VALA2020 Plenary 2 Sheail

Data bodies in the library: from crustaceans to code

Tuesday 11 February 2020, 4:20 – 5:30

Dr Philippa Sheail
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • Lecturer, Digital Education

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View the video of the presentation on the VALAView channel and view the presentation slides here:


This presentation builds on my ethnographic explorations of the contemporary research library, considering its historic and material foundations through to its digital architecture and data formations.

Through a rich description of a university library in 2020, I explore the library as both a built structure of historical and social significance, and as a digital infrastructure extending to a vast network of digital objects, environments, and publishing practices.

I foreground the ethical tensions around the use of library data – including its relationship to the ‘smart’ campus and the ‘shadow’ library – while also exploring the library’s role as a historically dense setting for academic practice. I conclude with a challenge to library futures, calling for a re-evaluation and reimagination of what – and who – makes a library.


Philippa Sheail is a Lecturer in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, and Programme Director for the MSc in Digital Education. Her research interests are interdisciplinary, based in the area of digital and higher education, but drawing on organisational theory, cultural geography, and social theories of time. Philippa has also been developing research in the library sector, with a particular interest in practices of organising in a research library context. Her Data Bodies in the Library project was developed in partnership with the University of Edinburgh Library and the National Library of Scotland.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.