THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

22 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

11 April 2018

Ambient Literature Festival

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As the final months of the Ambient Literature project approach, the research team are convening a series of final events (more on which below), but are also spending time drawing out conclusions and reflections regarding the last two years of work. Below is a guest post discussing this by Tom Abba from the Ambient Literature project and the University of the West of England, you can  follow him on twitter as @tomabba:   

When we began in May 2016, we were upfront about the challenges of the work we were going to make and address. Here’s what we said at the launch event at Hachette’s (then shiny new) headquarters in Blackfriars:

Here’s an admission at the start of a research programme:

We don’t know what Ambient Literature is.

We’ve started to map the territory, to define by identifying borders and by testing the edges. It’s important to note though, that we don’t want to reduce the idea to something tight and defined, rather our intention is to open it up, so show by doing, making and thinking. We do know that Ambient Literature asks for writing to be specific, to be for this form. That there are rules, grammars of making and thinking about readers and texts in new ways.

Twenty three months later, I think we know what this is, and we’ve made progress toward a set of rules and grammars for making work in this form. Each of our three commissions demonstrates how Ambient Literature might work, and each does so in a completely different way. Duncan Speakman’s It Must Have Been Dark By Then, James Attlee’s The Cartographer’s Confession and Kate Pullinger’s Breathe (made with Editions at Play) ask something of their audience that is particular to the decisions each writer made, how those were translated into a technologically mediated form, and the goals at the heart of each of those works. In different ways, for different reasons, we’re very proud of each of them.

Ambient lit

Ambient Literature has been an extended conversation about storytelling, situation, audience, presence and much much more. We opened that conversation up last year at our half-way Symposium, and want to take it much further now. We want to show, and to talk to you all, and celebrate everything that’s been part of this journey. If you’re interested in being part of that conversation and celebration, then our Showcase Festival takes place on 23rd April at the British Library Conference Centre. We’ll be sharing our secrets and discoveries, and letting you look behind the scenes at how each of our projects were created. The event will feature workshops with Duncan Speakman and Kate Pullinger and talks, as well as a guided tour through the London of The Cartographer’s Confession with its author James Attlee and producer Emma Whittaker. We’re aiming the event at publishing industry professionals, students and practitioners, as well as anyone interested in the future of reading and writing. We can promise at the very least you’ll come away knowing something new about digital storytelling. If you would like to attend please register here and book places on to the workshops.

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Schedule for Ambient Literature Festival

We’re also taking the whole project to the Hay Festival in May. We’re running workshops, hosting a panel discussion (with guests including Dan Franklin and Joanna Walsh) and are making a new piece of work - Words We Never Wrote - specially for Hay. It premieres at the Festival and explores the meaning of writing, language and storytelling. We’re incredibly proud of this piece - it asks questions about linearity and form, art and suggestion that we’ve been aching to address for years. We’re delighted to be at Hay and, if you want to join us there, we can promise you a little bit of magic when you visit. 

05 April 2018

Digital Conversations @BL: Digital Comics

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Venturing off the page; into multimedia and new narrative forms – we invite you to join us for an evening exploring the worlds of digital comics.

Over the past year, our Contemporary British Collections team have been busy exploring how comics are created and distributed in the 21st century. You can read these blog posts about projects done by our PhD placement researchers:

The Proper Serious Work of Preserving Digital Comics and Collecting Webcomics in the UK Web Archive by Jen Aggleton, who created a UK Web Archive collection of web comics.

21st Century British Comics by Olivia Hicks.

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An extract from The Archivist by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey

Continuing this work, we have been collaborating with John Freeman and Graham Baines of British Comics website downthetubes.net to bring together an exciting panel of comics creators for our next Digital Conversation at the British Library. We’ll be exploring the fortunes of comics in the online world, and looking ahead at what’s next for digital comics. Our panel brings together a great range of experience in creating comics and digital media in many forms:

Kate Ashwin – has been creating internet comics since 2002 and is the creator of Widdershins, a series mixing magic, comedy and adventure, set in a fictional West Yorkshire town.

Yomi Ayeni – creates work across different media, including film and digital projects as well as comics. His Clockwork Watch series was voted best Graphic Novel in 2015 by readers of Steampunk Chronicle.

Daniel Merlin Goodbrey – is a pioneer of digital comics, experimenting with the hypercomic form and “infinite canvass” comics (an extract from The Archivist can be seen above). Daniel’s comics, and writing about comics, can be found on e-merl.com

Bryan Talbot – is one of Britain’s best known comic artists and credited as one of the creators of the graphic novel form. His work includes The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Alice in Sunderland, the Grandville series of steampunk detective thrillers, Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes and Sally Heathcote: Suffragette.    

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Page from Widdershins Vol 5. by Kate Ashwin

Comics have always provided an immediate and emotionally-engaging way of telling imaginative stories. British comics creators have been at the vanguard of innovation, and this has been true also of digital comics. Join our Digital Conversation to find out how new technologies are leading to new forms of story-telling, plus what the challenges and opportunities are for building web comics collections. 

The Digital Comics Conversation event takes place in The Terrace Restaurant at the British Library on Wednesday 18th April, 18.30- 20.30; for more details including booking, visit: https://www.bl.uk/events/digital-conversation-digital-comics.

This is a guest post by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications, on twitter as @IanCooke13.     

21 March 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Vittoria's World of Stories, Learning & Teaching Award Winner

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Vittoria’s 'World of Stories' - the BL Labs Learning and Teaching Award Winner 2017 - is a project led by parents at Vittoria Primary School through the PTA, with the support of school staff. The aim of the project is to collect and share traditional tales from around the world and creative work by current pupils through workshops, the production of a book, school assemblies, readings and performances, and via the creation of audio, text and images for the school website during the current academic year. The illustrations for the project are drawn from the British Library’s Flickr collection which are displayed alongside pupils’ artwork.

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The front cover of Vittoria primary school's 'World of Stories'

Our school is a diverse community of learners: pupils’ families come from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Languages spoken by pupils at home include Arabic, Bengali, Vietnamese, Russian, Chechen, Turkish and Somali. One of the pedagogical goals of the project was to make visible the similarities between well-loved traditional tales and explore how different cultures use the same cast of characters - heroes and heroines, tricksters and magicians, villains and monsters – in order to speak across generations about what it means to be human. We wanted to promote and celebrate the diversity of the multi-cultural community which makes up our school, and show parents and children that the characters and stories they love are shared by others from different cultures.   

 The stories in the book include original works by pupils, gathered through a story-writing competition with winning entries selected by the PTA committee. We also asked parents to nominate traditional tales for inclusion in the collection, and held a bi-lingual (English and Arabic) story-sharing workshop for parents organised by the PTA. During the workshop, parents spoke about well-known traditional tales which they remembered from childhood and discussed the contrasts and similarities between characters and narratives from different cultures. For example, the section of the book which presents ‘bogeyman’ type monsters was developed from discussions in the workshop. We discovered that the Beast from Beauty and the Beast is called ‘Al-Ba’ati’ in Sudan, where the story is known as ‘Jamila wal Ba’ati’. Sudanese parents discussed how ‘Al-Ba’ati’ is used to encourage good behaviour in children, which prompted another parent to share her family’s stories of ‘The Boogerman’ who plays a similar role in persuading children to stay in bed at bedtime.

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One of the British Library's Flickr images, used as an illustration

The project also links with our work within the classroom to develop children’s reading skills, through promoting a love of reading and books at home. By showing that we value and celebrate the oral culture of storytelling between parents and children, and by collecting and translating tales from languages other than English, we aim to encourage parents to read with their children and support their learning at home.

The project has had a positive effect within the school community, by promoting dialogue and interaction between parents from different cultures through the parents’ workshop, and provided a vehicle to celebrate pupils’ achievements to the school community. Parents have also bought copies of the book to share with family and friends. One of our parent contributors took copies of the book to share with older generations of her family in Sudan during a recent visit, and we hope that other parents will do the same.

During the next phase of the project we will be organising a series of readings and performances using the book with different year groups and making audio recordings which we will publish on the school website for parents to download and listen to with their children at home.

If this blog post has stimulated your interest in working with the British Library's digital collections, start a project and enter it for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Vittoria Primary school

14 March 2018

Working with BL Labs in search of Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose

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The 19th Century British Library Newspapers Database offers a rich mine of material to be sourced for a comprehensive view of British life in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The online archive comprises 101 full-text titles of local, regional, and national newspapers across the UK and Ireland, and thanks to optical character recognition, they are all fully searchable. This allows for extensive data mining across several millions worth of newspaper pages. It’s like going through the proverbial haystack looking for the equally proverbial needle, but with a magnet in hand.

For my current research project on the role of the radio during the British Raj, I wanted to find out more about Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose (1858–1937), whose contributions to the invention of wireless telegraphy were hardly acknowledged during his lifetime and all but forgotten during the twentieth century.

J.C.Bose
Jagadish Chandra Bose in Royal Institution, London
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The person who is generally credited with having invented the radio is Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937). In 1909, he and Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850–1918) were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy”. What is generally not known is that almost ten years before that, Bose invented a coherer that would prove to be crucial for Marconi’s successful attempt at wireless telegraphy across the Atlantic in 1901. Bose never patented his invention, and Marconi reaped all the glory.

In his book Jagadis Chandra Bose and the Indian Response to Western Science, Subrata Dasgupta gives us four reasons as to why Bose’s contributions to radiotelegraphy have been largely forgotten in the West throughout the twentieth century. The first reason, according to Dasgupta, is that Bose changed research interest around 1900. Instead of continuing and focusing his work on wireless telegraphy, Bose became interested in the physiology of plants and the similarities between inorganic and living matter in their responses to external stimuli. Bose’s name thus lost currency in his former field of study.

A second reason that contributed to the erasure of Bose’s name is that he did not leave a legacy in the form of students. He did not, as Dasgupta puts it, “found a school of radio research” that could promote his name despite his personal absence from the field. Also, and thirdly, Bose sought no monetary gain from his inventions and only patented one of his several inventions. Had he done so, chances are that his name would have echoed loudly through the century, just as Marconi’s has done.

“Finally”, Dasgupta writes, “one cannot ignore the ‘Indian factor’”. Dasgupta wonders how seriously the scientific western elite really took Bose, who was the “outsider”, the “marginal man”, the “lone Indian in the hurly-burly of western scientific technology”. And he wonders how this affected “the seriousness with which others who came later would judge his significance in the annals of wireless telegraphy”.

And this is where the BL’s online archive of nineteenth-century newspapers comes in. Looking at newspaper coverage about Bose in the British press at the time suggests that Bose’s contributions to wireless telegraphy were soon to be all but forgotten during his lifetime. When Bose died in 1937, Reuters Calcutta put out a press release that was reprinted in several British newspapers. As an example, the following notice was published in the Derby Evening Telegraph of November 23rd, 1937, on Bose’s death:

Newspaper clipping announcing death of JC Bose
Notice in the Derby Evening Telegraph of November 23rd, 1937

This notice is as short as it is telling in what it says and does not say about Bose and his achievements: he is remembered as the man “who discovered a heart beat in trees”. He is not remembered as the man who almost invented the radio. He is remembered for the Western honours that are bestowed upon him (the Knighthood and his Fellowship of the Royal Society), and he is remembered as the founder of the Bose Research Institute. He is not remembered for his career as a researcher and inventor; a career that span five decades and saw him travel extensively in India, Europe and the United States.

The Derby Evening Telegraph is not alone in this act of partial remembrance. Similar articles appeared in Dundee’s Evening Telegraph and Post and The Gloucestershire Echo on the same day. The Aberdeen Press and Journal published a slightly extended version of the Reuters press release on November 24th that includes a brief account of a lecture by Bose in Whitehall in 1929, during which Bose demonstrated “that plants shudder when struck, writhe in the agonies of death, get drunk, and are revived by medicine”. However, there is again no mention of Bose’s work as a physicist or of his contributions to wireless telegraphy. The same is true for obituaries published in The Nottingham Evening Post on November 23rd, The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror on November 24th, another article published in the Aberdeen Press and Journal on November 26th, and two articles published in The Manchester Guardian on November 24th.

The exception to the rule is the obituary published in The Times on November 24th. Granted, with a total of 1116 words it is significantly longer than the Reuters press release, but this is also partly the point, as it allows for a much more comprehensive account of Bose’s life and achievements. But even if we only take the first two sentences of The Times obituary, which roughly add up to the word count of the Reuters press release, we are already presented with a different account altogether:

“Our Calcutta Correspondent telegraphs that Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, F.R.S., died at Giridih, Bengal, yesterday, having nearly reached the age of 79. The reputation he won by persistent investigation and experiment as a physicist was extended to the general public in the Western world, which he frequently visited, by his remarkable gifts as a lecturer, and by the popular appeal of many of his demonstrations.”

We know that he was a physicist; the focus is on his skills as a researcher and on his talents as a lecturer rather than on his Western titles and honours, which are mentioned in passing as titles to his name; and we immediately get a sense of the significance of his work within the scientific community and for the general public. And later on in the article, it is finally acknowledged that Bose “designed an instrument identical in principle with the 'coherer' subsequently used in all systems of wireless communication. Another early invention was an instrument for verifying the laws of refraction, reflection, and polarization of electric waves. These instruments were demonstrated on the occasion of his first appearance before the British Association at the 1896 meeting at Liverpool”.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Dr Christin Hoene, a BL Labs Researcher in Residence at the British Library. Dr Hoene is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English Literature at the University of Kent. 

If you are interested in working with the British Library's digital collections, why not come along to one of our events that we are holding at universities around the UK this year? We will be holding a roadshow at the University of Kent on 25 April 2018. You can see a programme for the day and book your place through this Eventbrite page. 

07 March 2018

Breathe, A Digital Ghost Story

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Recently I posted about The Cartographer's Confession an immersive digital story based in London, where readers interact with the app on location. However, then the ‘beast from the east’ arrived in the UK and made walking in London rather a bracing and slippy experience last week!

So if during the cold weather you prefer seeking chills of a different kind, you may like to read Breathe, a digital ghost story, from the comfort and warmth of your sofa or bed. The story takes about fifteen minutes to read, is designed for mobile devices and it is available for free. To start reading, go to http://www.breathe-story.com/.

Breathe

Written by Kate Pullinger, the work is collaboration with Editions at Play, which is itself collaboration between Google Creative Labs Sydney and London-based publisher Visual Editions. The result is a literary experience delivered using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and context recognition technology. The app uses place, time, context and environment to place the reader in the story, making the experience individual and personal to each reader.  Kate has blogged about creating Breathe on The Writing Platform.

As with the other two Ambient Literature commissioned literary works, the research project team are looking for participants to try out Breathe and talk to them about their reading experience. If you are interested in assisting, please fill out this form and one of the researchers will be in touch via email to arrange a time to talk. If you have any questions about this process, please contact Dr Michael Marcinkowski.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom and member of the Ambient Literature Advisory Board.

23 February 2018

The Cartographer's Confession

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Last summer I posted about the Ambient Literature project, which is researching if and how digital media can create bridges between story and place. Forming the heart of this project, three authors; Kate Pullinger, James Attlee and Duncan Speakman have each created new experimental works that respond to the presence of a reader, and these aim to show how we can redefine the rules of the reading experience through innovative use of technology.

I’m pleased to report the one of the Ambient Literature commissioned works; The Cartographer's Confession by James Attlee is the winner of the 8th annual if:book award for New Media Writing, which was presented at Bournemouth University recently.

Cartographersconfession
if:book award winner James Attlee, with (left to right) Chris Meade, Justine Solomons, Jim Pope, Andy Campbell, Stella Wisdom and Emma Whittaker

The Cartographer’s Confession is an immersive story based in London, where readers interact with the app on location, to discover the long-hidden secrets of ‘The Cartographer’.  Containing visual material, as well as having an original musical soundtrack, this is a ‘mixed reality’ experience. Accepting his award from if:book director Chris Meade, Attlee confessed that this blending of sound, video and story is something he had wanted to do previously alongside his print-based works, but he wasn’t able to make it happen until collaborating with digital producer Emma Whittaker.

I very much enjoyed this work, especially the music, and I also encourage you to try the experience. All you will need is a smartphone, a set of headphones, and the ability to visit a number of locations in London, through which the story unfolds (though there is also an ‘armchair mode’ if you are unable to get to London). You can download the app for free and it is available on iOS and Android.

Furthermore, as Ambient Literature is research project, they are very keen to speak with participants; to learn about their reactions to the work. So if you have completed The Cartographer's Confession (or are close to finishing it) and willing to be interviewed about your experience for about 15 minutes (either in person or over Skype, Facetime etc.), please fill out this form  and one of the project researchers will be in touch via email to arrange a time to talk. If you have any questions about this process, please contact Dr Michael Marcinkowski.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom and member of the Ambient Literature Advisory Board.

13 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Samtla, Research Award Runner Up

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Samtla (Search And Mining Tools for Labelling Archives) was developed to address a need in the humanities for research tools that help to search, browse, compare, and annotate documents stored in digital archives. The system was designed in collaboration with researchers at Southampton University, whose research involved locating shared vocabulary and phrases across an archive of Aramaic Magic Texts from Late Antiquity. The archive contained texts written in Aramaic, Mandaic, Syriac, and Hebrew languages. Due to the morphological complexity of these languages, where morphemes are attached to a root morpheme to mark gender and number, standard approaches and off-the-shelf software were not flexible enough for the task, as they tended to be designed to work with a specific archive or user group. 

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Figure 1: Samtla supports tolerant search allowing queries to be matched exactly and approximately. (Click to enlarge image)

  Samtla is designed to extract the same or similar information that may be expressed by authors in different ways, whether it is in the choice of vocabulary or the grammar. Traditionally search and text mining tools have been based on words, which limits their use to corpora containing languages were 'words' can be easily identified and extracted from text, e.g. languages with a whitespace character like English, French, German, etc. Word models tend to fail when the language is morphologically complex, like Aramaic, and Hebrew. Samtla addresses these issues by adopting a character-level approach stored in a statistical language model. This means that rather than extracting words, we extract character-sequences representing the morphology of the language, which we then use to match the search terms of the query and rank the documents according to the statistics of the language. Character-based models are language independent as there is no need to preprocess the document, and we can locate words and phrases with a lot of flexibility. As a result Samtla compensates for the variability in language use, spelling errors made by users when they search, and errors in the document as a result of the digitisation process (e.g. OCR errors). 

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Figure 2: Samtla's document comparison tool displaying a semantically similar passage between two Bibles from different periods. (Click to enlarge image)

 The British Library have been very supportive of the work by openly providing access to their digital archives. The archives ranged in domain, topic, language, and scale, which enabled us to test Samtla’s flexibility to its limits. One of the biggest challenges we faced was indexing larger-scale archives of several gigabytes. Some archives also contained a scan of the original document together with metadata about the structure of the text. This provided a basis for developing new tools that brought researchers closer to the original object, which included highlighting the named entities over both the raw text, and the scanned image.

Currently we are focusing on developing approaches for leveraging the semantics underlying text data in order to help researchers find semantically related information. Semantic annotation is also useful for labelling text data with named entities, and sentiments. Our current aim is to develop approaches for annotating text data in any language or domain, which is challenging due to the fact that languages encode the semantics of a text in different ways.

As a first step we are offering labelled data to researchers, as part of a trial service, in order to help speed up the research process, or provide tagged data for machine learning approaches. If you are interested in participating in this trial, then more information can be found at www.samtla.com.

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Figure 3: Samtla's annotation tools label the texts with named entities to provide faceted browsing and data layers over the original image. (Click to enlarge image)

 If this blog post has stimulated your interest in working with the British Library's digital collections, start a project and enter it for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.


Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Dr Martyn Harris, Prof Dan Levene, Prof Mark Levene and Dr Dell Zhang.

04 August 2017

BL Labs Awards (2017): enter before midnight Wednesday 11th October!

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of of British Library Labs.

The BL Labs Awards formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and data.

The closing date for entering the BL Labs Awards (2017) is midnight BST on Wednesday 11th October. So please submit your entry and/or help us spread the word to all interested and relevant parties over the next few months or so. This will ensure we have another year of fantastic digital-based projects highlighted by the Awards!

This year, the BL Labs Awards is 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.

After the submission deadline of midnight BST on Wednesday 11th October for entering the BL Labs Awards has past, the entries will be shortlisted. Selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Friday 20th October 2017. 

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 to the runner up of each Awards category at the BL Labs Symposium on 30th October 2017 at the British Library, St Pancras, London.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners ups of 2016 and 2015 has led to the production a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. In 2016, the Awards commended work in four main categories – Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurship:

  • Research category Award (2016) winner: 'Scissors and Paste', by M. H. Beals. Scissors and Paste utilises the 1800-1900 digitised British Library Newspapers, collection to explore the possibilities of mining large-scale newspaper databases for reprinted and repurposed news content.
  • Artistic Award (2016) winner: 'Hey There, Young Sailor', written and directed by Ling Low with visual art by Lyn Ong. Hey There, Young Sailor combines live action with animation, hand-drawn artwork and found archive images to tell a love story set at sea. The video draws on late 19th century and early 20th century images from the British Library's Flickr collection for its collages and tableaux and was commissioned by Malaysian indie folk band The Impatient Sisters and independently produced by a Malaysian and Indonesian team.
BL Labs Award Winners 2016
Image: 'Scissors and Paste', by M. H. Beals (Top-left)
'Curating Digital Collections to Go Mobile', by Mitchell Davis; (Top-right)
 'Hey There, Young Sailor',
written and directed by Ling Low with visual art by Lyn Ong; (Bottom-left)
'Library Carpentry', founded by James Baker and involving the international Library Carpentry team;
(Bottom-right) 
  • Commercial Award (2016) winner: 'Curating Digital Collections to Go Mobile', by Mitchell Davis. BiblioBoard, is an award-winning e-Content delivery platform, and online curatorial and multimedia publishing tools to support it to make it simple for subject area experts to create visually stunning multi-media exhibits for the web and mobile devices without any technical expertise, the example used a collection of digitised 19th Century books.
  • Teaching and Learning (2016) winner: 'Library Carpentry', founded by James Baker and involving the international Library Carpentry team. Library Carpentry is software skills training aimed at the needs and requirements of library professionals taking the form of a series of modules that are available online for self-directed study or for adaption and reuse by library professionals in face-to-face workshops using British Library data / collections. Library Carpentry is in the commons and for the commons: it is not tied to any institution or person. For more information, see http://librarycarpentry.github.io/.
  • Jury’s Special Mention Award (2016): 'Top Geo-referencer -Maurice Nicholson' . Maurice leads the effort to Georeference over 50,000 maps that were identified through Flickr Commons, read more about his work here.

For any further information about BL Labs or our Awards, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.