In response to the Climate Emergency and issues raised by the COP26, the 9th British Library Labs Symposium is devoted to looking at computational research and climate change.
The British Library Labs is the British Library programme dedicated to enabling people to experiment with our digital collections, including deploying computational research methods and using our collections as data. This inevitably means that we, and the communities we work with, are increasingly applying computational tools and methods that have environmental impact on our planet.
As our millions of pages of digitised content are becoming an exciting new research frontier, and we are increasingly using machine learning methods and tools on the large-scale projects, such as the Living with Machines project, it is also inevitable that this exciting new work comes with the increased use of computational resource and energy. With the view of the climate emergency, we are hoping to ensure that climate and sustainability considerations inform everything we do – meaning that we need much better understanding of digital environmental impacts and how this should inform our practice in all things related to computational research.
We know that this is not a simple issue – digitisation and digital preservation is often a lifeline for cultural heritage in the communities where museums, libraries and archives are already endangered due to the climate change – for example, the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme is dedicated to digitising and saving archives in danger of destruction, including due to climate change. The new digital resources, such the UK Web Archive’s collections, the Climate Change collection in particular, as well as the International Internet Preservation Consortium’s Climate Change collection, are essential resources for climate researchers, especially as we are increasingly working with researchers who wish to text and data mine our collections for the insights that can broaden our understanding of changing climate and biodiversity, and the impact of these changes on different communities.
Equally, as in all other areas related to the impacts of climate change, we are aware that in relation to digital research, there is also a strong interdependency with the issues of equality and social justice. Digital advancements are enablers of new research, helping us to better understand different communities and to broaden access and opportunities, but we also need to consider how the complexities of computational research and access, as well as expensive set up and energy requirements of the state-of-art infrastructures, might disadvantage researchers and communities that do not have access to relevant technologies, or to prohibitively expensive and energy-demanding resources required to run them.
For this year’s BL Labs Symposium, we are bringing a group of speakers that will consider these issues from different angles – from large-scale digitisation, to digital humanities, climate and biodiversity research, as well as the impact of AI. We will look into how our digital strategies and projects can help us fight climate change and be more inclusive, but also how we can improve our sustainability and reduce our impact on the planet.
As well as the views from our panel, there will be an opportunity for an extended audience input, helping us to bring forward the views from the broader Labs community and learn together how our practice can be improved.
The 9th BL Labs Symposium takes place on Zoom on Tuesday 7th December from 16.30 until 18.00.