THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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10 posts categorized "Comics-unmasked"

02 November 2016

An Overview of 6 Second History Animated British Library Photographs & Illustrations

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Nick Cave, entrant in the BL Labs Awards 2016 under the 'Artistic Category'. 

Nick-cave
Nick Cave - Animator

Today’s blockbuster films sees long forgotten dinosaurs, futuristic warping spaceships and metallic looking beings the size of our tallest buildings, transforming from a car to a giant robot in the blink of an eye. There are even whole planets of giant alien creatures walking amongst people and trees and all of these incredible visual showcases are invading our cinema screens week in, week out.

However, back before the advent of sophisticated computer generated graphics technology, artists were using simpler photographic techniques to create short animations with zany characters, new landscapes and everyday objects to bring laughter to the masses on the small screen. One such artist was Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame who used a technique known as stop motion animation to bring a variety of household magazine pictures to life. By cutting out different pictures, photographing and filming them individually moving over time, they became very funny animated cartoon like sketches.


Terry Gilliam - Monty Python animations

I’ve always been fascinated by this amazing technique, even if it is a very time consuming one, but modern computer animation software makes this process easier. Stop motion animations simply have a quirky charm. More often than not they’re animations which are not polished, or even necessarily slick looking. It’s a style of animation which creates imaginary worlds and characters, often moving in a jagged, staccato fashion, but still somehow one that looks and feels as engaging and interesting as modern visual effects which have cost millions to create. So, with the Terry Gilliam magazine picture ideas in mind where to start, social media of course! 

Stop-motion-1
An example of working on stop motion animation

Social media is dominated by celebrity gossip and tittle tattle, breaking news, but major events also continue to play a key part in posts. This could be when celebrating sporting achievements, raving about a new film, TV show, or even an anniversary event and significantly, nostalgia.

People always like to look back and remember, which is where my 6SecondHistory idea spawned from. I chose Instagram as my social media delivery platform, partly because mini web episodes, such as crime thriller, Shield5, had been very successful on it and partly because it’s a social media platform created specifically to showcase photographs and short videos.

As copyright can be a contentious legal minefield, where to source the modern equivalent of historical magazine photos from? Well, easy, the British Library has a massive collection of freely available copyright free Flickr archive photographs and illustrations to choose from. Animals, places, people, fancy illustrations from old manuscripts, basically a wealth of interesting material. The interesting and sometimes vexing challenge in bringing these pictures to life are many, because they’re often hand drawn with no clear differentiation between foreground and background objects, plus searching for specific pictures can sometimes bring up an interesting results set. Six second animations seemed a good starting point because of the success of internet vines, also six second gifs, or videos etc.

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Images taken from the British Library Flickr Commons Site

Left - British Library Flickr Shakespeare Character (https://flic.kr/p/i2ba1M): Image taken from page 252 of 'The Oxford Thackeray. With illustrations. [Edited with introductions by George Saintsbury.]’

Top Right - British Library Flickr Skull (https://flic.kr/p/hVgqkH): Image taken from page 246 of 'Modern Science in Bible Lands ... With maps and illustrations’ - 1888

Bottom Right - British Library Flickr Shakespeare Theatre (https://flic.kr/p/i6ymLe): Image taken from page 76 of 'The Works of Shakspeare; from the text of Johnson, Steevens, and Reed. With a biographical memoir, and a variety of interesting matter, illustrative of his life and writings. By W. Harvey’ - 1825

As an example, 2016 saw the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  Whenever the focus is on Shakespeare famous speeches are cited and one such speech is Hamlet’s Act 5 Scene 1 lament to a disembodied skull. Perfect material for a funny 6SecondHistory animation and one that could truly show off the merging of a variety of British Library archive pics, repurposed and coloured to create a comical short Hamlet animation with an element of 3D perspective in it. This was a labour of love, but I hope you agree that my short animation has brought the speech to life.

Here is a link to my animation: https://www.instagram.com/p/BDA8BhWju0D/

Enjoy!

See more of my work at: https://www.instagram.com/6secondhistory and http://www.anitatoes.com/

You can meet me, Nick Cave at the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday 7th of November 2016 at the British Library in London (we still have a few tickets left so book now).

 

03 October 2016

Comics and Play In The Sunshine State

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Matt Finch.

I’m currently a BL Labs Creative/Researcher alongside my role as Creative in Residence for the State Library of Queensland. SLQ is an Australian institution which serves a population of over four and a half million people…spread over an area three times the size of France.

Matt_finch
Matt Finch Creative in Residence at the State Library of Queensland

Our footprint stretches from our headquarters in Brisbane’s cultural precinct to the Indigenous communities of the Torres Strait Islands in the north, the Great Barrier Reef to the east and the edge of the Simpson Desert to the west.

Such a demanding geography means we blend physical and digital activities, embracing our collections but also creating opportunities for local communities to surprise us with their own plans, schemes, dreams, and innovations. We seek to imagine a digital future for Queensland which acknowledges Traditional Owners of the land and pays respect to Indigenous elders past, present, and future, as well as embracing all the many and diverse communities who live, work, and play here.

So what does a Creative in Residence do? You’re equally likely to find someone in my role unearthing new material for our collections, reimagining panel discussions for a writers’ festival, helping teens fight zombies in an abandoned showground , or working in digital spaces.

Given the huge distances involved when you work in a state like ours, we’re especially interested in geolinked collections and mobile digital access. Partnering with BL Labs, we’re currently working on ways to celebrate and share Queensland-related material from the BL collections.

We also make stuff which is brand spanking new. This month, the State Library has released an online comic maker for the global Fun Palaces event which takes place every October.

Comic maker
Online Comic Maker

The Fun Palaces manifesto is “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist” which chimes well with libraries’ mission to ensure everyone has freedom to explore human knowledge and culture on their own terms. (In my mind, the secret manifesto is “hit the library get a drink start a riot”).

The comic maker was piloted in 2015 and this year has been fully integrated into the Fun Palaces site – but we’ve also released the code behind the comic maker on Github.

Comic code
Online Comic Maker in action!

In 2015, users around the world surprised us by using the simple comic maker to create non-narrative comics, cheeky horror storiesand even comics in Te Reo Māori – this year we look forward to people reimagining, repurposing, and reworking the code behind the comic maker into weird and wonderful new forms. We’d also love to see friends of the BL Labs, sister institutions, and communities worldwide put their own image sets into the drag-and-drop image inventory.

You can contact Matt on Twitter @DrMattFinch

Please don't forget to book for our latest events:

Black Abolitionists in 19th Century Britain. 

Thu 6 Oct, 19:00 – 21:00

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: £8 (Concessions available)

An informative and entertaining evening of talks, performances and discussion about the antislavery movement with scholar Hannah-Rose Murray, actor and writer Joe Williams and actress Martelle Edinborough. 

For more information, please visit: https://goo.gl/WxigUQ

Fourth annual British Library Labs Symposium.

Mon 7 Nov, 9:30 – 17:30

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: FREE

The Symposium showcases innovative projects which use the British Library's digital content and provides a platform for development, networking and debate in the digital scholarship field.  This year’s keynote will be given by Melissa Terras , Professor of Digital Humanities at University College London, entitled 'Unexpected repurposing: the British Library's Digital Collections and UCL teaching, research and infrastructure'.

For more information, please visit:  https://goo.gl/2twnr5

We Are Amused! A Night of Victorian Humour.

Mon 7 Nov, 19:00 – 21:00

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: £12 (Concessions available)

Following the BL Labs Symposium, join Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill University) and comedians Zoe Lyons, Bob Mills and Iszi Lawrence for the evening as they unearth thousands of old puns, sketches, one-liners, mother-in-law jokes, saucy songs and other comic clippings from the 19th century.

For more information, please visit: https://goo.gl/QASR6K

The Way Ahead? Map Making and Digital Skills for Geography Teaching.

Sat 12 Nov, 9:45 – 13:30

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: £12 - £24

This half-day conference for Geography teachers at Key Stages 2–5 uncovers the British Library’s forthcoming major exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line and explores a range of approaches to interpreting and creating maps, with a focus on digital resources, to support and enrich Geography in the Primary and Secondary classroom. 

For more information, please visit: https://goo.gl/f014YR

Black Abolitionist Walking Tour.

Sat 26 Nov, 13:30 – 17:00

Starting at the Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ

Cost: FREE (places limited)

An afternoon walking tour around central London which will visit six sites where African American abolitionists made an indelible mark on the British landscape. The walking tour will be followed by food, drinks and a short re-enactment of an antislavery meeting at the Old Crown Public House.

For more information, please visit: https://goo.gl/N4acXE

28 January 2016

Book Now! Nottingham @BL_Labs Roadshow event - Wed 3 Feb (12.30pm-4pm)

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Do you live in or near Nottingham and are available on Wednesday 3 Feb between 1230 - 1600? Come along to the FREE UK @BL_Labs Roadshow event at GameCity and The National Video Game Arcade, Nottingham (we have some places left and booking is essential for anyone interested) and:

 

BL Labs Roadshow in Nottingham - Wed 3 Feb (1200 - 1600)
BL Labs Roadshow at GameCity and The National Video Game Arcade, Nottingham, hosted by the Digital Humanities and Arts (DHA) Praxis project based at the University of Nottingham, Wed 3 Feb (1230 - 1600)
  • Discover the digital collections the British Library has, understand some of the challenges of using them and even take some away with you.
  • Learn how researchers found and revived forgotten Victorian jokes and Political meetings from our digital archives.
  • Understand how special games and computer code have been developed to help tag un-described images and make new art.
  • Find out about a tool that links digitised handwritten manuscripts to transcribed texts and one that creates statistically representative samples from the British Library’s book collections.
  • Consider how the intuitions of a DJ could be used to mix and perform the Library's digital collections.
  • Talk to Library staff about how you might use some of the Library's digital content innovatively.
  • Get advice, pick up tips and feedback on your ideas and projects for the 2016 BL Labs Competition (deadline 11 April) and Awards (deadline 5 September). 

Our hosts are the Digital Humanities and Arts (DHA) Praxis project at the University of Nottingham who are kindly providing food and refreshments and will be talking about two amazing projects they have been involved in:

ArtMaps: putting the Tate Collection on the map project
ArtMaps: Putting the Tate Collection on the map

Dr Laura Carletti will be talking about the ArtMaps project which is getting the public to accurately tag the locations of the Tate's 70,000 artworks.

The 'Wander Anywhere' free mobile app developed by Dr Benjamin Bedwell.
The 'Wander Anywhere' free mobile app developed by Dr Benjamin Bedwell.

Dr Benjamin Bedwell, Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham will talk about the free mobile app he developed called 'Wander Anywhere'.  The mobile software offers users new ways to experience art, culture and history by guiding them to locations where it downloads stories intersecting art, local history, architecture and anecdotes on their mobile device relevant to where they are.

For more information, a detailed programme and to book your place, visit the Labs and Digital Humanities and Arts Praxis Workshop event page.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

The BL Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

27 January 2016

Come to our first @BL_Labs Roadshow event at #citylis London Mon 1 Feb (5pm-7.30pm)

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Labs Roadshow at #citylis London, Mon 1 Feb (5pm-7.30pm)

Live in or near North-East London and are available on Monday 1 Feb between 1700 - 1930? Come along to the first FREE UK Labs Roadshow event of 2016 (we have a few places left and booking is essential for anyone interested) and:

#citylis London BL Labs London Roadshow Event Mon 1 Feb (1730 - 1930)
#citylis at the Department for Information ScienceCity University London,
the first BL Labs Roadshow event Mon 1 Feb (1700 - 1930)
  • Discover the digital collections the British Library has, understand some of the challenges of using them and even take some away with you.
  • Learn how researchers found and revived forgotten Victorian jokes and Political meetings from our digital archives.
  • Understand how special games and computer code have been developed to help tag un-described images and make new art.
  • Talk to Library staff about how you might use some of the Library's digital content innovatively.
  • Get advice, pick up tips and feedback on your ideas and projects for the 2016 BL Labs Competition (deadline 11 April) and Awards (deadline 5 September). 

Our first hosts are the Department for Information Science (#citylis) at City University London. #citylis have kindly organised some refreshments, nibbles and also an exciting student discussion panel about their experiences of working on digital projects at the British Library, who are:

#citylis student panel  Top-left, Ludi Price and Top-right, Dimitra Charalampidou Bottom-left, Alison Pope and Bottom-right, Daniel van Strien
#citylis student panel.
Top-left, Ludi Price 
Top-right, Dimitra Charalampidou
Bottom-left, Alison Pope
Bottom-right, Daniel van Strien

For more information, a detailed programme and to book your place (essential), visit the BL Labs Workshop at #citylis event page.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

The BL Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

22 January 2016

BL Labs Competition and Awards for 2016

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Today the Labs team is launching the fourth annual Competition and Awards for 2016. Please help us spread the word by tweeting, re-blogging and telling anyone who might be interested about it!

British Library Labs Competition 2016

The annual Competition is looking for transformative project ideas which use the British Library’s digital collections and data in new and exciting ways. Two Labs Competition finalists will be selected to work 'in residence' with the BL Labs team between May and early November 2016, where they will get expert help, access to the Library’s resources and financial support to realise their projects.

Winners will receive a first prize of £3000 and runners up £1000 courtesy of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Labs Symposium on 7th November 2016 at the British Library in London where they will showcase their work.

The deadline for entering is midnight British Summer Time (BST) on 11th April 2016.

Labs Competition winners from previous years have produced an amazing range of creative and innovative projects. For example:

(Top-left)  Adam Crymble's Crowdsource Arcade (Bottom-left) Katrina Navickas' Political Meetings Mapper and (Right) Bob Nicholson's Mechanical Comedian.
(Top-left) Adam Crymble's Crowdsource Arcade and some specially developed games to help with tagging images
(Bottom-left) Katrina Navickas' Political Meetings Mapper and a photo from a Chartist re-enactment 
(Right) Bob Nicholson's Mechanical Comedian

A further range of inspiring and creative ideas have been submitted in previous years and some have been developed further.

British Library Labs Awards 2016

The annual Awards, introduced in 2015, formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using the British Library’s digital collections and data. This year, they will be commending work in four key areas:

  • Research - A project or activity which shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Commercial - An activity that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the Library's digital content.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour which inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Teaching / Learning - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 for the runner up for each category at the Labs Symposium on 7th November 2016 at the British Library in London, again courtesy of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The deadline for entering is midnight BST on 5th September 2016.

The Awards winners for 2015 produced a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects in  Research, Creative/Artistic, Entrepreneurship categories and a special Jury's prize:

(Top-left) Spatial Humanities research group at the University Lancaster,  (Top-right) A computer generated work of art, part of  'The Order of Things' by Mario Klingemann,  (Bottom-left) A bow tie made by Dina Malkova  and (Bottom-right) work on Geo-referenced maps at the British Library that James Heald is still involved in.
(Top-left) Spatial Humanities research group at the University Lancaster plotting mentions of disease in newspapers on a map in Victorian times,
(Top-right) A computer generated work of art, part of 'The Order of Things' by Mario Klingemann,
(Bottom-left) A bow tie made by Dina Malkova inspired by a digitised original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland
(Bottom-right) Work on Geo-referencing maps discovered from a collection of digitised books at the British Library that James Heald is still involved in.
  • Research: “Representation of disease in 19th century newspapers” by the Spatial Humanities research group at Lancaster University analysed the British Library's digitised London based newspaper, The Era through innovative and varied selections of qualitative and quantitative methods in order to determine how, when and where the Victorian era discussed disease.
  • Creative / Artistic:  “The Order of Things” by Mario Klingemann involved the use of semi-automated image classification and machine learning techniques in order to add meaningful tags to the British Library’s one million Flickr Commons images, creating thematic collections as well as new works of art.
  • Entrepreneurship: “Redesigning Alice” by Dina Malkova produced a range of bow ties and other gift products inspired by the incredible illustrations from a digitised British Library original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll and sold them through the Etsy platform and in the Alice Pop up shop at the British Library in London.
  • Jury's Special Mention: Indexing the BL 1 million and Mapping the Maps by volunteer James Heald describes both the work he has led and his collaboration with others to produce an index of 1 million 'Mechanical Curator collection' images on Wikimedia Commons from the British Library Flickr Commons images. This gave rise to finding 50,000 maps within this collection partially through a map-tag-a-thon which are now being geo-referenced.

A further range of inspiring work has been carried out with the British Library's digital content and collections.

If you are thinking of entering, please make sure you visit our Competition and Awards pages for further details.

Finally, if you have a specific question that can't be answered through these pages, feel free to contact us at labs@bl.uk, or why not come to one of the 'BL Labs Roadshow 2016' UK events we have scheduled between February and April 2016 to learn more about our digital collections and discuss your ideas?

We really look forward to reading your entries!

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

The British Library Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

 

12 November 2015

The third annual British Library Labs Symposium (2015)

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The third annual BL Labs Symposium took place on Monday 2nd November and the event was a great success!

The Labs Symposiums showcase innovative projects which use the British Library's digital content and provide a platform for development, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field.

The videos for the event are available here.

This year’s Symposium commenced with a keynote from Professor David De Roure, entitled “Intersection, Scale and Social Machines: The Humanities in the digital world”, which addressed current activity in digital scholarship within multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary frameworks.

DSL_6178

 Professor David De Roure giving the Symposium keynote speech

Caroline Brazier, the Chief Librarian of the British Library, then presented awards to the two winners of the British Library Labs Competition (2015) – Dr Adam Crymble and Dr Katrina Navickas, both lecturers of Digital History at the University of Hertfordshire.  

   DSL_6204

(L-R): Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian; Competition winners Katrina Navickas and Adam Crymble; Dr Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship 

After receiving their awards, it was time for Adam and Katrina to showcase their winning projects.

Adam’s project, entitled “Crowdsourcing Arcade: Repurposing the 1980s arcade console for scholarly image classification”, takes the crowdsourcing experience off the web and establishes it in a 1980s-style arcade game.

PB021291

Presentation by Dr Adam Crymble, BL Labs Competition (2015)  winner 

Katrina’s project, “Political Meetings Mapper: Bringing the British Library maps to life with the history of popular protest”, has developed a tool which extracts notices of meetings from historical newspapers and plots them on layers of historical maps from the British Library's collections.

PB021332

Presentation by Dr Katrina Navickas, BL Labs Competition (2015)  winner 

After lunch, the Symposium continued with Alice's Adventures Off the Map 2015 competition, produced and presented by Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator at the British Library. Each year, Off the Map challenges budding designers to use British Library digital collections as inspiration to create exciting interactive digital media.

The winning entry was "The Wondering Lands of Alice", created by Off Our Rockers, a team of six students from De Montfort University in Leicester: Dan Bullock, Freddy Canton, Luke Day, Denzil Forde, Amber Jamieson and Braden May.

 

Video: Alice's Adventures Off the Map 2015 competition winner 'The Wondering Lands of Alice'

This was followed by the presentations of the British Library Labs Awards (2015), a session celebrating BL Labs’ collaborations with researchers, artists and entrepreneurs from around the world in the innovative use of the British Library's digital collections.

The winners were: 

BL Labs Research Award (2015) – “Combining Text Analysis and Geographic Information Systems to investigate the representation of disease in nineteenth-century newspapers”, by The Spatial Humanities project at Lancaster University: Paul Atkinson, Ian Gregory, Andrew Hardie, Amelia Joulain-Jay, Daniel Kershaw, Cat Porter and Paul Rayson.  

The award was presented to one of the project collaborators, Ian Gregory, Professor of Digital Humanities at Lancaster University.

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Professor Ian Gregory  receiving the BL Labs Research Award (2015), on behalf of the Spatial Humanties project, from Dr Aquiles Alencar-Brayner

 

BL Labs Creative/Artistic Award (2015) – “The Order of Things” by Mario Klingemann, New Media Artist.

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Mario Klingemann receiving the BL Labs Creative/Artistic Award (2015) from Nora McGregor

  

BL Labs Entrepreneurial Award (2015) –“Redesigning Alice: Etsy and the British Library joint project” by Dina Malkova, designer and entrepreneur.

PB021398

Dina Malkova receiving the BL Labs Entrepreneurial Award (2015) from Dr Rossitza Atanassova

 

Jury’s Special Mention Award – “Indexing the BL 1 million and Mapping the Maps” by James Heald, Wikipedia contributor.

PB021417

James Heald receiving the Jury's Special Mention Award (2015) from Dr Mia Ridge

The Symposium concluded with a thought provoking panel session, “The Ups and Downs of Open”, chaired by George Oates, Director of Good, Form & Spectacle Ltd. George was joined by panelists Dr Mia Ridge, Digital Curator at the British Library, Jenn Phillips-Bacher, Web Manager at the Wellcome Library, and Paul Downey, Technical Architect at the Government Digital Service (GDS). The session discussed the issues, challenges and value of memory organisations opening up their digital content for use by others. 

PB021425

Panel session (L-R): George Oates; Jenn Phillips-Bacher; Paul Downey; Mia Ridge

The BL Labs team would like to thank everyone who attended and participated in this year’s Symposium, making the event the most successful one to date – and we look forward to seeing you all at next year’s BL Labs Symposium on Monday 7th of November 2016!

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

The British Library Labs Project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

05 October 2015

British Library Labs Symposium (2015)

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  Bl_labs_logo

The BL Labs team are excited to announce that the third annual British Library Labs Symposium (2015) is taking place on Monday 2nd November 2015, from 09:30 –17:00 in the British Library Conference Centre, St Pancras. The event is free, although you must book a ticket. Don’t delay, as last year’s event was a sell out!

The Symposium showcases innovative projects which use the British Library’s digital content, and provides a platform for development, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field.

This year, Dr Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, will launch the Symposium. This will be followed by a keynote from Professor David De Roure, Professor of e-Research at the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford e-Research Centre. The British Library’s Chief Librarian, Caroline Brazier, will then present awards to the two British Library Labs Competition (2015) winners, who will follow with presentations on their winning projects.

After lunch, Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator at the British Library, will announce the winners of the Alice’s Adventures Off the Map competition, which challenged budding designers to use British Library digital collections as inspiration in the creation of exciting interactive digital media.

Following, the winners will be announced of the British Library Labs Awards (2015), which recognises projects that have used the British Library’s digital content in exciting and innovative ways. Presentations will be given by the winners in each of the Awards’ three categories: Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurial.  

The afternoon will end with a thought provoking panel session discussing the issues of opening up digital content for memory organisations, chaired by George Oates, Director of Good, Form & Spectacle Ltd.

The Symposium will conclude with a networking reception in the Chaucer and Foyer area.

Don’t forget to book your place for the Symposium today!

For any further information, please contact labs@bl.uk

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

The British Library Labs Project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

22 October 2014

Victorian Meme Machine - Extracting and Converting Jokes

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Posted on behalf of Bob Nicholson.

The Victorian Meme Machine is a collaboration between the British Library Labs and Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill University). The project will create an extensive database of Victorian jokes and then experiment with ways to recirculate them over social media. For an introduction to the project, take a look at this blog post or this video presentation.

1 - intro image

In my previous blog post I wrote about the challenge of finding jokes in nineteenth century books and newspapers. There’s still a lot of work to be done before we have a truly comprehensive strategy for identifying gags in digital archives, but our initial searches scooped up a lot of low-hanging fruit. Using a range of keywords and manual browsing methods we quickly managed to identify the locations of more than 100,000 gags. In truth, this was always going to be the easy bit. The real challenge lies in automatically extracting these jokes from their home-archives, importing them into our own database, and then converting them into a format that we can broadcast over social media.

Extracting joke columns from the 19th Century British Library Newspaper Archive – the primary source of our material – presents a range of technical and legal obstacles. On the plus side, the underlying structure of the archive is well-suited to our purposes. Newspaper pages have already been broken up into individual articles and columns, and the XML for each these articles includes an ‘Article Title’ field. As a result, it should theoretically be possible to isolate every article with the title “Jokes of the Day” and then extract them from the rest of the database. When I pitched this project to the BL Labs, I naïvely thought that we’d be able to perform these extractions in a matter of minutes – unfortunately, it’s not that easy. 

1-5 -joke_syntaxMarking up a joke with tags

The archive’s public-facing platform is owned and operated by the commercial publisher Gale Cengage, who sells subscriptions to universities and libraries around the world (UK universities currently get free access via JISC). Consequently, access to the archive’s underlying content is restricted when using this interface. While it’s easy to identify thousands of joke columns using the archive’s search tools, it isn’t possible to automatically extract all of the results. The interface does not provide access to the underlying XML files, and images can only be downloaded one-by-one using a web browser’s ‘save image as’ button. In other words, we can’t use the commercial interface to instantly grab the XML and TIFF files for every article with the phrase “Jokes of the Week” in its title.

The British Library keeps its own copies these files, but they are currently housed in a form of digital deep-storage that is impossible for researchers to directly access and extremely cumbersome to discover content within it. In order to move forward with the automatic extraction of jokes we will need to secure access to this data, transfer it onto a more accessible internal server, custom build an index that allows us to search the full text of the articles and titles so that we may extract all of the relevant text and image files showing the areas of the newspaper scans from which the text was derived.

All of this is technically possible, and I’m hopeful that we’ll find a way to do it in the next stage of the project. However, given the limited time available to us we decided to press ahead with a small sample of manually extracted columns and focus our attention on the next stages of the project. This manually created sample will be of great use in future, as we and other research groups can use it to train computer models, which should enable us to automatically classify text from other corpora as potentially containing jokes that we would not have been able to find otherwise.

For our sample we manually downloaded all of the ‘Jokes of the Day’ columns published by Lloyd’s Weekly News in 1891. Here’s a typical example:

2 - joke column

These columns contain a mixture of joke formats – puns, conversations, comic stories, etc – and are formatted in a way that makes them broadly representative of the material found elsewhere in the database. If we can find a way to process 1,000 jokes from this source, we shouldn’t have too much difficulty scaling things up to deal with 100,000 similar gags from other newspapers.    

Our sample of joke columns was downloaded as a set of jpeg images. In order to make them keyword searchable, transform them into ‘memes’, and send them out over social media we first need to convert them into accurate, machine-readable text. We don’t have access to the existing OCR data, but even if this was available it wouldn’t be accurate enough for our purposes. Here’s an example of how one joke has been interpreted by OCR software:

  3 - OCR comparison
Some gags have been rendered more successfully than this, but many are substantially worse. Joke columns often appeared at the edge of a page, which makes them susceptible to fading and page bending. They also make use of unusual punctuation, which tends to confuse the scanning software. Unlike newspaper archives, which remain functional even with relatively low-quality OCR, our project requires 100% accuracy (or something very close) in order to republish the jokes in new formats.

So, even if we had access to OCR data we’d need to correct and improve it manually. We experimented with this process using OCR data taken from the British Newspaper Archive, but the time it took to identify and correct errors turned out to be longer than transcribing the jokes from scratch. Our volunteers reported that the correction process required them to keep looking back and forth between the image and the OCR in order to correct errors one-by-one, whereas typing up a fresh transcription was apparently quick and straightforward. It seems a shame to abandon the OCR, and I’m hopeful that we’ll eventually find a way to make it usable. The imperfect data might work as a stop-gap to make jokes searchable before they are manually corrected. We may be able to improve it using new OCR software, or speed up the correction process by making use of interface improvements like TILT. However, for now, the most effective way to convert the jokes into an accurate, machine-readable format is simply to transcribe directly from the image.