For the next three months (plus a break for Christmas) I’ll be taking time out of my PhD to do a placement at the British Library. The specific project I’m working on focuses on their collection of Privy Council Appeal Cases, and will hopefully result in the creation of visualisations to make items within the collection more visible and easier for users to discover. This should be a really good opportunity to put my Linked Data skills into practice by converting the metadata to Resource Description Framework (RDF). As well as making more explicit the relationships between existing metadata fields within the collection, this should also facilitate the linking of this data to records for equivalent cases also held in other collections. There are various similar initiatives involving online collections (including both metadata and digitisation of case documents), so this should hopefully help to work towards consolidating this material.
I’m going to try and blog a bit more regularly about my experiences with the placement as my fellow students were intrigued about what it would involve and how I’m doing it in the first place. Hopefully this should demystify the process of placements for other PhD students thinking of applying. I actually applied for my placement back in February, in response to an advertisement on the British Library’s website, which contained various placement opportunities. I think this is something they do every year so would be worth looking out for early in the New Year. I then had an interview in March, which involved talking about how my previous experience has equipped me for this specific placement project, as well as some more general competency (“Tell me about a time when…”) questions. I was offered the placement fairly soon afterwards, but was not able to take up the placement until I had completed my first year (some placements can be flexible on start date; you indicate your availability on your application form).
Another thing people have asked me about is money – always an important question! The placement itself is unpaid, but I was able to apply for additional funding through CHASE, who are funding my PhD and who are keen for their students to complete a placement during their PhDs. As such, I receive a three-month extension to my grant (to cover the placement period) as well as some money towards travel costs. I live just outside Cambridge but the placement is in London, so I’ll be travelling down to work at the BL two days per week and will work remotely for the other three days. This flexibility is great for me, as the journey to London, while manageable, is quite time-consuming and could get very expensive. If I’d had to be on site every day of my placement I could have chosen to do it part time, but I think full time will work best for me as I prefer to concentrate on one thing at a time.
Today mostly involved doing a couple of online induction tutorials (including the obligatory health and safety course), being introduced to a lot of people (whose names I can’t remember!), and learning to vaguely orientate myself around the relevant parts of the building. I also started to look through the various online resources that relate to the Privy Council Appeal Cases, and started making my own notes about their usability, which metadata fields were visible, whether they contained digitised documents, and whether the text in these documents was searchable (i.e. if it has been detected using OCR, Optical Character Recognition). This work will probably continue tomorrow as there is a lot of stuff out there, and I need to really get my head around how all the different resources fit together.
As the BL is a large organisation, I’m not the only placement student there at the moment, which means there is the opportunity to meet other people in a similar position but doing different projects. The BL facilitates this by organising activities for us, such as a trip to their Boston Spa site next week, which I’m quite excited about. I’m keen to take advantage of everything that’s on offer as I’m only there a short time and would like to make the most of it.
Everyone I’ve met has been very welcoming, and this should be a really interesting project – hopefully I’ll be able to meet the various goals I’ll be set. Even outside the project itself, this should be a great opportunity to gain some practical experience of Linked Data manipulation and visualisation within the context of a major institution, and should enrich my PhD when I return to study in January.