Winter Visit to British Library: Joining the Debate on Growing Knowledge

bldoorsVisiting London is always an experience of re-living a written text, very dream-like. This time it was about reaching out for the massive amount of books deposited in the British Library and described not in fiction but on my blog post, although the scene proved not less impressive.

The Growing Knowledge exhibition, one of the many currently ongoing exhibitions at the British Library, explores in particular, the use and value of digital technologies to support academic and other researchers. Set up in collaboration with Microsoft, HP, Times Higher Education, Haworth and JISC, it was about time to actually see it in order to believe it.

The World’s Longest Painting and How Its Tail Was Caught


The world's longest painting Garibaldi Panorama available to be played with at the Microft Surface multi-touch computer

Displayed on a Microsoft Surface multi-touch computer, the world’s longest painting, the 19th century Garibaldi Panorama, is available to be touched, zoomed in or out, to be thrown on the panel wall, or to become a voice narrated explanation of itself. Clive Izard, the head of creative services at the British Library, declares: “We are evaluating the way researchers will work in an area that is not hushed and quiet – where people will be more collaborative physically.” Instead of hushing down their phones, the visitors of the library will be asked to use them in order to interact with data and with other users. And the hands won’t be used solely to turn over leaves, but the interactive library should respond to all of their gestures. “Garibaldi on the Surface” is a collaborative project between Brown’s Computer Science Department, the Brown University Library and Italian Studies Professor Massimo Riva, with sponsorship from Microsoft Research and it is double-sided and 270 foot long.

Visualizing the Pattern of Our Data

The GK exhibition tools try to answer what many videos displayed simultaneously in the exhibition hall try to question. How have digital technologies changed research? How will researchers cope with an avalanche of data?

The exciting thing about media overload is the possibility of posing so many questions, according to Aleks Krotoski, the Growing Knowledge researcher, but together with benefits, such a step in a digitization process brings challenges and requires some cures, and Lewis Lancaster, professor emeritus from Berkley, finds the solution in visualization, in seeing the pattern of our data.

Moscow is still sleeping while London has long shaken off its Tweet-Dreams

Twitter dials at the British Library showcase live tweet activity in 9 major world cities. The Tweet-O-Meter, as it is popularly called, is a real-time analog monitoring system and it was developed with University College of London (UCL). The purpose of developing such a machine was to help understand better the social dynamics among the Twitter users around the world. Whether it helps to grasp a virtual cloud or merely offers a glimpse of its outlines, it shows a pattern of its own.

How Are Libraries to Grow and Prepare Knowledge?

“From this exhibitory installation the Library expects to gain intelligence in the next half-year about how the world’s knowledge in the form of data, collections and resources, can best be prepared and delivered to scholars and researchers,” the exhibition blog reports. The libraries of the future will allow user to go online and be directed, whereas elsewhere he could be lost. Interdisciplinary research is to be encouraged and this is expected to draw on breakthroughs. Will this allow us to find things and think about them in new ways? The close reading that we are trained to, won’t work,” professor Lancaster concludes, “Computer has to help us!”.

The start of a quest for knowledge. Users are invited to rate each resource after they have tried it out

Visitors are welcome to engage on one such research and to start their quest either at the British Library Catalogue, or Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest known Bibles, or Galaxy Zoo where they can help in identifying galaxies in “zooniverse”, or explore semantic web applications in Neuromedicine. Virtually anything is searchable from government collected data to Jane Austen‘s fiction manuscripts. Visitors are welcomed to join the debate and tell what they think about these tools and technologies that aim to help in coping with so many data. Clive Izard explains: “At the end [of the exhibition] we will produce a report. JISC [independent advisory body providing advice on ICT use to higher education] is going to take the findings and incorporate them into our services.”

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