The British Library "Library Wall": The Nineteenth Century "British Classics" collection (Category: Research, Creative / Artistic, Entrepreneurial)

Name of Submitter(s): Sara Wingate Gray, Kate Lomax
Name of Team: Artefacto
Organisation: Artefacto

The British Library "Library Wall" is a curated collection of digitised texts from the British Library's Nineteen Century Book Collection, which people are able to freely obtain, read and share through the use of smartphones or other “smart” mobile devices such as ipads and tablets by pointing their device at the installation. The physical installation currently exists in a designed and printed large-scale poster-type format, which is easily fixed to any blank space (such as a wall, above a desk, in a coffee shop etc.) where, in essence, any potential reader might be able to pass by, look at and then download texts from it to immediately read and share on their mobile devices and beyond. It is a digital bookshelf in a physical, material form. The project explores both digital distribution technologies and open access (public domain) texts.
The project’s aim is to celebrate the role of libraries in providing open access to cultural content in this brave, new e-book and digital publishing world. Although many libraries are already implementing innovative models of providing digital content for their users, this process is often frustrated by the demands of both publishers and the copyright regime: our British Library "Library Wall", in using works from the BL's collection in the Public Domain, negates the role of these ‘gatekeepers’ and reminds the public of the role libraries can play in enabling access to our commonwealth of culture.
The installation aims to capitalise upon the growth in mobile smart device usage, mobile internet access, and innovative digital distribution technologies (such as QR codes) –which put together, enable users more than ever before to digitally access information and content while on the go, and out and about in their everyday lives. By providing a physical, material object for users to chance upon, while out in the world of their busy daily lives, "Library Wall" becomes a new act of public dissemination, channelling digital content out and into a local community, instead of waiting for the community to discover British Library digital content through purposeful online search and access via the BL's online platforms.
The British Library "Library Wall" is about reconciling the digital with the analogue, presenting digital content in an easy-to-access/view physical form, recognising the role of the British Library in providing open access to cultural content. It also aims to promote the access, use and re-use of British Library public domain content, which might otherwise remain hidden within the British Library's online content offering, where, without knowing what you are looking for, a diamond in the haystack can easily be missed.
URL for Entry: You can read more about how we initially researched, designed and created Library Wall from a blogpost we made describing our original Haringey-based installation:


Twitter: @artefactors

Job Title: Curation & Design: SWG; Tech & Development, KL & SWG

Background of Submitter:

KL and SWG work together as co-founders of Artefacto, which is an emerging creative lab dedicated to enhancing, exploring and opening digital collections and materials for users and institutions in the cultural and heritage sectors <>.

Problem / Challenge Space:

There is a vast source of digital content in the form of Public Domain, open-licensed material, which has been lovingly collected, curated, archived and now made available in digital form by the British Library for the benefit of humankind. But digital discoverability remains an issue. How do we facilitate new ways of enabling users to access this amazing content? Might it be worthwhile re-considering the human, physical factor in this process – can we meld the analogue experience of a reader serendipitously discovering a new book with its digital counterpart?
The British Library "Library Wall" project aims to recognise and build upon some of the emerging technological trends of the 21st century. A surge in the use of smart mobile devices and mobile internet access, as well as new internet-related technologies, has been a driving force in how users now obtain and interact with knowledge and information in the digital world. Apps, QR-codes and NFC, for example, are some of the technological innovations that have helped more recently effect this important shift. Meanwhile, in the world of the 21st century knowledge and information sector, and in particular for providers such as libraries, despite this digital access-awakening, the "overriding ebook issues for libraries continue to be the withholding of content and the imposition of problematic and differing license terms and conditions by major trade publishers” – IFLA 2014 eLending Background Paper <">
Our "Library Wall" project explores how we might leverage this technological growth to provide news ways of users accessing digital content, in tandem with exploring how new readers can be found for British Library digital content 'out in the real world' – rather than expecting users to seek out and find this content on their own initiative.
It also explores questions relating to the role of libraries and librarians in curation, collection development and reader development services. In producing The British Library "Library Wall" we wanted to investigate how we might showcase specific themed collections of BL content, in this instance selecting what we've termed 19th Century "British Classics" – thus digitally sending the work of Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, H. Rider Haggard, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, and Emily Bronte out in to the world and the smart device-holding hands of the public. By providing a new way for potential readers to access and experience these authors words, we think The British Library "Library Wall" plays a small part in revivifying these classic British works.

Approach / Methodology:

This project required us to draw upon our team's knowledge and expertise in the areas of technology, librarianship, curation and reader development.
We spent time researching statistics for mobile device and mobile internet access penetration and usage, alongside digital publishing and Ereading technology and innovations. This enabled us to establish a framework for experimenting with different digital publishing formats (e.g. epubs, PDFs) for the project.
We also researched Nineteenth century British Literature, and using our team's background in reader development, content curation and English Literature, selected twenty public domain titles from the British Library's 19th Book Collection which matched our curation demands. These demands included recognising the need to provide an easy 'entry point' for potential users, coming across "Library Wall" in a physical location. By selecting authors likely already familiar to readers (R. L. Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'; books by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Charles Dickens etc.) our approach aimed to encourage users to interact with the installation.
Similarly, by using wide-spread technology available to many smart device users, in the form of QR-codes and PDFs, our method of digital distribution and dissemination aimed to recognise and capitalise on this shift in how users obtain and access information when on the move and out in the world.
Our methodology for the project also recognises the unique potential of site specific digital interaction by users and the twinning of the analogue and digital worlds. By providing a physical material object for users to perceive and observe, "Library Wall" enables a new way for users to access digital content.
You can read more about how we researched mobile device usage, operating systems, epublishing and distribution formats and curation issues from a blogpost we made describing our original Haringey-based installation:

Extent of showcasing BL Digital Content:

Twenty texts from the British Library's Nineteenth Century books collections were especially curated by us to be included as titles available for users to download from The British Library "Library Wall". These texts were found and selected using the British Library's online catalogue <>, refining our search terms to incorporate texts available in the public domain, and where available selecting a specific edition which included interesting illustrations, cover design etc.
We then collected the URL of the PDF text, generated by the BL's catalogue and used this to generate a QR-code which was placed onto the spine of a corresponding book title on "Library Wall", enabling essentially a very easy to use, simple 'point-and-click' process for a user to immediately access British Library content. The British Library "Library Wall" therefore removes some of the friction already implicit in a user attempting to access this same content via the BL's online catalogue - where purposeful searching, exact search terms and multi-clicks are required by a user before they actually reach the readable PDF version of a text.
This version of The British Library "Library Wall" is an example offering we have devised to demonstrate how easily content can re-purposed and digitally distributed in a physical location and setting. We envision the possibility of producing "Library Wall" at large-scale, whereby physical walls and areas of the British Library (and many other UK-wide settings) could have "Library Walls" installed, each with different British Library digital content available via QR-codes (or other technologies) for anyone to access when walking past with their smart device. This would also enable specific collections to be curated and matched with physical locations (as is the case with the Haringey-based "Library Wall") and allow a much greater range, volume and quantity of British Library digital content to made available to people without them having to necessarily physically visit the environs of the BL or take the time to discover and visit websites hosting BL – instead enabling immediate access to BL content by people literally walking along their local street.

Impact of Project:

The British Library "Library Wall" is a second generation iteration of our original prototype of Library Wall, and consequently we do not yet have any usage statistics. However, our first generation Library Wall – currently situated on a North London street in Haringey (with full pedestrian and vehicle access) can serve to demonstrate potential impact.
Books from this first curated collection have been downloaded hundreds of times by users walking past it in the street, stopping, and grabbing a digital title using their smart device. You can see in realtime which books users are downloading – and what has already been grabbed to read – by looking at the project's twitter feed, which tweets out in realtime everytime a new book is downloaded <>.
We were invited to talk about our "Library Wall" idea as presenters for the EDGE 2015 conference held in Edinburgh, where we received interest in the idea from a number of local authorities, international and UK-based organisations. Representatives from The British Council have visited the installation in Haringey and have been in discussions with us about providing "Library Walls" internationally.
The project has also started to reach a wider global audience, with a French publication writing about it: <> and it has been written about on the leading news website for public libraries:
while users have begun to "pin" it vis Pinterest, helping spread the idea <>.
Library Wall was also featured as an "inspiration" for the Knight Foundation News Challenge <>

Issues / Challenges faced during project(s):

The major challenge for this project was in the area of curation: selecting content to include in The British Library "Library Wall".
This was driven by several factors:
[1] Recognising the need to provide an easy 'entry point' for potential users, coming across "Library Wall" in a physical location. By selecting authors likely already familiar to readers (R. L. Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'; books by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Charles Dickens etc.) our approach aimed to encourage users to interact with the installation.
[2] We initially wished to focus on less well-known works by familiar authors, but quickly discovered that not all well-known authors, and well-known titles (let alone lesser known ones) were available in the BL's 19th Century book collection. This reduced our initial range of potential titles to curate, but enabled us to re-focus our range with a specific theme, deciding to focus on 19th Century "British Classics" and selecting the most interesting editions (cover design, illustrations etc.) of certain titles once we had focused on this specific themed collection.