A Day Out to the Library: On and Off Line

A number of times this month, as with probably most of the rest of my PhD, I have been asked what exactly do you do or the standard:

“Oh you are still a student…”

This does not particularly offend me because I do not really know what, for example, an accountant, teacher or pilot does every day of the week. But definitely one of the perks of doing a social science PhD is the amount of time you can spend reading and mincing around libraries.

Playing up to this regular occurrence this month’s blog is around a trip I made to the British Library for a Doctoral Open Day. Although I have (for six years of academic study) regularly spent time in libraries, spending the day with the experts in London I clearly had only scratched the surface of the world of bibliotech.



The doctoral open day was designed to encourage and enlighten PhD students to the use the immense resources available at the British Library. It is a relatively new library as only came into operation in 1973, but even so very well stocked. As the national library it receives a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland. The day was littered with mind boggling facts, a couple being:


  • It houses over 170 million items, with 625km of shelves between the London and Boston Spa sites
  • It has been archiving web data since 2013 and to date has over 2 billion pages of UK web content
  • By 2020 it is predicted that it will store 35ZB of data, that is around 1.1 trillion GB

2016-02-12 11.41.26The digital statistics really did boggle my mind and made me consider how the internet and digitisation impacts our lives more generally. Also how this is being documented and archived. I can currently go to the British Library and consult centuries old personal papers, organisational documents etc. Does this mean in centuries to come someone will be able to access my emails? Or will my computer be drained of its memory and stored somewhere? Will this selfie put on twitter be in a digital image database? Big data and the digital evolution is challenging researchers everywhere, and changing the space of a library.

For that day in February I was content being engulfed in a historic and established library, finding out the many ways it can impact on my PhD. Not just as a place to work and mince when in London, but also the huge collections they have.

For the future I am left pondering what a library may look like in 5, 10, 50, 100 years time…

For more information then go to the British Library website, where you can access a number of its collections online and see when they have upcoming events or open days. Worth a visit, student or not, when you are next in the capital.

For more on the historical methods of research in sport there is a very handy brand new special issue in the International Journal of the History of Sport on such a topic.

If you are interested in this research and considering a PhD, the British Library has joined up with a couple of institutions to offer joint projects.



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