The bicentenary at Birkbeck Library

1 – Treasures from the archives

The Library has been central to Birkbeck life since the first days of the College. Throughout 2023 we will be holding a changing exhibition to commemorate the history of the College. We will be using original material from the College Archive and our image collections, both of which were also used by Professor Joanna Bourke for the research she did when writing her new book Birkbeck: 200 years of radical learning for working people.  

In 2022, as part of a partial refurbishment, the Library acquired a dedicated archives room in the new silent study area on the second floor. The room provides a new home for the core of the Birkbeck College Archive, the David Bohm Papers, Sir Bernard Crick Archive and our collection of medieval books. 

The Birkbeck College Archive comprises the surviving institutional records of Birkbeck, University of London, dating from its foundation as the London Mechanics’ Institution in 1823 to c. 2015. Much of the material derives from the central running of the university, being minutes of its governing bodies and their committees, financial records of its administration, prospectuses, calendars and annual reports. There are also programmes of events and texts of addresses and lectures given at the College, a full series of press cuttings and some photographs. 

Part of the archive was digitised through a Google Arts & Culture project in 2018. 

George Birkbeck, President 1823 – 1841

We have chosen four themes to illustrate the fascinating 200-year history of the College. 

Exhibition schedule 

March 2023 – mid-May 2023: The founding of Birkbeck 

Mid-May 2023 – August 2023: Student life 

August 2023 – mid-October 2023: Birkbeck during the wars 

Mid-October 2023 – December 2023: The life of Birkbeck Library 

An exhibition guide will be available in the Library. We will update Bookish with stories relating to the themes of the displays throughout 2023. 

The Library at Bream’s Building, 1923 

Open for climate justice

Welcome to Birkbeck College’s virtual research symposium, drawing inspiration from Open Access Week 2022.

This year’s OA Week theme is “Open for Climate Justice”, and the Library’s Scholarly Communications Group has coordinated contributions from speakers around this. Birkbeck is committed to Open Access, and acknowledges the importance of “connection and collaboration among the climate movement and the international open community”, along with “the rapid exchange of knowledge across geographic, economic, and disciplinary boundaries.” Both these ideas are very much in keeping with George Birkbeck’s assertion that ‘now is the time for universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge’. This continues to underpin the mission and culture of the institution as it approaches its two-hundredth anniversary in December 2023.

Although originally planned as an “in person” event, the pivot towards a virtual symposium has enabled a more fluid, dynamic approach. Our contributors evince a clear academic interest in climate justice, and outline how it intersects with the open access movement.

The future of open access
Dr Caroline Edwards, Director, Open Library of Humanities

Dr Caroline Edwards is Director of the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) at Birkbeck, University of London and a Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature. Caroline co-founded the OLH with Prof. Martin Eve in 2012 as a project bringing scholars, librarians, publishers, and computer programmers together to build a fairer, not-for-profit model of open access publishing; the OLH launched its publishing platform in 2015 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Caroline’s first monograph is Utopia and the Contemporary British Novel (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and she is currently writing her second book, Hopeful Inhumanism: The Elemental Aesthetics of Ecocatastrophe. Her research has featured in a number of non-academic publications, broadcasts, and venues, including the New Statesman, the Times Higher Education, the Guardian, SFX Magazine, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, BBC One South East, the Barbican Centre, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Whitechapel Gallery, and in a dedicated exhibition at the Museum of London.

In this talk, Dr Edwards outlines the origins of OA, draws parallels to the green new deal movement, and explores how the Open Library of Humanities is helping to define its future directions.

Sympathy for the ‘little things that run the world’
Dr Janette Leaf, Associate Research Fellow, Cultural Entomologist.

Janette is an Associate Research Fellow at Birkbeck, working predominantly in the specialist area of Cultural Entomology, establishing a reputation as an international expert.

Her research investigates how insects are represented in fiction, museums, and material culture, particularly in the nineteenth century; and how insect imagery intersects with the Gothic, Egyptology, xenophobia, speciesism, and environmental concerns.

Janette’s PhD thesis, titled ‘Locating the Sympathetic Insect: Cultural Entomology, Egyptianised Gothic and Emotional Affect in Richard Marsh’s The Beetle’, will be available in BIROn after an embargo period.

Dr Leaf is an active Member of the Victorian Popular Fiction Association (VPFA); the British Association of Victorian Studies (BAVS); The British Society for Literature and Science (The BSLS); and the International Society for the Study of Egyptomania (ISSE).

She is regular presenter at conferences, has appeared in podcasts and international reading groups, and has recently published as a co-editor, Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird (British Library Publishing, 2021) (eds Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf).

Staff-student collectives in higher education climate activism 
Kayleigh Woods Harley, Birkbeck Climate Network 

Kayleigh Woods Harley is a project support coordinator in the Planning and Strategic Projects department. The Climate Network is a student-staff coalition working to make Birkbeck fulfil its responsibilities and ambitions around climate justice and was instrumental in the decision of the careers department going fossil free in 2022, making Birkbeck the first university in the UK to do so. 

Climate journalism, social justice and open access 
Dorothy Stein, MA Journalism 

Dorothy Stein is a Birkbeck student studying for an MA in Journalism in the department of Culture, Media and Journalism.    

Their background is in the IT industry, where they worked across different sectors before starting a green IT company – GreengageIT.  With lifelong concerns about climate and the environment having heightened – they are aiming to become a climate journalist, to better communicate the crises and ways forward.       

Dorothy’s research examines the current state of climate journalism and its place within our institutions, culture and power structures which are premised on fossil fuel use.  They plan to look at climate journalism’s failure to put the brakes on the escalating climate and ecological crises, and describe what climate journalism might look like in an alternative model, where it plays its part in our project of climate justice and “world building”.   

Closing comments 

After watching the presentations from our speakers, it’s clear that there are many ways in which we can talk about open access and climate justice. Open access to information and scholarly research is key for tackling climate change and promoting climate justice. These presentations showed that it is not only the STEM subjects or natural sciences, but also the humanities, which can raise awareness about the environment and help us, and future generations, make informed decisions. 

This virtual symposium has hopefully served as a great reminder of the need for action and collaboration on climate change, by enabling open access to build a more just and sustainable future. 

We’d like to thank all our speakers, and Barnaby Booth in the Digital Education team, who recorded and edited the videos in the Birkbeck Recording Suite. The suite is open to all Birkbeck staff, and can be booked via their Moodle page.

This event was organized by the Scholarly Communications team in Birkbeck Library.  

Florilegium: gathering the language of flowers

In this guest blog Birkbeck research student Jemma Stewart discusses the language of flowers in Victorian literature and material culture. Jemma was a finalist for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, organised by UCL Special Collections, and we are happy to be able to feature her collection and to have her share her thoughts with the readers of Bookish. 

A selection of nineteenth-century language of flowers books and paraphernalia, largely centred on the rose.
A selection of nineteenth-century language of flowers books and paraphernalia, largely centred on the rose. 

The language of flowers was a nineteenth-century cultural craze and popular fad allied to the gift book, or gift annual. An import from France, with romanticised Eastern origins and the notion of a codified set of meanings attributed to flowers, the books were translated, Anglicised and exploded in popularity in England and America. While floral symbolism, or floriography, did not originate in the nineteenth century, the formalised ‘lists’ perpetuated by the popular language of flowers anthologies ensured a continual dissemination and reimagination of this language of flora. My thesis considers floriography or floral symbolism in nineteenth-century Gothic fictions, so, I am primarily working with the night-side of nature. However, the material culture of the language of flowers anthologies provides an access point for my analysis as I seek to discover whether traditional floral meanings are subverted, adhered to or extended in Gothic texts. 

Frequently derided as works of sentimental botany, accused of commodifying feeling and having little to do with the real lives of plants, the language of flowers books get a bad reputation in current times. However, as former Birkbeck scholar Nicola Bown notes, ‘sentimental art and literature invites us sympathetically to share the emotional world of those distant from us in time and circumstance […] to know more about what it means to be human ourselves’. The language of flowers books are evidence of one prolific way that the Victorians thought about human entanglements with nature. They are not completely devoid of botanical information in many cases, and, they gesture towards a female community of readership and inheritance rather than solely love intrigues or social climbing. There is plenty of potential for re-enchantment in revisiting this cultural craze. 

Cover of an early edition of Flora Symbolica; or, The Language and Sentiment of Flowers.
John Ingram, Flora Symbolica; or, The Language and Sentiment of Flowers (London: Frederick Warne & Co., c. 1870s). 1st edn 1869. 

Over the past year and a half, especially during the lockdowns, I became a low-level bibliophile and added to my collection of language of flower anthologies. When the Anthony Davis book collecting prize was advertised, this seemed like a great opportunity to share my admittedly hands-on mini reference library of sentimental flower books. Once the competition and its associated talks with UCL Rare Books Club had concluded, it was clear that I was a collector on two fronts — of the antique anthologies, but also of literary allusions. Does it mean anything when Lord Arthur Savile sends Sybil Merton a basket of narcissi and hands her a bunch of yellow roses (Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, 1887)? In The Lady of the Shroud (Bram Stoker, 1909) does Rupert’s commentary on the flowers worn by Teuta reveal a genuine awareness of floral symbolism: 

“The veil was fastened with a bunch of tiny sprays of orange blossom mingled with cypress and laurel — a strange combination. Its sweet intoxicating odour floated up to my nostrils. It and the sentiment which its very presence evoked made me quiver.” (Bram Stoker, p. 188).

I would suggest that these floral inclusions hold significance and can prove a gateway to some rewarding analysis when looked at closely.  

Plate from the second edition of Robert Tyas, The Sentiment of flowers; or, Language of flora, featuring pimpernel and forget-me-not flowers.
From Robert Tyas, The Sentiment of flowers; or, Language of flora, 2nd edn (London: R. Tyas, 1841), p. 110. 1st edn 1836. Note for the plate by James Andrews: Plate IV, Forget-me-not -cypress – pimpernel – Forget me not, for, alas! We may never meet again. 

When assembling her study of the language of flowers in nineteenth-century culture, Beverly Seaton connected a perceived absence of the language of flowers in popular fiction to a lack of its real application in everyday lives (The Language of Flowers: A History, pp. 108–09). However, nineteenth-century cultural artifacts, including samplers, art, jewellery, music and valentines reveal a use of the language of flowers that extends beyond the gift books. The language of flowers books were often compiled in the format of poetry anthologies, and so the books and flower meanings themselves are framed around the literary iterations of flowers. Additionally, academics are continually uncovering floriography or explicit mention of the language of flowers in nineteenth-century realist fiction, particularly within the works of female authors who also composed stories in the Gothic mode. Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Rhoda Broughton, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, Letitia E. Landon, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edith Wharton, Louisa May Alcott, and Mary Wilkins Freeman all fall into this category. 

Nineteenth-century language of flowers publications, contemporary academic criticism and featured fictions.
Nineteenth-century language of flowers publications, contemporary academic criticism and featured fictions.  

It strikes me that there are three methods of working with floriography in fiction — searches within works for explicit mention of ‘the language of flowers’; decoding meaningful nosegays or bouquets exchanged between characters, and, interpreting the symbolic meaning of flowers as they bloom to become connected with character and plot. My collecting will continue as I progress through the PhD, gathering literary references and the language of flowers in material culture as I go.  

Title page of Charlotte de Latour, Le langage des fleurs.
Charlotte de Latour, Le langage des fleurs, 2nd edn (Paris: Audot, 1834). 1st edn 1819. Frontispiece by Pancrace Bessa: Rose – Ivy – Myrtle, beauty, friendship and love. 
A selection of nineteenth-century language of flowers books and paraphernalia.
A selection of nineteenth-century language of flowers books and paraphernalia. 

With thanks to my supervisor, Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo, who introduced me to floriography and the language of flowers.  

Many of the titles in Jemma’s collection can be viewed online in the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Responsible research evaluation

Louise Ross is the Research & Impact Development Officer for the Department of Law at Birkbeck. In this post she explores the opportunities and challenges in measuring the impact of research and critiques a couple of examples of research metrics in relation to the work of one academic, Professor Mike Hough

Resisting seduction …. 

Simplicity is very seductive when things are complicated, nuanced, overwhelming or important.  In the context of reporting research findings in a non-academic output, you can forgive a bit of over-simplification, perhaps a small loss of sensitivity, a disregard of the least important of the arguments, in the interests of a stronger narrative. Can’t you? 

The answer (as with most things in life, I realised in middle age) is: it depends. If your “stronger narrative” means your research findings are read and disseminated by more of the stakeholders who could use it to effect change, and taken up more enthusiastically, then such “simplification losses” can be an acceptable trade-off.  But there is a point beyond which these losses aren’t tolerable, when you feel you’ve compromised too far. Where that boundary is, is a judgement call that I’m sure all researchers have had to make when translating their findings for a non-academic audience. 

Image of figures in a crowd

A similar judgement call made by Birkbeck’s Impact Officers and others, relates to the use of various publication metrics. The notion that we can easily measure productivity, impact and research quality is seductive, but erroneous (despite the claims of some of these metrics!). Metrics need to be approached with caution, or “responsibly” as we express it in Birkbeck’s policy. Please be reassured that Birkbeck’s impact officers understand the limitations, conditions and prohibitions of these measures! 

I’m going to discuss two examples, the h-index (a citation measure); and something created to complement this kind of traditional citation metric, Altmetrics (which identify and measure the online attention garnered by a research output). I’ve approached both very cautiously and would characterise them as a source of illumination and ideas, especially Altmetrics. 

I honestly haven’t considered citation measures for any of my Law School colleagues in my role, with the exception of Professor Mike Hough, now Emeritus Professor. And in his case, only because the level of his citations was specifically mentioned in his 2018 retirement lecture. For those of you who don’t know him, Professor Hough is a criminologist, with a long and esteemed career producing policy-oriented research.  

I say esteemed, not because of some metric, but because Professor Hough was the recipient of the 2021 Outstanding Achievement Award of the British Society of Criminology (for his long contribution bringing together academic and policy research); and the 2020 European Criminology Award of the European Society of Criminology (for his lifetime contribution to criminology.)  Although at Hough’s retirement lecture, no less than the Dean of our School of Law, Professor Stewart Motha did refer to Mike’s citation data: “Just one measure of Mike’s scholarly influence is that from 2006 to 2010, he was the second most cited author in the British Journal of Criminology, and the eleventh most cited across five international journals.” 

Mike put this in context when responding, by estimating that of the 300 odd publications he had produced over his career, fifty had been cited by other academics around fifty times; and of those, 25 had been cited a lot more than that. I did enjoy his next comment, made with wry self-deprecation “But what’s quite bad is that 100 of them have been barely cited at all; no references – absolutely disappeared off the face of the earth. And I wonder why I bothered with those 100. I mean I could have bunked off work every third day and nobody would have noticed. And so, I’ve sacrificed quite a lot of my career on the altar of unread research.” 

So, there’s one drawback of citation metrics.  Perfectly sound research might not get cited. Even Mike Hough couldn’t explain why.   

Even with one-third of his research “a flower born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air”*, Mike’s h-index is currently an impressive 70 (so in line with his 2018 assessment). The h-index measures both volume and citation together, a score of 70 meaning an author has at least 70 papers each cited at least 70 times.  If Mike had produced fewer papers, or they were cited less, his score would thus be lower. You can find Mike’s score on his Google Scholar profile page.

Image of the earth with lit up network

Does it do any good to compare scores? I’ve said Mike’s score is impressive, but that’s only because I already had the context that he is both a productive author (having a relatively large number of outputs, more than one hundred in BIROn for example) and a highly cited one [thanks to this citation analysis, Most-Cited Scholars in Criminology and Criminal Justice 1986-2010, Cohn E.G, Farrington D.P & Iratzoqui, A., Springer (2014)].  Without this context, I wouldn’t have known how his score compares to other criminologists.   

I definitely would not attempt to compare scores with researchers from other disciplines; because practices that affect citations differ so much. Just consider the attribution of authorship. In the humanities and social sciences, authorship is attributed to those who wrote the item; in many other disciplines, authorship can be attributed to all those (possibly dozens or even hundreds) who made a contribution to the work (including data collection, data analysis, or methodology). I believe a 2015 physics paper (from the teams operating the Large Hadron Collider) had a record-breaking 5,154 authors.  

If I looked at the h-index of the eleventh most cited physicist in Google Scholar (because Mike was the eleventh most cited criminologist, that’s the extent of my shonky logic), the individual in question is Hongjie Dai, a nanotechnologist and applied physicist at Stanford University, who has a h-index of 203. What does that mean? Probably nothing except to confirm that scientists will almost certainly have higher h-index scores because they are listed as authors in more papers. 

So, I characterise the h-index as interesting contextual information only, subject to lots of limitations and health warnings, and on my radar only because Mike’s citation data was already the subject of discussion as an indicator of esteem. It’s quite possible that more colleagues will be spotlighted by citation analyses such as that carried out by Cohn et al, which might prompt me to see what their h-index is, but I can’t envisage a scenario where I would look at it otherwise.   

Altmetrics is a different proposition. I have actually used this metric to inform my work. Without giving away too many trade secrets, I used it to identify which policy-makers are discussing a particular piece of research i.e., who it had reached. Obviously the first step is to ask the researcher themselves who their policy contacts are, but sometimes a paper has an independent life and momentum of its own and reaches parts other research cannot reach (to co-opt the famous Heineken slogan). It may be in some global body’s library or resource bank, or on their agenda, unbeknownst to the original authors.  Altmetrics links search results to the DOI of the output (a unique identifier, yay), so it caters for others’ poor practices such as omitting authors’ names, shortening the title, or misattributing institutional affiliations (e.g., University of London, rather than Birkbeck).  

Many outputs in BIROn now have their Altmetric score on their landing page, it is widely used by publishers.  Look for the multi-coloured doughnut.   Professor Hough’s article Why do people comply with the law? Legitimacy and the influence of legal institutions has an Altmetric score of 159, including three policy sources.  Relatively few outputs have any kind of significant Altmetric score, so don’t worry if your outputs aren’t scoring like this. 

Bibliometric analysis seems to be a growing field of study; and the impact agenda is here for the foreseeable future. It seems likely therefore that citation data, and other metrics that promise to identify and track impact are going to continue to be a feature of the impact officers’ landscape.  But be reassured that we are not so easily seduced by metrics promising to “measure impact” for us – ha! We expect only some limited useful insights and, even then, we will be meanly calculating whether it’s worth the cost of our time to wandering through these foothills.  

*Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Thomas Gray (1751).

If you’re interested in responsible research metrics and evaluation, do join us for London Open Research Week, when on Wednesday 27th October 4 –5pm Andrew Gray will present on Responsible metrics: developing an equitable policy and Stephen Curry will look at The intersections between DORA, open scholarship, and equity

View the full programme of events and book a place here. All events will be held online using MS Teams. 

Connected people image Gordon Johnson. Faceless crowd image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images. Earth image by Gerd Altmann.

Open Science and ECRs

In 1823, the College’s founder Dr George Birkbeck set out his vision: “now is the time for universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge”.  That statement continues to underpin the mission and culture of the institution. Today, Open Science is a movement to make all scholarly research open and accessible to academia and society more widely.

Oh, the Humanities?

However, Open Science is a bit of a tricky title; it sounds very focused on the STEM subjects. Maybe we should be using Open Research or Open Scholarship, as the movement is intended to encompass the humanities as well the sciences.

We often encounter similar problems with Open Data; sometimes it’s hard to see what the data is in the Arts. Original materials? Images? A sculpture?

Open Access cuts across both Humanities and the Sciences, and there is a greater acceptance in all disciplines. Open Data and Open Access (while the most well publicised) are just part of Open Research which also encompasses IP, governance, and ethics. For now, most have settled on referring to it as Open Science, so that’s the way we’ll be discussing this movement.

How did it all start?

It can be argued that the history of Open Science is as long as publishing. Open Science can be seen as the natural evolution of scientific publishing in journals, where in the 1600s the publishing of the outcomes of research began.

Image of early journal

In these early journals, lone scientists published their work and this remains the foundation of much science and discourse today. Modern journals still publish academic results, and often also expect that the data and methods are shared too. When you look back to the very beginning and to where we are today, progress toward Open Science is clear.

However, there is still much to do. Transformative agreements, for example, are now placing a very costly paywall between both academics and end users, with some institutions simply unable to afford them. Open Access publishing itself is often prohibitively expensive for the Gold route.

The future

Early Career Researchers (ECRs) are often seen as champions of Open Research (this is not to say that establisher researchers are against the movement). ECRs are usually in the first 10 years of research having completed their PhD, they might not have permanent roles, and have may little to no experience of funding application. Yet they have driven much of the open science movement championing at a grass roots level and in self-organized communities.

Can we hope that as these ECRs progress through their career they carry the Open Science agenda with them?

George Birkbeck himself set out on an academic career in 1799 at the age of only 23, providing free classes for working-class men in Glasgow.

Image of George Birkbeck

So it makes sense that as Birkbeck’s founder supported the “universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge”, the university now supports Open Science and ECRs, through events like Open Access Week and Fellowships for Early Career Researchers.

As part of this year’s Open Access Week, we have teamed up with other London institutions to host a series of online events. On Tuesday 26th October 2021, AJ Boston and Madeleine Pownall will be discussing Open Research and ECRs.

Open image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 – Tom Magliery. Journal image: public domain (Wikipedia).

George Birkbeck image from the Birkbeck image collections.

It matters how we open knowledge

BIROn (Birkbeck Institutional Research Online) is Birkbeck’s open access repository. Its goal is to increase the visibility and reach of the College’s research by making it available across the web, in as close to its final form as possible.

But open access does not always mean accessible to all. According to, “at least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability.”

This statistic indicates that ~20% of the potential audience for Birkbeck’s research may not be able to read it as easily as many of us take for granted. Open access and accessibility don’t always intersect.

The theme of this year’s Open Access Week, the week beginning 25 October, is: “It matters how we open knowledge”. This has never been truer than in the context of accessibility. If it’s significantly more difficult for some to read open access research than others, can it really be called open?

In September 2020, Birkbeck and our partners at CoSector (who host and manage the repository) collaborated on an accessibility statement for BIROn. The statement outlines the progress made to ensure BIROn now meets many of the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1), an internationally recognised set of recommendations for improving web accessibility.

However, there is still work to do.

The EPrints software we use for BIROn is a “core” build from CoSector which is then adapted for different institutions depending on their needs. It is this core build (not the modified version specific to Birkbeck) which was tested using the WAVE accessibility tool. Planned upgrades to the core build aim to address the areas where the site is still unable to meet requirements. You can see what needs work in the roadmap.

The second element

Although the BIROn web site is now much closer to offering an optimised experience for users with accessibility needs, the full-text files it hosts are a more complex matter.

BIROn was established in 2007, and contains some materials which are even older, including PDFs which do not meet accessibility and archiving standards. Files originate from a huge variety of sources and come in many formats; they may contain abbreviations, formulae, tables, and images which screen readers and other assistive technologies struggle to interpret. Bringing every file up to standard will be a massive, resource-intensive task.

What are others doing?

The repository team at the University of Kent have blogged about their experiences with checking accessibility on their repository, KAR. The blogs include helpful insights into tools such as Lighthouse (which is built into Chrome). When we ran a check on BIROn’s accessibility in Lighthouse, it scored 100% for both desktop and mobile iterations (see figure below).

Image showing the 100% score achieved by the Lighthouse check of BIROn

As Kent’s blog outlines, this was just the beginning of the process. The KAR repository contains almost three times the number of records in BIROn, so the challenges for full-text file accessibility are even more acute.

The Kent team therefore created a button for users to request an accessible version of a repository file. Depending on the document, this might mean significant work is required, with a thesis taking up to three weeks and requiring the input and expertise of the original author. However, some files can be converted in less than ten minutes. The KAR team also discovered that the vast majority of the initial requests for accessible versions were because the requester was unclear about what was being offered; ultimately, just two of the first 64 requests needed to be actioned.

You can read about the challenges the KAR team faced on these insightful blogs. Here at Birkbeck, we are also beginning to face up to these challenges, mindful of our legal duty to anticipate the changes that need to be made and not just react to them.

Padlock image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay 

Birkbeck image collections now on JSTOR

Exterior of the Breams Building

Birkbeck Library’s image collections have been added to JSTOR as part of their growing Open Community Collections. This initiative means that students and researchers can find primary source materials from libraries, museums and archives in the same place as secondary ones, like articles and ebooks. JSTOR is already popular with our users and the 81 million people using it worldwide will now be able to see our collections, too.

Student relaxing in Torrington Square
Students relaxing in Torrington Square

Have a look at our landing page on JSTOR:

Explore all 350+ JSTOR collections:

Birkbeck Open Access in numbers: BIROn visualised

Photograph of the exterior of Birkbeck Library

Each year, thousands of items are deposited by our academics on BIROn (Birkbeck Institutional Repository Online). The Library hosts these items and tracks the number of downloads each receives. We also have data on the proportion of items which are Open Access.

To help you understand the numbers, we’ve created this visualisation. (You can also find the data behind this listed at the bottom of the post).


As can be seen, deposits of articles are increasing and so the number of Open Access outputs by Birkbeck authors is also increasing. With the coming implementation of Plan-S and new initiatives such as the UK Scholarly Communications Licence, we might see the proportion of OA articles going up even more in the future.

Follow @BIROnbbk on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest deposits.


The data contained in the above infographic is listed below.


Total Items: 22,199

Full-text files: 8,736

Total Downloads: 2,130,722

Full text by Department:

Applied Linguistics – 50.31%

Biological Sciences – 42%

Computer Science – 44.95%

Cultures & Languages – 19%

Geography – 43.72%

Earth & Planetary Sciences – 34.67%

Economics, Mathematics & Statistics – 73.88%

English, Theatre & Creative Writing – 56.97%

Film, Media and Cultural Studies – 30.42%

History of Art – 23.54%

History, Classics & Archaeology – 23.79%

Iberian & Latin American Studies – 100%

Law – 28.58%

Management – 47.78%

Organizational Psychology – 37.54%

Philosophy – 29.05%

Politics – 25.85%

Psychological Sciences – 38.3%

Psychosocial Studies – 29.5%

Note: Iberian & Latin American Studies have 3 deposits, which helps account for their 100% full-text.

Download history:

2007 – 3,158

2008 – 36,567

2009 – 39,941

2010 – 51,897

2011 – 67,358

2012 – 83,482

2013 – 42,042

2014 – 146,037

2015 – 152,715

2016 – 296,085

2017 – 233,463

2018 – 338,037

2019 – 639,940

Top authors:

  1. Dewaele, Jean-Marc – Applied Linguistics and Communication
  2. Eve, Martin Paul – English, Theatre and Creative Writing
  3. Fuhs, Carsten – Computer Science and Information Systems         
  4. Johnson, Mark H. – Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development
  5. Kidd, Jennifer M.  – Organizational Psychology

Surfing the free resource wave: managing temporary access to online resources during the COVID-19 pandemic

The image shows a hand holding up a smartphone with a photograph of library bookshelves on the screen. In the background, out of focus, is a desk with an open book on it.

Access to ejournals and ebooks is a massive part of the service that the Library provides. In this post, one of our E-Resources librarians, Karen, talks about how they managed the temporary access to additional online resources when publishers and platforms made their content open during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the guidance provided to staff and students to help them make best use of the temporary access to the additional content.

Back in March when Birkbeck, and therefore our library, had to close due to the rise of COVID-19 I don’t think I was alone in hoping that this was something that was going to be over within a few weeks at most and that normality would return. For me, this was only a blip; we all would be back in no time to support our students.

Obviously, things changed very quickly and at the forefront the e-resources team was making sure our students knew what resources were accessible and available to them. Our library website overflows with information that explains what databases can be accessed. Our ejournals can be searched, ebook titles are available on the catalogue, and our ‘LibGuides’ match specific resources to the various subjects offered – and so much more. However, not only did COVID-19 bring a lockdown but for the library world it also brought an enormous tidal wave of ‘free’ information. Publishers big and small, various educational institutions and specialist schools opened their virtual doors and invited us all in to access what would normally be password- or paywall-protected information.

There has always been free information out there, ‘Open Access’ demand is continually growing and gaining more prominence each year. It is a topic hotly discussed and debated but when suddenly there is no restriction on vital information that supports students in an online academic world, what do you do? The obvious answer is you take everything you can.

It is an understatement to say we were bombarded with a lot of information. The offers that were coming through had to be checked, queried, understood and – most importantly of all – shared when established as valid. Some e-resources that were being offered seemed too good to be true and, when investigated further, were indeed discovered to be too good to be true and, therefore, notably ‘dodgy.’

Us librarians are a sturdy bunch and are not put off by a bit of sifting and sorting and that is what was done. By wading through the ocean of information of what resources where available the ‘Free Access to Online Resources’ library guide was born. The guide promoted publisher offers such as those by Oxford University Press who opened their specialist Collections, and by Science Direct who made their 326 textbooks available. JSTOR made over 30,000 ebooks available, while De Gruyter had 75,000 ebooks for use. Different university presses – Chicago, California, Project MUSE, to name a few – made their online journals freely accessible. Free publisher trials to resources were also a major offer and from March until July we participated in over 30 trials covering everything from Law and Business to Science, Art and History.

The ‘Free Access to Online Resources’ guide needed to be updated daily. The guide explained what could be accessed and how, when and where. It also indicated the resources that where not limited to Birkbeck students and staff only – resources that anyone could access. Specific COVID-19 resources made freely available by publishers and health institutions were highlighted as well as open online digital collections from museums around the world. Information on wellbeing was also provided in the guide, due to isolation being a cause for concern in this COVID-19 world. Being able to highlight free resources for support was extremely important.

Since this LibGuide was created it has had over 10,000 views and it is still available. What is being made freely available by publishers or organisations has reduced, but the guide is still here to highlight places to check for freely available ebooks, journal articles and other research outputs.

Sharing is caring and there are very good resources freely available out there: make use of our ‘Free Access to Online Resources’ guide especially this Open Access week – perhaps you’ll find that bit of ‘surprise’ research that is of value to you!

Karen Harrad, E-Resources Support Assistant