Projects and plans

January 15th, 2016 by

15th January. A bit late for New Year’s resolutions, and I’m never much of a one for them anyway.

Still, it’s a good time to take stock. What am I hoping to achieve this year? I have omitted the personal aims, as they’re not of great interest to anyone who’s not me, but otherwise, hopefully without overcommitting myself…


2015 was pretty good. I planned a rather complex library move (twice, after the first time was delayed, which is a good way to learn from your mistakes without having actually had to commit them). Two weeks into the new year and ~400 metres of books shifted, it’s looking like it’s actually working, so let’s call that one a conditional success. First order of business: finish it off. And write up some notes on it so that others may learn to not do as I have done.

Secondly, get something published again. I had my first ‘proper’ academic publication in late 2015, and though it’s on a topic that approximately three people care about, I’m still glad it’s done and out there. (I have something to point at next time I’m glibly assured “oh, that approach never happens any more”. This is a recurrent theme in discussions about scholarly publishing; but I digress.) I would recommend it to any academic librarian as an exercise in understanding what your researchers suffer.

(I have a couple of projects on the boil which I’d like to write up properly, of which more anon.)

Thirdly, finish putting together the papers from the 2014 Polar Libraries Colloquy. Call this a public admittance of dragging my heels about this.

Lastly, consider Chartership. I’ve avoided this for many years, seeing it as a rather daunting pile of paperwork, but it’s probably a sensible thing to think about.


Firstly, I’d like to clear off the History of Parliament work on Wikidata. I haven’t really written this up yet (maybe that’s step 1.1) but, in short, I’m trying to get every MP in the History of Parliament database listed and crossreferenced in Wikidata. At the moment, we have around 5200 of them listed, out of a total of 22200 – so we’re getting there. (Raw data here.) Finding the next couple of thousand who’re listed, and mass-creating the others, is definitely an achievable task.

Secondly, and building on this, I did some work in the autumn of 2015 on building a framework for linking EveryPolitician and Wikidata. I need to pick this back up and work out how we can best represent politicians in general – what are the best data structures for things like constituencies, parliamentary terms, parties?

This leads into the third project, which is the general use of Wikidata as a “biographical spine”. Charles Matthews, Magnus Manske, and I have been working on this for a couple of years, and it really is beginning to bear fruit. We’re working to pull together as many large biographical databases as possible, and have them talking to one another through Wikidata, so that we can start bringing data and links from one to the users of another. This certainly won’t ever be completed in 2015 – but it would be good to write some of it up in a single report so that it’s clear what we’re doing, and hopefully start advertising it to researchers who could benefit.

Fourthly (oh, goodness), the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This is a project I embarked on back in 2013; the goal is to get a reliable crossreference between Wikipedia/Wikidata and the ODNB – now complete, mainly thanks to Charles Matthews – and then to fix all the vague unhelpful “see DNB” Wikipedia citations into nicely formatted, linkable ones, which readers can actually benefit from. This second part is going to take a long time, but I’ve made some rudimentary attempts at auto-predicting the required citations to be fixed by hand, and hopefully we’ll get there in time.

Moving away from Wikidata, early last year I started on what has turned into the Birthdays Project – an attempt to study the way in which people misremembered their birthdays when they’re not well-documented. This is generally known and the basic result is kind of obvious, but it has only been (very cursorily) discussed in the academic literature before, and I don’t think anyone’s properly attacked it with substantial data, multiple cultural contexts, etc. I wrote up a few notes on this in early 2015 (part 1, part 2), but since then I’ve nailed down some more data, figured out a useful way of visualising it, and so on. No idea if it’s publishable per se, but it would be good to have it written up.

That… looks like a busy year ahead.

Finally, going places and doing things. I have a couple of long-awaited holidays planned, and some people I’m looking forward to seeing on them. I will be going to the Polar Libraries Colloquy in Alaska, but I won’t be going to Wikimania in June – I’ll be elsewhere, sadly. I’m sad to miss this year, as it looks to be an excellent event.


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