Digimap comes of age

Those with long memories will remember the launch of Digimap on 10th January 2000.  This means that the service has just turned 18! Much has changed since then, with a move from a single mapping application to “lite” and advanced versions through to the recently updated Roam mapping application available today. Changes in web mapping […]

Additional vertical aerial imagery for Digimap

We recently made available, through the Digimap Lidar Collection, a wealth of Vertical Aerial Imagery data captured by the Environment Agency for England.  The Environment Agency has been capturing vertical aerial imagery since 2006 on a project by project basis, so the coverage is not continuous across England. Availability grids for each year of data […]


On a recent visit to the University of Exeter the Digimap team learned of their regular Mapathon sessions.  Dr Damien Mansell from the University of Exeter’s Department of Geography has kindly written a short piece about their mapathons for this blog: The second week of November was an important one for Geographers and Geography departments around […]

IT Futures 2017 Liveblog

Today I’m at the IT Futures Conference 2017, an annual University of Edinburgh conference. I’m chairing a session later but I’ll otherwise be liveblogging our wonderful speakers.

John Lee is introducing the day – which is being recorded – and also noting todays hashtag which you should definitely keep your eye on today: #itfutures.

John: Today’s event is about Scaling and Transformation and there is a lot to challenge ourselves with, we hope there will be lot for us to think about and reflect upon over the Christmas break.

Our first speaker today is Melissa Terras, who recently joined us from UCL as our new Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage.

University Technology Futures: the View from a Newbia at the UoE – Professor Melissa Terras, UoE College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

There are two ways to do these things: the show and tell or saying something more meaningful. I hope to do the latter today.

So, I went from studying Greek sculpture to doing hardcore machine learning in my PhD and research. I then went to UCL where I was one of the founders of the UCL centre for Digital Humanities, working on

I will be directing “digital stuff” at the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and working heavily with the Edinburgh Futures Institute which is leading data driven innovation for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. So, futures… There are lot of those… So many futures initiatives and organisations but also we face rather uncertain future… And we will we be looking at these issues at the EFI, how to deal with this uncertain future and the changing information environment. And of course the word comes from financial markets, it is speculative. When you think to the future you see speculative fiction imaging what might happen, but what does this mean for us as a University.

If I’d given this talk a few years ago it would have been quite different. The internet is changing as an environment and it has become a less pleasant place to be over the last few years. I’ve actually done some grieving for the internet I grew up with… I’ve been online since I was 17 and a lot has changed. But lets be more positive, what will we do to equip ourselves for this information environment?

So, lets start with the students – those people we criticise for not being able to buy a house because they are buying too many avocados… Lets start with ethics… I’ve been working on a project called Digital Library Futures – looking at usage stats of who borrows what, and that comes with issues of anonymity, huge ethical issues, huge data protection issues. These are the conversations we have to have with our students to understand what we can and should do.

I’ve said it before but… All data is history. It comes with a cultural background, a societal history… We do this in historical studies all the time, but do we do this with our informatics students? We’ve been doing some work at UCL on the Time Digital Archive (1785-2010) which looks at how men and women are talked about… If you use this as a training corpus for machine learning you are embedding the bias and historical issues into that learning. Even historic information has a real impact on current computational work and approaches.

Which brings me to diversity… There is a lovely piece of nineteenth century newspaper analytics identifying images from newspapers… But only white men. There were images of women and non-white people in those papers but machine learning hasn’t recognised them. This is so important in how we use and train machine learning and what computational methods we use…

And then there is context and understanding what you engage with… There are the sites that let you automatically insert yourself in a range of images – without any idea of provenance or context. Or the Twitter bots that will give your profile image a smile… A huge shout out here for librarians.

What about academics? Well all of the above! But also… We need to understand what is happening

How locked down the digital environment is – there are things I can’t do with my desktop, and then three days later it changes. I’m working on an EU handwriting recognition project and it’s hard to install the software I’m writing. To enable data driven innovation we have to give people flexibility – if you don’t do that people do workarounds and that’s where security issues start to come in. We need to ensure we have the access to do this work.

The other thing I wanted to mention is the Jeremy Bentham Panopticon… Whether through diary systems… And also lecture recording… And the change in rules that students can record anything and what that means for what we say… How you talk about your work changes when that is recorded. Being recorded at any time by students what does that mean for students… And what does that mean for students from, say, Turkey… Anything we do can potentially be done at any one time. You may think that I’m being paranoid. There have been all sorts of threats, death threats, scandal, etc. when something is broadcast and shared. How do we support staff and students if something goes wrong. So we have to understand that challenge, to engage with difficult topics.

I’m a great believer in looking after it’s own data… What does the university do to archive it’s own websites… What can we do to best look after our own information environment – our work, our data, our web content.

So, we have a bright future ahead. But it’s a complicated future. We have to be aware of all of this, we have a role to be the place to go for truth when truth is being debabed.. And that’s where the Edinburgh Futures Institute comes in. We are still developing our work  – keep an eye on the website, https://efi.ed.ac.uk/. It has huge potential and a real opportunity to be a beacon of light and truth at a time when the world really needs that. And I am hugely excited to be here and in a role that can help shape that.


Q1) You talked about light and truth… What about openness… And being closed about some things… How do you provide spaces that are both open and closed and safe?

A1) I am a firm believer in Open Data and Open GLAM, but I think it’s about equipping people with the skills to understand when and how and what framework you can share under. It’s not about closing things off but about being tooled up as an individual. The Open Data and Open Science agenda tends to be about projects post-peer review when they are ready to share. I was talking with a colleague here working on the history of censorship and she isn’t on Twitter because of the abuse she’d get for her work – and that is the right decision for that context… Having those skills to decide is important.

Q2) Thinking about the GDPR coming in, as a newbie, how do you think the University is prepared, and how do staff manage their own digital environment in that context?

A2) I am on committees at Edinburgh, I was on similar at UCL, and I have sat as an external person on similar groups at Oxford. Across all universities there is a need to help stafff understand the legal requirements, and the significance of them. These things are generally understood better when something goes wrong… In a way that’s the “Daily Mail” test – will what we are doing be at risk of appearing there?! But I have been cheered by what I have seen over the last few weeks here, and where the thinking is at.

Mr Stefan Hyttfors

I thought I would start by telling you about my 21 year old son who is a university student. He lives away from home… This summer we sat down together to have this great barbeque, to talk about his plans for the summer… About what he would do for a summer job… And he said “no, I won’t get a summer job” and that surprised us as he had lots of plans, and they require money… But he said “it’s fine! I have this crypto currency wallet” and he had 2 bitcoin – which last summer was worth about $5000. And I wanted to start with that… He questioned what is money, is paper money real? It’s belief, we believe it has value because it has been there for a long time… We have symbols… the dollar, the pound, the krona, the Euro… We don’t believe in the paper anymore but we believe in the banks, we check on our phones. We don’t ever see our money as a thing… We know what they owe us, as long as we believe in that system, it works. He said he doesn’t believe in that system – it’s dysfunctional and it will be disrupted… It is an inefficient system… I believe in crypto currency. And his bitcoin is worth more like $37k, so he was right, he didn’t need a summer job.

What Melissa told us about education is right, if we want to create new citizens… We do know that in the future we have huge problems… We have climate change. We don’t know if we can cope with that yet… There are ways to change your impact: eat less meat; fly less; drive an electric car or ditch the car altogether. There is one way to trump all that: have less children! We are in this time where the best way to save the future is to stop having kids… Which is strange… Surely a better faster idea woudld be suicide? Zero carbon emissions! But this is serious… We need to understand and think about how we think about the future, about what we can do… I’, in a hotel tonight, in the hotel has a sign to reuse the towels to save the planet… But the planet will be fine for millions of years… We have to think about the future of humanity, and that’s about sustainability in all senses – environment, diversity, equality… If we don’t do that we will have more divide, more people scared about human futures.

And now we have the internet. The internet is a stupid network…. For thousands of years we collaborated in hierarchy…. Better to be part of that at any level rather than being alone. But now we have a decentralised network… It’s all of us and everything, in a mess… And since we are connected in a mess and not a hieracrchy, we don’t need a boss… So I have experience, and I can tell my son how to address issues in the world… But what if I’m wrong…. That means there is no boss, no teacher, who chas the power to say what should happen, innovation is at the edges… In universities you pushed out ideas, you had the power; companies too pushed things out. But now innovation is in the edges… There is no boss now. It’s decentralised, that’s the whole point… This is how crypto currencies are being established right now… Rather than haing trust in just one bank… Lets instead trust in all of us, keeping transactions across millions of ledgers, there is no middle man, no one database to hack anymore… This couldn’t work without network effect. In any university or country we need to have scale… This took off about 10 years ago… This summer was the tenth anniversary of the launch of the first smartphone, and it’s an amazing product launch from Steve Jobs – who points out current “smart” phones which are all about hardware, which can’t be easily changed as the world changes… He said then that we’d fixed the issue for computers but not for phones… Well we are still just at the beginning. Things are still changing..

The world is changing from hardware to software… Not just phones… From a University building to software… From products to services… This means we can’t think of the future in a linear fashion… In a corporation they talk about growth, in a country it’s GDP growth… in our lives we see our ages go up but it’s an odd way to mark things… I might instead celebrate the years I have left to live to keep me focused on what matters… Whatever we work on we do everything a little bit better all the time, we compete on scalable efficiency… If we are more efficient than competitors we are safe. This is a model that is seen as best practice right now… But that applies until we find a new way to address the issue… That is probably technology but may well not be devices… For instance I don’t need to own a car now, I can use Uber… That’s a new technology. New stuff is new! The world changes… And that always appears in “S” curves…. First it doesn’t work, we ridicule it… Then leaders are learners… That’s where we need a university to study and explore – there would be no new practice without it… Then we learn and adjust… and eventually it takes off and quickly thanks to network effects.

But what if I’m the blue (steady upwards) line here… What if I don’t know how to solve the problem… When the red line crosses the blue line, the blue line is over… This is a bit like the Christmas Pig in Sweden – all looks good until Christmas! Right now we have big organisations going out of business… disruption are our unicorn companies… You get disruption because you do something very very good with efficiency in mind… And you get disrupted because they find a totally different way to solve a problem. We say this in media – newspapers, music, film. And now we see it in retail… We see lots of large retail brands ticking along, busy, doing well… And then Amazon performing so much more successfully. Eric Hoffer says “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”.

As humans we always solve our problems with technology. So 1914 we have the Ford Model T launched… We have huge adoption growth, a few years of decline during the second world war, but by 1991 we are at 91% adoption… You have 76 years to adopt the technology… But right now the S curves are like rockets! An idea appears and it is adopted hugely fast! And we don’t need to shift products anymore, we can ship ideas… Artificial Intelligence is about creating machines that do not need to be programmed… Maybe you heard about the defeat of a Go champion beaten by a Google algorithm. This isn’t chess, Go is a game with 10 to the 5 variations, which has been taught from generation to generation. And that was last year, now there’s a new version of that algorithm – Alpha Go Zero – which learns the game from nothing and in 40 days learned enough to win 100 games in a row against the previous algorithm… What AI learns from us may only slow us down…

It’s scary though! We worry “Will robots take our jobs?” but that’s stupid. We are the creators. We solve problems with technology, we are part of technology… If you think about your day, your experience, how you think about life… Think about electricity and what would happen if you took that away, what that would mean for our lives… It’s hard to imagine that though. Douglas Adam described what you have now,  that’s what has always been… But everything invented after the age of 35 is just not ormal… We take for granted the technology we have available to us. Technology is part of us. It’s not robots or human beings, it’s still us and what we want to do with technologuy…

When I was growing up computers were the size of a room… It wasn’t accessible or cheap, it was a huge mainframe… Now we’ve moved to mobile, to wearable, to technology that can be embedded in us as well… Your grandkids will talk about you, and think you know nothing… We will have new problems… Technology will tell us not to have another beer because it will knock 15 minutes off your life… Your insurance company may stop covering you… That’s a new problem… Maybe privacy becomes the currency in the new world

So, as we think ahead think about one word, think about dematerialisation. Digitisation means the marginal cost go down… It goes down over time… What is the marginal cost of taking pictures now? It’s zero! But you used to just have 24 shots to use, or maybe 36… It was a bigger cost… You didn’t take lots of them… Then you sent them off… And two years later you finish the film and send off… Now our toddlers can take 2000 self portraits a day! We talk about healthcare in those terms of unaffordability now, maybe we afford it through digitisation….

One more example we hear about is the automobile industry… Cars were complex… Now they are smaller, lighter, autonomous… We only have a driver now because the law requires a human in charge… Today when you say “look at that guy, he’s texting and driving!”, but in less than 10 years time you’ll say “look at that guy, he’s driving! People are the inefficient part… 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents… We don’t know how to drive… But how do deal with this… This traffic cop pulls up the Google Car and he doesn’t know what to do… No-one is in charge… But if we need fewer cars, we make fewer cars… That means the automobile industry will decline… We need to move from physical ownership of cars to the shared infrastructure for getting around. And that can be ok. But that won’t work when policy makers force us to stay in the past, to protect the old way of doing something..

Same with education… If you grow up in Uganda you just need access to the internet… You can take one of 250 courses at Harvard for free online… You don’t need the concrete building. It doesn’t matter how much political power you have, technology beats politics… They trump politics and borders… Online there is no Brexit… It’s not just corporations but also individuals that have access to technology. We can solve big problems this way. That means that the issue isn’t technology but humanity… Do we want sustainability, equality, space to explore… Do we want to see GDP growth. What do we believe i as a society… We have fantastic ecooic growth… GDP is growing… More people on the planet than ever before have access to technology, to healthcare, to vaccines. But non-humans… Oceans, forests, etc. are dying, we are clearning land to support us farming meat. We have huge air pollution issues. If we keep going on that blue line we won’t have water, air, forests to support us, we all depend on us eventually… No matter what you believe in…

There is one thing we can all relate to… There are 7.5Bn people on just one planet… No matter what business or education or purpose model we have, we have to solve our problems within that limit… Until 1986 we were just about sustainable…. Right now we are using 1.6 planets worth of resources… We have to create much more with much less… Some things, some business models, some GDP standards have to shrink not grow. It’s pretty clear that my son and his generation are aware of this, they see that old model doesn’t work, that it doesn’t make them happy… We have all these things, but we don’t have happiness… That’s not my opinion, that’s the WOrld Health Organisation’s opinion. We have a huge number of people with depression, we had 800m suicides last year. A lot of things are pointing the wrong waays… This is why future generation think old models are bullshit. They see that there must be a better way to do it… Stephen Hawkins says that “history teaches us what didn’t work” – we have to come up with better conclusions… If we are at this point in history when sustainability means no babies… Then we clearly have to change… From an educational perspective I think it is clear I don’t need a university, or a teacher… I need a network. Perhaps the university or the teacher can be a helpful node in this network… But it has to be about creating a better future, rather than preserving an old model.

Response – Jen Ross

What we have from Stefan is an opportunity to reflect on what we need to do as educators to consider different sorts of materiality. We have to educate not just with technology but about it. We have to see technology as deeply integrated with society ad our values. This has implications for what we do as an organisation as well… How do we want students to respond to this new world… People at this university talk about the future in a lot of interesting ways. Posing interesting questions… This year Sian Bayne and I led a course on digital futures, and the Near Future Teaching project is looking at what teaching of the future should be… These conversations are happening. And this organisation is already thinking about ethical issues… And I want to ask you about being creative and critical in these discussions, and who can you talk to about the ideas today?


Q1) I noticed in Stefan’s presentation a self-driving car… Am I correct in saying that a self-driving car slowed when passing two females… and is that an example of bias in the algorithm.

A1) I have an autopilot on my car… and you get used to that quickly… That makes me dangerous in my wife’s car – I forget I am in charge. What Melissa raised is important in terms of bias embedded… Maybe Alpha Go can teach us something about teaching the algorithm… Maybe we can learn something new… It’s an amazing time to be alive. Thinking about the future as a destination makes the present an obstacle… We know what the future will be like because this moment is the future…

Q2) One of the interesting things about being this room is that people here work on systems… The internet isn’t stupid… That’s a live issue in the debate over net neutrality… That’s likely to break at some point… People have been trying to keep the network stupid but what happens when that breaks, what happens without net neutrality…

A2) I don’t know it has to break… But in a decentralised network there is no way to stop it… So big organisations doing things to individuals doesn’t work this way… You could only shut down blockchain by cutting power… And that’s hard to do… Most of the blockchain miners are in China and not in the big cities… I don’t believe in paranoid scenarios where you have evil Trump, evil Google… As soon as they do something bad enough… We go somewhere else… I refer to bitcoin as it’s a really interesting example. Big banks have a business model that depends on all the big people… So how do you close down a network like Bitcoin… You could do that by paying them to opt out… But that would cost £300bn right now. I do see huge problems with protectionism, because of populism, because of inequality. We have enough stuff but we don’t share it well enough… People get scared and then we go for protectionism and nationalism… I don’t claim to have an answer…

Q3) I was meeting with union heads yesterday and AI came up and the potential for disruption or job losses… I’d like to hear your view on the total amount of meaningful work and jobs over time… Any thoughts on how to deal or think about that.

A3) It’s a valid and important question. What is a meaningful job? Gallup says that only 13% of the workforce is really engaged in their role… Most people do “robot jobs”. That should mean that that opens up… As long as job loss means free time rather than our future being screwed, that’s fine… As long as people believe that we need jobs and politicians argue about creating jobs… It’s easy… Ignore technology… that will create jobs… The issue is sharing resources and the outcome… But that’s not easy… And more time means more time to think about the meaning of life. I don’t have a boss or a job as such. I’m curious, I travel, I’m essentially a student… And what I do funds my life… Lets talk about sharing resources as a problem… We have a system that has served us well… But now we are scared of missing out… That’s the thing about Trump and Brexit… People are scared… We have to realise that and address it…

And with that we go to coffee… 



Digimap for Schools at Christmas

As Christmas approaches we thought we’d pull together a few Christmas themed activities for Primary schools.

Activity 1: Whats the quickest route for Santa?

This is a whole class activity and involves the use of pupil postcodes.  The locations are plotted onto a map,  pupils will then have the ability to see all the locations Santa has to go in order to visit all the pupils in the class.  Pupils should then either work independently or in teams to identify the quickest route for SScreen Shot 2017-12-08 at 09.26.43anta to go.  The amount of combinations should make it an interesting little competition to see who identifies the quickest route!  (Perhaps a Christmas themed prize for the winner :-)


Step 1: Create a excel spreadsheet with the pupils postcode and their name.  NOTE: Make sure the postcode column has ‘postcode’ at the top and the name column has ‘label’ at the top.  Please also ensure that you save the file as a .csv (comma separated value) rather than an .xls.


Step 2: Once you have saved your file in Excel, you need to upload it into Digimap for Schools.  Simply open the annotations toolbar and then go to the markers section and upload your file. step2Step 3: This is the stage at which you are able to start planning Santa’s route.  You will see all the locations with the pupils name beside it.  You then simply get the pupils to draw a line between the different pupils houses to see which is the quickest route.  You can use the measurement tool to get the length of the individual routes.  Remember you can add some photos to your map also!

Activity 2: Digimap Christmas Jigsaw’s

This can be done either as an online Jigsaw or as a hard copy.  You can generate a series of maps with ‘secret’ Christmas phrases or words that correspond to places on your maps.  E.g.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 10.49.11

To create an online Jigsaw I’ve used Jigsaw planet https://www.jigsawplanet.com which is very simple to use and allows you to create your jigsaw.  Alternatively you can simply download a Jigsaw image from Google e.g. http://miamibox.us/puzzle-piece-template.html and place it over your map in Powerpoint.  Here are is an example of both:


These are quite festive little activities which can be all done pretty quickly in Digimap fro Schools.  We wish you all the very best in the run up to Christmas and hope these activities can be of some help!

We’ve created a quick video to show you how to do these tasks above….

Click here to view the embedded video.


GCSE Geography Fieldwork/Controlled Assessment

The Geography GCSE curriculum has changed over the last number of years so we decided to have a quick look into what had changed and more importantly how Digimap for Schools can cater for these changes.  We looked in particular at the AQA, Edexcel, OCR, WJEC and CEA examination boards.  We noted that the majority of these examination boards now mandate that two field studies are required, one for physical and one for human geography.

As we got into the bare bones of the specifications we noted some common themes occurring in the Controlled Assessment/Fieldwork.  Many of them had similar themes for the Data Collection and Data Presentation elements of fieldwork.  We created this short video highlighting how Digimap for School can help.  Hopefully this will showcase how beneficial the service is to teachers and pupils at GCSE.


Click here to view the embedded video.

New Digimap Roam for all Collections

On 30th November 2017, we released Beta versions of our new Roam mapping application for all Digimap Collections. Log in to Digimap and click on each Collection to find the link to each new Roam: The functionality of the new application remains the same, but we hope you agree that the updated look is easier […]

Family history and the Statistical Accounts

We’re always interested to hear how you use the Statistical Accounts. Family historians are one of the key groups who make use of our service so we were delighted to see Jane Harris recently publish a blog on using the Statistical Accounts for family history research. Jane has kindly agreed that we republish her post – we hope it’s useful for those of you researching your Scottish roots! 

portrait shot of Jane

Jane Harris

Jane specialises in Scottish genealogy and family history. A member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Scottish Genealogy Network, Jane provides both family history research and tutoring so you can do research yourself. Her particular interests include the Stirling area, where she lives, and Orkney, where she was born and grew up. Jane described her experience with the Statistical Accounts for us:

A row of books with rather dull dust jackets; a couple of interesting quotes in a lecture or course book. That sums up my knowledge of the Statistical Accounts from my student days. When I started seriously researching my own family history many years later that view changed rapidly. Checking the earlier censuses, I was fascinated by the number of distinctively Highland surnames in my father’s home parish of Walls, Orkney. The Old Statistical Account provided an explanation: that a large number of people had come from “Strathnaven”, having been cleared to make way for sheep, so early victims of the clearances. I was hooked.

The Statistical Accounts are now one of my standard sources for client research in the late eighteenth to mid nineteenth centuries, both for general background and also for specific information on churches, migration, occupations and so on. 

Now for Jane’s original blog, with some great pointers…


S is for Statistical Accounts of Scotland 

Keep reading! They are far more than numbers. The Statistical Accounts are two fascinating sets of reports on each Scottish parish in the 1790s and the 1830s/40s.  They cover economic and social activities as well as natural resources.

What, when, who, how? 

Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster sent out 171 queries to the ministers of each of the 938 parishes in Scotland in the 1790s. Their responses form the Old Statistical Account (OSA). In 1832, because of all the changes that had taken place in Scotland, a new survey was agreed. The responses are collectively known as the New Statistical Account (NSA). Find out more about the background.

 How are the Statistical Accounts useful for family history? 

  • Context for our ancestors’ lives.

“The prejudices, entertained by the inhabitants of this parish, against inoculation [sic] were, for a long time, invincible. But the better sort, setting the example, the rest gradually followed… In one season 460 were inoculated, of whom only 3 died” (Kilmalie, Invernesshire, Old Statistical Account, p409). Mortality by age group statistics (Glasgow, Old Statistical Account p508).


  • Information on churches other than the established Church of Scotland.

“There is in St Ninians a Relief meeting-house… there is another meeting-house in Ba-burn connected with the United Secession” (St Ninians, Stirlingshire, New Statistical Account p336).


  • The state of the parish registers: “the fourth is a mere ragged fragment” (Wick, Caithness, New Statistical Account p137). May explain why you can’t find a baptism:
Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Wick, Caithness, Vol XV, 1845, p137.

Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Wick, Caithness, Vol XV, 1845, p137.







  • Names of landowners, which could lead you to estate records.

For example, see Menteith, Perthshire, New Statistical Account p1108.


  • Local history generally, development of industries, migration and so on.

“What accounts for this [population] increase of 71 is the settlement of a colony of Highlanders, who had been forced to emigrate from Strathnaven [sic], where their farms had been converted into sheep pasture” (Walls, Orkney, Old Statistical Account p313).


  • The minister’s view on his parishioners.

This snip from the Dalziel, Lanarkshire, (Motherwell area) New Statistical Account is particularly rich:

Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Dalziel, Vol VI, 1845, p454.

Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Dalziel, Vol VI, 1845, p454.










In summary 

Topography, geology, botany, agriculture, weather, population statistics, diseases, the state of the church and manse, manufactures, occupations (for example see table from Inverness’ Old Statistical Account below), wages, prisons, schools, language, history, antiquities, communications – and much more. Each account as individual as the minister who wrote it. You can find them all on the Statistical Accounts of Scotland website.

Table of occupations from the Old Statistical Account for Inverness, Vol IX, 1793, p622.

Table of occupations from the Old Statistical Account for Inverness, Vol IX, 1793, p622.











Thanks to Jane for letting us share her thoughts. You can find Jane’s blog here:


Follow Jane on Twitter @janenharris


Let us know your story 

Could you share your Statistical Accounts experience with us? What have you found that’s been particularly helpful in your local or family history research? We’d love to hear from you. Comment below or email us, edina@ed.ac.uk.


Digital and Information Literacy Forum 2017

Today I am at the Scottish Government for the Digital and Information Literacy Forum 2017.

Introduction from Jenny Foreman, Scottish Government: Co-chair of community of practice with Cleo Jones (who couldn’t be here today). Welcome to the 2017 Digital and Information Literacy Forum!

Scottish Government Digital Strategy – Cat Macaulay, Head of User Research and Service Design, Scottish Government

I am really excited to speak to you today. For me libraries have never just been about books, but about information and bringing people together. At high school our library was split between 3rd and 4th year section and a 5th and 6th year section, and from the moment I got there I was desperate to get into the 5th and 6th year section! It was about place and people and knowledge. My PhD later on was on interaction design and soundscapes, but in the context of the library and seeking information… And that morphed into a project on how journalists yse information at The Scotsman – and the role of the library and the librarian in their clippings library. In Goffman terms it was this backstage space for journalists to rehearse their performances. There was talk of the clippings library shutting down and I argued against that as it was more than just those clippings.

So, that’s the personal bit, but I’ll turn to the more formal bit here… I am looking forward to discussions later, particularly the panel on Fake News. Information is crucial to allowing people to meaningfully, equally and truly participate in democracy, and to be part of designing that. So, the imporatnce of digital literacy is crucial to participation in democracy. And for us in the digital directorate, it is a real priority – for reaching citizens and for librarians and information professionals to support that access to information and participation.

We first set out a digital strategy in 2011, but we have been refreshing our strategy and about putting digital at the heart of what we do. Digital is not about technology, it’s a cultural issue. We moved before from agrarian to industrial society, and we are now in the process of moving from an industrial to a digital society. Aiming to deliver inclusive economic growth, reform public services, tackle inequalities and empower communities, and prepare people for the future workplace. Digital and information literacy are core skills for understanding the world and the future.

So our first theme is the Digital Economy. We need to stimulate innovation and investment, we need to support digital technologies industr, and we need to increase digital maturity of all businesses. Scotland is so dependent on small businesses and SMEs that we need our librarians and information professionals to be able to support that maturity of all businesses.

Our second theme is Data and Innovation. For data we need to increase public trust in holding data securely and using/sharing appropriately. I have a long term medical issue and the time it takes to get appointments set up, to share information between people so geographically close to each other – across the corridor. That lack of trust is core to why we still rely on letters and faxes in these contexts.

In terms of innovation, CivTech brings together the public sector teams and tech start-ups to develeop solutions to real problems, and to grow and expand services. We want to innovate and learn from the wider tech and social media context.

The third theme is Digital Public Services, the potential to simplify and standardise ways of working. Finding common technologies/platforms build and procured once. And design services with citizens to meet their needs. Information literacy skills and critical questioning are at the heart of this. You have to have that literacy to really understand the problems, and to begin to be looking at addressing that, and co-designing.

The fourth theme is Connectivity. Improving superfast broadband, improving coverage in rural areas, increasing the 4G coverage.

The fifth theme is Skills. We need to build a digitally skilled nation. I spent many years in academia – no matter how “digital native” we might assume them, actually we’ve assumed essentially that because someone can drive a car, they can build a car. We ALL need support for finding information, how to judge it and how to use it. We all need to learn and keep on learning. We also need to promote diversity – ensuring we have more disabled people, more BAME people, more women, working in these areas, building these solutions… We need to promote and enhance that, to ensure everyone’s needs are reflected. Friends working in the third sector in Dundee frequently talk about the importance of libraries to their service users, libraries are crucial to supporting people with differing needs.

The sixth theme is Participation. We need to enable everybody to share in the social, economic and democractic opportunities of digital. We need to promote inclusion and participation. That means everyone participating.

And our final theme (seven) is Cyber Security. That is about the global reputation for Scotland as a secure place to work, learn and do business. That’s about security, but it is also about trust and addressing some of those issues I talked about earlier.

So, in conclusion, this is a strategy for Scotland, not just Scottish Government. We want to be a country that uses digital to maximum effect, to enable inclusion, to build the economy, to positively deliver for society. It is a living document and can grow and develop. Collective action is needed to ensure nobody is left behind; we all remain safe, secure and confident about the future. We all need to promote that information and digital literacy.

Q1) I have been involved in information literacy in schools – and I know in schools and colleges that there can be real inconsistency about how things are labeled as “information literacy”, “digital literacy”, and “digital skills”. I’m slightly concerned there is only one strand there – that digital skills can be about technology skills, not information literacy.

A1) I echo what you’ve just said. I spent a year in a Life Sciences lab in a Post Doc role studying their practice. We were working on a microscopy tool… And I found that the meaning of the word “image” was understood differently by Life Scientists and Data Scientists. Common terminology really matter. And indeed semantic technologies enable us to do that in new ways. But it absolutely matters.

Q2, Kate SVCO) We are using a digital skills framework developed that I think is also really useful to frame that.

A2) I’m familiar with that work and I’d agree. Stripping away complexity and agree on common terms and approaches is a core focus of what we are doing.

Q3) We have been developing a digital skills framework for colleges and for the student lifecycle. I have been looking at the comprehensive strategy for schools and colleges by Welsh Government’s… Are there plans for similar?

A3) I know there has been work taking place but I will take that back.

Q4) I thought that the “Participation” element was most interesting here. Information literacy is key to enabling participation… Say what you like about Donald Trump but he has made the role of information literacy in democracy very vital and visible. Scotland is in a good place to support information literacy – there are many in this room have done great work in this area – but it needs resourcing to support it.

A4) My team focuses on how we design digital tools and technologies so that people can use them. And we absolutely need to look at how best to support those that struggle. But is not just about how you access digital services… How we describe these things, how we reach out to people… I remember being on a bus in Dundee and hearing a guy saying “Oh, I’ve got a Fairer Scotland Consultation leaflet… What the fuck is a Consultation?!”. I’ve had some awkward conversations with my teenage boys about Donald Trump, and Fake News. I will follow up with you afterwards – I really welcome a conversation about these issues. At the moment we are designing a whole new Social Security framework right now – not a thing most other governments have had to do – and so we really have to understand how to make that clear.

Health Literacy Action Plan Update – Blythe Robertson, Policy Lead, Scottish Government

The skills, confidence, knowledge and understanding to interact with the health system and maintain good health is essentially what we mean in Health Literacy. Right now there is a huge focus in health policy on “the conversation”. And that’s the conversation between policy makers and practitioners and people receiving health care. There is a model of health and care delivery called “More than Medicine” – this is a memorable house-shaped visual model that brings together organisational processes and arrangements, health and care professionals, etc. At the moment though the patient has to do at least as much as the medical professional, with hoops to jump through – as Cat talked about before…

Instructions can seem easy… But then we can all end up at different places [not blogged: an exercise with paper, folding, eyes closed].

Back when computers first emerged you needed to understand a lot more about computer languages, you had to understand how it worked… It was complex, there was training… What happened? Well rather than trianing everyone, instead they simplified access – with the emergence of the iPad for instance.

So, this is why we’ve been trying to address this with Making it easy: A health literacy action plan for Scotland. And there’s a lot of text… But really we have two images to sum this up… The first (a woman looking at a hurdle… We’ve tried to address this by creating a nation of hurdlers… But we think we should really let people walk through/remove those hurdles.

Some statistics for you: 43% of English working age adults will struggle to understand instructions to calculate a childhood paracetamol dose. There is lot bound up here… Childhood health literacy is important. Another stat/fact: Half of what a person is told is forgotten. And half of what is remembered is incorrect. [sources: several cited health studies which will be on Blythe’s slides]. At the heart of issue is that a lot of information is transmitted… then you ask “Do you understand?” and of course you say “yes”, even if you don’t. So, instead, you need to check information… That can be as simple as rephrasing a question to e.g. “Just so I can check I’ve explained things clearly can you tell me what you’ve understood” or similar.

We did a demonstrator programme in NHS Tayside to test these ideas… So, for instance, if you wander into Nine Wells hospital you’ll see a huge board of signs… That board is blue and white text… There is one section with yellow and blue… That’s for Visual Impairment, because that contrast is easier to see. We have the solution but… People with visual impairment come to other areas of the hospitals. So why isn’t that sign all done in the same way with high contrast lettering on the whole board? We have the solution, why don’t we just provide it across the board. That same hospital send out some appointment letters asking them to comment and tell them about any confusion… And there were many points that that happened. For instance if you need the children’s ward… You need to know to follow signs for Paediatrics first… There isn’t a consistency of naming… Or a consistency of colour. So, for instance Maternity Triage is a sign in red… It looks scary! Colours have different implications, so that really matters. You will be anxious being in hospital – consistency can help reduce the levels of anxiety.

Letters are also confusing… They are long. Some instructions are in bold, some are small notes at the bottom… That can mean a clinic running 20 minutes late… Changing what you emphasise has a huge impact. It allows the health care provision to run more smoothly and effectively. We workshopped an example/mock up letter with the Scottish Conference for Learning Disability. They came up with clear information and images. So very clear to see what is happening, includes an image of where the appointment is taking place to help you navigate – with full address. The time is presented in several forms, including a clock face. And always offer support, even if some will not need it. Always offer that… Filling in forms and applications is scary… For all of us… There has to be contact information so hat people can tell you things – when you look at people not turning up to appointments was that they didn’t know how to contact people, they didn’t know that they could change the appointment, that they wanted to contact them but they didn’t want to make a phone call, or even that because they were already in for treatment they didn’t think they needed to explain why they weren’t at their outpatients appointment.

So, a new action plan is coming called “Making it easier”. That is about sharing the learning from Making it Easy across Scotland. To embed ways to improve health literacy in policy and practice. To develop more health literacy responsive organisations and communities. Design supports and services to better meet people’s health literacy levels. And that latter point is about making services more responsive and easier to understand – frankly I’d like to put myself out of a job!

So, one area I’d like to focus on is the idea of “Connectors” – the role of the human information intermediary, is fundamental. So how can we take those competancies and roll them out across the system… In ways that people can understand… Put people in contact with digital skills, the digital skills framework… Promoting understanding. We need to signpost with confidence, and to have a sense that people can use this kind of information. Looking at librarians as a key source of information that can helps support people’s confidence.

In terms of implementation… We have at (1) a product design and at (3) “Scaled up”. But what is at step (2)? How do we get there… Instead we need to think about the process differently… Starting with (1) a need identified, then a planned structured resources and co-developed for success, and then having it embedded in the system… I want to take the barriers out of the system.

And I’m going to finish with a poem: This is bad enough by Elspeth Murray, from the launch of the cancer information reference group of the South East Scotland Cancer Network 20 January 2016.


Q1) I’m from Strathclyde, but also work with older people and was wondering how much health literacy is part of the health and social care integration?

A1) I think ultimately that integration will help, but with all that change it is challenging to signpost things clearly… But there is good commitment to work with that…

Q2) You talked about improving the information – the letters for instance – but is there work more fundamentally questioning the kind of information that goes out? It seems archaic and expensive that appointments are done through posted physical letters… Surely better to have an appointment that is in your diary, that includes the travel information/map….

A2) Absolutely, NHS Lothian are leading on some trial work in this area right now, but we are also improving those letters in the interim… It’s really about doing both things…

Cat) And we are certainly looking at online bookings, and making these processes easier, but we are working with older systems sometimes, and issues of trust as well, so there are multiple aspects to addressing that.

Q3) Some of those issues would be practically identical for educators… Teachers or lecturers, etc…

A3) I think that’s right. Research from University of Maastrict mapped out the 21 areas across Public and Private sectors in which these skills should be embedded… And i Think those three areas of work can be applied across those area… Have to look at design around benefits, we have some hooks around there.

Cat) Absolutely part of that design of future benefits for Scotland.

Panel Discussion – Fake News (Gillian Daly – chair; Lindsay McKrell (Strathclyde); Sean McNamara (CILIPS); Allan Lindsay (Young Scott))

Sean: CILIPS supports the library and information science community in Scotland, including professional development, skills and ethics. Some years ago “information literacy” would have been more about university libraries, but now it’s across the board an issue for librarians. Librarians are less gatekeepers of information, and more about enabling those using their libraries to seek and understand information online, how to understand information and fake news, how to understand the information they find even if they are digitally confident in using the tools they use to access that information.

Allan: Young Scot is Scotland’s natural charity for information literacy. We work closely with young people to help them grow and develop, and influence us in this area. Fake News crops up a lot. A big piece of work we are involved in is he 5 Rights projects, which is about rights online – that isn’t just for young people but significantly about their needs. Digital literacy is key to that. We’ve also worked on digital skills – recently with the Carnegie Trust and the Prince’s Trust. As an information agency we reach people through our website – and we ensure young people are part of creating content in that space.

Lindsay: I’d like to talk about digital literacy as well as Fake News. Digital literacy is absolutely fundamental to supporting citizens to be all that they can be. Accessing information without censorship, and a range of news, research, citizenship test information… That is all part of public libraries service delivery and we need to promote that more. Public libraries are navigators for a huge and growing information resource, and we work with partners in government, in third sector, etc. And our libraries reach outside of working hours and remote areas (e.g. through mobile levels) so we have unique value for policy makers through that range and volume of users. Libraries are also well placed to get people online – still around 20% of people are not online – and public libraries have the skills to support people to go online, gain access, and develop their digital literacy as well. We can help people find various source of information, select between them, to interpret information and compare information. We can grow that with our reading strategies, through study skills and after school sessions. Some libraries have run sessions on fake news, but I’m not sure how well supported thse have been. We are used to displaying interesting books… But why aren’t our information resources similarly well designed and displayed – local filterable resources for instance… Maybe we should do some of this at national level,  not just at local council level. SLIC have done some great work, what we need now is digital information with a twist that will really empower citizens and their information literacy…

Gillian Daly: I was wondering, Allan, how do you tackle the idea of the “Digital Native”? This idea of inate skills of young people?

Allan: It comes up all the time… This presumption that young people can just do things digitally… Some are great but many young people don’t have all the skills they need… There are misconceptions from young people themselves about what they can and cannot do… They are on social media, they have phones… But do they have an understanding of how to behave, how to respond when things go wrong… There is a lot of responsibility for all of us that just because young people use these things, doesn’t mean they understand them all. Those misconceptions apply across the board though… Adults don’t always have this stuff sorted either. It’s dangerous to make assumptions about this stuff… Much as it’s dangerous to assume that those from lower income communities are less well informed about these things, which is often not correct at all.

Lindsay: Yes, we find the same… For instance… Young people are confident with social media… But can’t attach a document for instance…

Comment from HE org: Actually there can be learning in both directions at University. Young people come in with a totally different landscape to us… We have to have a dialogue of learning there…

Gillian: Dialogue is absolutely important… How is that being tackled here…

Sean: With school libraries, those skills to transfer from schools to higher education is crucial… But schools are lacking librarians and information professionals and that can be a barrier there… Not just about Fake News but wider misinformation about social media… It’s important that young people have those skills…

Comment: Fake News doesn’t happen by accident… It’s important to engage with IFLA guide to spot that… But I think we have to get into the territory of why Fake News is there, why it’s being done… And the idea of Media and Information Literacy – UNESCO brought those ideas together a few years ago. There is a vibrant GATNO organisation, which would benefit from more Scottish participation.

Allan: We run a Digital Modern Apprenticeship at Young Scot. We do work with apprentices to build skills, discernment and resiliance to understand issues of fake news and origins. A few weeks back a young person commented on something they had seen on social media… At school for me “Media Studies” was derided… I think we are eating our words now… If people had those skills and were equipped to understand that media and creation process. The wider media issues… Fake News isn’t in some box… We have to be able to discern mainstream news as well as “Fake News”. Those skills, confidence, and ability to ask difficult questions to navigate through these issues…

Gillian: I read a very interesting piece by a journalist recently, looking to analyse Fake News and the background to it, the context of media working practice, etc. Really interesting.

Cat: To follow that up… I distinctly remember in 1994 in The Scotsman about the number of times journalists requested clippings that were actually wrong… Once something goes wrong and gets published, it stay there and repopulates… Misquotations happen that way for instance. That sophisticated understanding isn’t about right and wrong and more about the truthfulness of information. In some ways Trump is doing a favour here, and my kids are much more attuned to accuracy now…

Gillian: I think one of the scariest things is that once the myth is out, it is so hard to dispel or get rid of that…

Comment: Glasgow University has a Glasgow Media Group and they’ve looked at these things for years… One thing they published years ago, “Bad News”, looked at for instance the misrepresentation of Trade Unionists in news sources, for a multitude of complex reasons.

Sean: At a recent event we ran we had The Ferret present – those fact checking organisations, those journalists in those roles to reflect that.

Jenny: The Ferret has fact checking on a wonderful scale to reflect the level of fakeness…

Gillian: Maybe we need to recruit some journalists to the Digital and Information Literacy Forum.

And on that, with many nods of agreement, we are breaking for lunch


SUNCAT updated

SUNCAT has been updated. Updates from the following libraries were loaded into the service over the two weeks. The dates displayed indicate when files were received by SUNCAT.

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