Looking at History Through the Eyes of the Future

A group blog post by Valentina, Wanting and Valerie 

The British Labs symposium brought together a vast amount of new ideas and innovations that used the British Library’s digital collections and data to the table. It showed us the applications of learnt theory in a wider context and showcased bigger and better ideas that both have been implemented in libraries and beyond in recent years and are yet to be fully implemented. Some of these included Digital Scholarships, 3D imaging and Artificial Intelligence. It is certain that an integrated future with these at the forefront will be beneficial and exciting, not only for Library and Information Professionals but above all for the general public as well.

Daniel Pett’s keynote on Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) was one of the many aspects of the symposium that was both interesting and thought-provoking.

GLAM Pic 1
Daniel Pett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
BL Labs Symposium, 2018

GLAM is essentially used to describe the cultural heritage sector as a whole and it is based on the concept of memory and history (Dempsy, 2000). Each institution in GLAM has interconnected roles in collecting, curating, preserving and sharing pieces of the community’s cultural heritage to better interpret this information for the public (International Librarians Network, 2015).  Lately, GLAM institutions are transforming from physical to virtual as we are now connecting all the knowledge centers on the planet together into a single global network (Friedman, 2005). For example, museums, such as The Fitzwilliam Museum and the National Gallery, are hosting virtual exhibitions and tours. However, all GLAMs, even non-virtual ones, are needed for an informed society as they access and preserve the physical remains of human cultural and biological heritage. Clark et al.(2002).

But GLAM is facing a series of challenges lately ranging from attracting and retaining funding for these institutions, staff retention and recruitment within the GLAM sector to a scarcity of skills amongst current humanities researchers. At the symposium, Daniel Pett discussed these challenges and how to overcome them. It was valuable to learn that digital preservation is becoming a massive issue, especially since many tools that contain cultural memory are now moving towards a fee-based assessed system (e.g. Flickr and Google maps) and some, such as Storify, have even completely shut down.GLAM Flickr

Part of the reason the GLAM sector is facing so much trouble is because users are not that concerned about where they find their information, whether in a library or a museum or an archive as long as they find it. Hedegaard (2003, pp.2). It is clear that the GLAM sector needs to change and the best way to do so is through digital research and development. A great example is Daniel Pett’s work and his development of the British Museum’s 3D capture system whereby viewers can view artefacts online fully without having to restrict viewing to a two-dimensional image. It would be best if the GLAM sector is re-imagined in the near future to embrace more open, accessible and iterative processes so that our cultural heritage can be preserved.


How people’s seeking behaviour affect the digital collection development?

British Library have many projects that show cast their brilliant achievements. We can touch the future by different technologies and have a better understanding of the historical items. As we were born in the era of digital age, more and more things develop with digital technology, creating popular trends that resulted in many libraries developing their own digital libraries. People change their seeking behaviour in this digital age; we start to search online, through the flexible use of digital collections, which constitutes to an important reason as to how digital collections develop in such a rapid pace. As Karen Calhoun provides the definition of digital collections, “a frame work for carrying out the functions of libraries in a new way with new types of information resources” Calhoun (2014 pp.19). People used to read the physical books or articles in the past, but as time changes, people’s demand for information also increases, and the development of digital libraries allows the precious and protected documents to be no longer out of reach.

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Jonah Coman, Zines, BL Labs Symposium 2018

Different kinds of digital collections from the libraries, such as digital archives, records, manuscripts and images were presented. In the BL Labs Symposium 2018, it opens a new picture for us. Sounds, images, information, music, cultural relics can be presented to people in more vivid images. Nowadays, people are starting to use the 3D technologies in order to make those images resemble closer to people. People’s seeking behavior will always change in different environments, digital collections development brings a new type of seeking method as we saw how people’s ability to satisfy their demands. Digital collections can be improved in multiple ways within the technology’s development.


A New User Experience: 3D Imaging

Some of the current inspiring advances in digital technology using the British Library’s digital content were showcased. In “A series of three lightning talks”, some of the latest developments and benefits of 3D imaging were highlighted.

In the first talk “The Elastic system (an update)”, Richard Wright, an artist, explained how the British Library’s digital infrastructure is being used not only to find and retrieve information, but also to create works of art. Some collections like the King’s Library Tower display are being made more accessible to the public. Around 4,300 images including manuscripts and mosaics have been digitized and linked to the library collections. These can now be used as a form of physical browsing.

In the talk “Accessible Photogrammetry for the arts, Culture and Heritage Sectors” Donald Cousins CEO of Cyreal Limited promoted Cyreal photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is the science of taking measurements from photographs. The technique used to create the 3D images is quite fascinating. During the break, Donald explained to us briefly how these 3D images are captured; seven standard high-quality cameras are used to capture simultaneously thirty images of an object on a turntable. This takes about 2 to 3 minutes. The images are then uploaded to Control software which unites the appropriate pixels to create these high-quality 3D images. The processing time ranges from 1 to 30 hours.

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Cyreal Photogrammetry, BL Labs Symposiums, 2018

These images can be put into Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) or made available on the web for research purposes. Cyreal use an accurate, simple system which is scalable. The benefits of using ordinary cameras is that it is cost effective and fully automated making the technology accessible to more libraries. Cyreal Limited would like to develop their systems further and are keen to know users’ requirements.

Following along in this theme, in the talk “3D imaging at the British Library” Dr Adi-Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African collections highlighted how 3D imaging is being explored in the British Library. She explained how photogrammetry is being used to produce 3D images by the overlapping of images, whereas before Photo scam was used.

Some of the benefits of using 3D images were stressed; images are produced more quickly in house, they are embedded in the online content and are available for download. Once the models are ready they are uploaded to Sketchfab where they can be viewed in 3D worldwide, thus It allows for some of the more diverse collections to be made more accessible. Some items scanned and digitized include pre-19th manuscripts, figurines, leathers, fabrics and Jane Austen portable writing desk. In addition, the 3D images can be used in many ways; in Blogs, gaming, social media, 3D printing, exhibitions, tours and for conservation. It is a way of bringing analogue and digital content together and a new way of creating. As Phelps and Keinan-Schoonbaert (2016) stated that the “models provide website visitors (and visitors to galleries) a view of objects as a whole, giving a tactile feel to items which are generally untouchable.” When one thinks of the large amount of collections contained in The Palace Museum in China alone, the potential for 3D imaging to make artefacts more accessible seems amazing.

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Sketchfab, BL Labs Symposium 2018

In conclusion, the BL Labs programmes are inspirational and we can all benefit from their brilliant projects including GLAM, 3D imaging and digital collections.  It will be a great treasure to library and information science as they create a new inspiring user experience. It felt like we were looking at history through the eyes of the future.



British Library (2018) Sketchfab, Available at: https://sketchfab.com/britishlibrary (Accessed: 29 November 2018)

British Library, Collection guides: The King’s Library, Available at: https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/the-kings-library (Accessed: 25 November 2018)

Calhoun, Karen (2014)  Exploring Digital Libraries: foundations, practice, prospects. London: Facet Publishing.

Clark, J. T., Slator, B. M., Perrizo, W., Landrum, J. E., Frovarp, R., Bergstrom, A., Ramaswamy, S., and Jockcheck, W. (2002). Digital archive network for anthropology. Journal of Digital Information, 2(4), [Online] Available at: https://journals.tdl.org/jodi/index.php/jodi/article/view/50/53

Cyreal, A Revolutionary Photogrammetry Platform for the Cultural and Heritage Sectors, Available at: https://www.Cyreal.com  (Accessed: 25 November 2018)

Dempsey L (2000). Scientific, industrial, and cultural heritage. A shared approach: A research framework for digital libraries, museums and archives. Issue 22, 1999.

Friedman, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the globalized world in the 21st century. London: Penguin Group.

Hedegaard, R. (2003). Benefits of archives, libraries and museums working together pp.2 [Online] Available at: http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla69/papers/051e-Hedegaard.pdf (Accessed: 22 November 2018)

International Librarians Network (2015). Discussion Topic: GLAM – Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. [Online] Available at: https://interlibnet.org/2015/05/25/discussion-topic-glam-galleries-libraries-archives-museums/ (Accessed: 23 November 2018)

Phelps and Keinan-Schoonbaert (2016) The Digital Life of a Hebrew Manuscript. [Online] Available at:  https://www.bl.uk/hebrew-manuscripts/articles/the-digital-life-of-a-hebrew-manuscript (Accessed: 25 November 2018)

The Palace Museum. Available at: https://en.dpm.org.cn/ (Accessed: 25 November 2018)

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