THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

16 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

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. 

Figure1
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.

06 June 2017

Digital Conversations @BL - Web Archives: truth, lies and politics

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Next week we are spoiled for choice here at the British Library with two topical and fascinating evening events about data and digital technology. On Monday 12 June there is the first  public Data Debate delivered in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute about the complex issue of data in healthcare, for more details check out this blog post.  Then on Wednesday 14 June there is a Digital Conversation event on Web Archives: truth, lies and politics in the 21st century. Where a panel of scholars and experts in the field of web archiving and digital studies, will discuss the role of web and social media archives in helping us, as digital citizens, to navigate through a complex and changing information landscape.

Web archiving began in 1996 with the Internet Archive and these days many university and national libraries around the world have web archiving initiatives. The British Library started web archiving in 2004, and from 2013 we have collected an annual snapshot of all UK web sites. As such, there are rich web archive collections documenting political and social movements at international and local levels; including the Library of Congress collections on the Arab Spring, and the UK Web Archive collections on past General Elections.

The Digital Conversation will be chaired by Eliane Glaser, author of Get Real: How to See Through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life, the panel includes Jane Winters, Chair of Digital Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London, Valérie Schafer, Historian at the French National Center for Scientific Research (Institute for Communication Sciences, CNRS), Jefferson Bailey, Director of Web Archiving Programs at the Internet Archive and Andrew Jackson, Web Archiving Technical Lead at the British Library.

For more information and to book tickets go here. Hope to see you there!

Grow the real economy ijclark
Image credit: Grow the real economy by ijclark, depicting the Occupy London protest camp in 2011, CC BY 2.0

This Digital Conversations event is part of the Web Archiving Week 12-16 June co-hosted by the British Library and the School of Advanced Study, University of London. This is a week of conferences, hackathons and talks in London to discuss recent advances in web archiving and research on the archived web. You can follow tweets from the conferences and the Digital Conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #WAweek2017.

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

12 April 2017

New technologies challenging author and reader roles

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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).

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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.

06 April 2017

Free Public Lecture and Workshop: Exploring Scissors-and-Paste Journalism in The British Library’s Newspaper Collections

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Melodee Beals, Lecturer in History, Department of Politics, History and International Relations, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences, Loughborough University

Scissors and paste
Image courtesy of David Brewer CC-BY.

Two hundred years ago, the British public was abuzz with news of revolution, mass migration and an uncertain economic future. And into this excited and worried noise stepped an army of young and adventurous newspapers, working hard to give their readers the world at their fingers. From Calcutta to Peru, Sydney to Istanbul, Paris to New York, they overflowed with news of peoples, places and political scandals from all over the world.

But, before satellites, radio or the telegraph, they relied on people – friends, family, and fellow newspaper men and women – to send in letters and clippings from around the world to provide the most up-to-date and wide-ranging news to their readers. This scissors-and-paste journalism was the very backbone of many British newspapers up through the 1850s but we still don’t know enough about how it worked in practice.

You can help!

On 27 April 2017, British Library Labs and Loughborough University will be hosting a free, public workshop at the British Library in the Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation, London, introducing “Georgian Pingbacks”, a new crowdsourcing website to allow the public (you!) to help uncover how news—the good, the fake and the poorly punctuated—spread across the country. With just a few clicks on your smartphone, tablet or home computer on your daily commute or queuing for the till, you can contribute to the growing debate on what makes news “real” and what makes it “viral”.

After a talk on scissors-and-paste journalism by Dr M. H. Beals (Loughborough University), exploring the history of this much loved system of “theft”, we will take you through our brand new website, where you can help contribute to our collective understanding of historical journalism, one clip and one click at a time.

This event is free, open to the public and a complimentary lunch will be provided.

To register, please visit our Eventbrite website.

If you have any questions about the event, please contact Dr Beals at m.h.beals@lboro.ac.uk. Please note, to fully take part in the event, you will need to bring a laptop or other internet-ready device, such as a tablet or large-screen smartphone, but this is not a requirement for attendance.

28 March 2017

Mobile devices meet author, text, and reader

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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. 

21 March 2017

Poetic Places and World Poetry Day 2017

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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.

Photo-02-02-2017-15-11-58 Billycock-Cat-reverse

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

28 October 2016

2016 Shakespeare Off the Map Competition Winners Announced at GameCity11 Festival

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Last night was the awards event at The National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham for the 2016 Off the Map competition, which had a Shakespeare theme. Now in its fourth year, Off the Map challenges full time UK students in higher or further education to make videogames, digital explorable environments, or interactive fiction based on digitised British Library collection items.

For 2016 the competition has been part of the British Library's commemoration of 400 years since the death of Shakespeare and has been running in conjunction with the Library’s recent exhibition “Shakespeare in Ten Acts”. Curators selected text, images, maps and sounds based on three sub themes:

  • Castles: Scene of Ghosts and Murder
  • The Tempest
  • Forests, Woodlands and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This year's fantastic first place winning entry used the The Tempest sub theme and was created by Team Quattro from De Montfort University in Leicester. The team consisted of six students: Chris Anka, Perrie Green, Tara Naz, Jade Silver, Jasdev Singh and Joel Wilkins.

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The Tempest game logo

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Team Quattro

 

Flythrough of Team Quattro’s ‘The Tempest’ game

Dr Erin Sullivan described the winning game as ‘an evocative, immersive world that powerfully channels the drama of The Tempest. It introduces players to the story of the play in a deep, thoughtful way.’

Dr Abigail Parry said ‘I was head-over-heels for the metatextual element of this submission – you had me at the stage door. It was good, too, to see source text daubed on the caves walls – for me, the greatest strength of the submission was that it succeeded in synthesising text, assets and game environment in a way that was both engaging and beautiful.  Also to be commended was the attention to detail – the prop storm clouds were a delight.  The individual domains were characterful, and the story welcome without being obtrusive.  Most of all, it displayed a real interest in – and affection for - the play. I would want to play this game, and would be equally proud to teach with it.’ 

In second place came Tom Battey from the London College of Communication with a game called ‘Midsummer’ based on the characters in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Dr Erin Sullivan describing 'Midsummer' said that ‘the visual world and the engagement with the play were extremely impressive. I loved the historical flourishes and the imaginative exploration of the characters’ emotions.’

Midsummer1-825x510
Midsummer by Tom Battey

In third place was an interactive fiction story again using The Tempest sub theme called This Most Desolate Isle by Alan Stewart from Brunel University who effectively used illustrations by Arthur Rackham to accompany his creative writing.

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This Most Desolate Isle by Alan Stewart

Huge congratulations to this year's winning entries, and I'd also like to offer sincere thanks to the 2016 Off the Map jury members:

  • Sarah Ellis, Head of Digital Development at the Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Dr Abigail Parry, Poet in Residence at the National Videogame Arcade
  • Dr Erin Sullivan, Shakespeare Institute Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham
  • Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator at the British Library
  • Zoë Wilcox, Lead Curator of the Shakespeare Exhibition at the British Library

The 2017 competition is called There Will be Fun Off The Map and this is associated with the British Library’s current exhibition Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun, which is open until Sunday 12 February 2017. Keep your eyes peeled for further information about this; I will be blogging here over the next few weeks, when the new  There Will be Fun Off The Map competition website is available.

Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator, @miss_wisdom