What to do with the Data?
As my CityLis classmates and I delve further into the world of information, I am learning that there are more ways to research and gather information than I’d ever imagined. Even though using Google is still a favourite of mine!
Last week in CityLis, we were asking ourselves, once we have data, how do we work with it? We can collect it, store it, clean it, and display it for a multitude of purposes. I didn’t realise the amount of resources that are dedicated to sorting and cleaning data, or how most of them are readily available to the public. Web scraping for example, is a type of data scraping that collects data from websites for analysis. It’s part of the process that goes into pricing comparison sites like MoneySupermarket.
We were also introduced to TAGS, a tool that helps you to track Tweets and hashtags from Twitter according to specific criteria that you set. You are left with an archive of results that you can analyse and maintain for as long as you need it. I’ll definitely try and use this feature when it’s time for essay writing!
The class reminded of a lecture I went to earlier this year, when I was deciding whether to join CityLis. Lyn Robinson invited me to an insightful talk by Mahendra Mahey, the manager of the British Library Labs, an initiative that supports public use of British Library’s (BL) digital collections.
The BL’s collection includes more than books; there are an estimated 180 million items within the BL including 8 million stamps, 60 million patents, 1.6 million musical scores and many more (numbers estimated, Mahey 2017). What’s incredible is that only 1 – 2% of the collection at the BL has been digitised. Despite this, the team at BL Labs have managed to create masses of collections and have inspired teachers, archivists, researchers, and artists to create their own projects.
One of the most interesting projects Mahey described was called ‘Black Abolitionist Performances & their presence in Britain’ by Hannah-Rose Murray. Using a collection of newspapers from the 1800’s, Murray was able to trace the presense of Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists’ speeches. The places where Douglass spoke often matched with railway stations. It seems like a small detail but it goes to show that something separate like trains enabled Douglass to spread his views on the abolition of slavery and open the minds of hundreds of people. Now Murray’s study has expanded into a PhD, which goes to show the power of information.
By taking seemingly random pieces of data and analysing it, we are able to make sense of the world. In his closing, Mahey encouraged us to work with data, no matter how messy it is and I do agree. Entire collections can help anyone, including information professionals, archivists, researchers, and artists even if they are not clean with precise metadata. Having the information out there and in the public, is better than hiding it.
Mahey, M (2017) BL Labs CityLis Talk. Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/labsbl/bl-labs-citylis/-talk (Accessed 18/11/2017).
Murray, H R (2017) Frederick Douglass in Britain and Ireland. Available at: http://frederickdouglassinbritain.com/ (Accessed 18/11/2017)