Three is the magic number

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery Learning Co-ordinator, Lizzie Bushby, ends her maternity cover this week. She reflects on the top three things she has enjoyed about the role.


I joined the Footsteps into Art programme as maternity cover last September. The nine months since then have been full of activity and have passed in a blur. This week is my final week.

Here are my top 3 things about the role:

The Footsteps into Art Exhibition

Since the workshops started in November, I have had the exhibition in mind. I was really excited about displaying the wonderful work the children were doing and celebrating Footsteps into Art with the wider Gallery audience. At the same time I felt quite daunted by the process, as I hadn’t been involved in curating and installing an exhibition before.

When June rolled around, the work started in earnest. I really enjoyed putting together broad themes, gathering artwork into groups which visually looked good and writing the information panels. A colleague helped me to pin work in the cabinets, and I spent a happy couple of days tweaking, drilling, sanding and painting until I was happy with the display.

I am so proud of the exhibition, and have had some wonderful feedback from visitors. It’s on display until 19th August so if you haven’t already seen it, please pop into the Gallery!

Environmental Art Workshop

Inspired by the work of Anthony Goldsworthy, I wanted to introduce environmental art to the programme so I booked an environmental artist for a Leeds City Academy workshop in May. One sunny afternoon, we left the Gallery for Chancellor’s Court armed with just a few long sticks for frames. The students found materials including pine cones, twigs, daisies and gravel, and used them to create thoughtful and detailed transient works of art.

Check out the photograph here. Can you spot which works in the Gallery were used as inspiration?

Working with student volunteers

The student volunteers are invaluable in running the programme. It has been great to meet and work with a range of students from power lifters to photographers.
I have really appreciated their support in preparing and running the workshops, and have enjoyed getting to know them.

If you are a University of Leeds student and are interested in volunteering during the 2017-18 academic year, please contact

Sustainable Knowledge and the Power of Libraries – LIBER Annual Conference, University of Patras, July 2017

Posted on behalf of Eleanor Warren.

In the first week of July, over 300 delegates from research libraries across Europe (and including a few from the USA and Canada), gathered in the sunny seaside city of Patras, Greece, for the LIBER 46th Annual Conference. I was fortunate to be among them, representing Leeds University Library at this international event by presenting a paper in one of the parallel sessions.


LIBER is the principal network of European research libraries, with over 420 libraries, in 41 countries. The theme of this year’s conference was creating sustainable knowledge structures that feed into the research lifecycles of our academic research communities. The conference was officially opened on Wednesday afternoon by LIBER’s president Kristiina Hormia-Poutanen, introducing the LIBER strategic plan for 2018-2022. The vision for the strategy combines: Open Access publishing of research outputs, open data that is FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable), Digital Skills, Participatory Research Infrastructures, and Cultural Heritage of Tomorrow. The LIBER Roadmap was distributed at the conference in Patras, with participants invited to contribute and give feedback at a Knowledge Café on Wednesday afternoon.

More informally, the themes which stood out for me over the course of the three days were sustainability, change and collaboration.

In the parallel session on Staff Education on Wednesday afternoon there were some very interesting discussions about the recruitment of ‘non-librarians’ into research libraries. Wilhelm Widmark and Birgitta Hellmark Lindgren, from Stockholm University Library, suggested that it should be about competencies, rather than qualifications. In the audience discussion that followed it was clear that there are different cultures across Europe, when it comes to library staff training, qualifications and recruitment. It was suggested that there is a need for research librarians to be able to communicate core library skills, but that these skills might be easier to teach and learn ‘on the job’, whereas other essential skills, such as communication, might be better found in people coming from sectors and educational backgrounds other than librarianship.

I found this discussion particularly encouraging, because it covered many of the same issues as my own presentation on Friday morning, which also addressed themes of change and collaboration. I considered how developments in the research landscape, and researcher training, are simultaneously changing the skills needs of library staff, and opening up new opportunities for researchers to pursue careers within libraries.


On Thursday morning Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories) gave a plenary lecture addressing the issue of sustainability for scholarly communications in the 21st century. Kathleen argued that scholarly communication has not innovated very quickly in comparison to innovations in science, and highlighted the problems with access that we are all aware of, such as being stuck in subscription deals with publishers that we cannot get out of. She also presented the big problem with participation in the system – that it’s skewed towards North America and Western Europe. Kathleen’s lecture was powerful stuff, and she incited us all to push back against big international publishers, who are driving a system where there is a need to publish in their journals, for their own profit. The incentives for researchers to publish in big international journals is Journal Impact Factors, which have nothing to do with the quality or value of the research being published. High-ranking journals only accept papers on certain research topics, often depending of trends and popularity (Kathleen gave the example of research on Zika virus, which researchers in South America have tried to publish for years, until the recent epidemic, when this research was suddenly in demand from the big publishers). Kathleen argued that we cannot continue to rely on Journal Impact Factors and citation metrics to assess research because of the detrimental effect on what researchers chose to research, in order to publish. This creates a vicious cycle, where large publishers have all the power, and are shaping the research landscape.

Kathleen offered a way forward, by re-positioning the library at the centre of scholarly communication. Libraries need to work together to create a global knowledge commons, and repositories are the tool to change things. However, the technologies are out of date, and we cannot offer an alternative solution until this technology is updated. COAR is trying to offer a solution. Kathleen concluded by saying that there is some urgency to this, and the time to act is now.

On Friday morning, Julia Reda MEP gave a much anticipated lecture on the proposed EU copyright reform, which had a disquieting effect on the audience (judging from personal conversations, and the Twittersphere). In 2014 the European Commission put copyright reform officially on the European agenda for the first time, acknowledging that there was a problem with existing copyright law. However, Julia argued that many of the proposals seem to make things much worse for the public, and for libraries.

Julia presented us with a list of eight things that would become illegal if the EU reform proposals are accepted. These include: sharing creative news headlines and articles; indexing of the internet by search engines without a license; unmonitored upload of photos to sites such as Flickr; and uploading and sharing of material to unmonitored repositories such as arXiv. The law against unmonitored uploads is meant to target unlicensed music sharing on You Tube, but it would have a detrimental effect on repositories, unless an exception will apply. It is unclear at present who is supposed to pay for this layer of copyright protection. I’m sure you can imagine the response of the audience as Julia elucidated the potential impact of the proposed reform:

Not to leave us all feeling completely despondent, Julia highlighted that the good news in the copyright debate is the power of libraries

She said, thankfully, that it has been recognised that universities and libraries fulfil an important public interest mission. Julia urged that libraries and other institutions involved in the preservation and accessibility of cultural heritage need to stand up and make clear the potential impact of the proposed copyright reform. She gave us something to ponder, and left us all feeling a bit more inspired that we are involved in important and meaningful work, by stating that “If libraries were invented today it would probably be seen as an extremely radical idea, to give access to knowledge for free”.

Recordings of all the keynote speakers are available on the conference website.

There were many other interesting presentations, workshops and conversations across the three days of the conference, and it was interesting to see that research libraries across Europe are all dealing with similar issues, but are perhaps taking different approaches. The culture of libraries is both universal and specific. What was very apparent was that we all have the same vision for our libraries. So, whilst we continue to develop the best ways of working with researchers at an institutional level, we must also be working with our colleagues internationally to develop libraries (through staff, technologies and methods), which are sustainable into the future.

Repository Fringe 2017

We are looking forward to the Repository Fringe next week, now in its 10th year, and coinciding as always with the far less entertaining Edinburgh Fringe. We will be presenting a poster (to follow, see below for a taster), perhaps telling a few jokes, and sharing expertise and experience with our fellow repository professionals.

The full programme is available at and you can follow on Twitter @repofringe | #rfringe17

Galactic Interfaces: navigating the creative data universe

The poster takes its title from a piece of music in one of the datasets in the Research Data Leeds repository. ‘Galactic Interfaces’ is a semi-improvised piece about interactions and contrasts; rather like developing a research data service. The poster will use the galactic theme to show how working with arts and humanities researchers has launched us from planet ‘EPSRC data compliance’ to boldly go where the research data service has not gone before. We use ‘Galactic Interfaces’ in research data training sessions to encourage researchers to step outside their own world and think creatively about their data and metadata. Our galactic journey has taken us into the Special Collections galaxy where we have been working on developing a common language so we can understand each other. We have a landing party visiting the digital humanities nebula and we’re launching a rescue mission for project web sites currently being drawn into a giant black hole.

Black hole

Much valuable work has been done with creative data already in other repository services (VADS, UAL etc.); for a repository in a multi-disciplinary institution like University of Leeds, working with creative data has shifted thinking about our research data service and where its long term value may lie. It has prompted consideration of the variety of data contributors; who should be acknowledged for their creative input, and how? How do we licence data with third party content? How do we capture and package data from practice-based creative disciplines? Do we have a role in bringing together data and researchers from different spheres – virtually, but also in physical space for discussion and exploration? Borders are being crossed, redrawn and broken down and we are re-plotting our star charts! (We will also reach beyond the borders of the poster by making it interactive.)

A brief history of our request slips

This blog was written by Karen Mee, Reading Room Supervisor in Special Collections

During our work the reading room team occasionally come across stray request slips in the stacks which have unwittingly become archive items in their own right. We have quite a collection now and are running an informal competition to find the oldest. As a standard method of retrieval in most archives, the slip comprises two parts. The details of what you want to consult are written on the top part and when we’ve located the item, we remove it and leave it in the space where the item is stored. The bottom part reveals a carbon copy of the request, staying with the item until it’s shelved.

The slips’ changing design illustrates the developments in our processes and procedures over the years. The evolving terminology used to describe visitors to Special Collections ranges over borrowers, readers, users, visitors, and more recently, customers.  For years a signature was required from the person making the request as an extra security measure.  This procedure went through a lengthy consultation process before it was removed. There was no apparent distinction between members of the university and external users. Perhaps there was an assumption that most requests were from library members? When I started here in 2005 our visitor registration forms still asked for a letter of introduction from non-library members.

A field for library barcodes makes an appearance signifying a move into a computerised library management system and the classmark change to shelfmark reflects the online library catalogue. After consultation with the library’s disability services representative the colour changed from white to yellow as a better choice for staff and library users with specific learning requirements.  Landscape orientation altered to portrait to see the requester’s name more clearly and the barcode field became location information. The two-part slip became a three-part slip for internal requests to track the movement of an item within the department, a system used primarily by our colleagues in the Feminist Archive North [FAN] so they had a record of items in use.

Finally the last but not final incarnation of the request slip is our current retrieval slip, automatically produced by a new collections management system.  The next stage may be online ordering but we probably won’t have an automated retrieval robot any time soon. But who knows.

No collections were lost in the writing of this blog.


More than cataloguing…

As the project to catalogue the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Collections nears its end, our Romany Archivist, Caroline Bolton reflects on the achievements of the project. Aside from improving accessibility with the recent launch of an updated online catalogue, the Collections have already begun to engage a wide variety of audiences.

The Collections have supported a number of new academic ventures including:

  • the delivery of a Creative Writing session for the University’s Lifelong Learning Centre
  • providing focus for an online article in student project “Eastern Spaces”
  • their use in the development of a cross-curricular teaching pack
  • being the subject of a successful award of a research fellowship within the Leeds Humanities Research Institute.

They have also started to show their potential to engage communities beyond the University:

  • providing inspiration for a verbatim theatre piece on Challenging Hate Crime created and performed  in partnership with Leeds GATE (Gypsy and Traveller Exchange) for the Being Human Festival
  • acting as the focal point for re-visiting collections and co-curation workshops with members of local Gypsy and Traveller communities
  • as research material for a Leeds Inspired project ” Feet on the Ground”  by members of Leeds GATE and artists including Delaine LeBas and Vanessa Cardui.

The cataloguing of these Collections has been made possible with funding from the National Cataloguing Grant. The insight into these Collections I have gained by being able to work on a dedicated project has been invaluable.  It has made it possible for me to identify the themes within each collection.  By working on the collections together I have gained an understanding of them holistically, including the many connections between them.  This has made it easier to highlight to users potentially relevant material based on their interests.

Covering a wide variety of topics such as art, literature, history, culture, language/linguistics, philology, sociology religion, law, politics, human rights, activism and urban planning/geography,  the Collections are sure to offer further opportunities for both multi and inter-disciplinary research and community engagement.

Wikipedia, information literacy and open access

In the 1980s my parents invested in an edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. It’s still there, taking up shelf space in its burgundy livery, unopened since 1993, the information frozen in time like Britpop and New Labour.

Encyclopaedia Britannica 15 with 2002

SEWilco (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia was launched in 2001, some 12 years after Berniers-Lee invented the Web, and is often maligned in academia. Yet it remains a default information source for many a denizen of the Web, whether layperson, undergraduate or PhD (citation needed).

Unlike a leather-bound Britannica, information is dynamic, updated by a small army of volunteers and there can be little argument regarding the success of the project in terms of sheer scale and cultural impact. Wikipedia and its sister projects are edited at the rate of 10 edits per second (which would equate to more than three-quarters of  a billion updates since 1993. That’s a lot of crossings out.)

Whether all those edits are accurate and properly referenced is a moot point of course, and like any informational resource, digital or otherwise, requires its readership to exercise its critical faculties.

Information and digital literacy

“Information Literacy is an umbrella term which encompasses concepts such as digital, visual and media literacies, academic literacy, information handling, information skills, data curation and data management”  SCONUL Working Group on Information Literacy 2011

Cognitive bias is universal, no less so in an information environment mediated by search engine algorithm, which is why peer review is essential in scholarship. Wikipedia’s model of collaborative authorship arguably provides a form of peer review and also supports formal academic citation, with many articles referencing peer reviewed sources, often by DOI. However, we are still a long way from full open access and many such references will inevitably be behind a paywall, inaccessible to those without access to a subscription through a university library i.e. those laypeople who might benefit most.

Fortunately it is quick and easy to sign up for a Wikipedia account and add a link to an open access version, in the White Rose Research Repository for example. WRRO also displays a colour coded Altmetric score to help identify when an article has been cited in Wikipedia – look out for dark grey in the patented donut:

Altmetric detail
Wikipedia links for “Investment and risk appraisal in enery storage systems: A real options approach”

Above is the altmetric page for Investment and risk appraisal in energy storage systems: A real options approach (DOI: 10.1016/ which is linked to from a Wikipedia page on Energy Storage and which took just a few moments to edit the linked title from the published version to the WRRO record (the link to the version of record is maintained via the DOI; click on the image to see the citation on Wikipedia):

Editing a Wilipedia page
Editing a Wikipedia page

To what extent the casual visitor will actually consult a citation and follow a link to a peer reviewed source is another question. Nevertheless, the very act of contributing to Wikipedia in this way will help to embed information literate practice into this culturally significant informational resource. It also extends the network of open scholarship which, in turn, will subtly influence those search engine algorithms.

A single link perhaps not so much, but three quarters of a billion…

For more information on contributing to Wikipedia and Open Access see Wikipedia:WikiProject Open Access

Inspirational Internships

Gallery Education Intern, Dominika Blazewicz, reflects on her time working on the Footsteps into Art programme with the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.

As an Education student (and a big art enthusiast!) I saw becoming a Gallery Intern as a perfect opportunity to learn something new and develop the skills needed to succeed after graduating from university.

From the very first day I was fortunate enough to immerse myself fully into ‘Gallery life’. On top of working for the Footsteps into Art programme, I was also creating education worksheets for the Gallery’s exhibitions, such as the one of György Gordon’s and Kenneth Armitage’s works, and just familiarising myself with the organisational structure and general administration of a gallery. Oh boy, I really did not realise how much work went into setting up exhibitions. I never gave much thought to behind-the-scenes – I took all the beautiful displays and catalogues and compositions for granted. Not anymore. I now have a lot respect for everybody working in art galleries, museums and libraries.

The Footsteps into Art programme was also fantastic. I enjoyed assisting the Learning Coordinator and freelance artists in creating workshops, as well as running a few of my own. As a student of education, I was highly familiar with current changes to the education curriculum and assessment criteria, and was aware of the way in which many aspects of art and culture were being systematically removed from the UK education system. I like to think that working at the Gallery allowed the team to aid an interest and a love of art in children. The workshops provide access to a rich cultural education, something which can often be missed in a regular school environment.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time as an Education Intern, and would recommend the internship to anyone with an interest in art, management or education. I particularly enjoyed being able to talk to children about art, and hear how their opinions and ideas developed and changed over the year.