Research Slam – call for participants


The National Library of Scotland is a place of research, investigation, reflection, amusement, and distraction. We are keen to support and celebrate research in all of its manifestations.  In addition to research which takes place in a more formal way through academic institutions, we know that lots of research takes place outside of that environment.  We see it in our reading rooms, hear about it in the café, or through enquiries that we receive.  We know that people who don’t even visit us in person are using our digital resources online.  And the question we’re asking ourselves is, “what on earth are you all doing?”  So we are going to hold a Research Slam on 23 January 2017 so that you can tell us.

This is an open call to anyone at all, engaged in any kind of research whatsoever, who is willing to share their research on stage in a competitive forum, simply for the pleasure of spending an evening in celebration of human wonderment and discovery. You will be judged by a panel, gonged off the stage for going over time, and applauded by an audience simply for turning up to share your brain.  You might be conducting your research either on our premises or remotely through our digital collections; you could be a researcher by profession, or simply for pleasure; you might have been immersed in your topic for years, or just be dipping your toe into Archimedes bathtub for the first time; it really doesn’t matter.  The only qualifying condition is that your research must be linked to our physical or digital collections in some way.

If you would like to take part, all you have to do is email by 5.00 pm on Friday 6 January and say that you would like to be a slammer (you don’t need to say what your research is or otherwise justify your right to slam – everyone is welcome).  Names will go into a hat and a draw will be made for 14 slammers, with any other applicants being added to a reserve list.  Applicants will be notified of the outcome of the draw that same day.  The slam will take place at our main building on George IV Bridge, 6.00 to 8.00pm on Monday 23 January 2017.

The research slam will follow the format of a poetry slam (if that helps you to picture this event). In round one each entrant will have two minutes to describe their research topic.  A panel of judges will score slammers on content, performance, and audience reaction.  The top eight will go through to round two, where each person will have a further two minutes to describe their approach to the research and use of the Library’s collections.  The panel will score them again on the same three criteria.  The top three will go through to the final where they have three minutes each to describe the impact that they believe their research will have.  The prize for the winner is the opportunity to present your research in your very own National Library of Scotland public event.

We want this event to be a celebration of the creativity of the human mind.  We have 25 million things, and every week we add another few thousand more things to the collections.  The recorded output of the human mind is one side of an endlessly fascinating coin.  The other side is what people do with this output.  Sometimes people use outputs to inform new outputs.  Sometimes we call this process “research”.  Sometimes, an output is put to use in a way or for an audience that the original author did not anticipate, and research begins to merge with creativity and interpretation, giving rise to interdisciplinary studies, or even entirely new subjects in areas such as digital humanities.

For example, I know next to nothing about marine dinoflagellates, but that doesn’t stop me from finding Provisional Atlas of the Marine Dinoflagellates of the British Isles interesting.  It is made up almost entirely of pages like these:

uk dots 1           uk dots 2

I could be interested in looking at representations of the British Isles and measuring emotional responses to them.  That’s not what these pages were produced for (they were produced so that people could find out where subspecies of plankton liked to hang out in 1981).  But, I could put these to use for an entirely different piece of research.  I could show these images to a group of 1,000 people and ask them which picture makes them feel most anxious.  I could then map their responses to things like age, voting intention, employment status and so on, and propose all sorts of interpretations.  Or, if I was really into plankton, I could use this text to further my understanding of UK plankton populations.

Or something else.

If you’d like to take part, we’d love to hear from you.  Contact Graeme Hawley ( by Friday 6 January to register.  Applications especially welcome from plankton enthusiasts.