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London’s Pulse: Innovative Sustainability
By
Volume 39, Number 3 - May/June 2015

One year after launch

We set out to maximize the use of our digitized MOH reports by developing innovative search and display functions tailored to meet the needs of very specific audiences. Did we succeed?

More than a year after launch, we have had 42,000-plus visitors—that’s around 12% of the total library website traffic—and 74% of them are U.K.-based. There have been 13,000 unique searches on the website. The top searches are, as you might expect for an historical public health resource, on terms such as epidemic and specific infectious diseases such as cholera, smallpox, and tuberculosis.

Our traditional audience of academic historians appears to be using the site, but what about the nontraditional audiences we identified? Throughout the first year, we did lots of outreach with local groups in London libraries and archives. We got very positive feedback, as well as coverage in the local London press and broadcast media, suggesting that there was an appreciation for this kind of online content.

The Guardian newspaper (theguardian.com/culture/2013/oct/28/ice-cream-health-hazards-archive) also did a good job in highlighting some of the quirky and unexpected things you can uncover in the reports. Perhaps more satisfying has been the use of London’s Pulse in the “blogosphere,” where the reports have been used to investigate topics such as local architecture (https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com//?s=lambeth%27s+cottage&search=Go).

One area where take-up has been slow is in the use of the data files. This may be due to a relative lack of experience among our target audiences for large-scale data usage. However, a new research project at Manchester University (gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/project/37C6E19B-95EC-46A5-B99B-4109B4E21B39) aims to track how disease terminology has changed since the 19th century by using large-scale data mining techniques on the British Medical Journal and London’s Pulse content. This should provide some fascinating results and generate wider academic interest in the data.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Wellcome Library has embarked on a joint project with crowd-sourcing experts Zooniverse (zooniverse.org) to collect infor mation about the health and working conditions of London trades. This type of content offers exciting opportunities to explore new forms of display and access, for example an interactive map, which would overcome many of the issues related to changing names and boundaries that we encountered.

As different researchers begin to make use of London’s Pulse, we’re asking them to share their experience on the library Blog (blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2014/11/snuffing-potash-to-ward-off-flu/). We hope this will inspire other users to follow suit.

Future development

Our ultimate aim for a piece of digital content is to “create once, use often.” An item ought to be available in a general search interface, such as a library catalogue, and usable in our blog or on the website in a variety of forms—as a link, embedded player, or part of an image gallery. It may appear on our website or other sites and content hubs such as Internet Archive (archive.org/details/wellcomelibrary). We’re not there yet.

In London’s Pulse, we think we have succeeded in producing a high-quality online resource from our digitized content. Based on user statistics and feedback so far, it seems to be reaching its intended audiences. While we haven’t come up with all the answers for a sustainable model adaptable to all our digital content, London’s Pulse goes some way to helping us achieve our aim. Because the search and display functions are based on library catalogue metadata and records, users will still be able to do full-text searching across all the reports from within the library catalogue, even if the London’s Pulse site ceases to exist—and the same now goes for our other digitized content.

We also made some useful developments to our media player. This flexibility allows us to do much more than simply display digitized images in the future. What we have learned from London’s Pulse has given use many more options, as well as experience and technical know-how. As a pilot project, it has more than exceeded expectations.


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Lalita Kaplish is assistant web editor, Wellcome Library.

 

Comments? Contact the editors at editors@onlinesearcher.net

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