Here are some thoughts on the recent British Library Labs symposium.
Discovered in 1953 by Kathleen Kenyon, the 7,000-year-old Jericho Skull was a sensational find. The skull is shaped, melded and decorated to support the intricacy of the human face and early attempts to learn more about it were fruitless because of the limitations of the technology to try and peak inside. However, 60 years after its discovery the skull went under a micro-CT scan to create virtual models without damaging the skull. For the first time the human cranium was visualised and they were even able to see the jaw, molars and the thousand year old thumbprint pressed into it.
So much information was discovered because of this type of scanning and in 2016 the British Library created a digital 3D model of the Jericho Skull and create a virtual portrait of the Neolithic man inside the skull, with the help of RN-DS Partnership and forensic facial reconstruction experts. Daniel Pett, currently Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum, was a keynote speaker at the British Library Labs symposium in early November 2018 which the City University Library and Information Science students attended. Pett spoke about his amazing work with 3D modelling at the British and Fitzwilliam museum and it was the Jericho Skull which really homed in on some of the interesting ways the GLAM sector is using technology to enhance and discover more about their collections. Without micro-CT scanning and 3D modelling software, and the dedication of the teams working on projects like MicroPasts, we may have never discovered the intricacies of some the artefacts housed in the British Museum.
Photogrammetry and 3D modelling make history that much more accessible and the online catalogues make for an exciting progression in digital collection management and curation in the GLAM sector. The opportunity to incorporate objects and artefacts into classrooms is also promising. The days of strictly textbook learning are long gone as schools engage with emerging technologies to develop their students. Museums and galleries that get on board with this tech can create engaging learning tools that encourage observation and questioning skills (Science Museum, 2017) and provide accessible materials which in turn help to close the economic gap for those who cannot physically get to museums and galleries. The social inclusion that the LIS profession promotes is made possible with tech that provides access to materials close to the form they were intended, an interactive virtual 3D model is arguably the next best thing to visiting the artefact or object (Li Liew, 2012) and at least provides a more appealing experience than a flat 2D depiction. The promotion of digital libraries is intended to complement and extend beyond the physical constraints of the library space (Li Liew, 2012), naturally institutes in the GLAM sector are finding new and exciting ways to make accessible and promote their collections, 3D modelling is just one cool way they are doing this.
Chowdhury, G. G. and Foo, S. (2012) Digital libraries and information access research perspectives.
‘Cultural Heritage Spotlight: Q&A with Daniel Pett from the British Museum (Part 1)’ (2017) Sketchfab Blog, 16 January. Available at: https://blog.sketchfab.com/cultural-heritage-spotlight-qa-daniel-pett-british-museum-part1/ (Accessed: 24 November 2018).
Face of 9,500-Year-Old Man Revealed for First Time (2017) National Geographic News. Available at: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/jericho-skull-neolithic-facial-reconstruction-archaeology-british-museum/ (Accessed: 24 November 2018).
McKenzie, E. (2017) 3D object scans as a museum learning resource, Science Museum Group Digital Lab. Available at: https://lab.sciencemuseum.org.uk/3d-object-scans-as-a-museum-learning-resource-part-1-9e1e51b67581 (Accessed: 29 November 2018).
RN-DS Partnership – Practitioners in photocomparison, archaeological facial reconstruction and medical/medico-legal artwork (no date). Available at: https://www.rn-ds-partnership.com/ (Accessed: 24 November 2018).
The British Library is currently engaged in an ongoing digitisation project, in conjunction with many other cultural institutions such as the British Museum and the National Archives. The digitisation of library, gallery and museum collections serves a range of purposes. One of these is that it enables more and more people to see and experience the collections.
Some collections are too fragile to be on permanent display and simultaneously many institutions lack the resources to stage regular touring exhibitions meaning that the vast majority of all artefacts held by galleries, libraries and museums only exist as catalogue entries, invisible for the most part to almost everyone. Another benefit is that digitisation provides an additional form of preservation, protecting the existence of the object in the event of damage to the physical manifestation.
Digitisation also enables objects and histories to be combined in innovative and experiential ways, for example by bringing together audio and visual strands in ways that can be more widely disseminated and more easily shared.
The British Library Labs Symposium included a number of awards for projects which make innovative use of digital technologies, particularly the Artistic Award which ‘recognises an artistic or creative endeavour that has used the Library’s digital collection to inspire, amaze and provoke.’
One such was the Nomad Project, a collaborative, mixed-reality experience produced by Abira Hussein in conjunction with Mnemoscene, a company specialising in the creation of ‘meaningful immersive experiences’.
For the Nomad Project, the creators brought together sound recordings from the British Library’s John Low Collection, photographs from the Powell-Cotton Collection and objects from the British Museum.
The sound recordings and photographs were combined with 3D digital images of the artefacts in order to create an immersive, real time, interactive exhibit which could be experienced via a Microsoft Hololens, a Virtual Reality headset developed by Mnemoscene.
Participants have also been invited to workshops where they have been asked to bring their own stories and artefacts for inclusion. In these ways, the project is developing its own digital collection and digital history.
The Nomad Project is a striking example of how digital technologies can enable curators to engage with their audiences in new and effective ways.
https://nomad-project.co.uk (Accessed: 28/11/2018)
https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/John-Low-East-Africa (Accessed: 29/11/2018)
http://mnemoscene.io (Accessed: 29/11/2018)