Market Place, Wednesday 16th July 2008

A taster of the stands and displays on show in the market this morning…

At 9:00 am, the market is quieter than it was yesterday evening as delegates gradually drift in from breakfast. There are, however, some fascinating noises emanating from the table of British Library Archival Sound Recordings 2, writes Sam Jordison.

Advertising itself as ‘a slice of the world’s rich audio heritage at your fingertips’, a flavour of the project can be gained from visiting www.bl.uk/sounds . The aim is to make available in digital format (within the limits of copyright) the vast resources of the British Library sound archive. It’s an archive of an archive, if you like, involving an awful lot of painstaking work transferring old 78 records, tapes and other media onto formats more readily accessible by today’s technology – and to ensure that they remain accessible for future generations.

At the moment, the goal is to broadly reflect the holdings of the BL sound archive- which means that there’s an astonishingly varied array of material… There are field recordings of African music, vast archives of interviews with African writers and activists (which have now taken on a double interest in the way they reflect the attitudes of past researchers towards the continent as well as presenting so many varied African voices). There are also rare and valuable pre-1956 classical music recordings. (For a brief insight into the pressures of this research, imagine recording 600 plus hoursof material from 3minute long 78rpm discs that need to be cleaned before and after – and always readily available to BL users who want to take them out). There are also some wonderful samples from the British Library’s long running oral history project, including talks from architects, academics, scientists, artists a fine section on jazz … the list is almost endless now and ever expanding as more material is uploaded and the project moves towards broader public availability.

I’m told that the biggest challenges that this project faces – as well as preserving this magnificent noise for posterity – is to make it widely available, to alert people to the resources that are being opened up and to enable users to make the most of it. And that’s where you, the delegates of this conference, can step in. Do pay the stand a visit… Or visit the website here.

As the marketplace started filling up a little later, Sarah Wrays had a closer look at a couple of stands which were about finding ways to share good practice:

PlaNet

PlaNet is short and snappy for the Pattern Language Network. It’s a multi-institutional project which aims to create tools and processes to enable a community of practitioners to transfer their practive effectively.

Although the project focuses on Web 2.0 in learning, their approach is transferable to any area of practice.

Those who work on the project come from a range of institutions:

– Leeds Metropolitan University
– Glasgow Caledonian University
– LondonKnowledgeLab
– Coventry University
– Kings College London

Why do we need something like PlaNet?

The PlaNet project is a way for practice to be disseminated more widely and successfully. A lot of successful practice happens ‘behind closed doors’. If it gets disseminated at all, this dissemination tends to take place through reports and academic papers.

This makes it hard for other practitioners to identify exactly what elements made it work so that they can adapt it to their own context. PlaNet is trying to create a succinct way of capturing and representing practice that makes these things explicit.

For more information on the PlaNet project, go to: www.patternlanguagenetwork.org

The Repositories Support Project

The Repositories Support Project is a 2.5 year project to co-ordinate and deliver good practice and practical advice to English and Welsh HEIs which will enable the implementation, management and development of digital institutional repositories.

The project aims to get more institutions to take up repositories and also to develop repositories in institutions once they are up and running.The project also runs an outreach programme, providing advice and information to institutions that are taking the first steps towards using a repository.

More information about the project is available at: www.rsp.ac.uk

Sarah Wrays

And at this stage (10:15 am) the market and internet cafe outside are so busy that there is barely anywhere to sit. I’m typing this half-perched against a wall, watching the busy hum of activity around the stands. I’ll be hoping to cover a few more of them at lunchtime when just one of the many highlights promises to be a demonstration of the incredible array of material gathered in the John Johnson collection  of printed ephemera, writes Sam Jordison

12:00

It’s transition time in the marketplace… Stands are being changed and demonstrations uploaded. So I’m going to grab some lunch and report back soon.

13:30

As usual the  marketplace has been a hive of activity. All stands are again busy and surrounded by energetic discussions. I personally have just moved on from a fascinating demonstration of The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera.

In broad terms this collection is a huge archive of printed  materials dating back to the 16th century that might otherwise have been discarded as unimportant. Everyday objects like bus tickets, shop catalogues, poster adverts… Which might not immediately get you interested, but close inspection quickly reveals it to be completely absorbing. Not to mention potentially invaluable as a research tool.

First, some quick background: John Johnson was a papyrologist in Egypt who later took a job as a printer at the Oxford University Press. As a papyrologist one his discoveries was a text by Theocritus pre-dating any others by a healthy 900 years. But he also spent a lot of time piecing together the day to day workings of Ptolomeic society using material that had been discarded on ancient rubbish tips (and preserved thanks to useful climactic conditions). Seeing how useful that material could be, he realised that it could be equally valuable to provide a record of modern societies based on their own printed material that might otherwise have been discarded… The OUP gave him a room to store his material and in the decades up to his death in 1956 he built up a vast wealth of material, stored in boxfiles that are now being carefully unpacked and digitised.

The material is just wonderful. Veering from the sublime to the absurd and back again, it takes in beautiful art deco prints, used butchers bags that still contain traces of 1930s meat, adverts (bizarrely) for Cardinal Wolsey Hawaii-style swimsuits (made in 1937, bespeaking an apparently more innocent world just before it was plunged into war), bottle tops, souvenir pages printed on a temporary press erected on the river Thames during the great freeze of 1684…

A flavour of some of it can be gained from visiting the Display Stand in the marketplace or by  visiting this small online exhibition.  At the stand, you can also find out how to access the collection from your institution and make use of this invaluable  – and thankfully well-preserved – ephemera. It’s a great, great resource.

Sam Jordison