THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

Introduction

Find out about social sciences at the British Library including collections, events and research. This blog includes contributions from curators and guest posts by academics, students and practitioners. Read more

18 November 2014

Collecting the Referendum

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During the months leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, The British Library participated in a Web Archiving project to reflect the debate in Scotland and across the UK. This project was led by the National Library of Scotland. In this guest post, Amy Todman, Referendum Curator at the NLS, explains more about Collecting the Referendum.

The Scottish Independence Referendum was a hugely significant international event that captured the world’s attention. Questions raised by the Referendum, on all sides of the debate, have cut across Scotland’s cultural, social, intellectual and political life. The National Library of Scotland has been at the heart of this event, collecting material in a wide variety of formats in order to preserve its material record for future generations.

Collecting the Referendum is a library-wide project, developed as a response to the complexity of issues related to September’s constitutional debate, and at the behest of the Scottish Government. It aims to produce and make accessible an un-biased, representative and comprehensive collection. We aim to capture the rich cultural and artistic legacy of the Referendum as well as what might be considered the more obviously political. The collection now includes material from a growing number of campaign groups from ‘Leith says Aye’ and ‘Academics Together’ to ‘Women for Independence’ and ‘Conservative Friends of the Union’.

Raising public awareness of our collecting activity is important and is being explored through various channels, both online and by face-to-face engagement. Our project web page encourages donations and also highlights the role of other collecting organisations, with whom we are exploring the development of referendum collections over the coming months and years.

Web archiving is an important element of collecting a contemporary national debate. We have been working in collaboration with the British Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University to create an archive that reflects that debate. The web archive collection contains more than 1,000 blogs, campaign sites, news pages, contributions from think tanks, trade unions, churches and arts organisations, as well as twitter feeds from Members of the Scottish Parliament. Online material is collected under Legal Deposit regulations, and, when complete, will be accessible in the reading rooms of the National Library of Scotland, British Library, Bodleian and other UK Legal Deposit Libraries.

At the NLS, Collecting the Referendum is part of a wider development to expand capabilities for managing the challenges of cross-format and hybrid collections. As such it includes material in a wide variety of formats: publications in print and digital, analogue and born-digital archives and records, moving image and sound, as well as websites and social media streams. Ephemeral material such as leaflets and flyers are included as well as monographs, serials and newspapers, official publications, reports from a wide range of think tanks and research institutes, and moving image, in partnership with the Scottish Screen Archive.

Open days

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visitors to the first Collecting the Referendum open day. Image used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Building relationships is key to developing the collection. To support this, the NLS held two public referendum open days, in July and August 2014, giving us an opportunity to raise awareness of the Referendum collection and build on its positive relationships with campaign groups, political parties and individuals involved in the debate.

The first open day was structured around the main Scottish political parties and their differing responses to the referendum debate. Representatives from Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish National Party were invited to NLS to engage with the Collecting the Referendum project and discuss issues related to the referendum with readers, NLS staff and members of the public.

As well as these representatives, there were several displays of material from NLS collections. These included ephemeral material and official publications from the developing referendum collection as well as historic materials from the rare books collections to put these more recent items within a wider context.

 
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Items on display at the first open day, NLS. Images used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

NLS web archivist Eilidh took part in the event, using her knowledge of the web archiving aspect of the referendum collection to engage with the public about the collection. As well as discussing the web collection with staff, participants of the open day, and the public, Eilidh also talked through the Library’s approach to collecting the web and the practicalities of researching the new collection.

The second open day followed a similar format to the first, although this event focussed on campaigning groups rather than political parties. Again, six groups were invited, two each from the yes and no sides of the debate, and two neutral organisations.

While the political parties, perhaps by chance, had arranged themselves by their respective positions on the vote, with the yes’s on one side and the no’s on the other, the campaign groups chose differently. As on the first day, each group claimed a table and arranged their campaign literature on it. Here though, groups from the ‘no’ side chose to sit alongside those from ‘yes’, across and in-between those that were neutral. There was no attempt to separate out along the lines of the debate and those who attended could talk easily to campaigners from either side. A particular group of undecided voters, in their mid-20s, worked their way around every group, debating and discussing with all. We also welcomed back several of our former representatives from the first open day who were keen to continue conversations begun the month before.

Mirroring the richness of our growing collection of ephemeral referendum materials, the open day highlighted the diversity and activity of sectoral campaign groups. Women for Independence and National Collective were asked to attend, along with Academics Together and Women Together. Future of the UK and Scotland (an ESRC funded research group) and a well-established group local to Edinburgh, Open Democracy were also approached, providing an important neutral voice.

Displays highlighted the archival aspect of the referendum collection, including materials from previous Scottish home rule and independence campaigns. Items included printed ephemera (like leaflets and flyers) but extended to unpublished material such as handwritten campaign diaries, press releases and digital correspondence.

Eilidh returned to lend her expertise, this time preparing a short text to introduce web archiving to the public, complementing her verbal explanations and demonstrations. Diane Milligan (NLS Digital Assets Team) was also able to participate in this event and was on hand to discuss the ins and outs of collecting digital material.

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Pamphlets and other ephemera on display at the second Collecting the Referendum open day, NLS. Images used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

During the open days myself and other staff members were available to talk with representatives and members of the public about the referendum collection and to explain the significance of their individual contributions. It was useful to show people the kind of leaflets and flyers that we want for the collection, and how these fit into a wider historical context. Our appeal for donations from the public was also assisted by press attention resulting in a broadcast on STV.

Artist and co-community designer Dr Priscilla Cheung-Nainby also participated in the day’s events. Priscilla has worked on referendum-related issues in a variety of venues and contexts, exploring creatively with communities some of the ways that a ‘yes’, or a ‘no’ vote might practically affect our everyday lives. We worked together to produce a simple framework for engaging with issues around the referendum. Priscilla’s intervention provided a gentle way of holding conversations about the issues around the referendum, and offered our visitors a place to step back from the campaign groups and to reflect on how they felt about the forthcoming vote.

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Collective Referendum Weave, Priscilla Cheung-Nainby. Image used with kind permission of artist. 

Indeed, such relatively small-scale community engagements with the referendum are an important part of the developing collection, representing some of the many facets of discussion that might otherwise be less easy to capture.

Developing an unbiased Referendum collection that will be useful to future generations of researchers requires pro-active work and collaboration in order to respond quickly and flexibly to what is undoubtedly an extremely significant event in Scotland’s history.

10 November 2014

Saturday 15th November: Too much information? Join the debate

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This Saturday, the British Library and Speakers Corner Trust will be at Senate House, University of London, to help celebrate the launch of the Being Human Festival. We're very excited that Zoe Williams and Jeremy Gilbert will be joining us to introduce our two debates, 'Truth, Propaganda and Purpose', and 'Truth, Lies and the Individual'.  

'Too Much Information?' is the theme for the day at Senate House, which will hold talks, workshops, and tours to explore the role of communication, and new communication technologies and behaviours, in our everyday lives. Many of the events focus on the Ministry of Information, which found its wartime home at Senate House, and Mass Observation, the organisation that provided the Ministry with public opinion research.

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Senate House, University of London. Photograph by Andy Day.

The day doesn't just focus on communication in the recent past though. There are fast-paced presentations on new research in the digital humanities, and workshops on researching the UK Web Archive. The day concludes with 'Openess, Secrets and Lies', a discussion on information sharing, privacy and secrecy online. The panel includes Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Heather Brooke, Ben Hammersley and Doc Rocket.

Our public debates are a chance for you to respond to the themes of the day, and tell us your concerns and aspirations for the way that we communicate in the 21st century. At 1.40pm, join us to debate 'Truth, Propaganda and Purpose'. Author and journalist Zoe Williams will introduce our debate, where we will discuss what forms of political communication and persuasion online are justifiable - and how easy is it for us to discover "the truth" online anyway?

At 3.20pm, Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory, University of East London, will introduce, 'Truth, Lies and the Individual'. What expectations do we have of others when we communicate online, what standards (if any) do we want to see applied, and do we know how to "play by the rules"?

Join us in the Crush Hall, on the ground floor of Senate House, and let us know what you think.    

29 October 2014

Autumn/Winter Events

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Robert Davies, Engagement Support for Social Sciences gives an update on some forthcoming events and conferences to be held at the library.

Our ‘autumn/winter season’ starts on the evening of the 26th November with the first in our new series of public discussions ‘Enduring Ideas’ which aims to explore some of the key concepts which underpin society.

Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield and author of Defending Politics, will discuss ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Democracy’.  During the evening Professor Flinders will ask and address many questions: does the apparent shift from healthy scepticism to corrosive cynicism have more to do with our unrealistic expectations of politics than a failure of democratic politics; do the problems with democracy – if they exist – tell us more about a failure on the part of the public to understand politics rather than a failure of politicians to understand us; or maybe the problem with democracy is not that it is in short supply but that we have too much of it? He will go on to suggest new ways of thinking about politics to ensure not the death but the life of democracy.

As always we hope our audience will feel free to support, question or challenge the speaker during the question and answer session.  Tickets are selling quickly, so why not reserve a place now via our ‘What’s on’ pages.

Why not keep your diary open for the evening of the 17th February 2015, when Dr Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge and author of ‘23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’ and ‘Economics: The User’s Guide’, will explore the theme ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Capitalism’?  The evening will be chaired by Dame Kate Barker DBE, former Monetary Policy Committee member at the Bank of England.  Tickets will be on sale soon.

As with our Myths and Realities series of public debates, which ran between 2009 and 2013, the new series in organized in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences.

In the interim we are delighted to be able to host the British Sociological Association’s Ageing, Body and Society Study Group 6th Annual Conference on Friday 28th November.  The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Researching Bodies’.  The keynote address will be given by Professor Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London.  For further information and details of how to book please visit the BSA website

Just over a week later we also delighted to host the Social Research Association’s Annual Conference 2014.  The title of this year’s conference is ‘Changing Social Research: Evolution or Revolution?’  Details of all the plenary sessions and parallel sessions can be found on the SRA booking page.

Naturally we are already planning for events to take place during spring and summer 2015, so why not keep up-to-date by using our dedicated British Library Social Sciences events page.  Here you will also find details of previous events and links to associated podcasts and videos.

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Photograph from our 'Epigenetics: beyond nature versus nurture' debate.  Copyright British Library Board.