Portrait of John Dee Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
To complement the popular exhibition of Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians, it seems an opportune moment to showcase the resources listed in the BBIH. John Dee was a man of many interests, and his expertise in subjects such as navigation, astronomy and mathematics is demonstrated in the wide variety of resources available.
Dee’s early interest in mathematics is established in the article On the Origins of Dee’s Mathematical Programme: The John Dee–Pedro Nunes Connection, which explores the connections between Dee and Pedro Nunes, a Portuguese cosmographer and mathematician. Although little is known of their relationship, Nunes had a great influence on Dee, who become interested in his work in the early 1550s, and may have inspired Dee to pursue his interest in the nautical sciences of navigation and cartography.
Dee is renowned for his spiritual interests and they had clearly developed by 1564, when he published a work titled Monas hieroglyphica, a treatise on a glyph he invented made up of esoteric and astrological symbols, incorporating the sun, moon, Aries and the cross. This work is widely regarded as perplexing and obscure, yet The Reception of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica in Early Modern Italy: The Case of Paolo Antonio Foscarini (c. 1562-1616) demonstrates the influence that Dee’s work had on Italian scholars in 1592. Foscarini’s Scientiarum et artium omnium ferme anacephalaeosis theoretica is a booklet comprising 344 theses, some heavily drawn from the Monashieroglyphica and placing extreme importance on Dee’s monad, citing it as a symbol of the ‘word of God’, although he does not elaborate on the extensive allusions to alchemy present in the original work.
However, the following chapter in Supernatural and Secular Power in Early Modern Englandtitled John Dee, Alchemy and Authority in Elizabethan England provides an in-depth account of the alchemic interests of prominent Tudors, including William Cecil, Thomas Smith and even Elizabeth I. The machinations of courtly life are outlined, with Dee’s fall from grace after the reception of the Monas hieroglyphica; as a Catholic priest he was a prime target for the evangelic Protestants who surrounded Elizabeth and they orchestrated rumours that Dee consorted with the Devil. Elizabeth’s interest in alchemy inhibited Protestant reformers such as John Whitgift and Christopher Hatton from outright denunciation, but they certainly discredited Dee by using whispering campaigns to sabotage his royal patronage.
John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Fortunately, Dee was a man of many talents and in Cartography as a Tool of Colonization:Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Voyage to North America, he plays an important role in the burgeoning discipline of cartography during Elizabeth’s reign. Maps began to move from objects of symbolism to objects of function, providing important visual details to guide colonists’ ships across to North America. Dee created two nautical charts for the expedition in the early 1580s, drawing on the wide resources he had amassed in his personal library, and from gathering information from European travellers, and even pirates. It is clear from this article that Dee strongly supported the idea of colonization, as he listed over twelve British claims to the territory of North America on the back of the map, ranging from King Arthur to Frobisher’s recent voyage in 1577. The political intentions of the maps are clear, ‘fantasy’ islands were omitted and meticulous detail paid to the coastline, yet the interior of North America is left blank, to signify to Elizabeth the potential for colonization. The academic merit of Dee is certainly something to be admired; he produced these resources purely from his own research, as he was not a seaman, and never travelled to the Americas. Interestingly, Dee signed one of these charts with his personal glyph mentioned above.
Münster’s map of America 1561 (Image from Wikipedia)
Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe is a fascinating account of magical texts that were owned by the monks at St Augustine’s of Canterbury during the thirteenth and fourteenth century, that came into Dee’s possession after its dissolution. It explores the use of these manuscripts, and the monks attitudes towards them; they were not hidden away as dangerous objects, but shelved in the main collection of the library. The monks had a positive attitude towards magic, combining it with other intellectual interests, although perhaps the somewhat sheltered environment of monastic life allowed a more liberal approach to these texts. It is apparent from Dee’s annotations in the margins that he made use of these texts after he acquired them, and even practiced some of the rituals to seek spiritual advancement, although it is emphasized that he did this for philosophical reasons. For a more thorough review, see Reviews in History.
The final article John Dee’s Ideas and Plans for a National Research Instituteprovides another aspect to Dee’s life. Concerning his desire to established academic institutions at his home in Mortlake and St Cross, the plans are analyzed and explore Dee’s ideas on shaping the social and intellectual role of natural philosophers. The article surmises that Dee’s plans differed from other projects of the time, and compares his proposal to Francis Bacon’s.
Gay, Arthur Wilson; The Conchie; Peace Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-conchie-21680
We begin this week with Clive Barrett’s Subversive Peacemakers, War Resistance 1914–1918: An Anglican Perspective. James Cronin and the author discuss a valuable scholarly contribution to the war’s hidden history documenting its half-forgotten subversive peacemakers (no. 1927, with response here).
Next up is Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914 by Julie-Marie Strange, as Emily Bowles praises a study which is important for understanding contemporary readings of fatherhood and parenting (no. 1926).
Then Sara Charles recommends an exhibition which does an excellent job of portraying Dee as a much-accomplished scholar as opposed to an eccentric occultist, as she reviews Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee (no. 1925).
Finally we have Reconstructing Democracy: Grassroots Black Politics in the Deep South after the Civil War by Justin Behrend. Erik Mathisen believes this work is the perfect place for scholars to begin the work of re-imagining the history of America’s most tortured historical moment (no. 1924).
We are excited to announce that our sixth annual History Day will take place on 27 November 2018. The event is aimed at postgraduate and undergraduate students, academics, early career and private researchers who are looking for advice on how to find and make best use of sources in their historical research. It brings together libraries, archives and other organisations, all showcasing their collections together in one place. It is a great opportunity for researchers to learn about diverse collections and chat with experienced, specialist staff about their research.
Jenna Pateman, a third year undergraduate student, recommended the event for all students of history, writing of History Day 2017, “The fair allowed attendees to speak one-on-one with representatives from these institutions, and discover the many possibilities open to researchers. Thanks to some of these conversations, I have had quite a few ideas for my dissertation as well as new ways to look at my research, and discovered new places where I can hunt for sources.”
Sandra Freshney, archivist from the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences described it as “a really fun day” where “over 200 attendees including undergraduates, postgraduates and established academics ‘shopped’ among the 56 tables”. Claire Titley from the London Metropolitan Archives recommended History Day as “a good chance to catch up with colleagues in other offices and see the range of activities being undertaken across different archives and libraries” and was inspired by the breadth of the collections present.
History Day 2018 will include talks throughout the day, detailing to researchers how to work successfully with research materials held by different repositories. We invite researchers and collections professionals to share their experiences and projects in an open call for papers. We are particularly looking for papers aimed at a general audience on broad topics, including cross-repository research, interesting methodologies, or collaboration. The deadline for submissions of abstracts for 15 minute presentations (by individuals or groups) is 8 June 2018.
Philip Baker, former Research Fellow of the History of Parliament and Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, explains the background to and completion of a History of Parliament project for which he was Editor. This new online resource provides access to primary source material relating to the House of Commons during the Parliament of 1624.
394 years ago today, what was to be the final Parliament of King James I opened at Westminster. Unfortunately, bad weather meant that around half of the members hadn’t yet arrived and so the assembly was adjourned the same day. The 1624 Parliament eventually sat for some 80 days, however, and the History of Parliament is proud to announce today, on the anniversary of its opening, the completion of its project to provide free online access to the Commons’ debates of the entire Parliament. Hosted by British History Online, Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons consists of around 800,000 words of political debate, religious argument, legal wrangling and legislative action from the so-called ‘Happy Parliament’.
Palace of Westminster in the 16th century. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Set against the European backdrop of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), and situated between the earlier, often rumbustious assemblies of James and the even more turbulent ones of Charles I that followed it, the Parliament is perhaps most notable for two things. The first is the unsuccessful attempt by Charles (as Prince of Wales) and the Duke of Buckingham to promote a war against Spain following Charles’ humiliation by the Spanish in his attempts to woo the Spanish Infanta. The second is that the Parliament saw an incredible seventy-three acts reach the statute book, the most in a single session since the reign of Henry VIII and almost the first notable legislation passed since 1610.
The proceedings themselves bring together for the first time some twenty manuscript sources that are scattered throughout England and America, the vast majority of which have never before been published. While some are fair hand copies of notes, others are certainly more difficult to read in their original form. Both Edward Nicholas and Sir Nathaniel Rich employed ‘speed writing’ techniques – a combination of shorthand symbols, abbreviations and longhand – the Star Chamber lawyer John Hawarde wrote in the Law French of the court system, while the appalling handwriting of John Lowther is a challenge for even experts of the period. Although the diary of the Staffordshire barrister Richard Dyott is in an extremely clear hand, large parts of it are now illegible even under UV light. It was placed in a safe in London during World War II, which did an excellent job of protecting it from the bombs of the Luftwaffe, but was rather less successful in preventing it from becoming seriously water-damaged.
Work on an edition of the proceedings of the 1624 Parliament actually began in America almost a century ago, under the guidance of the great parliamentary historian Wallace Notestein. Further research was undertaken in the US by Robert Ruigh and Mark Kennedy, and the project was subsequently taken over by the Yale Center for Parliamentary History. The 1624 materials were eventually transferred to the History of Parliament, which began working on them in 2012, generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the Friends of the Yale Center for Parliamentary History and the Mercers’ Company of the City of London. On this day in 2015, the first in a progressive release of the proceedings appeared online, which culminates today in the release of the proceedings for the final month of the Parliament.
The publication of Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons fills a considerable hole in early modern parliamentary history, as it means that a composite edition of materials on all of the Tudor and early Stuart Parliaments is available for the first time. But used in tandem with the articles already published online from the History’s volumes on The House of Commons, 1604-29 and those forthcoming on The House of Lords, 1604-29, it also offers the prospect of a connected set of electronic resources which will enable scholars to dig more deeply and more easily than ever before into the vexed political world of the early modern Stuarts.
We kick off this week with John Gaffney’s Leadership and the Labour Party: Narrative and Performance. Christopher Massey believes this book provides vital reading for all interested in Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party and the development of political narrative and performance (no. 2196, with response here).
Next up is The Benefits of Peace: Private Peacemaking in Late Medieval Italy by Glenn Kumhera. Alexandra Lee and the author discuss a book which provides a deeper insight into the complicated practices of private peacemaking in medieval Italy (no. 2195, with response here).
Then we turn to Lindsey Earner-Byrne’s Letters of the Catholic Poor: Poverty in Independent Ireland, 1920-1940. David Kilgannon praises a book which challenges other historians of 20th-century Ireland to ‘people their pasts’ (no. 2194).
Finally we have The Uses of the Bible in Crusader Sources, edited by Elizabeth Lapina and Nicholas Morton. Stephen Spencer recommends a book which adds substantially to our understanding of the sources and the intellectual milieu of their authors (no. 2193).
As 31 October looms we all know what that means, no not Halloween, but History Day. And of course the theme this year is the occult and all things that go bump in the night. BBIH is a big supporter of History Day – it’s well organised with lots of participants and interesting panel sessions. It also gives BBIH the opportunity to showcase research on this year’s theme – the occult and its many facets. So grab your broomstick, cauldron, and crystal ball and we’ll delve into the world of the dark arts.
Naturally BBIH has lots of material on the occult. The snapshot from the subject tree shows the range of search terms that can be used.
A search on the broader term Occult beliefs and practices brings up over 1500 entries including witchcraft trails, the devil in post-Reformation Scotland and British Intelligence and the occult in the Second World War.
The term Magic (occult), as opposed to entertainment, has nearly 300 entries covering the subject from the Roman period to imperial history with the article amulets from Roman London, the Sophie Page book, Magic in the cloister: pious motives, illicit interests, and occult approaches to the medieval universe, a Tudor necromancer’s manual, and the West Indian obeah belief.
Of course there is much on witches and witchcraft trails, and specific places can be searched for, such as the witches of Pendle Forest as well as the clerk of the court who recorded the proceedings, Thomas Potts.
Witchcraft also features in dramas (and not only by Shakespeare), as in the case of The Witch of Edmonton by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford. Of course, witches are often associated with the early modern period, but there are medieval examples, as in the trail of Eleanor Duchess of Gloucester in 1441, as well as more modern examples such as Helen Duncan, the last witch to be prosecuted in Britain and the “wickedest man in the world”, Aleister Crowley.
Other areas of witchcraft to be considered (apart from the usual trials) are the influence of emotions, as explored in Emotions in the history of witchcraft by Laura Kouine and Michael Ostling, which includes the chapter, Tyrannical beasts: Male witchcraft in early modern English culture. Other fruitful subjects of research may be the witches’ familiar discussed in Guardian spirits or demonic pets : the concept of the witch’s familiar in early modern England, 1530-1712 (a chapter in The animal/human boundary: historical perspectives).
Additional related topics are alchemy, as well as its associated personalities such as the mathematician, astrologer, and antiquarianJohn Dee, and of course spiritualism. Searching on Spiritualism and Photography (prompted by the IHR exhibition Accusations of Witchcraft featuring a photograph of the aforementioned Helen Duncan) brings up a list of useful articles.
The term “Prophecy and prediction” (which includes astrology) naturally covers religious elements, such as mysticism, but also includes dreams, politics, the influence of history, and printed media as well as personalities such as Joanna Southcott and Lady Eleanor Davies.
Whatever your research topic you’re bound to find something of interest in BBIH and at History Day 2017.
Detail of a miniature of a phoenix burning, Harley 4751 f. 45 British Library
This post has kindly been written for us by Jennifer Kain, Alan Pearsall Fellow in Naval and Maritime History 2016-17, and now a Research Associate of the IHR
Alan Pearsall receiving the Imperial Service Order medal for staff of the Civil Service – at Buckingham Palace in 1985, Alan Pearsall Estate (courtesy of Pieter van der Merwe)
As I enter the final stage of my year-long junior fellowship at the IHR I wanted to acknowledge my benefactor Alan Pearsall. Alan’s bequest, and the efforts of Roger Knight in establishing the Pearsall fellowship, have given invaluable academic breathing space to early career researchers like myself since 2008. This extremely generous gesture is made even more impressive due to the fact that Alan himself did not finish his PhD. Indeed, compared to the pressure on scholars to publish today, he wrote comparatively little. Neither did he seek out the limelight or the formal recognition which seem so essential in this competitive profession now.
Alan used his expertise in a less grandiose manner, befitting his personality. Born in Yorkshire, but brought up in Lancashire, he became interested in railways and then all forms of transport at sea. Although shy and not always in good health, his immense knowledge led to a 30-year career at the National Maritime Museum, where he became Historian of the Museum in the early 1970s. Alan was a member of over 30 societies covering rail and maritime transport, naval and maritime interests. He conveyed his expertise across such a wide range of topics through writing articles, reviews, and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries. At conferences, if a question could not be answered, the call would often go up to ‘Ask Alan’. His name can be found in the written acknowledgements of those who benefitted from his knowledge, and Alan is remembered by a global network of close friends.
One such mentee at the National Maritime Museum was Roger Knight, now Senior Research Fellow at the IHR. After a number of email conversations through which Roger very kindly provided me with a copy of this photograph, we met to discuss Alan’s life and legacy.
Reading Alan’s obituaries I was struck by the description of a kind, humorous and unassuming man. I wanted to know more about his life, and his motivations for assisting a future generation of historians whom he would never get to meet.
It turns out that funding a post-doctoral role on any aspect of naval and maritime history had long been a plan of Alan’s. In the early 1990s he started to discuss the idea with Roger, who was able to assist in creating such a position at the IHR two years after Alan’s death. Dealing with Alan’s estate was no mean feat. Those closest to him recall how, as an essentially impracticable and private man, Alan’s professional and personal papers remained uncatalogued. He also suffered from long term health problems, although these did not prevent him from doing National Service in the Navy out in India after the end of the Second World War. The upshot of Roger’s efforts and Alan’s generosity was the Pearsall Fellowship, which they designed to have a broad remit, in terms of both timeframe and topic. He apparently would have been delighted with the breadth of post-doc projects undertaken thus far.
Alan recognised how the period immediately after the PhD award was a crucial time, especially due to the pressure to begin publishing. As such, I was curious whether Alan received the credit he deserved for his own more understated efforts. While he did see his Imperial Service Order medal as recognition for the efforts of his working life, Roger believes Alan’s legacy is more to do with his inestimable ‘personal worth’. When I asked how he would like to have been remembered, Roger replied that it would have been enough for us to be having a conversation about him, 11 years after his death. I hope that future Alan Pearsall Fellows will continue to have similar discussions as a way of recognising his life and legacy. On a more personal note, I aim to uphold some of Alan’s characteristics: a sense of humour, academic kindness, and a northern accent.
Roger Knight, Obituary: Alan Pearsall (1925-2006), The Mariner’s Mirror, Vol. 92 (August 2006) pp. 260-261.
Roger Knight, Eulogy: Alan Pearsall 27 April 2006, Journal of the Greenwich Historical Society, Vol. 3 (2006) pp. 97-102
Pieter van der Merwe, Obituary: Alan Pearsall: Naval and railway historian, The Independent, 5 June 2006.
Book Stacks, Book Lifts…and Daleks ?!?: the London Libraries Graduate Trainee Programme
Tomorrow marks the start of another year of the London Libraries Graduate Trainee Programme. As in previous years the day will be marked by an informal gathering of library trainees from the institutes of the School of Advanced Studies (the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, the Institute of Classical Studies, the Institute of Historical Research and the Warburg Institute) as well as those from other London-based libraries and information centres such as the Courtauld Institute, Kew Gardens and the Inns of Court. During this initial session the trainees will get a chance to meet each other over tea, coffee and cake (there’s always cake!) and meet those on the trainee committee (myself included) where we will tell them about such things as CILIP membership, events organised by CPD25 (including the a useful open day, Applying to Library School), the trainee blog as well as what typically happens throughout the programme.
Taken during a visit to Cambridge University Library, 30th June 2016
Designed to supplement the trainees’ work and training at their home institutions, the trainee programme has been run from SAS since 2008 and originally included trainees from the four main SAS institutions but, as already shown, it has expanded since to include a number of diverse institutions across London. The main part of the programme consists of a number of visits throughout the year to a wide variety of libraries and information centres based in London and beyond. Indeed, one of the primary aims of the programme is to give the trainees an insight into how varied the Library and Information sector can be. Given that many of the trainees come from academic libraries with excellent, world-renowned collections, this sector is fully explored through visits to the libraries of the Courtauld Institute, the Warburg Institute, Senate House Library, the Wellcome Institute and the Institute of Classical Studies (to name just a few!). Other sectors, however, are also touched upon during visits throughout the year; many of the trainees currently taking part in the programme are based in legal libraries and information centres (the Inns of Court, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the legal firm Slaughter & May) so insights are gained into law librarianship. Other libraries visited in recent years include those based at the Natural History Museum, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Globe Theatre Library and Archive, the BBC Archives Centre, the Guardian Newspaper as well as the Ministry of Justice.
The trainees loved the idea of the book lift at the London Library – 15th December 2016
Besides show-casing the diversity of the profession, the programme also aims to provide a number of practical training sessions throughout the year. In previous years, for example, the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum gave the trainees an introduction to art librarianship while Senate House Library’s senior conservator, Angela Craft, kindly gave the trainees a session on preservation and conservation. Other practical sessions have included introductions to library services for readers with disabilities, held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Web 2.0 for Librarians given by Colin Homiski at Senate House Library and an introduction to school librarianship held at King Alfred’s School. During the trainees’ visit to my own library, the IHR, our trainee gives them a brief tour, explaining the type of material we collect while I hold a brief session on RDA and MARC21 cataloguing (depending on your feelings towards cataloguing this is either a cruel form of punishment or quite handy…obviously I hope for the latter).
Informally we also hope the programme allows the trainees to just regularly meet up together socially and either discuss their trainee experience, anything else library related or indeed any subject of their choice (I think that’s allowed!). Also by working together the trainees, over recent years, have increasingly taken the lead in organising the visits and training sessions, making the programme each year truly their own.
The trainees during a visit to the BBC Archives Centre in May 2012 – looks like some of the staff can be quite strict there!
If you would like to find out more about the London Library Trainee Programme check out their blog here.
B.791 VIC/A Letters of Queen Victoria 1837-1861, Volume I
Over summer, our Wohl Library intern, Rachel Moore, spent some time looking at our collections of letters relating to Queen Victoria. In this post, she looks at the publishing project inaugurated by Edward VII, Letters of Queen Victoria 1813-1861, ed. Arthur Christopher Benson, vol 1, which can be found in the first floor of the Library.
Researchers will know that these letters have been carefully selected and heavily edited, but nevertheless, they provide a wealth of insight into Victoria’s reign. According to the Preface of the text:
Her Majesty Queen dealt with her papers… in a most methodical manner; she formed the habit in early days of preserving her private letters, and after her accession to the Throne all her official papers were similarly treated, and bound in volumes (v).
Owing to the large number of letters available, the individuals charged with building the volume chose ‘to publish specimens of such documents as would serve to bring out the development of the Queen’s character and disposition, and to give typical instances of her methods in dealing with political and social matters’ (vii). It is therefore a volume of politics and public events, devoid on the surface of any more telling emotion or subjects.
Despite the edits, Victoria’s letters possess a distinct voice that is reflective, stately, and kind-hearted. This is similarly noted in the Preface:
We see one of highly vigorous and active temperament, of strong affections, and with a deep sense of responsibility, placed at an early age, and after a quiet girlhood, in a position the greatness of which is impossible to exaggerate (viii).
In the anthology, we are provided with the memoirs of Victoria herself and the fond letters of her relatives. Throughout the volume, we are introduced to and immersed in her history.
Victoria speaks fondly of visits to Windsor and Claremont, remembering visits with family as a child (Chapter II). She also describes in detail several members of her family throughout her early years (Chapters II and III). The qualities of Victoria in her youth are evident in these texts, but are also noted by the editors: ‘She was high-spirited and wilful, but devotedly affectionate, and almost typically feminine’ (27).
A few short years prior to her accession to the throne, Victoria learned a great wealth of political knowledge and advice from the King Leopold, King of the Belgians. The two individuals exchanged hundreds of letters throughout Victoria’s teenage years and beyond, and the love between them is clearly evident (chapter IV). Even after the Queen’s accession, Leopold continued to be a trusted confidante.
Upon the imminent death of King William IV, Victoria’s uncle, she wrote a letter to Leopold concerning her accession (which she refers to as “the event which it seems is likely to occur soon”). In said letter, she writes, “I am not alarmed at it, and yet I do not suppose myself quite equal to all; I trust, however, that with good will, honesty, and courage I shall not, at all events, fail” (95). This was the sentiment with which Her Majesty ruled.
As part of the IHR Library’s ongoing commitment to researching and improving user experience in the library, earlier this summer I attended the UXLibsIII conference in Glasgow. The two-day conference brought together 180 delegates from 19 countries and it was great to hear of user experience projects taking place in libraries across the world and to have discussions incorporate such an international dynamic. It was an exceptionally useful and inspiring experience, prompting several ideas for improving user experience in the IHR and ways to build upon the previous UX research undertaken by the library team.
Experience mapping during Anneli Friberg & Anna Kågedal’s training workshop
The conference began with an introductory address from Andy Priestner in which he commented that ‘user experience is too fundamental to be just one person’s job.’ Much as there is no one single common ‘user’ of a library, neither can there be one single member of library staff who can encompass UX for an entire institution. This observation struck the tone for many of the discussions that followed. It was noted that UX is an invaluable tool for libraries, yet frequently it is a tool that remains underappreciated.
A recurring theme throughout the conference was ethics and values, with both keynote lectures focusing on this. The keynote delivered by Dr Meredith Evans, Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library focused on ethics and social responsibility in archives and librarianship, most specifically in relation to the Documenting Ferguson project which she led at Washington University. The project is a freely available resource that aims to preserve and make accessible digital media captured and created by community members following the shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, on 9th August 2014. Meredith explained how the project prompted key ethical questions: did people who had tweeted about the shooting give consent to their tweet being archived? How could documents be archived but not accessed and used by law enforcement agencies? How can libraries create a tool that can minimise the risk of using Twitter and such platforms for research?
In answer to these, Meredith related how her team had undertaken mapping exercises and created personas for each user group incorporated within the project. She also called for librarians and archivists to listen to users and not necessarily always your institution’s administration, noting that in establishing archives based around communities different voices can be incorporated into history. Her keynote was one of the undoubted highlights of the conference and succeeded in being both incredibly moving and engaging; highlighting ethical issues and offering practical advice and reminding us all to ‘walk in the shoes of today’s content creator’ and library user.
Similarly, Matthew Reidsma’s keynote address also focused upon conducting ethical UX research. He asked attendees to question what are our values as library workers, arguing that design reflects the values of its creator, therefore biases and values will be embedded within your work and your library whether intentionally or not. One of the most striking points that Matthew reinforced was that analytics make us think that people are predictable and cause us to lose sight of the individual person (or library user) behind such data. He commented that too often library staff are designing library spaces for happy smiling people who want to be at the library – this he noted does not reflect the true complexity of users of a library.
University of St Andrews poster from ‘UXLabs’
Aside from the keynotes, another highlight was the ‘UXLabs’ feature, in which libraries from across the UK presented current or on-going user experience projects at stalls during lunchtime. This was a great way to learn about projects taking place and see the diverse methodologies applied by each institution. It was also a very useful way of stimulating ideas for future projects by learning what had worked and what challenges projects had encountered or were in some instances still facing.
For my own part, I also presented at the conference on the UX work being undertaken at the IHR. My talk focused on the project’s impact, most especially in relation to diversity, both within the library and across the wider Institute. The IHR Library is continuing to work to improve the experience for all its users and is implementing several of the key findings from the UX research undertaken in November last year.
The conference ended with a Q&A in which discussion frequently turned to the question of ‘what next for UX in libraries?’ The panel were emphatic that user experience research and activities are not a fad, instead they argued UX should be regarded as a deeply ingrained practice and should be a part of every library’s thinking. After all, what is a library without its users?
Further information about the IHR Library’s User Experience project is available here. Details of the UXLibs conference series can be accessed here.