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.

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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