Computing for Cultural Heritage

Computing for Culture Heritage laptop with books

A project to develop a new postgraduate certificate, Computing for Cultural Heritage, with The National Archives and Birkbeck University

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The British Library and partners Birkbeck University and The National Archives were awarded £222,420 in funding by the Institute of Coding (IoC) for 2019-2021 to co-develop a trial of a one-year part-time postgraduate Certificate (PGCert), Computing for Cultural Heritage, as part of a £4.8 million University skills drive. 


A recent job advertisement for a curatorial role at the British Library reflects the changing nature, and digital competency requirements for professionals working in the cultural heritage sector:

  • contribute to and undertake work on digitisation and digital projects
  • assist in implementing new technologies to make the collections more accessible through online presence or through digital tools
  • have experience or familiarity with a variety of information technology skills underpinning digital research methods and practices (e.g. geo-referencing, text mining)
This is no less the case for professionals already working in post, who have often come to their role many years ago, having deep domain expertise in a particular subject, yet now find themselves with increased responsibility for assisting on the design and delivery of complex digital projects, without a foundation in computing to truly empower them.  

Additionally, due to the scale and diversity of the digital collections held by the BL, and changing Library services and researcher demands, it is of great importance that all staff are aware of the issues, opportunities and strategies involved in working with large-scale digital collections and developing innovative digital projects.  This requires having an understanding of approaches used in programming, data science, big data, machine learning, text mining, data analytics, cloud computing, and visualisation. 

From deploying simple scripts to make everyday tasks easier, to advising on the building of new digital collections systems, or supporting collaborative, computational and data-driven research using digital collections and data, this project trialed a new professional development opportunity to provide cultural heritage professionals with a much-needed grounding in computational approaches to navigate this new data-driven landscape confidently. 

Project Team

Dr. Martyn Harris, IoC Manager, Birkbeck, University of London
Dr. Mark Levene, Department Head of Computer Science and Information Systems, Birkbeck, University of London  
Nora McGregor, Digital Curator, British Library  
Dr. Jo Pugh, Digital Development Manager, The National Archives 
Dr. Stelios Sotiriadis, PGCert Computing for Cultural Heritage Programme Director, Birkbeck, University of London  

Latest News

Trial complete

The final report from the trial is now available to read in full. 

Throughout 2019 the team worked closely with Dr. Stelios Sotiriadis at Birkbeck to develop the PGCert framework, devising three new modules; Demystifying Computing with Python, Analytic Tools for Information Professionals and Work Based Projects. In autumn 2019, a select number of staff from within the British Library and the National Archives were given the opportunity to attend a free trial version of the course in order to evaluate the framework and programme content. An evaluation report is underway and will be made available in Spring 2021. 

Read more about some of the exciting projects undertaken by the cohort as part of the final Work Based Project module in our Computing for Cultural Heritage Student Projects Case Study.

New Course Launched! 

Following on the successful completion of the trial in Spring 2020, Birkbeck now offers the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Data Science as of January 2021. This new course is broader in nature so as to provide the wider information professional community, across a range of industries, with foundational programming and data science skills, whilst supporting individuals to apply this knowledge to their own contexts (such as cultural heritage) through the final work-based module. 

Winner of the Best Poster Award, LIBER 2020!

The project was honoured to earn the award for Top Poster Abstract – For the poster receiving the highest assessment from the Conference Programme Committee at the LIBER2020 conference