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

28 March 2017

Mobile devices meet author, text, and reader

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

I’m a collaborative doctoral partnership student based here at the British Library and at Bath Spa University, supervised jointly by Stella Wisdom here, and Professor Kate Pullinger at Bath. In my research, I’m exploring how one of the most disruptive technologies of the past few decades – the ubiquitous mobile computing device, in the form of the smartphone or tablet computer – is changing the relationship between author, text, and reader.

Taking the launch of the original iPhone in 2007 as my starting point, I’m looking at the influence of mobile devices in two complementary areas. The first part of my research considers ‘mobile fictions’: narratives written specifically for smartphones and tablets; stories which build on the possibilities generated by such devices for new kinds of storytelling. The second explores how the social media platforms most commonly used on mobile devices – particularly Twitter and Facebook – offer opportunities for widespread, intense, and sustained interaction between authors and readers. Alongside those two areas of research, I’m also working on a creative project that will put many of the ideas explored in my research into practice: a short mobile audio fiction to be experienced over the course of a ten-minute walk through Brompton Cemetery.

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Brompton Cemetery's secret time machine, copyright Alastair Horne

Issues around collecting and digital preservation are central to all three strands of my research, which is why I’m delighted to be based in the British Library and to have the chance to learn from – and ultimately, I hope, to contribute to – practice here. I’ll be considering how we might archive smartphone apps when so many are abandoned by their developers, left broken and unusable by updates to their operating systems – while others end up entirely deleted, so that the only evidence of their existence is a few reviews and the occasional broken link to an appstore. I’ll also be exploring how we can preserve the conversations that take place on social media. Furthermore, I’ll be attempting to put these learnings into practice – and establish some best practices – when exploring archiving my own creative project. 

22 March 2017

British Library Launches OCR Competition for Rare Indian Books

Calling all transcription enthusiasts! We’ve launched a competition to find an accurate and automated transcription solution for our rare Indian books and printed catalogue records, currently being digitised through the Two Centuries of Indian Print project. 

The competition, in partnership with the University of Salford’s PRIMA Research Lab, is part of the International Conference on Document Analysis and Recognition, taking place in Kyoto, Japan this November. The winners will be announced at a special event during the conference.

Digitised images of the books will be made openly available through the library’s website and we hope this competition will produce transcriptions that enable full text search and discovery of this rich material. Sharing XML transcriptions will also give researchers the foundation to apply computational tools and methods such as text mining that may lead to new insights into book and publishing history in India.   

Split into two challenges, those wishing to participate in the competition can enter either or both.

The first challenge is to find an automated transcription for the 19th century printed books written in Bengali script. Optical Character Recognition of many non-Latin scripts is a developing area, but still presents a considerable barrier for libraries and other cultural institutions hoping to open up their material for scholarly research.

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Above: A page from 'Animal Biography', one of the Bengali books being digitised as part of Two Centuries of Indian Print (VT 1712)

 

Challenge number two involves our printed catalogue records, known as ‘Quarterly Lists’. These describe books published in India between 1867 and 1967. The lists are arranged in tables and therefore accurately representing the layout of the data is important if researchers are able to use computational methods to identify chunks of information such as the place of publication and cost of the book.    

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 Above: A typical double page from the Quarterly Lists (SV 412/8)

 

With the competition now open, we’ve already gone some way to helping participants by manually transcribing a few pages to create ‘ground truth’ using PRIMA's editing tool, Aletheia.  So if you or anyone you know would like to enter, do please register and you could be contributing to this landmark project, and picking up an award for your troubles!   

21 March 2017

Poetic Places and World Poetry Day 2017

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.

Happy World Poetry Day!

The Digital Scholarship team are marking the day with an event exploring how poetry, history and literature can be discovered and experienced via digital technologies. Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence Sarah Cole is talking about the development of Poetic Places, a free app for iOS and Android devices, that creates digital encounters with poems and literature in the locations described, accompanied by sounds and illustrations from cultural heritage collections; including the British Library's images on Flickr.

Being a creative type Sarah has also been using the Flickr collection in her new enterprise Badgical Kingdom, which takes images from galleries, libraries, archives, and museums released under Creative Commons licenses and turns them into badges. Sarah hopes to bring forgotten works out into the everyday world where they can be re-admired. Furthermore, every piece is sent with a card detailing a little of the design’s history and naming the institution which has made the work available; including the Rijksmuseum, whose collections have inspired these flower brooches, which could make perfect Mother's Day presents in my opinion.

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Images of Billycock Cat Pin, copyright Sarah Cole.

Also speaking at the event are 

  • Dr Jennifer Batt, a lecturer in English, University of Bristol, who has been working with British Library Labs on an innovative project to data mine 18th-century newspapers for verse.
  • Dr Duncan Hay, from the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis who works on the Survey of London, check out their map. It is also worth noting that Duncan is a colleague of Martin Zaltz Austwick, who did GPS mapping of a walk based around the first section of William Gull's coach ride in Alan Moore's From Hell. There is a short video of this here.

For those of you unable to join us this evening and also those of you who are; please check out the British Library's drama and literature recordings on SoundCloud. These include excellent poems from The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets winners and shortlisted entries and readings from other British Library events, enjoy ...

 Recording of Richard Scott reading from his pamphlet ‘Wound’, published by The Rialto