THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

15 June 2018

Team @BL_DigiSchol join @thecarpentries at #CarpentryCon2018 in Dublin

Conference opening
CarpentryCon 2018
UCD campus
UCD Dublin

Members of the Digital Scholarship team, Alex, Rossitza and Stella, attended The Carpentries community inaugural conference held on the relaxing campus of University College Dublin 29 May-1 June. The atmosphere at the event was energising thanks to the enthusiasm of the community members who volunteer to teach computational, coding and data science skills to researchers worldwide.

The theme of the event “Building Locally, Connecting Globally” permeated the rich programme of talks and interactive sessions that focused on sharing knowledge, networking and developing new content and strategies for strengthening and growing The Carpentries. A report on the conference has been published by Belinda Weaver and this blog post by Raniere Silva summarises well some of the key messages.

Our team exhibited a poster on the Digital Scholarship staff training programme that creates opportunities for staff at The British Library to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to support emerging areas of modern scholarship.

Poster
Digital Scholarship poster
Team poster
Rossitza, Stella and Alex

Thus, particularly relevant for us were the sessions led by Belinda Weaver and Chris Erdmann about growing the software and data skills training provision for library professionals. We engaged in a conversation with members of The Library Carpentry community about how best to review and create new curricula and resources, as well as how the needs of the broader culture heritage professionals may vary. There are opportunities to work with university departments, professional bodies and regional consortia to get library and other GLAM professionals involved with The Library Carpentry. Watch this space for our team's involvement with The Carpentries and for further updates follow The Library Carpentry blog and Twitter feed, and The Carpentry Clippings newsletter.

Below are just few highlights from the sessions we took part in:

@frameshiftlic : Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Much more needs to be done to increase diversity and inclusivity in the technology sector.

The Carpentries community uses GitHub to maintain training materials and good guidance was provided on how to clone and fork repositories and submit pull requests.  A great teaching resource Happy Git and GitHub for the useR is being developed for Software Carpentry by Jennifer Bryan

Greg Wilson offered advice on how to keep refreshing teaching methods and content for both the learners’ and instructors’ benefit. His reading list for engaging learners includes The discussion book: 50 great ways to get people talking and Understanding how we learn: A Visual Guide

Tracy Teal talked about the funding model, operations and infrastructure of The Carpentries who have updated their website, logo, handbook and a Code of Conduct. Curriculum development, equality and inclusion, and building local capacity for training remain high priorities for the community.

Most engaging was the interactive breakout session on developing a new software carpentry lesson on High Performance Computing (HPC). The session leader Alan O’Cais used the classroom engagement platform Socrative to gather attendees’ feedback on existing lessons, appropriate content and the learner profile.

Other great sessions covered best approaches to teaching live coding at university, post workshop community development strategies, and how organisations, such as The Software Sustainability Institute and ELIXIR, have been supporting The Carpentries community initiatives.

CarpentryCon group photo Flickr 6000x4000
#CarpentryCon 2018 delegates. Image by Bérénice Batut available at https://flic.kr/p/252fVid under CC-BY-SA 2.0



01 June 2018

Interactive Fiction Summer School and Settle Stories

As a PhD student, I’m privileged to spend three years of my life investigating a subject I find fascinating, but one of the absolute highlights of the first year of my study was the week I spent attending the Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library last July. My research explores how mobile phones are changing storytelling, so interactive fiction was a subject I was keen to find out more about – and how better to do so than by learning from the experts how to write my own?

It was an excellent course, as we learned not only about the mechanics of writing stories where the reader plays a part in deciding what happens – how to make your reader’s choices both engaging and manageable, for instance – but also about storytelling more generally: how to generate momentum and make your ending both surprising and inevitable. Over the course of the week, we each wrote our own interactive stories, drawing on what we learned from our tutors and getting to grips with the mechanics of the form: my own story ended up unexpectedly drawing upon my experiences teaching in Japan.

One of the week’s many highpoints was a session on the use of conflict in interactive fiction, run by Rob Sherman, who shared a thought-provoking work he’d created for the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, about a woman struggling to keep her family safe and happy in a world of rising costs, lowering wages, and disappearing support. This year, Rob is leading the British Library's summer school, curating sessions from a range of experts including the poet and interactive writer Abigail Parry (last year’s excellent course leader), Gavin Inglis, and Hannah Powell-Smith.

The summer school had other benefits too: including spending time with fascinating and creative people interested in the storytelling possibilities of interactive fiction, sharing ideas, and collaborating: I remember one particularly memorable session working with two of my fellow students on a story about a performance artist who decides to enact that old myth about frogs in boiling water herself, and ends up in boiled to death in an underground swimming pool as part of an installation about the damage we’re doing to the environment.

The summer school attracted a wide range of people, from young would-be writers, to academics and storytelling professionals. One of my fellow students was Sita Brand, director of Settle Stories, whose annual festival of storytelling takes place in the picturesque Yorkshire market town of Settle. Sita invited me to speak at this year’s Festival, and so I found myself this April talking to an audience about my research into how mobile phones are influencing storytelling and being interviewed by Dave Driver for Dry Stone Radio. (You can hear the interview here – from 1:34 on.)

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-06-01/645a4fba-905f-48c7-8d65-f1513df86a52.png
Telephone box at Settle Stories, where attendees pick up the phone handset and dial for a story

If I've whetted your appetite and you are interested in attending this summer's Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library, which is on the theme of Infinite Journeys, booking details are here.  It runs for five days, beginning Monday 23 July and ending on Friday 27 July. Also, if you are interested in my research on fiction being written for smartphones, then I'm giving a Feed the Mind talk on Mobile Stories: New Kinds of Fiction? on Monday 11 June, 12:30-13:30, booking details here.

This a guest post is by Alastair Horne, you can follow him on twitter as @pressfuturist, and also on Instagram.

14 May 2018

Seeing British Library collections through a digital lens

Digital Curator Mia Ridge writes: in this guest post, Dr Giles Bergel describes some experiments with the Library's digitised images...

The University of Oxford’s Visual Geometry Group has been working with a number of British Library curators to apply computer vision technology to their collections. On April 5 of this year I was invited by BL Digital Curator Dr. Mia Ridge to St. Pancras to showcase some of this work and to give curators the opportunity to try the tools out for themselves.  

Image1
Visual Geometry’s VISE tool matching two identical images from separate books digitised for the British Library’s Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

Computer vision - the extraction of meaning from images - has made considerable strides in recent years, particularly through the application of so-called ‘deep learning’ to large datasets. Cultural collections provide some of the most interesting test-cases for computer vision researchers, due to their complexity; the intensity of interest that researchers bring to them; and to their importance for human well-being. Can computers see collections as humans do? Computer vision is perhaps better regarded as a powerful lens rather than as a substitute for human curation. A computer can search a large collection of images far more quickly than can a single picture researcher: while it will not bring the same contextual understanding to bear on an image, it has the advantage of speed and comprehensiveness. Sometimes, a computer vision system can surprise the researcher by suggesting similarities that weren’t readily apparent.

As a relatively new technology, computer vision attracts legitimate concerns about privacy, ethics and fairness. By making its state of the art tools freely available, Visual Geometry hope to encourage experimentation and responsible use, and to enlist users to help determine what they can and cannot do. Cultural collections provide a searching test-case for the state of the art, due to their diversity as media (prints, paintings, stamped images, photographs, film and more) each of which invite different responses. One BL curator made a telling point by searching the BBC News collection with the term 'football': the system was presented with images previously tagged with that word that related to American, Gaelic, Rugby and Association football. Although inconclusive due to lack of sufficiently specific training data, the test asked whether a computer could (or should) pick the most popular instances; attempt to generalise across multiple meanings; or discern separate usages. Despite increases in processing power and in software methods, computers' ability to generalise; to extract semantic meaning from images or texts; and to cope with overlapping or ambiguous concepts remains very basic.  

Other tests with BL images have been more immediately successful. Visual Geometry's Traherne tool, developed originally to detect differences in typesetting in early printed books, worked well with many materials that exhibit small differences, such as postage stamps or doctored photographs. Visual Geometry's Image Search Engine (VISE) has shown itself capable of retrieving matching illustrations in books digitised for the Library's Indian Print project, as well as certain bookbinding features, or popular printed ballads. Some years ago Visual Geometry produced a search interface for the Library's 1 Million Images release. A collaboration between the Library's Endangered Archives programme and Oxford researcher David Zeitlyn on the archive of Cameroonian studio photographer Jacques Toussele employed facial recognition as well as pattern detection. VGG's facial recognition software works on video (BBC News, for example) as well as still photographs and art, and is soon to be freely released to join other tools under the banner of the Seebibyte Project.    

I'll be returning to the Library in June to help curators explore using the tools with their own images. For more information on the work of Visual Geometry on cultural collections, subscribe to the project's Google Group or contact Giles Bergel.      

Dr. Giles Bergel is a digital humanist based in the Visual Geometry Group in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford.  

The event was supported by the Seebibyte project under an EPSRC Programme Grant EP/M013774/1