A Research Road Less Travelled – Post Dissertation thoughts…

Back in February 2016, I found a dissertation topic that inspired me and I could pursue as part of my CityLis course. I saw an opportunity to realise an ambition I had felt at the beginning of the course – that of somehow bringing my arts background, love of digital photography/art and long experience of education together. And so evolved my research – a case study comparing the documentation of digital art in two artist residencies at the British Library and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

My dissertation reflected a significant piece of work to me personally in the sense that it took most of my spare time and energy from April 2016 to Jan 2017. I realise I have been on a learning journey that is an iterative process and which even resonates with the creation processes studied in the artist residencies.

I started from having little knowledge of the area concerning artists creating documentation for digital works, their communication of the creation process or the processes involved in the library or museum worlds of acquisition or preservation, to understanding and synthesising many facets of digital art, preservation, acquisition, artists attitudes and worlds, the comparisons between documentation frameworks, how residencies work, their benefits to knowledge management and the motivations for cultural institutions who host them.

Further research on the characteristics of artist residencies brought much more importance to the focus on documenting the creation process than I first thought. As well as absorbing a very wide area of knowledge, I also experienced the following learning challenges (and revelations!):

1. Interviews are surprisingly hard to get right, regarding listening, processing the responses and attempting to manage questions in the allotted time. The recording and transcribing of data was insightful as a tool to improve my technique.

2. The scoping, exploratory nature of the research question, plus the amorphous nature of the case study methodology are also a considerable skill to manage. I found information in the research methods literature confirmed many of the experiences I underwent, such as often having to overcome information overload and being able to seeing ‘the wood for the trees.’  Pickard & Childs, (2013) in particular remarked on the skill needed to distinguish between the most relevant emerging themes in the data rather than trying to consider them all.

As a novice qualitative researcher, I realised due to time constraints I would not be able to manage a mixed methods approach within a case study to aid validity. I therefore spent much time initially researching the related V&A & BL digital media artists and preparing questionnaires that were to be used. However it soon became apparent in September that there were already so many themes from the current residencies that the work would have become unmanageable if I had extended the scope of my research even further. However, the preparation helped bring out the overall themes and piloting a questionnaire was also useful for the interviews.

3. In light of an information overload, I feel genuinely pleased with Chapter 4 Findings and Chapter 5 Cross Case summary tables particularly, as referencing data obtained through interview and research has felt rewarding to illustrate the ‘synthesis’ of interview, literature, institutional documents and websites.

4. Previously, I had not considered the idea of socio-technology or an ecology of people, objects and environment influencing the research but I now realise how relevant this is to education and information behaviour. I particularly liked the presumption that an ‘ecology’ and human relationships would impact heavily on the Internet of Cultural Things residency I assisted the transcription of data for. I feel I built a very good rapport with the artist Richard Wright, and was entirely flattered that my name was included in the acknowledgements for the display of the work and within the research paper.

It has indeed been a very long but very worthwhile journey. Now onto how to make the work accessible, and hopefully publishable, fingers crossed. I have included the abstract here to help give an overview for now. Of course any immediate interest in reading the document, just contact me via Twitter (@wendydurham2).

‘How are new media artists working with cultural institutions to document the creation and authenticity of their work for future access and use?’ A comparative case study of two digital media residencies at The British Library and Victoria & Albert Museum.

Abstract    A body of research suggests that inconsistency in documentation resources and a lack of understanding regarding the technological processes that create and therefore characterize new media artworks present challenge to preservation strategies and need further support and research. The purpose of this study is to investigate the documentation of new media artwork created within artist residencies due to their natural focus on process and collaboration. It compares and contrasts the documentation developed through two separate artist residencies hosted by the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of their provision for learning and public engagement. It uses a qualitative case study methodology based on interviews with a purposeful sample of 8 residency stakeholders and multiple sources of documentary evidence to explore the opportunities and challenges for the documentation of new media artwork within collaborative contexts.

The study findings reveal that in this sample, both residency and artwork documentation is driven by funded outputs for public engagement and knowledge capture coupled with artist scholarly working ethic. The artists own communication of artistic process and personal documentation practices are central to each residency as opposed to particular emphasis on the use of curatorial documentation models, leading to unique, variable, documentation outcomes. Collaborative opportunities, including tacit knowledge harvest, new and shared social, supportive workspaces, resources, cost and expertise are evidenced. These are contrasted with the challenges of time investment, relative cost and the physical and emotional energy needed for the work to succeed.

This study demonstrates the value and importance of new media artists co-creating digital work within cultural institutional environments and the opportunity for residency stakeholders to jointly understand the behavioural or ‘significant’ properties required to further preservation strategies that occur in the creation process of the work. The recommendations will be of use to both artists, cultural institutions and other residency hosting communities as well as adding to a proactive new media research knowledge base.


Letting out the leash: the Magic Penny approach

The online ‘ALPSP 2013 Conference Video: What is the publisher now?’ recommended on moodle last week brought forth a set of thoughts for the new blogging season for #citylis ‘Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society’ (or LAPIS).

The input by Victor Henning, co-founder and CEO of Mendeley, were meaningful to me personally as he described the statistics of an Elsevier survey that investigated what tools researchers used to share their work. Henning states that although 50% used internal university networks, 30 and 13% respectively chose Dropbox and Google Drive platforms due to freedom of approach and the wide selection of user friendly, unrestricted tools that they felt had a greater reach.

This echoed a similar issue in last year’s Digital Libraries module, where the manageability of controlled, commercial library systems was compared with the new generation of open systems. Freedom and adaptability figured greatly against perceived control and risk.

Henning mentions the example of the music industry to illustrate the loss versus gain aspect of ‘letting out of the leash.’ When risk was taken and music sharing platforms were allowed to grow, music piracy decreased and business grew. How does that old Magic Penny song go ? Be brave enough to give openly and in return receive more ? Henning remarks that in our information society, people in general have no strong will to access content illegally but simply desire and respond to ways which are convenient and fair. 

Within digital libraries, part of similar consideration is managing digital collections according to copyright, the demands of researchers and the perceived needs of the library, for example in the case of making available high resolution images for research and the promotion of special collections. Keep tight control or find ways to let out the leash? I thoroughly enjoyed this gregarious post by Wynken de Worde.

Henning remarks on the publisher access and subscription mindset in being in conflict and competition both with each other and with free sharing interests of Google, Amazon and Dropbox.

The biggest takeaways from the panel during this conference session were that publishers (and libraries) need to know their community well, to engage and support their users, to promote the quality of research, adapt a technical mindset and work smarter together to progress user friendly research tools to rival or even integrate with the tech giants.

The 2012 article by Dr Alicia Wise of Elsevier also supports how libraries and publishers, who all serve information and knowledge, hold the united responsibilities of:

  • Promoting and providing access to high quality information, providing efficiency and tools for researchers. ‘Article of the future’ is an engagement platform being developed by Elsevier.
  • Providing users with fair access to Information now and in the future, growing international audiences and scaling up open access
  • Keeping abreast of the technological impact on the digital age and providing user support and preservation of the scholarly record
  • Supporting the young/global scholarly community and challenging the digital divide. Elsevier for example, have developed free online webcasts and resources for researchers and librarians.

Image courtesy of Famlii.com

Dabbling in Digital – An Initiation with British Library Labs

British Library Labs is an initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, currently in its third year. The project actively encourages researchers and developers to work with the Library and its digital collections to address research questions. To achieve this, Labs run yearly competitions, promotion events and assists the Library in the exposure of its digital content for reuse and repurposing. BL Labs work closely with the Digital Scholarship team and run a regular blog.

During my time as a project worker with Labs, I have mostly been involved in the ‘opening up’ access process. My responsibilities have focussed on using filtering criteria to ascertain which collections hold most potential for investigating with regard to the challenges of access and copyright. Upon selection, I have initiated research and contact with collection curators to build a background narrative in preparation for a department presentation and review for publication.

In addition to content research, I have found myself organising delegate packs and mail shots for events, updating the Labs wiki website, researching and composing tweets, transcribing material for winning competition projects and editing film for potential press releases. As the Labs team are pretty busy, I have had to work independently, think on my feet and look up new topics, take a vertical learning curve with Google Drive, spreadsheets and understand the Library’s own database management systems. It’s been demanding and unpredictable but also exciting and satisfying, developing my knowledge of access issues and allowing me to communicate with professionals in the field.

I joined Labs a year after the Flickr 1 Million release, just as the project was approaching its first anniversary and reaching some intriguing developments such as the mass algorithmic tagging of maps by the prolific coding wizard and artist Mario Klingemann (Qusaimondo) and the striking reuse of the images by collage artist David Normal, (exhibited for the 2014 Burning Man Festival, now set for being showcased at the British Library). I originally highlighted some of these projects in relation to the technologies here in the DITA category.

My time with Labs has been serendipitous. Seeing the competition research proposals, technological innovation and creativity elements have inspired my vision for how educational learning environments could operate in the future, such as Theo Kuechel’s 2014 competition entry, ‘BL Toolkit’ which provides a framework for helping schools engage with the British Library Digital Collections, and how that engagement can benefit students in their learning. I am certain that the work experience gained with Labs will greatly influence my choice of dissertation next year and it’s been a fantastic introduction to understanding the diverse opportunities and challenges that a digital library holds.

– This post has been adapted for this blog – see the original at: https://blogs.city.ac.uk/citylis/2015/05/21/citylis-students-wendy-durham-british-library/#.VXq6wflViko

Text through the Looking Glass…

I usually start off these posts in wonderment at the evolution of technology within my adult life. This week is no exception as I ponder the ‘control-F’ style text search of my word-processing past in comparison with this week’s focus on text analysis.

Textual analysis is defined as an information gathering process that assists researchers to find ways of understanding how human beings make sense of their world. This can involve working with a mixture of simple quantitative approaches where words mentions are counted, or with a more qualitative method of, for example, ‘concordance,’ where the search and comparison for contexts of words, sentences or passages that share a keyword or phrase may reveal patterns. However, it’s here where I must acknowledge the bigger picture surrounding such quantitative and qualitative methodologies and the links to Franco Moretti and the hotly debated camps of ‘distant reading’ and ‘close reading.’ And rather attempt to explain this in words of my own, I found this Youtube link called ‘Big Data + Old History’ which has been the most accessible step for me in beginning to understand reasons for distant reading.

Currently there is a wide range of free, online tools that can offer a variety of ‘lenses’ to interpret large corpuses of digitised texts – and so for this weeks blog, the citylis DITA gang were asked to reflect on the user experience of Tagxedo, Wordle, Many Eyes, Voyant, and for the brave amongst us, there was the more techie-based TAPoR and ‘R’.

Both Taxgedo and Wordle provide word cloud style visualisations, showing the popularity of words by size of font. Whilst they are appealing to the eye, a useful tool to start an enquiry and have value for engaging younger users, they have also been criticised in terms of appropriacy. Jacob Harris from the journalism standards site NiemanLab describes word clouds as ‘mullets of the internet’ and provides a sharp critique on their potentially misleading nature when qualitative tempering is absent.

Voyant is a text-analysis program that also possesses a word cloud tool, but in addition has many other options for user ‘lenses,’ such as graphs of word frequency across the chosen corpus and a format to compare multiple keywords side by side. Geoffrey Rockwell, one of the project leaders behind the tool reassures us that these computer methods do not ‘replace human interpretation,’ rather that they enhance the researchers ability to perceive trends, test intuition and provoke further focussed re-reading and ‘re’-questioning.

Having experimented with Voyant and data from Flickrs BL 1 Million photostream during the recent map tagathon and the Book of Humour, Wit and Wisdom spreadsheet I compiled to assist the Victorian Meme Machine project, the following screenshots and brief observations were made. For both sets of data, ‘stop lists’ of words, such as common English connectives were added to help focus possible questions.

flickr screenshot 5

Voyant for Flickr data 31st Oct – 3rd Nov 2014

As expected from the BL Flickr data, the highest word counts were naturally the tag ‘map.’ But then coinciding with that, there were 2 prominent Flickr tagger numbers, the details of which I took from the raw text and fed back online to reveal their identities. For this statistical data, the word cloud felt appropriate as a quick insight to the activity of the date range. I’ve no doubt the Flickr API could also supply this info on top taggers – but this way was fun !

vmm screenshot man

Voyant for the ‘Book of Humour, Wit and Wisdom, A Manual of Table-talk’ (1874)

Next was the visualisation for the Book of Humour, Wit and Wisdom. Quick reveals from the word cloud suggested a rather male dominated theme. No surprises there I supposed, given the social bias of the era. But was there any link between ‘men’ and humour ? – did the accidental juxtaposition of ‘great man’ bear any further meaning?

A look at the corpus reader showed that the word ‘man’ was particularly concentrated in one area of the text. On closer reading, this account was far from complimentary towards the gentlemen ‘of street car society.’

Finally I turned to TAPoR text analysis to try the concordance tool for ‘man’ and received 197 entries, which suggested that a fair proportion of the word associations linked to ‘man’ were in fact synonyms of ‘old’ – which could correlate more with the book’s title of ‘wisdom.’ There’s suddenly a whole pathway of next steps opening up – and this text is relatively small. However at this point, time dictates that I leave the investigation but I have thoroughly enjoyed beginning this exploration and can see how this process perpetuates thought and takes root.

Part of TAPoRware concordance tool results for 'man.'

Part of TAPoRware concordance tool results for ‘man.’

More on Text mining next week… till then, toodle-loo ! 😉

blog cloud2


Header Word Cloud from this blog courtesy of Tagxedo 

Altmetrics…quality vs quantity

The last time I trawled the scholarly ‘sea’ for relevant, quality research was when I was studying for my Postgraduate Diploma/MEd around 5 years ago. Back then, citation and impact factor,  government papers and contemporary, trending  theorists and topics were the way to navigate, assess the waves and hopefully make a good catch.

donut2But nowadays there are ‘donuts.’ Woven, colourful donuts that visualise the online ‘attention’ that scholarly articles in journals attract. And before you start thinking that I’ve had a senior moment and mixed up my home baking blog with this one, I am in fact referring to the donut style visualisation from Altmetric.com, a company who have ‘created and maintained a cluster of servers that watch social media sites, newspapers, government policy documents and other sources for mentions of scholarly articles,’ bringing all the recognition together to formulate article level metrics or “alternative metrics.”

Altmetrics.com present a very user friendly ‘Explorer’ interface for search and analysis using the Altmetrics API (also available for scholars/developers), a bookmarklet that you can drag to your search engine task bar that will report on attention received by research you visit online and embeddable ‘donut’ or label badges to denote online impact on users’ article pages. The two previous highlighted links also provide simple overviews as does the embed below.

Besides Altmetrics.com, there are a variety of websites and projects that are calculating online impact, such as ImpactStory, Plum Analytics, Public Library of Science (PLoS) and Publish or Perish. In turn, publishers have begun providing such information to readers, including the Nature Publishing GroupElsevier and (again) the Public Library of Science,

The evolving field of altmetrics provides article-level data. This is in contrast to the traditional bibliometric, journal level, citation method which has received criticism for it’s quantitative bias that can be slow to reveal impact and open to manipulation.

As the altmetrics method uses a range of data sources, it is suggested that it can provide qualitative as well as quantitative information, and aspires to give a finer tuned picture of an article’s influence. It also has possible advantages of constructing that picture at a much greater speed than that of academic publishing.

altmetricHowever, as altmetrics are still in their infancy, there is not as yet a shared view on what choices, analysis or data combinations are a reliable indicator of influence. In addition, there is debate on the correct conduct within and across Twitter, blogs and other social media sources. Altmetrics.com comment themselves in their blog that , ‘Each altmetrics tool will have its own way of handling suspicious activity,’ and that they use ‘a combination of automatic systems and manual curation,‘ that does take much time and effort and so the company also requests that users aid monitoring and report anything unusual.

In terms of addressing scholarly consistency and widening access and impact to research, Ernesto Priego comments on the need for curating and maintaining an academic audience on Twitter, so that a tweeted article is propelled to an optimum reach. A ‘yin yang’ synergy of qualitative and quantitative methods is also argued for, with one informing and the other tempering, culminating in a fair and hopefully trustworthy measure.

Finally, just as assessment has always needed moderation in my familiar world of education and teaching, so does setting agreed standards in what constitutes quality assessment of research in order to bring excellence and consistency to practice. DORA (the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment – to which Altmetrics.com has signed) currently provides recommendations for academic institutions, funding agencies and organisations that supply metrics, reminding us in its 2012 report that it is ‘imperative that scientific output is measured accurately and evaluated wisely.’

Natasha Wescoat  'wescoatart' http://goo.gl/HqwulS

Lovely donuty tree picture source Natasha Wescoat ‘wescoatart’

API Stir Fry

There’s been a lot of talk about cooking this week, so as I regularly feel like I’m on the Masterchef mystery box challenge when I form my DITA blog, I couldn’t resist a little amusement by tackling another all new technology in a culinary kind of way.

Therefore, in keeping with the foodie theme, my main technological ingredient this week is a wonderful thing called an Application Programming Interface (API). To go with that I’m going to prepare a bed of Web 2.0 technology with a nice helping of Flickr flavoured API (as I think images are just delicious and go with everything) and then I’m going to finish it all off with a little British Library seasoning. I haven’t got a clue what I’ll rustle up for an embedded dessert, but I’m sure something will evolve along the way.

So for starters….

Just like a good cheese, the world wide web has been developing with age. Over the last 20 years it has moved from a static, mild character to a dynamic, powerful, connected experience. Coined Web 2.0, it has evolved to include an array of interactive websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Wikis, Google Maps and YouTube with a focus on accessibility, sharing content and creating, where everybody can taste and feedback.

…and so to main course…

Lets take our chosen platform today which is Flickr, a website that is full of metadata from its 5 billion images and which possesses the aforementioned clever communication service – an application programming interface. The Flickr API allows web developers to request, retrieve and return various types of data using its set callable methods within the restrictions of Flickr’s agreed terms and conditions. It operates using a representational state transfer (REST) framework, receiving communication in URLs and responding in XML – according to many sources, an overall easier format to make calls and afterward parse to HTML.

According to Library Mash-ups (Engard, 2009) the free Flickr API is ‘a developers dream’ because of its extensive documentation, test areas, developer discussion groups and blog. As public API’s are generally for noncommercial use, Engard also reinforces the importance of observing and revisiting licensing conditions and terms of service as platforms such as Flickr are entitled to change these at any time.

With its API, Web 2.0 features and the introduction of the Flickr Commons project aiming to increase access and knowledge to public photography archives, Flickr has become more than a social photo sharing site. Over 100 contributing cultural sector institutes recognise the importance of Flickr Commons in digital scholarship, crowd sourcing and it’s potential to re-purpose public domain content in multiple contexts, when compared to other independent library managed software.

Last week I mentioned the British Library’s Flickr Commons contribution of 1 million images, with the British Library Labs team appealing for ‘new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display these ‘unseen illustrations,’ and in particular, an invitation to create a crowd-sourcing application to aid image metadata.

After its first day on Friday 13th of December 2013, the photo-stream received an incredible 5 million hits and now, in less than a year, it’s reached 200 million views! Many artists and researchers have responded in various API mashups and reinventions as seen on the creative projects list here on the British Library’s Wiki set up by the BL Labs for curating public domain content. Highlights include an alternative scrapbook style viewer named Culture Collage and the algorithmic alchemy of Mario Klingemann (aka Quasimondo) – but more about him in blogs to come.

Further related content remixing opportunities have happened within the British Library Sound and Vision department as seen here.

…and dessert?

Well, time for a little colourful embedding – I found some lovely things this week based on searching for artistically reinvented maps (the embed is a teaser so follow the previous hyperlink)

Map Of Los Angeles Street Layout Colored By Orientation by Stephen Von Worley

Map Of Los Angeles Street Layout Colored By Orientation by Stephen Von Worley

and a little from the talented Mr Mario Klingemann (courtesy of Flickr)…

251 Random Flowers Arranged by Similarity

251 Random Flowers Arranged by Similarity

..and a very friendly API explanation that helped me a lot and appealed to my teacher soul. (courtesy of BBY Open)

until next week …don’t worry, be API

Attention ! this image is reversing ….

This week I entered a whole new world of relational databases, the art of SQL, Boolean logic and the need for efficient, relevant search results from online sources. Hmm, the memorable Kupor quote regarding ‘drinking from the fire hydrant’ form Ali’s blog last week immediately came to mind. So much to absorb and so little time…hence bite-size and context needed. So for this entry, I’d like to write briefly about information retrieval in terms of image search technology, linking in my interest on image research and volunteer work at the British Library.

A picture is worth a thousand words….

Image searching, uses algorithms to search for features of still and moving images rather than relying on text indexing. Generally, in order for an image to be findable, it needs to be described in some way and needs metadata – but what happens if the image has no accurate metadata ? A question that has arisen for me when tagging images with little or no information from the British Library photostream for creative research projects.

As a background, image retrieval methods range from from concept based (or text based), approach where keywords or metadata are used, to content based where the image content itself (such as shape, colour or texture) is used to provide the ‘map’ for searching. In recent research comparing methods of image retrieval, content based systems are leading the field as an attempt to ‘bridge the semantic gap,’ as,

‘the starting point of the retrieval process is typically the high level query from a human. Translating or converting the question posed by a human to the low level features seen by the computer illustrates the problem in bridging the semantic gap.(Lew et al. 2002)

Various computer vision and image identification software for content-based image retrieval (CBIR), also known as query by image content (QBIC) and content-based visual information retrieval (CBVIR) has evolved. TinEye is a reverse image search engine developed in 2008.

Screenshot from TinEye homepageThe TinEye reverse image search home page.

As it returns information on where a users selected image appears on the web, this has significant use for improving metadata and in the copyright world both for potential infringement and managing ‘orphan works.’

Following on from TinEye, Google Images launched their own reverse image facility in 2011, directly into their image search bar.

Google's reverse image search

Google’s reverse image search

In terms of comparison, ZDnet’s article by Stephen Chapman claims Google’s ‘vast reach’ is said to outperform TinEye greatly, however further debates online reveal a loyal following for TinEye regarding accuracy and sorting options.

Further application of reverse image retrieval in the British Library …

Very recently, the British Library worked in partnership with the Technology Strategy Board to challenge software developers to produce a tool that could measure or assess the impact of releasing its digital content into the public domain. For example, how were the one million Flickr images from their collection of 19th century Microsoft books being utilised?

Enter Peter Balman, the developer who won the competition with an idea for a tool that searches for British Library’s digital content on the web and gives a detailed breakdown of where, how and by whom it is being used. Named ‘Visibility,’ this project could help the Library make choices around targeting users by releasing similar content and encourage further use and deeper engagement within these groups.

A link to his project is here (NB. playback is good on IE but I had problems in Google Chrome).

Until next week kind viewers…

The Way to Hemingway

It’s the weekend already and I still am trying to add my twitter feed to the sidebar of this new site but alas, the commiserating ‘kill pages’ error symbol appears yet again as I follow the instructions to extract a secret code. Time to prioritise then, Twitter feed you are now second in the queue. Just as well really as the #citylis feed is promising a post lecture pub date and there’s something on immersive storytelling from Ludi that threatens to distract me. So, to our module brief regarding my rationale for the site design and layout thus far. The moodle article from the Guardian has really helped me think in terms of the definition of information architecture, defining the user experience as recognising ‘that a good digital service isn’t just about functionality. It is about how people feel as they use a digital service, and about the way it does things, not just what it does.’ 

Choices, choices …. Theme-wise, I seem to have come full circle, through many previews and try-outs. I am very grateful to my fellow students who have been able to publish ahead of time – as a beginner, it’s been intriguing to see which theme formats have been used to translate identity, purpose and style into an individual online presence. The ‘Hemingway Rewritten’ theme originally caught my eye as it seemed clean, simple and allowed for bold visuals, with reference to photography. I also liked the way it appeared on tablet and smartphone formats because of its responsive design.

..and the gift of gifs During our first DITA session, Dr Ernesto Priego mentioned the Guardian article on Kevin Weir’s fantastic reuse of old photography for animated gifs. Therefore, my thoughts turned to the work of the artist David Normal who recently collaborated with the British Library on an exciting project for the reuse of images released to Flickr Commons. For those of you who might enjoy a little mash up, its wonderful stuff. And for me, it’s a breath of fresh air after suffering a rather limited art education as a youngster in the 70’s and 80’s, to see such a wealth of ideas, approaches and resources available to all. Thanks for reading !