Mass digitisation at the Library Annexe

On Wednesday 22 June, Hannah Mateer and I welcomed the KEW attendees to the Library Annexe at South Gyle. Hannah gave a tour of the Annexe space and services while I discussed the different digitisation services offered by the Library, in particular the PhD thesis mass digitisation project, which aims to have the University’s entire thesis collection digitised and online within three years. Here is a summary of some of the project’s key points:

  • We will digitise around 15,000 PhD theses over the next two years; the library has a collection of around 25,000 and 10,000 are already online.
  • The collection dates form the early 1600s and contains original Edinburgh research which is not available anywhere else in the world.
  • Statistics have shown that digital theses are accessed, on average, 30 times per month each. There is, therefore, considerable demand to put the collection online.
  • We chose to digitise in house for several reasons. While it may have been slightly cheaper to outsource, we wanted more oversight over fragile collections and workflows and we wanted to develop expertise in the area of mass digitisation.
  • This approach will provide us with scanning equipment and software for future digitisation projects.
  • The theses collection is made up of unique items, where there is only one copy, and duplicates, where two or more copies exist.
  • Duplicate theses have their spines removed using a guillotine and are then fed through a Kodak i4250 document scanner; unique theses are scanned on a Copibook Cobalt scanner and all theses are batch processed using LIMB processing software.
  • The digitised, OCR-ed theses are then made available through ERA, the library’s institutional repository.
  • There is also a conservation and cataloguing element to the project – a large proportion of the collection has no digital catalogue record and several thousand require conservation treatment.
  • By the end of the project we will have one physical copy of every thesis as well as a digital copy in the online repository. All physical and digital theses will have digital catalogue records and conservation treatment will have been performed on those theses which require it.

Following my presentation, we had a very interesting discussion about how different institutions approach digitisation: I was particularly interested to learn that several of the attendees’ organisations had already undertaken similar projects and I am very keen to learn more from their experiences as this project progresses. If you’d like to find out more about what we’re doing with mass digitisation at the University of Edinburgh, please see our blog and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

Gavin Willshaw, Digital Curator

A Fond Farewell

Friday arrived all too soon and before we knew it the first of our Knowledge Exchangers was having to depart for the airport. After a morning of workshops and metadata games in the hands of Claire, Scott and Gavin we had a final feedback and farewell session.


For me the week had been a great success with the group pulling together from the very start and allowing us to have a highly engaging and informative week. And a most enjoyable week too. A huge thank you to everybody for being part of Knowable Engage Week 2016 and for contributing so fully. We hope that there will be ideas and thoughts taken away and that the relationships built in Edinburgh will continue after everybody has returned home. A few seeds have also been sown for possible future collaborations and our doors remain firmly open for any follow up conversations, sharing of ideas and future visits.

A big thank you and a very fond farewell to Ruth, Kate, Bert, Anna, Rebecca, Katrina, Barbara, Siri, Belen, Nadja, Ryan, Özhan, Jürgen, Eleanor and Gordon.

….and to round it all off one final trip of the week took us to the Anatomical Museum for a very informative tour courtesy of Ruth Pollitt. And a final appearance by the infamous William Burke who has been popping up from time to time throughout the week!

anatomical museum

A Literary Pub Crawl

To round off a very busy Thursday, packed with innovation fund project talks, musical instruments, a peek behind the scenes of the St Cecilia’s Hall redevelopment project and a lovely afternoon at the Botanic gardens, we made our way to the Grassmarket for the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. We took our seats in the Beehive Inn not quite sure what to expect.

Beehive Inn

The tour takes you on an amusing literary journey to a handful of Edinburgh’s better informed pubs. Our hosts were Clart and McBrain who question the importance of the pub in influencing the writing of some of Scotland’s great literary figures. They also taught us a thing or two about Edinburgh’s literary past along the way – although we may have proved a tough audience in this regard. An entertaining evening was had and we even managed to squeeze in some outreach work. The Centre for Research Collections can possibly expect to be issuing a couple of reader’s cards to Clart and McBrain in the future!

Clart an McBrain

A Blustery Day

Following the full treatment in the CRC on Tuesday afternoon we braved the rather windy rooftop terrace to enjoy the views with a glass of something. The sun even peeked out for long enough to get the sunglasses out.



St Cecilia’s Hall and the University of Edinburgh’s Musical Instrument Collection

Today KEW participants enjoyed a musical museums morning! We talked about our St Cecilia’s Hall Project – the University of Edinburgh’s £6.5m project to restore, renovate and make accessible Scotland’s oldest concert hall and its world class collection of historic musical instruments.

The Project will transform St Cecilia’s Hall into the UK destination for the study, display, performance and enjoyment of historic musical instruments; deliver an engagement plan based on inclusion and widening community engagement; diversify the audience through working with local organisations and schools; deliver opportunities for student involvement including curatorial activity and research; and attract more students to study our world-class collection.

The building dates to 1763 and was designed by architect Robert Mylne. When it was first opened the building made quite an impact on Edinburgh society, with one observer commenting, “I have seen no concert room equal to it either in London or Paris”. Today the building is owned by the University of Edinburgh, and houses its world-class collection of historical musical instruments. However later additions to St Cecilia’s have left the original Georgian concert hall hidden from view at the heart of the building. We are restoring and renovating the building and its facilities in order to preserve its collection and broaden its appeal to a wider public. We are redesigning the galleries, and using ibeacons, an app and mobile web technology to provide layers of contextual and technical information about the building and the collection – and enable visitor to see and hear how the instruments are played.

After the talk by Jacky MacBeath, we saw some of the musical instruments with Darryl Martin, Principal Curator of the Musical Instrument Collection. This included the 17th century Bassano violin we had heard being played in a recording earlier in the morning.

Later KEW participants enjoyed a tour of the building site, and saw St Cecilia’s Hall at a moment in this new period of its development. We viewed the elliptical concert hall with its ceiling light, the new gallery spaces that will display over 500 musical instruments, and the impressive sculptural four-floor steelwork that is the supporting structure for the new entrance, mezzanine, plant and staff areas.
We also learned about some of the goings-on in and around Niddry Street where St Cecilia’s is located including complaints in the 18th century to the council about street lighting and litter collection – nothing changes!


All KEW participants are very welcome back when St Cecilia’s Hall opens to the public in mid-February 2017.

Collections Management talk and Library Annexe tour – Hannah Mateer

On Monday 20 June I gave a talk focusing on the relationship between Collections Management projects and the development of the University Estate.

I spoke about the Law Library refurbishment at the University as an example of a current collections project which results from an Estates development. In this project we’re moving the Law Library to a temporary location for 18 months while the permanent Law School undergoes a complete refurbishment and then in December 2017 / January 2018 we’ll move the Library back to its refurbished home. As part of this move the Collections Lifecycle Management team and Law Library colleagues are managing the move of the collections and undertaking collection assessment, relegation and weeding projects.

In addition to the continual transformation of the University Estate, the ongoing management of our collections is also undertaken within the wider context of developments such as our e-preference model for new acquisitions, the increase in online distance learning, the growth of our heritage collections and our commitment to collaborative collection management with other institutions.

On Wednesday 22 June I then gave a tour of the Library Annexe, the Library’s offsite storage facility.

In addition to showing how we house some of our different collections — monographs, journals, archives, art works … harpsichords! — I spoke about the retrieval and scanning services we offer to allow access to our collections in the store.


During the tour the group discussed some of the challenges we all face in managing print collections. Some common themes were the increasing need for collaborative solutions to issues of space and retention / disposal and the need for purpose-build storage facilities to provide appropriate conditions for our valuable or unique heritage collections.

KEW – gardens

KEW 2016’s action-packed schedule continued yesterday with an off-campus trip to the Library and Archives at the Royal Botanic Garden. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to find out more about the collections – which include the intriguing category, ‘Living Collections’ – I went along for the ride.

We were introduced to the Library by Head of Library Services, Lorna Mitchell, who explained some of the 400 year history of the Garden and described the variety of collections that the Library and Archives house. The Library has recently reached 10% in their programme to digitise collections, while continuing to provide over 70,000 monographs and hundreds of thousands of journals to users. Lorna showed us some of the Library’s rare and unique collections, including a letter from Charles Darwin and beautifully detailed plant drawings by Lilian Snelling, who drew at the Botanics for five years in the early 20th century.


A quick tour around the Glasshouses, by the Living Collections Curator, was a real highlight, and covered topics about the conditions needed to house the vast array of plants, from all corners of the globe, in the collections.


We were also shown around the Herbarium by Dr David Harris. The Herbarium began as a Victorian exercise in categorisation and collecting, which continued with the increasing professionalisation of the sciences. Here, we looked at flowers preserved through drying and pressing in the late nineteenth century, which we learned (to much surprise!) are sent out on loan to other institutions and are encouraged to be annotated. With permission, and after careful consideration, some scientists are even allowed to use a piece of the specimen for experimental purposes: following rehydration in boiling water, a plant will take back its original form (but not colour). However, this contrasts with present day collections policy, which dictates that plant samples are preserved through a similar manner of drying and pressing, but also photographed and GPS-tracked. To our relief, additional samples are also collected purely for the purpose of scientific experiments: no more trimming off pieces of the collections!


There’s some fascinating work underway at the Botanics, and it was brilliant to see collections from a very different perspective, and facing unique challenges: how do you categorise a plant that isn’t recognisable? How do you keep track of plants as they evolve – can we simply distinguish between ‘living’ and ‘dead’ plant collections? And how can we best preserve these collections for future use – be this practical or theoretical? We had a great afternoon pondering the significance of these, and many more questions besides – many thanks to the Botanics for taking the time to talk to us about their work.


Digital Preservation: the search for the silver bullet

silver_bullet_bill_by_machrider14-d57fq53It is fair to say that the preservation of digital material, as an issue, it not new to anyone and that was certainly true of those present at our Knowledge Exchange Week event. We all, whether as individuals or as part of a wider group, produce digital content in ever growing volumes. Whilst the majority of that content is arguably ephemeral and irrelevant, some will be of sufficient value to warrant preservation and the effort required to carry that out. However, digital preservation is a discipline that is continually evolving. The global digital landscape, driven by commercial gain, is constantly changing. New tools, new devices and new platforms give rise to new preservation challenges, as does trying to engage with old, out of date technology to salvage content from the clutches of media decay and bit rot. The digital archivist appears to be always working on the back foot.

Whilst the last 30 years has produced a significant shift in efforts to address the issues at hand the distinct lack of drive or acknowledgement from manufacturers or software developers that they have an important role to play or, dare I say it, obligation to help support the security, integrity and accessibility of our digital cultural heritage has meant that the elusive silver bullet remains, for now, just that…elusive.

But its not all doom and gloom. The digital preservation community is striving forward using mutual support and collaboration to achieve its collective goal of long term custodianship of our past, present and future. As a strong and determined community of digital archivists we must pull together the resources and knowledge at our disposal, be it financial, empirical, technical or strategic so that archivists and researchers of the future can benefit and build upon our efforts. At present there is a growing suite of open source systems, microservice tools, platforms as well as international and de facto standards to support the development of frameworks to manage the preservation function. It’s a slightly modular approach but if modular is our only option, in the absence of a ‘silver bullet’, then it’s better than doing nothing at all!

Behind the Scenes at the NLS

We have had a busy day today kicking off with a trip to the University Collections Facility at South Gyle where Hannah Mateer gave a tour of the facility and Gavin Willshaw chatted about current library digitisation work. A very exciting trip back to town on a tram followed and a lovely lunch at the Outsider was topped off with a trip to the National Library of Scotland.


A big thanks to our hosts at NLS who provided us with a very interesting tour, including a behind the scenes look at some of the collections and storage areas.

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The Knowledge of Dance

Following a busy first two days in the library the Knowledge Exchangers let off some steam on Tuesday night at the The Ceilidh Club at Summerhall. There was some very impressive dancing from the group, particularly from the first timers amongst us.


One of the group danced so much one of her shoes fell apart!


Norman also surprised us with the first, and probably last kilt appearance of the week.


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