polar marketing with a sense of humour, Norwegian Meteorological Station,
Jan Mayen (Polar adventurer, June 2010)

Roughly translated this reads: Theory is when you understand everything but nothing works. Practice is when everything works, but nobody understands why. On this station, we combine theory and practice - nothing works and nobody understands why!

I plan to continue marketing special collections at the Centre of South Asian studies and RCS library via the SAALG blog and via RSS feeds, as well as via our web pages and catalogues, and at meetings, conferences and workshops. I have found online exhibitions a particularly good way of marketing the collections as people can link to them via their blogs, web pages, Camtools sites, Facebook pages and even tweet about them.   I hope to produce more joint exhibitions with academic colleagues especially.

I am also participating in this year's Open Cambridge/Open Library weekend, with a 'Glimpse of India' - an opportunity for the public to view photographs, art work and home movies shot in Indian 1911-1956, and listen to archive recordings in which men an women reflect on events and issues they experienced during that period.

The University's Press Office helped market our home movies, by assisting us in creating a promotional filmed interview.  I may also create RCS and CSAS photostreams on Flickr to assist with the identification of people and places on old photographs in the collections.

All the above tried methods have resulted in increased interest and use in our collections.  However it is becoming increasing difficult to cope with this increased use - the down-side of too much marketing at a time of budget restraint.

PS I have just heard that the RCS collections will appear in the credits of Who Do You Think You Are? this evening - tracing Rupert Penry-Jones' family roots to India - photographs from the Queen Mary photograph collection on India.