For Ada Lovelace Day: Professor Jocelyn Mabel Peabody and fictional equalities

For the past few years I’ve been working on a jolly-turned-serious side project, the representations of Academia in illustrated children’s fiction. I’ve written before on the fact that most fictional academics in picture books are male, mad and muddleheaded, but for Ada Lovelace Day 2016, the international celebration day of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, I want to introduce the first female academic I have found so far in a text marketed towards children. For those who haven’t come across her before, please welcome the marvellous Professor Jocelyn Mabel Peabody, from the Dan Dare comic strip in the weekly Eagle magazine, a seminal UK comic launched in 1950 which attracted a huge readership.

Professor Peabody is a wonder. Appearing as regular side-kick to Dan Dare (the Pilot of the Future!) and Space Fleet’s permanent Special Advisor to the Exploration and Research Department from the first volume of Dan Dare, Issue 5, in 1950, she is presented as a fully fledged competent academic with a cast-iron backstory. It is important to note here how few women were working in places of Higher Education at the time of writing – 1950 – although the comic is set in the mid 1980s. The story is that the Earth is running out of food, and Dan Dare and his team are being sent to reconnoitre Venus as a source of food production. Here comes the Professor….

Professor Peabody is presented to the men. The are surprised she is a woman
Professor Peabody’s first appearance in the Eagle comic, as she joins Dan Dare’s team (Vol. 1 No 5 1950). Reproduced with kind permission of the Dan Dare Corporation Limited. All rights reserved.

From her entrance, Professor Peabody is bad-ass. I’m limited in the comic cells I can show you here (given the copyright and permissions aspect), but let me give you some examples. Sir Hubert – the guy on the phone – takes Peabody in his ship to “keep an eye on her” and “make sure she doesn’t get in the way” – refusing to respect her training or qualifications:

Sir Hubert: “Miss Peabody! I insist that you come away from those controls immediately! THATS AN ORDER!”

Professor Peabody: “I’m sorry Sir Hubert, but you’re not as young as you used to be – and we may need steady nerves on this job”. Professor Peabody steals the ship…  (Eagle Vol 1, No. 5, 1950).

Resourceful and confident, she often takes the lead when the men sit around and do very little. When they crash land on Venus, the crew are starving:

Dan Dare: “Right now I’m thinking of a big juicy steak, fried onions and potatoes”. He sits, head in hands.

Digby: “I’d settle for a fish and sixpennyworth with plenty of salt and vinegar!”. He is lying down.

Professor Peabody: Off gathering vegetation… “If you men opened your eyes and stopped dreaming you’d find plenty to eat… Look! fruit and nuts for the taking!” She shows them the bountiful vista.

Dan Dare: “But is it safe to eat?”

Professor Peabody: “Perfectly safe, according to the Peabody Pocket Tester, a little thing I designed when I was picked for the job”. (Eagle Vol 1, No. 26, 1950).

The men all run off and start gorging themselves.

Over and over again she does the math, saving the day, figuring out the twists in the plot, knowing when to use equipment, knowing the science, knowing the best course of action. She does this in the face of extreme refusal to believe that she is capable of doing anything: the team repeatedly call her Miss, or The Girl, and mansplain and manterrupt: “Easy old girl! These chaps know what they are doing!” (Eagle Vol 1, No. 13, 1950). She is treated differently because of her gender: “This is monstrous! in the name of humanity – you can’t sent a girl down a mine!” (Eagle Vol 2, No. 3, 1951). There is routine discrimination and even (remember this is a children’s comic!) a touch of harassment – she is regularly telling men to behave. She is shown to struggle with showing her emotions, crying when they are all told they will be killed by the Mekon “This is no way to behave, Jocelyn Peabody, Professor of Geology, Botany and Agriculture, Space Pilot Class 3 and…. B-But… I- I’m Frightened!”. (Eagle Vol 1, No. 40, 1951) – but her character is all the more well rounded and realistic for doing so. Over the course of their adventures she maintains her leadership position in the team, even eventually winning over even the most misogynist of Space Fleet: Sir Hubert, he on the telephone in the panels above, cries himself when he hears she has been left for dead after an emergency evacuation where she couldn’t possibly have survived… “Hank is absolutely A.1 at Lloyds… and so is the girl. She stood by me on a sinking rocket in the Venus flamebelt, with the silicon mass creeping up on us, and never batted an eyelid! I’d ride a V. 2. Rocket to save that girl, if it was a straight problem of rescuing her, but it isnt…” (he sobs). (Eagle Vol 2, No. 47, 1952). Peabody is, quite frankly, amazing.

Peabody comes out of nowhere. The first female to appear in my corpus of academics in illustrated children’s fiction – a full hundred years after the first man – she is central to the Dan Dare comic strip. The writers of the comic knew how rare she was, and it was a conscious decision to include a woman who was equal to the men in this fictionalised future. Dan Dare’s creator and artist, Frank Hampson, said of Peabody when interviewed in 1974:

I didn’t want to produce a strip without a female. In a way I struck a blow for Women’s Lib! She was shown as a very clever, attractive young lady. It also paved the way for a few arguments between her and [the men] in the first story – a nice human touch… she was just a very normal, efficient, competent girl. (Quoted in Vince 1994, p. 27)

Women in science fiction are rare. In 1975, Leading science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin described the genre’s sexist and hierarchical structure:

From a social point of view most SF has been incredibly regressive and unimaginative. All those Galactic Empires, taken straight from the British Empire of 1880. All those planets – with 80 trillion miles between them – conceived of as warring nation-states, or as colonies to be exploited, or to be nudged by the benevolent Imperium of Earth towards self-development – the White Man’s Burden all over again. The Rotary Club of Alpha Centauri, that’s the size of it… It is a perfect baboon patriarchy, with the Alpha Male on top, being respectfully groomed, from time to time, by his inferiors (LeGuin 1975, p. 209-10).

Peabody was physically modelled on one of the comic artists who drew her – Greta Tomlinson, now Greta Edwards. Intellectually, though, she is based on a complex, full drawn, and impossible (at the time of writing) backstory.

Close up of Professor Peabody's backstory
Professor Peabody’s backstory. (Vol. 1 No 5 1950). Reproduced with kind permission of the Dan Dare Corporation Limited. All rights reserved.

Born in Gloucestershire,  she attended school in Southampton, graduating from Bedford College, University of London, before undertaking her doctorate at Magdalen College, Oxford University. By the time of the first Dan Dare strip, she is the youngest and first female lecturer at Oxford. Now, Bedford College offered higher education for women between 1849 and 1985, becoming part of the University of London and then eventually merging with Royal Holloway, so it is perfectly feasible that Peabody could have studied chemistry there in both the real 1950s and fictional 1980s of the comic strip’s creation and imagination. However, Magdelen College, Oxford did not admit female students until 1979, so at the time of writing (1950) Peabody could not have gone there: the writers challenge barriers and expectations. I checked with the Magdalen College archivist, who told me the first woman at Magdalen to undertake a doctorate there

was probably Kate Lessells, an ornithologist who was also our first female Fellow: she became Magdalen’s first female Fellow by Examination (a postgraduate role equivalent to JRF) in 1979. She got her D.Phil in 1982, having written and defended her thesis on factors affecting family size in Canada geese.

I find this fascinating – a comic written in the 1950s reasonably accurately predicts a timeframe in the future (late 1970s and early 1980s) where women’s engagement and equality of opportunity should be a possibility. (It should be noted, of course, that although Magdalen was the last all-male place at Oxford, many women had rich and successful research careers there since they could become full members of the University in 1920. At both faculty and college levels, there were many notable female researchers at Oxford throughout the 20th Century).

The battles that Peabody regularly faces – backwards in high heels, people –  echo many of the issues we experience as women in academia, or women in science, today. I also find it somewhat disconcerting that a comic character from the 1950s is, on my worst of days, the most accurate portrayal of my working life as a woman in the academy, working with technology, in 2016.

Peabody is a trailblazer. The circulation of the Eagle, at its highest in the 1950s, was around one million copies sold per week (giving an expected readership of double or triple that). The potential influence of her character in showing a brave, skilled, women of intellectual heft, should not be underestimated. However, she is an outlier: I have not found another illustrated female academic in children’s literature who is so fully drawn, so considered, so concretely placed to challenge, again and again, the perception of women’s place in science and technology, representing a hopeful but hard won equality in the academy.

I have to confess I’m a little bit in love with Professor Peabody:  Ada Lovelace Day is the perfect opportunity to introduce others to her, too.


Le Guin, (1975). American SF and the Other. Science Fiction Studies, Vol 2. Part 3, November 1975.

Vince, A. (1994). The Frank Hampson Interview. Cambridge, UK. Astral Publications in association with the Eagle Society. Quoted in Jones, D., and Watkins, T. (2000), A necessary fantasy?: the heroic figure in children’s popular culture, Routledge.

P. S. Let’s save the arguments over whether comics are children’s literature for another day…

From airbrush to filters to AI…The Robots Enter the Photographic Archive

I. Manual Airbrushing

At the end of the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining (sorry! spoilers!) a photograph is revealed to show Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, at the centre of attention at a 1921 party, which, Kubrick later said, suggests Torrance is a reincarnation of an earlier hotel caretaker. The photograph was not a simple staged photo of the extras that appear in the film, instead it was an adapted version of:

a photograph taken in 1921 which we found in a picture library. I originally planned to use extras, but it proved impossible to make them look as good as the people in the photograph. So I very carefully photographed Jack, matching the angle and the lighting of the 1921 photograph, and shooting him from different distances too, so that his face would be larger and smaller on the negative. This allowed the choice of an image size which when enlarged would match the grain structure in the original photograph. The photograph of Jack’s face was then airbrushed in to the main photograph, and I think the result looked perfect. Every face around Jack is an archetype of the period. (Kubrick interviewed by Michel Ciment between 1975 and 1987, transcribed here).

Details of this process are provided in the 1985 “Complete Airbrushing and Photo-Retouching Manual“, which I recently purchased for a penny, there not being much demand for airbrushing these days.

Scan of book page showing retouching in the final photo used in the Shining
Airbrush like a Pro. In: Owen and Sutcliffe (1985) The Complete Airbrushing and Photo-Retouching Manual, North Light Books, p. 102.

Photographs have never been neutral. How they are taken, framed, chosen, discarded and processed informs and literally colours our view of history, but the medium has always been tweaked and retouched to show a different sort of reality, one that we require, or other’s think we may prefer. In the case of the Shining, the manual retouching of a historic photograph provides a twist, an uncanny ambiguity to the whole movie. But since their invention, photographs have routinely been improved, manipulated, and adjusted through a variety of processes to improve their appearance, or change their content. As I said in “Digital Images for the Information Professional” back in 2008:

The defacing or erasing of historical personages, documents, artefacts, and architecture is well attested: if you control the image, you control the ideology, and the information passed on to the viewer… photographic images are very easy to manipulate, raising issues of trust, verification, and ethics when using them for proof, research, or evidence of any kind.

As well as the manual manipulation and retouching of photographs to just make people look better, which became common in the late Victorian era and found its heyday in making Hollywood starlets picture perfect, these photographic manipulation techniques were used to more chilling purposes in the USSR in the 1930s, where

The physical eradication of Stalin’s political opponents at the hands of the secret police was swiftly followed by the obliteration from all forms of pictorial existence. Photographs for publication were retouched and restructured with airbrush and scalpel to make once famous personalities vanish… So much falsification took place… that is it possible to tell the story of the Soviet era through retouched photographs… Faking photographs was probably considered one of the more enjoyable tasks of the art department of publishing houses during those times. It was certainly much subtler than the “slash-and-burn” approach of the censors. For example, with a sharp scalpel, an incision could be made along the leading edge of the image of the person or object adjacent to the one who had to be removed. With the help of some glue, the first could simply be stuck down on top of the second. Likewise, two or more photographs could be cannibalized into one using the same method.  Alternatively an airbrush (an ink-jet gun powered by a cylinder of compressed air) could be used to spray clouds of ink or paint onto the unfortunate victim in the picture. The hazy edges achieved by the spray made the elimination of the subject less noticeable than crude knife-work… Skillful photographic retouching for reproduction depended, like any crafty before the advent of computer technology, on the skill of the person carrying out the task and the time she or he had to complete it. (David King, 1997, The Commissar Vanishes, Henry Holt and Company, New York, pages 9-13).

Airbrushing reigned – for good or ill – in photographic manipulation for nearly 100 years. As our 1985 manual explains

The airbrush has been in existence since 1893. During that time it has been repeatedly been denounced as a novelty, phase, or fad. It is an inarguable truth that today more airbrushes are being sold than ever before, and that owners of airbrushes are producing work in an every-increasing number of different styles. The artists themselves are guaranteeing a tremendous future for the tool, by a natural evolution of images that defy categorization… the outlook has never been more healthy. (Owen and Sutcliffe (1985) The Complete Airbrushing and Photo-Retouching Manual, North Light Books, p. 130).

An artistic manual process that required skill and training: could computers ever compare?

Few commercial activities has escaped the scare-mongering that has accompanied the rise to prominence of the computer: that, sooner, or later, the computer will take over from human ability. Airbrushing is no exception. This nation can be instantly dispelled by the fact that, despite the extraordinary advances in computer technology, no electronic process has yet been developed to fulfill satisfactorily the function of human creativity. Nor is any such development on the horizon. (ibid).

Our manual was published in 1985, and was so popular a second edition was printed in 1988. In September of that year, Adobe Systems Incorporated acquired the distribution rights to a little piece of software called Photoshop, which was released commercially in 1990. Although dedicated high-end computer systems for photo retouching had existed before this point, Photoshop (and other graphic design computer programs) democratized and expanded the use of digital retouching methods. A kick-starter funded film to be released later this year, Graphic Means, will trace this change from manual to computational methods within the design sector: we now live in a world where the manual cutting, splicing, and airbrushing seems a distant history.

II. Photoshop and filters

Fast forward twenty five years. And so everything is now digital, right? Everyone has access to digital photography retouching tools, and even “machine learning” photo changing apps! Digital photographic retouching is now all pervasive, both within the advertising industry (who often get it wrong) and by individuals, who can use a range of apps to correct, adjust, and improve, selfies for sharing on social media environments. Can’t do it yourself? The skill set is now so common, you can have someone on Fiverr retouch your photographs for you for minimal cost (and some people even make social commentary art work out of it). The days of manual tweaking of photographs are over! Except. The tools currently available for photographic adjustment still require levels of skill and expertise to use. The range of filters and tools are dazzling, but they still require a human operator to do the retouching, and to drive the machine, to do bespoke, one-off adjustments (such as would be required in a digital retouching of our Shining pic). Even the fancy filters du jour which are sold as machine learning, such as Prisma, are very blunt tools, and require some level of selection, input, operation, and request from an app user. The filters may be more and more advanced, but they a) have limited, fixed variables b) still require a level of human intervention and b) automated filter processes only tweak the appearance, not the semantic content of the photograph. Zomg! I’ve been Prisma-ed! Machine learning, dontchaknow!

Picture of Melissa Terras filtered via Prisma and made to look like art.
My picture, put through various Prisma filters.

So much, so fun. But exchanging (rather than just filtering) someone’s face in a historic photograph, a la the Shining, still requires someone sitting down and working on making the photographic content look realistic, even though the tools have changed from the manual, to the digital. Surely, this will always be the case, right? Despite the extraordinary advances in computer technology, no electronic process has yet been developed to fulfill satisfactorily the function of human creativity. Nor is any such development on the horizon. I seem to have heard that somewhere before…

III. Enter the Robots

Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to attend a symposium at the Royal Society’s country estate, the topic of which was Imaging in Graphics, Vision and Beyond. The aim of the seminar was to bring together researchers in disciplines spanning computer graphics, computer vision, cultural heritage, remote sensing and bio-photonics to discuss interdisciplinary approaches and scope out new research areas. I was there along with UCL’s Tim Weyrich given our work on the Great Parchment Book. It was a great two days, and not just for the academic craic (my room was THE OLD LIBRARY! it was glorious).

The paper that made me sit up most and go… here come the awesome robots… was from Dr Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering who co-leads the UW Graphics and Imaging Laboratory at the University of Washington. Ira demonstrated a personalised image search engine designed to show you different potential views of people. Give it an input of a picture of a face, and a text query to find photos, and it outputs results of pictures that automatically include the person submitted embedded into the photographs. Let me give you an example (Ira has given me permission to share these). First she takes the input picture:

Headshot of Dr Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman
Headshot of Dr Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, the lead on the Dreambit system.

The search term used is “1930s”, and bingo: Ira as film star, seamlessly integrated automatically into the historical photographic record.

Dr Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman appears seamlessly integrated into the past… its one way to time travel!

The new system, called Dreambit, analyzes the input photo and searches for a subset of photographs available online that match it for shape, pose, and expression, automatically synthesizing them based on their team’s previous work on facial processing and three-dimensional reconstruction, modeling people from massive unconstrained photo collections. You can keep your Prisma: here is machine learning at its cutting edge best. More details about how the system works are available from the recent SIGGRAPH 2016 paper where it was launched (hefty 45MB download), and you can sign up for Free Beta Access for when Dreambit is launched, hopefully later in the year, here.

The potential market applications for this are huge (it has been described as a system for trying out different hair styles, but one can also imagine using this for creating bespoke gifts, especially greetings cards: who needs a generic sepia historical humour card when you can slot a pic of a you and a loved one into the picture, for larks?). But what interests me is what this means for institutions and collections creating digitised historical photographic archives, and where, conceptually, this is taking us in understanding how historic photographs can be used, reused, and re-appropriated in the digital realm. You would not have to go to a picture library now and manually tweak and burn and dodge a physical print of a photograph to include it in a film: we’ll soon be able to have computer systems available to do that seamlessly for us.

IV. We need to talk about What This Means for Digitisation of the Photographic Record

I’m not sure I’ve really conceptualised what this means for historic photographic archives in the online era yet. There are clearly copyright and licensing issues at play, which is ever a concern in the library and archive community, but beyond that: what does this mean for those in the sector? We’ve barely got out head around how historic photographs lose their metadata or any sense of accreditation or even factual accuracy when they go off into the internet wilds on their own, or how historical photograph content can be monetised in ways institutions never envisaged, never mind what happens when the content starts getting tweaked and rewritten, automatically, swiftly, robotically, changing its very content as well as its context. Are we ready for the robots entering the digitisation landscape? What fun can we have with this – as well as what worries does it bring? (I can imagine various public engagement apps, where Dreambit is applied to particular photographic collections: is this best done with an institution’s permission, or will it happen anyway in the internet wilds, if collections don’t play along?) There are also ethical issues at play about the reuse and appropriation of historical and cultural content: what can we do to educate both other researchers and the general public about the ramifications of these technologies, as applied to the historical photographic record?

We’ve come a long way from the physical photographic processes needed to put someone else into the picture. Now we need to think about how we can use this emergent technology to work alongside and with our digitised content, to retain any kind of control over institutional digital collections. I’ll be really interested in what discussions this provokes – and what the worries, and benefits of the technology, can be viewed to be. It would be wise to start thinking of how we can use collections in this content-changing world, rather than build false barriers to access that we may not be able to maintain.

I find Dreambit’s potential amazing. I’ve asked Ira if she could put my picture into the one used at the end of the Shining. I’m sure it will now only take the click of a button.

Update: 22nd August 2016: Ira put me in the picture…

Pictures of a woman inserted into different tiara pictures
The many tiaras of Professor Terras.
Me, victorianised. OR WAS I ACTUALLY THERE, HMMMM??????

A Few Words for Professor Lisa Jardine

lisajIn October 2015 UCL and the wider scholarly community lost Professor Lisa Jardine CBE FRS. I was lucky, during her time at UCL, to get to know her both as a colleague, mentor, and friend. My blog has been sitting here waiting for me to write a few words on Lisa, although there are so many excellent obituaries and memorial columns out there: try the Guardian piece, or Kate Maltby’s tribute, to get a flavour of both Lisa’s achievements, and her character. There’s also the 10 minute segment on BBC Radio 4’s The Final Word (which I was honoured to be ask to contribute to) which sums up Lisa in her own words, and those of others.

Yesterday (19th January 2016) we held a memorial at Senate House in London for Lisa. I had two jobs there – since she became ill earlier in the Autumn I’ve been Acting Interim Director for Lisa’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, a role Lisa had asked me to take on to help her team over this period as we plan for their future. 350 attendees came to what turned out to be a joyous celebration of her academic life and work, hosted jointly by UCL, the University of London, and Queen Mary.  I have to thank the CELL team for their work in organising such a large event at relatively short notice.

I was asked to give the tribute from Lisa’s time at UCL – and had only five minutes to do so (eek). There were other speakers from UoL, QM, etc, and the event was filmed and will be made available online at a future date once the recordings are processed. But I wanted to share with you here – at last! – my few words about Lisa Jardine.

It’s an honour to be asked to say a few words about Lisa Jardine: unlike many of you, I only got to know Lisa over the last three years, during her time at UCL. In the summer of 2012 I went on holiday – and came back to the news: Lisa Jardine was here! Her reputation, of course, preceded her: both the prodigious scholarly output, and her fearless personality.

I first encountered that personality within UCL’s various managerial committees. In those, she played academia for the sport it is –with great glee, but seriously: navigating university structures to get exactly what she wanted, even if she had to strategically burn bridges to do so. Lisa knew she was the real deal, providing a different type of role model for many of us: a woman at the top of the academic game.

The Lisa I got to know was not resting on past glories: she had work to do at UCL, and every conversation we had was about the future: The Big Books, The Big Grants, she would call it. Amidst the routine tussles of academia, Lisa impressed upon me again and again that what really mattered was the Big Work: and the quality of the words that you chose to put out there. Let me summarise a few things, in particular, that stand out for me during Lisa’s time at UCL.

Archives were Lisa’s bailiwick, but she intuitively understood computational technologies, and the potentials in digital humanities techniques for her area and era of study. We see this in the highly prestigious Mellon-funded “Archaeology of Reading” project that she established at UCL (with John Hopkins and Princeton): the Big Grant if you will, using innovative digital tools to analyse personal annotations in early printed books. This was the fruition of years of Lisa’s research at the juncture of the digital and the archival, advancing both early modern scholarship on the history of reading practices, and sharing both data and technological methods to allow others to also do so.

We also see Lisa’s commitment to recent, online developments in the dissemination of scholarship: she realised the power of publishing her research in open access, to reach as wide an audience as possible. Lisa was delighted to have what was to be her last book, Temptation in the Archives, be the first publication from the recently rebooted UCL Press: freely available online, as well as purchasable in print. She told me that UCL had given her a home, and what could she give them in return? Her words.

We see Lisa’s playful nature in her approach to social media: she loved Twitter, with its debate and badinage. That’s how me met, properly. We bantered on Twitter: she turned up at my office door, and announced she was going to be my mentor. That, too, I learnt, was typical Lisa behaviour.

Which brings me to Lisa, and her collection of people. Alongside all her printed and broadcast and silicon words, Lisa knew the power of regular chinwags, the benefits of a cupcake and a good glass of wine. Lisa’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters – the “CELL Extended Family” she always called it – was an extension of family to her, and she found the time to identify and foster a whole motley physical network of us who she saw something in, something she could support, and encourage to “behave badly”, to achieve.

I have to pause here and thank core members of the CELL Extended Family: Dr Matthew Symonds for his compering, Dr Robyn Adams, who was Lisa’s right hand woman for over 15 years, being at CELL since its inception, and Lucy Stagg, the CELL coordinator, for their organisation of this memorial service. Given their incredibly close relationship with Lisa, it’s understandable why you have me speaking here about her time at UCL instead of them.

The CELL events were a joy: the weekly Director’s seminars were a hubbub of energy, debate, and team bonding: discussions of shoes, what was on at the London theatre, and commonly used abbreviations in 16th century diaries. What is a text, anyway? Discuss. I had a standing invitation to attend the seminars – I wish now I had gone to more. Once a year Lisa threw the CELL Gala Party, drawing together colleagues and friends for an evening of debate and victuals. I missed the last Gala event: I had another scholarly commitment. “Oh don’t worry” said Lisa. “There will be other parties. There will always be other parties!” And here we are today.

Yes, the Lisa I knew was always planning ahead, and even when what she called the “great unmentionable” was upon her, she was still looking towards the future: The Big Book, The Big Grant, making sure the CELL Extended Family would be looked after. The last time I heard from Lisa, it was only two weeks before she passed. For a woman so full of so many types of words, it had all gone understandably quiet, and we all waited for news. She sent me a text. One word. It simply said: “Hurray!”  Hurray. And that meant a lot of things, concluding a conversation we had kept up for three years – but it summed up, right ‘til the end, Lisa’s bright spirit, her humour, her spark, her willpower, and her joy in being absolutely herself when faced with expectations of how one should behave. UCL is incredibly proud to have had Professor Lisa Jardine with us, and I’m lucky to have got to know her reasonably well in her time here. I was asked to say a few words about Lisa, but I leave you with only one, both in sadness, and in celebration. Lisa Jardine: Hurray!

On Editors, On Writing about the Making and Using of Open Digitised Cultural Content

I want to get back in the habit of blogging about my research articles as they come out, to cover the back story of how they came into being. First up? Opening Access to Collections: the Making and Using of Open Digitised Cultural Content.

In the Autumn of 2014, I was approached by Gary Gorman, a leading, very well published professor in Library and Information Studies, who was putting together a special issue of Online Information Review for open access week 2015, dealing with all kinds of issues in the open access debate. It was at this point I had a total fan girl moment – there are a lot of people in academia who write books and research papers, but very few natural writers, and I’ve been a huge fan of Gary’s published work on information science for years, particularly Qualitative Research for the Information Professional which we routinely recommend to MA and PhD students, not only for what he says, but for the way he says it. However, I’d never had the chance to meet or talk to him in person.  Gary asked if I would consider writing a piece for his journal special issue, and we kicked around a few ideas regarding the research I’ve been doing on digitisation of library and museum and archive content, and licensing, and copyright, and how that sits with the open access agenda. Of course! I said, I’d be happy to write this up! How wonderful to be in a special issue edited by you!!! Did I say fan-girl?

I knew exactly what I was going to say, and it would only take me a few days to say it, I thought. And then it fell to the second or third place in the to do list, and I said, oh well…  – I have aaaaages to put this together…

Spring comes around, and Gary checks in to get the paper. Which I hadn’t written, as I hadn’t taken note of the deadline. I had been so lax and unprepared, and he was so kind, and gracious, and generous, (and funny!), and we sketched out a revised plan given my travel schedule and the turnaround needed for the special issue. Time was tight, and although I knew what I wanted to say, I had to wait til I had a few days free to write it. I sent the piece to Gary at the close of play on a Friday: he had lined up peer reviewers ready to go, so I had full peer review comments plus his editorial remarks back by the Monday, and I did corrections and it went into press by the Wednesday, with proof reader questions and final proofs by the end of that week. Fastest turnaround from writing to peer review to publishing I’ve ever experienced – and all because Gary was helpful and understanding and really very generous regarding the fact I had totally ignored the original timetable, and he wanted to have a piece from me considered for inclusion in this special issue. At this point, I had even more of a fan-girl moment. His editorial guidance (plus the super- helpful, super-speedy peer review comments) made this a piece I’m really proud of. It’s also timely, given it wasn’t actually written just a few months ago…!

The whole special issue of Online Information Review is available now, up in open access for a short spell (I had presumed it would be open access forever given it was a special issue on open access. Turns out you should never presume things will be open access forever: grab the contents before they turn the paywall on!!!!) but my paper is available for free from now on, up in UCL Discovery:

Opening Access to Collections: the Making and Using of Open Digitised Cultural Content (PDF), Online Information Review, Vol. 39 Iss: 5, pp.733 – 752

And then, sadness. Just as the issue goes up for Open Access Week 2015, we get an email from the press, to say that Gary had passed away. There is a lovely eulogy from a colleague who knew him well over at the IFLA Asia and Oceania group which he was very involved in,  and my thoughts go to his family. I didn’t get to know him well, but I’m glad I got the chance to work with him this once, and I’m appreciative of the time he took to get a piece from me, and to keep me included when I had been less than the perfect contributor. For the story behind the scenes of academic publishing is often about people: people with patience, people with persuading skills, people who forgive and cajole and support to get something not only to the finishing line,  but to the finishing line in good shape. Our working relationships in this are often “only” over email, but they become relationships nevertheless. Without Gary’s people skills, this special issue would never have come together, and I certainly would not have been included, and I’m thankful for Gary’s advice and humour, and grateful I got to know him even a little, while remaining in awe at both the quality and volume of his writings over his career, and the evident care he took while aiming to get the best out of others.

Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby


Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby. Suddenly and weirdly all promoted ads have flipped: IVF, counselling, pure conception vitamins, support groups, clinics, eggs, and surrogates.

Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby. It knows my profession, my location, my age. It knows I haven’t had a child in what you would call recently, and presumes there is profit if I have “left it late”.

Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby. As if the choice is easy, and only its to make. As if there are inherent flaws in Lady Decision Trees, as if my own algorithms are inadequate.

Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby, but I cannot share the gore of birth or beauty of breastfeeding: the database’s spaces are controlled by (male?) programmers who patrol the view of motherhood that others should be seeing.

Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby. I’ve had friends delete their profiles with the endless repeat of thoughtless, callous nudges – as if they had forgotten! – after years of expectations, disappointments, and defeat.

Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby. And I’m lucky – I’m so lucky! – I can swipe this one away: the antisocial questions amplified by social media, the casual public prodding of presumed anxiety.

Facebook has decided it is time I had a baby. Eventually I train it to show “less things like that”. It shows -instead of ads for babies- ads for hysterectomies and just goes back to normal: telling me I’m fat.

Just a selection of ads thrown at me over a few days:babyadverts

And don’t get me started on these incubator chasers:


Why I do not trust Frontiers journals, especially not @FrontDigitalHum

In which a favour for a colleague leads to being associated with un-scholarly peer review practices, un-collegiate behaviour, and predatory open access publishing mechanisms. My advice? Stay away from Frontiers.

1. Poor Peer Review Practices

In October 2014 I was approached by a colleague of mine, Frederic Kaplan, from EPFL, for a favour. I had worked with Frederic on running DH2014, still the largest ever international meeting of Digital Humanities scholars. Frederic was setting up a new, online, open access, peer reviewed journal in Digital Humanities. Would I help him out in being a reviewer? Of course, I said. Our community needs more venues to publish in, Digital Humanities has a commitment to open access, and having helped set up an online, peer reviewed, open access, Digital Humanities journal myself, I know how difficult it is to get any established scholars to support you in the early days. I was happy to help: I do try to be helpful. But now I have to be helpful to the wider online community to discuss what happens when you lend your name to a Frontiers publication.

I dealt with the Frontiers editorial team, not Frederic, for the new journal: Frontiers in Digital Humanities. I was surprised when they sent me the journal article to review – given it was written by Frederic alone. I probably should have said “conflict of interest” there, but the Digital Humanities community is so small, we often are asked to review things by people we know, and I think I can take an objective stance, so I undertook a careful review. On the 12th November 2014 I returned the article with my detailed peer review (which I would be happy to share if anyone is interested – it is very constructive). I believe I rejected the article, stating that it needed a complete rewrite before resubmission, and provided guidance in order for that to happen, including the need for adequate referencing and examples, and pointing out where I just plain disagreed with the paper. In March 2015 the resubmitted paper was returned to me, and I pointed out a whole list of minor typographical corrections which still needed to be made before it could be accepted, but agreed that the “Journal Coordinator” Yaelle Bochatay could check these typos before publication.

I remember feeling they had me over a barrel at that point, given they kept asking if the changes had been made – I had asked for certain corrections to be made, they were now made, which should now make it publishable, right? See how this is a professional development opportunity I wasn’t expecting: in retrospect, I now realise that if I’ve rejected a paper for complete rewrite, it should really go to others for peer review afterwards to get another opinion, but I didn’t make that stance at the time and felt pressurised by Frontiers in DH with their many emails. I agreed that the changes I had asked for had been made, and up my name goes on the website saying I’ve reviewed the article, which technically, I did.

Screenshot from Frontiers in DH showing Melissa Terras as a reviewer
A screenshot from the Frontiers in DH paper indicating how the paper was reviewed – except all is not quite what it seems.

There’s a few things to say about this. Firstly, why is it ok to only have one peer reviewer on an article? Now, the history of peer review is complex, and its difficult to know what is enough, but one peer reviewer? One? I had assumed, naively, there would be more than one – I didn’t think to check, given I’ve never been in a peer review situation before where I would be the only reviewer, without that being made explicitly clear to me. Frontiers had not mentioned that I was the only peer reviewer (it was made clear to me that my name was going to be online, and at the time, I was happy with that: I stand by my work). But one? Uh-oh. They werent asking me for a peer review. They were asking me to associate my name with the journal, so they could point to me.

But the other problem is, this isn’t transparent. It doesn’t list the fact that I rejected the paper for full rewrite given its poor quality, nor when it was resubmitted after rewrite. Congratulations, you are now the peer reviewer in a substandard peer review process which isn’t all as it seems, with its claims for transparency and claims for revolutionising publishing – the whole thing seemed like a predatory rush job. I hadn’t been able to check out the journal before getting involved in the peer review process – there was nothing to check out, given there was nothing online, and I had trusted Frederic. I felt duped: the whole thing feels icky. But I was prepared to let the whole thing go, and chalk it up to experience (given I had indeed undertaken the peer review for them, and I did accept that the changes had been made to the journal article making it a much stronger paper than originally submitted), although I was decided I would not review for them ever again. However, that was until the opening scenes of the DH2015 conference…

2. Why are all the Senior Editors in Frontiers in DH male?

Over to DH2015, and the international meeting of Digital Humanities scholars in Sydney, Australia. Sitting in the audience, waiting for the first plenary speaker in the opening ceremony, I open the conference bag, and lo! there’s the launch material for Frontiers in DH. I’ll pass this over to a fantastic tweet by Matthew Lincoln, also sitting in the audience, which summed up the shock a lot of us felt. (Screenshot included here in case the tweet disappears, but seriously, thanks Matthew for sending this tweet out).

Shot of leaflet showing Frederic Kaplan as chief editor, and 9 male senior editors
The Frontiers in Digital Humanities senior editorial board. You dont have to have a penis to be a chief editor for Frontiers in DH, but it helps!

Wait, you dont understand why this is problematic? When 46% of the 500+ attendees to DH2015 audience were women? When DH is has plenty of knowledgeable women around, when four out of the last 5 program chairs of the DH conferences have been women (myself included), when… I could go on and on, but Women In Digital Humanities Are Not Hard To Find, Okay? When there are lots of women around being very helpful, and here, in 2015, we have a new journal launched that can only find men to put in senior positions. Right-oh. Let’s just pause for a minute and congratulate them on that, shall we?

Screenshot from congrats you have an all male panel, featuring frontiers in DH
Congratulations, open access journal Frontiers in Digital Humanities! You have an all male senior editorial board. Featured over at Congratulations you have an all male panel.

So what do I do? First, of course, I take to the twitter (as do others):

Screenshot of tweets asking Frederic to readdress the gender balance
A twitter conversation erupts re Frontiers in DH. There’s much more online if you want to dig, but this just isnt about the twitter argument, so I’ll move on.

Then I email Frederic and ask him to remove my name from the journal, as I can no longer give it my support. And in the break I find him, and talk to him in person. He said “it wasn’t deliberate” – I explain that systemic misogyny rarely is. He asks for my help to sort it out: I explain that I have my own journals to look after, and my own work to do, and he has to own this and he has to sort it out himself. I explain I’m not going to be the mummy that comes in and rescues him: its part of being an adult, an academic leader, to recognise that this is an issue, and that you need to put in the work yourself to remedy things when you mess up. We chat, and he agrees that he understands why I should remove my name from supporting the journal. I stress that when his senior editorial board reaches gender parity, we can revisit this, and I would be happy to support him and his work on this, if he can find women for his senior editorial board. I stress that sexism in academia is an important issue for me, and I have to take a stand against such blatant exclusion of women from the academic commons. He agrees.

And then, in later email conversations, which involve higher and higher members of staff from the Frontiers journal office, he denies I ever rejected his paper with major corrections, and my name does not come down from Frontiers in DH, despite many polite requests from me. He asks me again and again and again to find women for him. But he does nothing to support my escalating requests to remove my name from his journal until the gender balance issue is addressed by him. Nothing.


In case there is any doubt, I no longer support Frontiers in Digital Humanities in protest at the fact that they only have men on their senior editorial board. And Frontiers in Digital Humanities are refusing to take my name off their website. I had trusted Frederic. I had felt that the peer review process was less than satisfactory: but the whole thing feels more than icky now. It feels predatory.

3. Why wont Frontiers remove my name when I ask?

Shall I show you some of the responses I got from the Frontier Journals editorial team? Oh go on let me show you some of them. Explaining why they wont remove my name from Frontiers in Digital Humanities, Frederick Fenter, Executive Editor of Frontiers, said: “To remove it would… cause damage to the author of that article. We look forward to hearing from your lawyers.” Responding to criticism regarding the gender issue of the Frontiers in DH board, Fenter said “Our CEO is a woman, 80% of our editorial office employees are women”. You’ve heard it here first – the lowly editorial assistants are women, the senior editors are men. BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN, I tell you. They maintain I signed an agreement with Frontiers to have my name associated with them forever: I never signed any agreement. I asked them for a copy of the agreement they claim to have: they do not respond. It goes on and on. They will not remove my name.

I get an email from Dr Kamila Markram, CEO & Co-Founder on Frontiers, on the 16th July 2015, trying to persuade me that Frontiers “are of course extremely sensitive about the representation on our external editorial boards” stating:

we work hard to be demographically representative.  We find that women, for whatever reason, are many times less likely to accept an editorial appointment, given comparable career advancement – much to my personal disappointment… because we are sensitive to the gender bias within academia and publishing, we do make an extra effort to seek out and approach women who will become part of the solution, become active editors in our journals and help change the field. I always felt the best way to shift the balance is to be a part of the change by setting a positive example of achievement.

The Digital Humanities journal is only a few months old with only a handful of articles published, but I was excited to launch this journal as it has so much potential to showcase the incredible research the scientists in digital humanities are accomplishing.  A number of women have been approached for positions at all levels from Specialty Chief Editors to Associate Editors to Reviewers, and we are waiting for responses. Already we have a number of female Associate Editors on board including Nadia Bianchi-Berhouze, Jeannette Franziska Frey, and Eleanor Selfridge-Field.  Eleanor was recently chosen as one of our Science Heroes. She was interviewed by our team in June to showcase her amazing work and her pioneering spirit. We have also interviewed female scientists in other fields such as Molecular Bioscientist Annalisa Pastore and have a number of others in the works.  We are hoping that our Science Hero profiles will help inspire others to join the field and inform the general public and media of the great research that is being done.
Everything I’ve been doing at Frontiers to help improve gender equality which might seem tiny to you, but believe me, the awareness is there and so is the effort. I’d be very happy to hearing your ideas on how we can reach the desired gender balance with more of the top female scientists in the world and get them to become active editors.  A fresh and constructive perspective is always most welcome.

She also states

 Frontiers is all about fixing the many problems in scientific publishing.  We have improved peer review by making it impact-neutral, collaborative and transparent.

I respond by asking many questions:

1). Please can you tell me why you think having one peer reviewer per article is adequate?
2). Please can you tell me if Frederic Kaplan (or any other senior editor) is paid a fee for editing one of your journals?
3). Please can you tell me why you don’t state if an article has been rejected and requires full revision, given your publishing model is supposed to be more transparent?
4). Please can you tell me why you wont respect an academic’s wishes in having their association removed from your journals, and website, when they make that polite request?
5). Please can you tell me what checks on make up of an editorial board regarding gender (and racial diversity) you make prior to launching a new journal? Who in the Frontiers family checks off a new journal, and double checks that any concerns about gender equality and diversity have been adequately addressed?

And I make constructive points:

Do you realise that only appointing men to senior editorial positions (which is categorically what you have done with Frontiers in DH), and women to more junior positions (I hear 80% of your copy-editors are women! well done!) represents the inherently sexist models in the publishing industry? You, personally, allowed this to happen.

If I were you, I’d be refusing to launch new journals in any field unless there were at least 30% female senior editors already appointed. (50% in an ideal world, but lets go for realistic). I would be setting up a checking stage for gender equality before launch, and rigorously policing it. (There are other issues regarding diversity, such as race and disability, which you should also be looking out for, btw – but gender is the one I feel I can most constructively tackle).

I’d also be having Frederic apologise to me, and removing my name and institutional association from any Frontiers in DH web pages, immediately. As I stated to him in person, I’d be happy to revisit this when you have actioned gender parity, but not before. As it stands, you are trading on my name and my institution’s name, when I have politely, and publicly removed support for your publication in protest for the problematic gender representation on the board of Frontiers in DH.

I’d then be finding the women in DH who are so visible, and often excluded: excluded because men like Frederic can’t or don’t look past their own old boys’ networks, and excluded from journal boards – even by companies run by a woman – because those companies don’t actively encourage or check that there is gender equality in a way which is constructive and practical (refusal to launch a journal if there is not apposite gender representation) rather than fluffy and patronising (Science Heroes! Bless, how lovely).

The CEO does not respond. I leave these emails to speak for themselves.

4. Advice for others considering publishing in Frontiers in Digital Humanities

I dont mean this to come across as an attack on one particular person. I’m frustrated – sure I’m frustrated – but I think, really, this is about the Frontiers model of publishing. Frederic hasn’t said to me himself, but I’m presuming his silence means that he has tried to have dialogue with Frontiers – but it is them who are stopping my name coming off the website, given all emails refusing my request are coming from them (although, Hi Frederic! let me know if that is the case! Really would be lovely to hear from you!) In case you think this is a hatchet job, I’ve been telling Frederic and the journal editors for two weeks now that I intend to talk about it publicly if we cannot get it sorted out: they have had every opportunity to act in a collegiate manner, but I dont believe they have. So let’s now look at the Frontiers mode of publishing.

Its expensive to publish with them. This is a profit making venture (which isn’t bad within itself). But there are other open access journals around in Digital Humanities which are more established, that don’t charge these fees, and have the scholarly support of the community (disclaimer: I’m on the editorial board of one, but there are others). One has to wonder why you would publish in Frontiers in Digital Humanities, really, given the costs, never mind the problematic peer review and gender issues. But hey! don’t worry! If you are lucky you can win the cost of publishing a journal article with them! That’s right! you can WIN THE COST OF PUBLISHING AN ARTICLE WITH THEM. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing, I don’t know what will.

screenshot of tweet showing competition to win costs of publishing with frontiers in DH
Roll up, roll up, your academic career starts with a raffle.

The full editorial board (not just the senior editorial board) has 496 people on it. Wait. 496 people? (I haven’t done an exact count but it looks to me that the majority of them are men, btw). But at time of writing there are only 3 papers in the journal? Uh-oh. Something isn’t right here. I ask around. A colleague tells me she has had more than 14 emails in the past few months asking her to be listed on the (low level, not the senior) editorial board. That she feels pressured into getting involved. Uh-oh.

I’ve already detailed, above, how the peer review process left me feeling it was inadequate. I wouldn’t publish in this journal, as it stands, as the peer review process is so lax and untrustworthy (and I state that as a peer reviewer!), never mind this additional stuff about refusing to remove someone’s name from a webpage.

A journal called Frontiers in Bioscience is listed over at Beall’s list of Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers [however – paragraph updated 26/07/2015 – a comment left below states that this has nothing to do with the Frontiers family of journals we are talking about here – instead of deleting this sentence I’m keeping it in with an explanation as I think its important that the distinction is made for others looking at Beall’s list: None of the Frontiers journals from Frontiers Media occur, or have ever occurred, on Mr Beall’s list. I’m happy to make the correction here].

Let’s take a look at the criteria for determining predatory publishers which puts journals on Beall’s list, shall we? Its a long list, available in a PDF, but there are things on that list which Frontiers in Digital Humanities is definitely coming up trumphs with (I quote here from Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers, but the highlighting is all my own):

  • The journals have an insufficient number of board members , (e.g., 2 or 3 members), have concocted editorial boards (made up names), name scholars on their editorial board without their knowledge or permission or have board members who are prominent researchers but exempt them from any contributions to the journal except the use of their names and/or photographs.
  • The editorial board engages in gender bias (i.e., exclusion of any female members).
  • The publisher begins operations with a large fleet of journals, often using a common template to quickly create each journal’s home page.
  • The publisher engages in excessive use of spam email to solicit manuscripts or editorial board memberships.
  • Evidence exists showing that the publisher does not really conduct a bona fide peer review.

etc etc etc. Uh-oh.

All this to say: I wouldn’t like anyone to think that just because my name is on the Frontiers in Digital Humanities website that I support this effort or this publishing house. I did undertake a peer review for them once, in good faith. I have asked for my name to be removed in protest for gender balance issues in their senior editorial board appointments,  but “To remove it would… cause damage to the author of that article”. As a result I’m left recommending that others in Digital Humanities do not go anywhere near Frontiers in Digital Humanities, to prevent any damage to themselves, or their own scholarly reputation.

But then again, I’m always happy to be transparent when it comes to academic publishing.

Update: 28th July 2015

A week has gone by since my original post, and I haven’t had any official contact from Frontiers. I’ve been contacted by many in the Digital Humanities who confirm the spamming emails they’ve had from Frontiers, and many of you have turned Secret Squirrel, sharing what you know.

Turns out I’m not the first to draw attention to the problematic peer review and publishing model of Frontiers. You can read into other such public postings, especially this post from @deevybee on “My collapse of confidence in Frontiers journals”, posted just a few weeks ago. Professor Bishop covers more about the history of the platform and other recent public statements made by academics over how they view it – it’s worth a read, so I won’t cover this ground again here, but it shows that this isn’t just a paranoid rant from me: those considering publishing in this venue should be very careful.

Regarding their publishing model – I was right in surmising that “Frontiers awards annual honoraria to chief editors at threshold levels of success of their journals” … what would success look like? Well, it turns out there’s a set of public facing guidelines for Speciality Chief Editors, hilariously titled “Equal Opportunity Research Publishing” (given the fact that Equal Ops regarding gender doesn’t come into the equation). It’s clearly a franchise model, fair enough. Now, these guidelines makes for very interesting reading, and there are numerous stages where Frontiers in DH didn’t follow the rules – only one peer review, instead of two (despite the hundreds of editors!), the peer review wasn’t blind – Frederic specifically asked for me to review his paper. I didn’t undertake the review as part of the interactive system – it was all done over email, etc etc. So here we have a franchise that just didn’t follow the rules, which is probably the source of my ill-feeling about the Frontiers in DH peer review process. I therefore suggest that anyone considering publishing with Frontiers or being asked to join the review board looks at these guidelines, and people should double check that they are happy with this approach, and that when they are involved, the rules are followed.

I will repeat my call regarding gender and the make up of editorial boards: these Equal Opportunity Research Publishing guidelines should have some consideration for the constituency of the boards, including gender representation, and it wouldn’t be hard for them to insert a clause about this on page 9 if they truly were invested in supporting women in academia. Just check that you haven’t excluded women – it would go a long way to making sure that people don’t “forget” about this, given the issues of systemic misogyny within the academy.

I think I’ve said all I have to say, for now, on this – I’m still disappointed in how all this unfolded, but I have work to do. Next time I’m approached to review for a new journal, I’ll be a tonne more skeptical, and, sadly, less trusting. Be careful out there, folks.

Ahoy! Welcome aboard my new blog!

I’ve been quiet from a bloggy point of view over the last few months – but behind the scenes I’ve been working hard with UCLDH’s designer at large, Rudolf Ammann, on this shiny new blog space, all of my very own!  Design choices are documented over on the about page, and I’m particularly fond of the header image, which is a section of a handwritten manuscript written by Jeremy Bentham, held in UCL Library Special Collections (JB/035/320/001), which has been transcribed by volunteers as part of UCL’s Transcribe Bentham project. The text contains Bentham’s writing on the Constitutional Code – Quasi-jury [1823-26] and the image is used with permission. Transcribe Bentham is a partner in the EU funded tranScriptorium project, in which we have been using the quality controlled transcripts from Transcribe Bentham to help develop modern, holistic Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technology. An output of tranScriptorium is Transkribus: software that enables users to transcribe documents with HTR support. So what we see in the image above is the computer recognising Jeremy Bentham’s handwriting. Cool, huh? And sums up the space I hang out in: between cultural heritage and computing science.

I’ll leave up all the blog posts over at my old blogger site (which I have intentionally not linked to from here) to avoid link-rot, but all content, including comments, is replicated here. I do declare the good ship open! New bloggage coming here soon!

Reuse of Digitised Content (4): Chasing an Orphan Work Through the UK’s New Copyright Licensing Scheme

An (award winning!) regularly updated concluded blog post in which I document trying to get a license to reuse an item for which no copyright information exists, under the UK Government’s new legal framework.

Diary Entry 1: Weds 29th October, 1.16am UK time

Well, today’s the day! Wednesday 29th October, the day the UK law changes to allow licenses to be granted for “orphan works” – items whose copyright owners cannot be located. This is a thorny problem – as a recent government publication explains:

If an individual wants to use a copyright work they must, with a few exceptions, seek the permission of the creator or right holder. If the right holder – or perhaps one of a number of right holders – cannot be found, the work cannot lawfully be used. This situation benefits neither the right holder, who may miss opportunities for licensing, nor potential users of those works. This is not a situation peculiar to the UK; other countries face the same issues [source].

A new framework was announced as part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, and has been implemented after a consultation process earlier in 2014. The UK government also introduced regulations to ensure that they comply with the EU Directive on Orphan Works. This new scheme will be administered by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office.

In my previous blog post I introduced a lovely orphan work, from the mid 1960s: a “lantern” interval slide tempting patrons to buy an ice lolly, used at the Odeon Cinema, Eglinton Toll, Glasgow.

The image is used here with permission from the Scottish Screen Archive, National Library of Scotland. It’s part of a collection of Lantern Slides, with no individual collections record. It has a small identifying note to say it was made by Morgans Slides Ltd, which is no longer trading. The Odeon cinema were contacted, but their records dont go that far back for design so they cannot prove they own copyright, but they gave me permission to use it if they do, with the caveat that a copyright owner, whom they cannot speak for, may come forward at some future date. It’s an orphan.

I want to adopt it, so I can use it widely, but also, to investigate how easy? hard? costly? problematic? easy? it is to get a license for orphan works under this new scheme.

So let’s go! This blog post will expand over time as I update on the process. I have all the data I can get on the item gathered, and am ready to roll. I contacted the IPO last week via email, and they promise that “all the relevant information on how to apply for a license and the due diligence needed will appear on the website on Wednesday morning”. There’s nothing up there yet (I’m on Australian time writing this, in Melbourne, and its only just past midnight in the UK)… but will check back later, come UK business hours.

Diary Entry 2: Weds 29th October, 11am UK time

It’s online! Here we have the process and the system of how to apply for a license for an orphan work. It’s an online form – I’ll get cracking with it…

Diary Entry 3: Weds 5th November

Its taken me a week to update this – not because I’m not interested, but because I’m over in Australia just now on a lecture tour, and its been a jolly whirlwind of lectures, lunches, masterclasses, flights, trains, dinners, and kangaroo spotting. Excuses excuses. I’m now in a hotel room in Sydney with a few hours spare of an evening and an actual internet connection: lets get to it.

The first thing to report is that the IPO read this nascent blogpost and contacted me! The Head of Copyright Delivery, from the Intellectual Property Office, thought my blog was interesting, and we’ve already exchanged an email or two: they are interested in the needs of our sector, and want to assist in this. Isn’t that interesting (and slightly scary – that’s social media for you) – and I assured them that I wasn’t doing this out of “lets see what is wrong with the process” but in the spirit of genuine exploration. The process is clearly flagged as in Beta, so lets all proceed in manner of mutual respect, and give some feedback as we go. I’m happy to be a guinea pig. (I’ll flag up recommendations to the IPO with a bold IPO: for easy scanning).

The process itself seems relatively straightforward (check list from the IPO website):

  • check that the work you want to copy is still in copyright because if it isn’t, you don’t need a licence to use it
  • check whether the use falls within one of the copyright exceptions
  • read the guidanceon orphan works and take this short questionnaire to find out if you are eligible to use an orphan work under the EU Directive
  • carry out a diligent search for right holders in accordance with IPO published guidance
  • complete the diligent search checklist(s) and convert these to one PDF document to upload as part of the application process

Then, work out what license you want. So lets go through this check list, to get that first phase out of the way.

1. Check that the work you want to copy is still in copyright because if it isn’t, you don’t need a licence to use it.
TICK! we have an orphan item right here.

2. Check whether the use falls within one of the copyright exceptions
UNTICK! exceptions are for Non-commercial research and private study; Text and data mining for non-commercial research; Criticism, review and reporting current events; Teaching; Helping disabled people; Time-shifting (eh? Dr Who a go-go); Personal copying for private use; Parody, caricature and pastiche; Certain permitted uses of orphan works (which allows the GLAM sector to digitise orphan works and make them available online); Sufficient acknowledgment, and Fair Dealing.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but none of these are me: what do I want to do? I want to take an orphan work, and make some fabric with it using it as the basis for a pattern, and perhaps make a few items of things, which I might want to sell on etsy, or put the pattern up on spoonflower, etc.  Yes, there is a teaching and research element to this, but by the same token, the teaching and research is in the fact of making it available, and chasing through the process. It’s not commercial a la huge superstores, but its certainly not uncommercial, even though the chance of making a profit is slim. I’d say that there were no exceptions to copyright for me in this case, so we (un)tick the item, and proceed to the next in the checklist.

3. Read the guidanceon orphan works and take this short questionnaire to find out if you are eligible to use an orphan work under the EU Directive.

Read it (interesting read). The checklist for the EU Directive the first thing where I go… wait a minute, Gov. See screenshot.

Problem number 1: I’m not an organisation. I’m just a person. If I wanted to start trading and selling this stuff, I’d be starting off as a sole trader, which is still not really an organisation. So I already dont know if I’ve met this check list or not, given I’ve been asked what categories my organisation falls under (so, recommendation 1: IPO I’d be putting in some thing about being an individual person on that screen). I’m very much “none of the above” so lets tick that, which gets you to:

I’m not exempt, as I thought, although who knows because of the organisation thing… so lets crack on with the licensing scheme.

4. Carry out a diligent search for right holders in accordance with IPO published guidance
TICK! I have all my info here, good to go!

5. Complete the diligent search checklist(s) and convert these to one PDF document to upload as part of the application process.

The form is a bit of a funny beast. First, you have to select from a list of different forms, choosing one which may apply to you.  As ever, its really hard to make up a list that covers everything, so it took me a bit to decide that I should file my request under “still visual art” which is the closest there is to it. Then you get to filling out the form, which mostly a list of places you should check to see whether the item is listed or found –  first page screenshot:

The list of places to check goes on and on: British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSUP), Bureau of Freelance Photographers (BFP), Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIOJ), Editorial Photographers UK (EPUK), Master Photographers Association (MPA)… I make it 55 different places you have to check to claim that it is an orphan work, which is fine: you want to be diligent about this (the clue is in the title). But, recommendation 2: IPO it would really help if you said exactly where you wanted people to check (giving URLs would help a lot) and how – for example, “water mark search or image recognition software” is quite a broad church. Another thing recommendation 3: IPO is that a lot of the places are societies, and I’m not sure what they thought you could do there, or what they have that is relevant. For example, if you go to the Professional Cartoonist’s Association website, you can browse portfolios, but I cant seem to search for “lolly time”, and its much more a membership organisation than a repository for content. So I’m not sure what I’m being asked to check: that I had a quick look at the website? that there was nothing of relevance because they dont have a repository? that I was supposed to email them and ask? Guidance on that would be super useful.

But I worked though the list diligently – and I know how difficult it must have been to put together that list of things, as one size wont fit all, and I tried not to get frustrated by demonstrating why Its Lolly Time isnt probably going to be relevant to the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers, but it is what it is. MS word was probably the easiest way to go, but it would be nice recommendation 4: IPO if there could have been a slightly more interactive way to choose which evidence you want to present (where do I attach my emails from the National Library of Scotland, or the Odeon, for example?)

Now on to choosing a license that you are applying for! And it is here that the fun starts! Because that’s where you get to play with the cost calculator to buy the license.

First, you name the item, and choose carefully my friends! as that will go in the register:

Then you choose a category:

Again, its hard to come up with these categories, and “my” objet doesnt really fit anything, but lets go with still image (recommendation 5: IPO you may want to expand on that list a little?) And then you choose subcategory:

Umm… I dont know. Illustration? Maybe?

And then comes the killer question… DA DA DAAAA!

Well. I want to get a license that means I can put something up on etsy or spoonflower, so technically is that commercial? I dont know (IPO: I’ll be emailing you about this!). Their further information would seem to think so:

So even selling one thing = a commercial license needed. Ok. Lets got the nuclear option, and choose monetary compensation! For…

Let’s go with retailing and merchandising? And with checking that, I know that one does not simply walk into Mordor. As individuals who are interested in making one or two things are suddenly being lumped into the same categories as large chains that want to sell tens of thousands of items…

There’s some more granularity and some more drop down menus – what is the exact use of this work? erm… On apparel? that’s scarves, right? and for spoonflower? (further gulp. We are not in Kansas now, Toto). There is a prompt to contact the IPO if the exact use is not listed, and I think we need to come back to this idea of individuals and small businesses using content, versus massive clothes manufacturers because once you see the costs, in a minute…

But first, I have to choose how much surface the item will cover?

IPO recommendation 6: I’d suggest this is a nonsensical list. Why? Well, repeating patterns are pretty common. How do they relate? My scarf is bigger than a “page”. So what does this mean? And what is a page? A4? A3? A0? you might want to revisit this. My orphan image will cover as much fabric as you can print out, as its repeated. But lets go the nuclear option, and tick “more than a full page” for a commercial license, for apparel!

You are then asked to choose how many things you are going to make to sell. I’m thinking of making two or three, just to test the waters (starting up as a sole trader, remember!) but the minimum item load you can make, in the licensing structure,  is…. 5000!

IPO recommendation 7: its clear that these structures are geared towards large corporations, rather than individuals or sole traders. I’d revisit this: you want to help bootstrap creative making, not treat everyone like Walmart? But I’ll click 5000 or less for now.

Then you have to choose how long the license is going to last for.

Shortest is 3 months, longest is 7 years… hmmm. Well, selling these two or three items is going to pay for my early retirement, so lets go for 7 years (IPO recommendation 8: it would be good to know if once you have licensed an item, noone else can? Or if multiple people can license the same thing? just a thought)

So here we are. A 7 years license to use an image on a repeating pattern for apparel that I can sell, less than 5000 items. And the cost comes to…. drumroll!!!!!

Did your eyes go as big as mine did when that figure popped out?

Now, its clear that I’ve stumbled into the commercial sector line here, and this is probably a fine amount for an image license if you are a major clothing retailer. But there is no way that I can stump up over £2.5k to allow me to put some scarves on etsy, or fabric up on spoonflower. I need to email the IPO and ask about this, which I will do next, and report back, but before I do … I wonder who is benefiting from these license costs? Where does the money go to? I’ll ask the IPO about that and update the blog with the info they supply.

Of course, we could go back to the start of the process, and I could decide that I’d make things and donate any profits back to the NLS, in which case I would check the no commercial gain box. The process (and costs) are then significantly reduced:

A mere ten pence for non commercial use (hurrah!). But I’m not sure if what I want to do is covered under this list. Perhaps “personal use” – it could be argued that I am just making the digital files available for people via spoonflower (or I could make the digital files available to print up a scarf, and tell people where to go and get one if they do), but my dreams of etsy stardom reusing digitised content have been dashed.

It’s clear that I need to talk to the IPO about this and ask the best way to proceed – and I’m aware that I started a very public conversation right from the get go – but it does seem to me that the licensing structure, as is stands in Beta, allows reuse for freebies but doesnt really allow people to make products out of orphan material, unless they are for personal use only – and to be fair, I got that license from the NLS in the first place, so I’m not sure what is to be gained here, appart from the fact I could now share the source files of the item I made for personal use with everyone else.  The licensing costs do hamper anyone wanting to start making and selling at a cottage industry scale, which is the majority of the online marketplace over at places like etsy, and probably a major source of reuse for this content: it should be opened up for everyone to use? Or am I being naive or utopian?

So I’ll take this back to the IPO, and ask them to think about how this helps or hinders uptake of this material so you can actually do something with it if you are not a corporation, and report back. I’ll also ask for the table of licensing costs from the IPO, which must exist somewhere, so that I dont have to spend ages with the online tool manually drawing that up myself. The online tool is pretty straightforward (save the baffling question about pages?) and usable, given the complexity of the range of uses people must be asking them for, and its great that it went up on the day the legislation changed.

The orphan works scheme – especially the 10p non-commercial license – is fantastic for the heritage sector as it does clear up a lot of issues with reusing content for not for profit usage, but I was hoping I could do something more…  I’ll be right back when I have more to report, travel and poor internet access notwithstanding.

Diary Entry 4: Friday 28th November

The delay to updating is all my fault, due to catching up on life and work (and sleep) upon my return from Australia. The IPO were really very quick to respond to my query, and it has sat in my inbox for a couple of weeks (sorry for being so tardy IPO, and thanks for being so speedy yourself).

Here is what I asked, and how they responded. I quote directly from an email to me from the Head of Copyright Delivery at the IPO.

1. I asked: Where does the money from the licenses go?

They said:

The application fee covers the cost of processing your application.  The licence fee (minus the VAT of course, as that will have been transferred over to HM Treasury) is held in case the right holder for the work comes forward.  They have a period of 8 years to do so, and if we are satisfied that they are the right holder, we will pay out the licence fee.  If they do not come forward in 8 years, we can use the money to pay for the set up of the licensing scheme, and also for ‘social, cultural and educational activities’ (regulation 14 of The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Licensing of Orphan Works) Regulations 2014 –

2. I asked: Even if you only sell one or two things, do you need a commercial license?

They said:

As you set out in your blog, if there is any money changing hands for the use you are making, it counts as commercial.  If you are going to put the pattern on Etsy or similar for free, it would be non-commercial.

3. I asked: Can I get a copy of all the licensing costs?

They said:

Our pricing structure runs to literally thousands of possibilities for licences, so it is not possible to send you all costs for commercial content – it really depends on the type of orphan work and the use you want to put it to.

4.  I asked: How were the licensing costs worked out? Were commercial costs used as a model?

They said:

We undertook a detailed analysis of prices for non-orphan works, taking into consideration both the type of work and the use.  This used information from a wide range of sources, both commercial and non-commercial providers.  We had always committed to ensuring that orphan works do not distort the market unduly against non-orphan works, which provides a certain level of reassurance for right holders and licensors in the market.

5. I asked: Is a license exclusive? So if you pay all that money, could someone else also get a license?

They said:

The licence is non-exclusive, so someone else could apply to use the work for a similar or different use at the same time as you using it.  This is because we have no way of knowing whether the right holder would negotiate an exclusive licence or not.

They also directed me (and you, dear readers!) to the scheme overview guidance on

This makes it much clearer for me, and I can see the reasoning behind such decisions, although I’m going to ask them to offer a significantly smaller run of items (the minimum you can get a license for is 5000 at the moment, which really does stop small businesses experimenting: a minimum license of 20? items, with a license fee reduced in ratio to the number of items would bring the license costs way down, whilst allowing our kitchen-table makers to use orphan works in items offered for sale at a small scale). I’ll ask them, and brb, honest.

I also have an issue about orphan works being offered for sale at the same licensing rates as commercially available art is… although I can see why you dont want to flood the market with low cost design materials and put today’s beleaguered designers out of work (its a tough enough gig out there at the moment). However, this still means that there will be so much really fab cultural and heritage material locked up in institutions that people cant afford to use. Harrumph.

I also consider that there must be a model that generates all the costs: its not like computers spit out all this stuff themselves without any human input. I do know a little about that, in my line of work. So I’ll ask again about getting hold of the underlying model that generates costs.

And what am I going to do, myself? Well, I’ll wait til I get a response about lowering the number of licenses available, and if they do, I’ll buy a commercial license for 20 units, and get my make on. But if they wont, all I can do is apply for the non-commercial license, and make source files available for others to use in a not for profit manner. There’s very little in that for me (for the price of £20.10, including processing fee) but I feel I should see this process right through to the end, even if it isnt the magic, transformative process we had all hoped for,  for the cultural and heritage world.

Diary Entry 5: Monday 5th January 2015

It’s worth pausing for a moment here, to think about what the alternative to chasing such a license are. Of course, there were a lot of changes to the law in October last year regarding copyright and orphan works, not just the orphan works scheme, but exceptions to the scheme. Just before Xmas I had the delight of taking one of Naomi Korn‘s one day courses on Digital Copyright. She was keen to point that for many institutions these exceptions may be more than adequate for their needs, and compares the exceptions to the licenses in a table below, which I’ve been given permission to reuse from a forthcoming piece by Korn called “The Orphan Works Dilemma”.

In many cases, provided due diligence is undertaken (and there’s a guide from the UK government on how to do that) then reusing items under the Orphan Works Exception is preferable, easier, and more cost effective than pursuing a license via the orphan works scheme. Its therefore worth exploring this option first, before thinking that a license is necessary for every reuse case of an orphan work.

For my use case – small run commercial printing, by an individual – the exception doesn’t count, so its not a route that is open to me for this particular case. But for many libraries, archives and museums, wishing to display orphan works, or use them in a non-commercial way, the orphan works exceptions are more practical than trying to obtain licenses.

Diary Entry 6: Tuesday 6th January 2015

I have a response in from the IPO, and I think this is as much as we are going to get pursuing this. I’m copying it here, as it is self explanatory:

1.    Minimal commercial licences

You asked for a licence for 20 items or less, rather than the 5000 items which is the minimum for using a still image.  This is something we will consider going forward, which is why we have a contact form in the application process to allow people to say that their use is not listed.  I obviously cannot guarantee that we will offer it, as it depends on us getting sufficient evidence of its need.  Do you have any evidence of licensing which allows such small numbers?  We would be able to take that into account in making a decision.

2.    Fee calculations and sources

You asked about the underlying mathematical model for the fee calculations.  I am afraid we are not in a position to share this with you.  As I have mentioned before, we have used publicly available licence information which we researched and averaged (commercial and non-commercial).  We then took into account relevant factors like the fact that we only offer up to 7 years for the licence whereas non-orphan licences might be available in perpetuity or for other lengths, non-exclusivity versus exclusivity and territoriality.  As I said before, this means we do not have precisely the same prices as Gettys, for example, although they were one of the sources of information because they have publicly available information.

3.    Unclaimed licence fees

After the 8 years, as you know the unclaimed fees are first use to defray the setting up and running costs of the scheme.  Then any excess will be used at the discretion of the Secretary of State for social, cultural and educational activities.  This could be a wide variety of activities, which might include cultural heritage research, digitisation projects or benevolent projects for right holders.  It is some time in the future, so it is difficult to say what might qualify under any given Secretary of State’s opinion, but I hope that gives you a better sense of what might be included.

Interesting. I think (1) is rather the wrong way to think about it: they have compared commercial licensing costs for stock photography with the licensing of orphan works that are mostly of historical importance, within institutional contexts… It is rather like applying rules for apples to those for oranges. There is an opportunity here to do something different that will help the use of content in the library and archive sector, not just to ape what is happening in industry (with a licensing structure that is set up to maximize profits and minimize time wasting experimentation). The model really doesnt apply here. But that said, the lowest licensing number that the IPO offers is for 5000 items, but a quick look at the main stock photography licensing sites shows that iStockPhoto licenses a maximum of 2000 items of apparel created with an image. If I understand it correctly, BigStock’s license allows you to print on apparel with no limit, with the cost of each image being significantly less than the quote given here.

You could spend weeks working out the licensing structures for stock photography, which are often not comparable across websites, and I dont think that the costing structure here has really been worked out in such a way to take the needs of the library and archive sector into account. I understand the need to balance the needs of commercial artists, photographers, and illustrators, but I think concern for them has outweighed the needs of the cultural and heritage sector. Given the costs, and the restrictions, if I were in an institutional context such as a library or archive, I wouldnt advocate going down this licensing route at all, but I would try and do what you could do within the exceptions, as detailed above. The orphan works licensing scheme is good in theory, but in practice it seems overly concerned with the models for commercial stock photography, and not at all concerned with the needs of the gallery, library, archive and museum sector.

Regarding (2): should I pay an RA to sit for a day or two and work out all the licensing fees? We can then retrospectively calculate the model they use. Sounds like fun? Is anyone interested in that bar me? Let me know and we’ll crack on. It may be, though, that the sector has already accepted that these costs simply arent bearable (and you try and license 300 different items, individually, even for non commercial reuse – it would take weeks, and cost ££££.)

I think (3) sound fair – 8 years is at least two governments away, so planning ahead for the state of culture and libraries and museums is like chucking darts blindfolded, anyway. But remind me in 8 years to file a FOI request asking about income and revenue from this scheme – if FOI requests still exist then ho ho ho! (hollow laughter).

So that brings me to the end of my quest, I think. I’ll continue to engage with the IPO about the licensing number question, and fill you in if there are any changes, but its clear that at the moment, as it stands, the scheme excludes people like me: sole traders, wanting to use orphan works in small print runs. And the scheme is too unwieldy, time consuming, and costly, to allow any more than the odd item to be licensed: those wanting a non-commercial license are better trying to look at the exceptions, first.

What shall I do re Lolly Time? I want to share decent images of it, and its free standing artwork, so its not covered by the exceptions. So I’ll file the paperwork for getting a non-commercial license to use this, so I can share the big files of the image online legally, just to wrap this up, and to see that process through. Should anyone take the image once its put online and do anything with it, well, I cant stop them. But you shouldnt go near Etsy with this one to sell…

Diary Entry: 14th March 2015

So where is the license? I’ve tried to get a non commercial license, I really have. I spend 15 minutes carefully filling in all the details to the online system, then I fail at the last hurdle, as it wont let me upload the due diligence form. I’ve tried different browsers, but no. I cant save that 15 minutes of data entry, and need to start again every time. It seems like not only the process is broken, but the online tool. I have emailed the IPO about it, but I think I’m done. I tried, I really did.

I keep getting an error message asking me to upload a pdf file – when I have tried to upload a pdf file.

What has the take up been across the sector, given the licensing scheme has been running for the past 4 months? In total there have been 228 licenses issued altogether to date, with 200 of those from one museum alone (Museum of the Order of St John) and a further thirteen to the Rawk Agency (“one of the UK’s leading providers of boutique and marketing events“).

According to the “In from the Cold” Jisc report on Orphan Works, “across UK museums and galleries, the number of Orphan Works can conservatively be estimated at 25 million, although this figure is likely to be much higher” [link]. The Orphan Works licensing scheme is not being used to make these available in any numbers worth considering.

Addendum, 31/03/15. 

I couldnt let this one lie, could I? It took a chat to the IPO, 3 different browsers, and me tinkering up the back of class while invigilating an exam over a 3 hour period, and look what I just did! I’ll update here with further information, once a license is granted. Victory of sorts, but I still maintain it shouldnt be this hard... 

And finally, in April 2015, I got the license. THE END. Now what?

This blog post was nominated for, and won, the “Best Exploration of DH Failure” category in the Digital Humanities Awards 2014 following public voting. Thanks! 

Addendum, 18/09/15.
This just in from the Orphan Works Licensing Team at the IPO:
We have been considering the issue, particularly in relation to the
use of an image on apparel, and have looked at the publicly accessible
pricing information available. This has allowed us to introduce new,
lower quantity amounts of 500, 1000 and 2,500 for orphan works
licences – you will be able to check these on the application system.
However, licence fees for the very small quantities you were
suggesting are not universally available, which has meant that it has
been difficult for us to source data for comparison. Where we have
come across pricing information relating to certain lower quantities,
we have added this to the online application system.
W00t. I can haz impact? :)  I think this is a move in the right direction (but I’d still prefer to have an even smaller license of 50 or so for those kitchen-table-makers, like me). Great that they are licensing, though!

Reuse of Digitised Content (3): Special Festive Halloween Image Give-away Edition

In my first blog post about reuse of digitised content, particularly images, I suggested that institutions could think about batching up some good images, for people to take and reuse, so they could find them easily. They could also be prepared for people to reuse. But what would this mean, in reality? I decided to have a try, myself. Halloween is approaching – lets look for 5 really cute, public domain images about Halloween, and see if we can make them “more” reusable, whatever that may mean. Like this one:

Isn’t she handsome? An illustration tagged with witch, over at the British Library book images photoset, Flickr. Originally taken from “Life & Finding of Dr. Livingstone”, 1897.

But bother about all that writing, which makes it unusable on my Halloween party invitations. It would be better if there wasnt all that writing, just the image, right?

Or even, make the background transparent. Ta da! take it and do with it as you like, please do.

Nice, huh? and all this took me was time. An hour or so of grubbing about on flickr, an hour or so of messing around in Photoshop (I’m rusty). And as we all know, time is precious, and institutions dont have that level of time to devote to this kind of thing. Hmmm.

I also wonder what I’m really doing here. Turning images into clip art? erm, yay? Is that what we mean by reuse? But why else are we making images available, if its not for people to take them and do something with them? Does this make them more “useable”? Its certainly more easy to take the image and dump it into a poster, or webpage, etc. We need to ask ourselves what we mean by use and reuse, if we cant conceptualise what that really means in the first place.

But I said 5 images, right? I’m time pressed at the moment (shortly off on a big work trip), so – being honest here – I signed up for the first time to Fiverr, where you can get a myriad of small tasks done for $5, and bought some photo retouching for photos, and within an hour, I had four other Halloween images, this time from the Internet Archive Flickr Pool,  converted into black and white, with transparency too. A set of Halloween images! But Fiverr made me feel icky – even though this fixing up would be a relatively simple task for someone with better PhotoShop chops than I to do, and even though I chose someone who said they were a student in a first world country, it just seems such a small amount to pay someone. (I did try to engage them in conversation about that, and offered going hourly rate I would pay a student: they didn’t reply). I am happy with the images provided, but I wouldn’t advocate institutional use of this type of service if it can be avoided, something about it feels exploitative to me. It was interesting to try. (Perhaps its part of my penance that I share these images here for everyone but… shudder. Is that how we value skills now? Sorry, world. I know is the market economy, but, doesn’t mean I have to pay people less than I believe a job is worth).

So now what.

I parked this, and a selection of others I found that I’ll put at the bottom of this post, on a group over at Flickr. There’s been obvious interest in them, with a total of 50 views or so in 24 hours, even though I didn’t tell anyone where they were, yet. So I’ll leave them up there, and take them if you like! I think they are cute. Do something, they are in the public domain! They are free! Use them at will! It only cost me time and some perhaps student’s time and $5 and the electric that drives the internet and the heavy metals that are in our computers etc etc! and if you fancy telling me how you used them, on here or on twitter, that would be great, but you don’t have to because its public domain! woohoo! (I may do some reverse image lookup in a while and see where they got to).

This is a minor experiment – especially compared to my last blog post, which was much more of an investment in both time and money – but it goes back to what I was saying previously about the time and skill needed to use the image content available successfully. Its not all just “there” yet, you need time to sort, and time to manipulate, and resources to do so. It also makes me think of what you read about in pre-print times, when artists’ workshops had teams of people working for them who just painted silk, or hair, or skin or whatever, and the whole thing was a production line, where you farmed jobs out to other painters – sure, its a makers revolution, but its one that involves getting a student to do a quick job on PhotoShop for you, or a print shop to do some formatting and printing. You can take the content and do something with it, if you have the resources to both pay for and manage the process. The stuff is in the public domain, and is free. But doing something with it isn’t, not really.

Except, of course, I’m not Raphael, I’m just messing about with images taken offline and turned into slightly cleaned up versions of themselves for clip art. I’d like to see a “real” collection do a longitudinal study on the benefits of this, releasing some of their content in different graphic formats, and tracking interest… hmmm, a potential MA student dissertation for this year, perhaps? Its a worthy topic, and one that should be pursued in more than a couple of hours, and a hurried blog post.

Still, Happy Halloween, and feel free to reuse these in any way you like, should you want to. The full size I have is up here, made smaller to fit in blog format, you know what to do to grab the larger file. Black and white jpgs first, then transparent png.

Originally taken from the Internet Archive Book Images Flickr Pool.

This originally had only a couple of previous views, and isn’t it delightful? ripe for putting at the top of any manner of Halloween related paraphernalia…

Originally taken from the Internet Archive Book Images Flickr Pool.

It started off pink, mind!

Originally taken from the Internet Archive Book Images Flickr Pool.

And last but not least, my favourite:

Originally taken from the Internet Archive Book Images Pool. Brilliant!

All of them over at Flickr, too, if you’d prefer. Have fun! And don’t have nightmares.