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

16 May 2017

Michael Takeo Magruder @ Gazelli Art House

Posted by Mahendra Mahey (Manager of BL Labs) on behalf of Michael Takeo Magruder (BL Labs Artist/Researcher in Residence).

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Michael Takeo Marguder's Gazell.io works

Earlier this year I was invited by Gazelli Art House to be a digital artist-in-residence on their online platform Gazell.io. After a series of conversations with Gazelli’s director, Mila Askarova, we decided it would be a perfect opportunity to broker a partnership with British Library Labs and use the occasion to publish some of the work-in-progress ideas from my Imaginary Cities project at the British Library.

Given Gazelli’s growing interest in and reputation for exhibiting virtual reality (VR) art, we chose to launch my March showcase with A New Jerusalem since it was in many ways the inspiration for the Imaginary Cities concept.

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A New Jerusalem by Michael Takeo Magruder

During the second half of my Gazell.io residency I began publishing various aesthetic-code studies that had been created for the Imaginary Cities project. I was also invited by Gazelli to hold a private sharing event at their London gallery in Mayfair to showcase some of the project’s physical experiments and outcomes. The evening was organised by Gazelli’s Artist Liaison, Victoria Al-Din, and brought together colleagues from the British Library, art curators from leading cultural institutions and academics connected to media art practice. It was a wonderful event, and it was incredibly useful to be able to present my ideas and the resulting artistic-technical prototypes to a group with such a deep and broad range of expertise. 


Sharing works in progress for the Imaginary Cities project at Gazelli Art House, London. 30th March 2017

03 May 2017

How can a turtle and the BBC connect learners with literature?

Illustration of a youth on a turtle
Image from 'When Life is Young: a collection of verse for boys and girls'. This turtle is ace but we used a different kind of turtle for our project.

Digital Curator Mia Ridge explains how and why we used linked open data to help more people find British Library content.

Despite the picture, it's not a real turtle (sorry to disappoint you). We've used a file format called 'Turtle' (.ttl) to help make articles and collections in Library's Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians easier for teachers to find.

We did this to make content available to the BBC's Research and Education Space (RES) Project. RES helps make public archives easier to find and use in education and teaching. It collects and organises the digital collections of libraries, museums, broadcasters and galleries so that developers can create educational products to connect learners to information and collections.

We were keen to join the RES project and help learners discover our collections and knowledge, but first we had to find the right content and figure out some technical issues. This post gives an overview of how we did it.

Finding the right content

Our collections are vast. Knowing where to start can be daunting. Which section of our website would be most immediately useful for the RES project's goals and audiences?

After looking over our online material, the Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians site seemed like a perfect match. Discovering Literature is a free educational resource that puts manuscript and printed collection items in historical, cultural and political context. The Romantics and Victorians site includes thousands of collection items, hundreds of articles, films, teachers’ notes and more to help make collection items more accessible, so it was a great place to start.

Using linked open data to make information easier to find

Created with support from Jisc and Learning on Screen, the RES platform collects data published as linked open data, which at its simplest means data that is structured and linked to vocabularies that help define the meaning of terms used.

For example, we might include a bit of technical information to unambiguously identify Elizabeth Barrett Browning as the author of the published volumes of poetry or as the writer of a letter. Applying a shared identifier helps connect our resources to information about Barrett Browning in other collections. A teacher preparing a lesson plan can be sure that the RES resources they include are accurate and authoritative articles that'll help their students understand Barrett Browning and other writers.

How did we do it?

There were three main stages in creating linked open data for the RES project, involving staff across the Library, at an external agency and at the BBC. Short, weekly conference calls kept things moving by making us accountable for progress between calls.

First, we had to work out which vocabularies to apply to describe people, the works they created, the collection items used to illustrate articles, the articles themselves, etc. Some terms, like the names of published authors, already exist in other vocabularies so we could just link to them. Others, like the 'genre' or 'literary period' used to describe a work, were particular to the Library. We posted work in progress online so that other people could review and comment on our work.

Once the mappings were agreed, the technical work of updating code used in the content management system so that special pages containing the data could be published as 'Turtle'-formatted files was carried out.  Licence information was included to meet the RES Project requirements.

Finally, the work was tested on a staging server, then checked again by the RES team once the changes had gone live on our website. If you're curious about the underlying linked data technologies, the BBC's guide to the Research & Education Space for contributors and developers has all the details.

Looking to the future

We learned a lot of practical and technical lessons that we hope to apply to future projects. For a start, there are more Discovering Literature sites, and others using a similar web architecture. If you're interested in other perspectives, the RES Project have collected different experiences on their platform, process and progress on their blog. I'm looking forward to seeing how the linked open data we created is used to connect learners to our collections and knowledge.

12 April 2017

New technologies challenging author and reader roles

This a guest post is by Carol Butler introducing her PhD topic, you can follow her on twitter as @fantomascarol.

New technologies are challenging the traditional view of what it is to be an author or a reader. A range of digital tools are used by readers and authors to ask each other questions, share interpretations and knowledge, and to socialise.

I am a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student based at the British Library (BL) and City, University Of London, supervised by Ian Cooke at the BL, and Dr Stephann Makri at City. My research explores how online social networking technologies enable authors and readers to interact in ways that were previously not possible. I am interested in how this can impact understanding of a written work, and how it can shape an author’s ongoing or future work.

Authors and readers have always sought to better their understanding of a written work- and of each other- by exchanging questions and feedback. However, historically, their communications have been mediated through a hierarchical chain, for example through letters sent privately via an author’s agent. Constrained by process, available technology and geography, this has also largely only possible after a finished work has been published. Interaction has therefore been somewhat slow and limited.

There are now digital tools for reading-related activities used by authors and readers alike, for example GoodReads, which is for writing reviews and cataloguing books. With these tools, communities discuss their reading, partake in competitions and also share their writing. In some, an author may use reader feedback to develop writing in progress, which may be published as a working draft, rather than a final artefact. Authors can also field questions from their readers - either as an ongoing open communication channel, or in a timed Q&A session (an example of this can be seen here).

Other tools, such as Genius, support discussion about a text directly on top of it, through digital annotations. An example can be seen here, where a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been annotated line by line, with readers sharing their interpretations and providing links to external reading. Also here, the author has annotated his own work (in green), to offer deeper contextual understanding to the reader.

However, as well as purpose-made tools, communities also use ones that were intended for different purposes, such as social media sites, e.g. Twitter. People also do not always confine their behaviour to any one tool, and so an activity starting in one tool may often bleed into, repeat, or further develop in another.

A useful example of how readers meander between multiple tools can be found here, where a reader describes his process for reading a physical book- a task supported by checking in with a range of tools and social networks.

A symbiotic relationship between tools and behaviour means that technology evolves in response to how it is used. However, with reader and author activity dispersed across multiple tools, often contrary to a tools intended purpose, and over fluctuating periods of time, this usage cannot be readily observed or understood.

By ascertaining where, how and why readers and authors interact with each other and the tools, I hope to better understand their needs and behaviours. I will investigate how interaction behaviour is mediated, hindered by, and at times resultant of this technology. My intent is to develop theory to explain their behaviour which I can use to provide design guidelines for future tools, to help better support their needs. I will also be looking at what types of works, ways of working and publishing trends emerge from this use of technology, and the challenges posed for the British Library in collecting and preserving them.

I will shortly be conducting interviews with authors and readers to begin to unveil both their motivations for interacting in this manner, and their experiences with doing so.  

I would be happy to speak to anyone with an interest in this area, either by email or in person, so feel free to contact me (carol.butler@bl.uk).

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-04-12/092c75d8-252f-40b4-9ee3-d0c51a2a56f2.png
The traditional view of reader and author roles- where the reader only sees a finished artefact, isolated from the drafts and processes that formed it - is challenged by readers’ increasingly participatory involvement prior to publication.