THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

81 posts categorized "Experiments"

04 August 2017

BL Labs Awards (2017): enter before midnight Tuesday 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 Tuesday 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 Tuesday 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.

21 July 2017

Russian Language Books Research Project by Nadya Miryanova

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Finding digitised books in the Russian language in a collection of 65,000 books

Posted by Nadya Miryanova BL Labs School Work Placement Student, currently studying at Lady Eleanor Holles, working with Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

Background

Although there are 200 million items in the British Library, contrary to popular belief, only 1-2% of these items are digitised. The ‘Microsoft’ books are 65,000 digitised volumes - about 22.5 million pages, and they were published between 1789 and 1914; digitised in partnership with Microsoft. They cover a wide range of subject areas including topics such as philosophy, poetry and history and they include Optically Character Recognised (OCR) text from the millions of pages.

In discussion with Mahendra Mahey, Project Manager of BL Labs, we explored making a ‘sub collection’ from this larger set which will hopefully be of use to the library in the future. At first, I simply brainstormed possible ideas and looked at different possibilities for this project, and I thought that since 2017 celebrates a century since the Russian Revolution, I would do some research into the concept of ‘revolution’.

Revolution

Definition - A forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system.

Etymology - Late latin ‘revolvere’, meaning to roll back, which turned into the Old French or Late Latin ‘revolutio’, from which came about our contemporary English word ‘revolution’.

Revolutions date back to as early as 2730 BC, where there was a set rebellion against the reign of the pharaoh Seth-Peribsen of the Second Dynasty of Egypt. The most recent revolution actually happened only last year in 2016, when there was a Turkish coup d'état attempt.

About the Russian Revolution

The British Library have recently opened an exhibition perfectly capturing not only the events that took place in this particularly intense period in history, but also the atmosphere that was omnipresent at the time and on my very first day here at the British Library, I got the chance to explore and study this fascinating exhibition in great depth.

The Russian Revolution was initiated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who hoped to create a socialist government, and in 1917, they successfully dismantled Tsarist autocracy in the hope of making society less stratified. The revolution resulted in the rise of the USSR and in the words of Karl Liebknecht, “The Russian revolution was to an unprecedented degree the cause of the proletariat of the whole world becoming more revolutionary”. However, this revolution also led to months of social and political turmoil and provoked the tragedy of the Russian Civil War on an unforeseeable scale, in which 10 million lives were lost. The revolution also produced myths that entered the artistic and intellectual fabric of the modern world, which the exhibitions uncovers and investigates. Learn more about the Russian Revolution by booking your tickets for the Russian Revolution Exhibition at the British Library on the website http://goo.gl/FL9FFt.

Russian Revolution Poster
Russian Revolution Exhibition Poster at the British Library

As part of my research project, I also wanted to incorporate some of the other subjects that I had studied at GCSE, and so I thought this would be a brilliant opportunity to compare the Russian Revolution to the French Revolution, both French and Russian being subjects that I wish to at A-level. The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France that lasted from 1789 until 1799, and was partially carried forward by Napoleon during the later expansion of the French Empire.

Below is a mind-map I made detailing the differences and similarities between the French and the Russian Revolution.

Russian and French Revolution Research
French and Russian Revolution Comparison

Although my initial focus for the project was revolution, we soon established that it was too specific a topic and it would be more beneficial to focus on something broader, that would be useful to a larger group of researchers.

I soon discovered that the Russian titles within the digitised collection had never previously seperated and categorised, and being a native Russian speaker, I thought that this would be a better avenue to go down and explore. This would be a project in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, which would hopefully help researchers looking at books in the Russian language in the future.

Facts about the Russian Language

  • Largest European native language.
    • 7th most spoken language in the world.
  • There are only 200,000 words in the Russian language in comparison to 1,000,000 in English.
  • The stress pattern in a word can drastically change its meaning, e.g. :
    • я плачу  (emphasis on second syllable) - I pay.
    • я плáчу (emphasis on first syllable) -I cry.

Approach

My first task included examining a huge spread sheet containing information about the 65,000 books in the collection.

  • In order to make this task a little less daunting, I first used the ‘Filter’ function in the language column of my Excel spreadsheet, and selected the Russian language. As a result, I found 583 books in total that were written in the Russian Language.
  • I now had to think of a way to organise these books. The possibilities seemed endless, should I sort them into history books? Science books? Books about Russia?
  • In the end, I decided to establish two broad categories as a starting point, fiction vs non-fiction, as this seemed like a logical place to start.
  • In order to access the Russian keyboard, I went onto the site translit.net, which turns normal Latin letters into Cyrillic.
  • I typed in a Russian word, using the English keyboard, that related to one of my two categories, e.g. for non-fiction, I wanted to find history related books, so used the simple word ‘history’, which translates as история.
  • I then copied this word, and pasted it into my spreadsheet.
  • I used the filter function on the 'Titles' section, and this would hopefully produce a number of books that included the word history in their title.
Spread Sheet Screenshot
Screenshot of my spread sheet.


Challenges

In this project, I found that I had to overcome a number of difficulties.

  • In Russian, nouns can have up to 12 inflections and adjectives can have as many as 16. This clearly shows that looking up different versions of the same word was necessary.
  • Like I previously said, I first experimented with simple words, such as history. You would think that there would definitely be books relating to history lurking somewhere in a collection of nearly 600 Russian titles. However, when I conducted my search, the spread sheet had no results. Confused, I tried another simple word, and once again had no definitive results.

Scanning more closely through the list of books, I soon noticed that there were certain spellings and letters that I did not recognise. I decided to research this matter more closely, looking at the history of the Russian language, and found out that the Russian of the 19th century does not directly resemble the Russian language used today. Why? Because of the Russian Revolution, of course.

1918 Spelling Reform Research
Bolshevik Spelling Reform of 1918 Research, detailing the causes for the reform and the changes made to the Russian language

Suddenly, everything made a lot more sense.

This discovery meant that I had to change my approach a little bit, so rather than typing in the Russian words in the spelling that I knew today, I would have to go for a sort of hunt throughout the spreadsheet, looking for words in the titles of the books that could encompass a number of books. In a way, this made the process of my project even more interesting, despite the fact that it took longer.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the majority of the Russian language books were actually non-fiction. As a result, I decided to create sub-categories for the non-fiction set, which can be seen in the speech-bubble I created below.

Non-fiction categories
Speech bubble containing non-fiction categories

To help me in this task, I decided to create a colour-coding system for classification, so that I could keep track of my progress.

  • Yellow=Classified
  • Purple= латиницa (latin letters)- quite often I found titles which where written in Russian but using latin letters. Purple also used for titles written in another language
  • Blue=unknown classification
  • Orange= near classification
Colour coding system
Screenshot of my spread sheet showing the colour coding system that I used.

Evaluation

In conclusion, I managed to categorise the Russian language books into two broad categories, fiction and non-fiction, and I created 25 sub-collections within the non-fiction category. This project has been extremely enjoyable to work on, and although there were many challenges involved in the process, I have learnt lots during my research journey. In order to improve this project, I would definitely say that more work needs to be done on splitting up the 'history' sub-collection of my non-fiction title, since it is very broad and covers political accounts, as well as books about Russian History. Additionally, I think that this project would also considerably benefit from undergoing a thorough check with curators, in order to help classify some of the books I have not organised into separate collections yet. 

Picture from Russian Book
An illustration from one of the Russian books, По Сѣверо-Западу Россіи, available in the digitised collections. Image can be accessed on British Library Flickr Commons.

 

 

Through the British Library Looking Glass - A Continuation of Nadya Miryanova's Work Experience

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Posted by Nadya Miryanova BL Labs School Work Placement Student, currently studying at Lady Eleanor Holles, working with Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

Day 6

Despite the fact that a week of my work experience here has already elapsed, I still can’t quite believe that I am lucky enough to find myself in this magnificent institution, let alone have access to ‘staff-only’ areas and actually be able to work here. One thing I particularly love is that I can enter the library in the early morning, before official opening hours, and see it evolve from a certain peaceful stillness to its usual excited buzz of activity as the day progresses and watch as the library is brought to life once more by the people that visit it.

Photo of me at the book tower
A photograph of me by the book tower in the British Library

Previously, in a very serious and sophisticated catch-up session (including, of course, only work-related matters), Mahendra had discovered that I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. Although this subject may seem quite unexpected and completely out of context in this blog, it is actually very relevant, since on the next day, Mahendra had informed me that I would be able to meet the Harry Potter curator. This was something that caught me completely by surprise, but it also shamelessly sparked a child-like excitement within me, having loved the franchise ever since I was seven. A meeting was set for Monday morning, and I waited, with some impatience, to meet Julian Harrison, the curator of medieval manuscripts and also the man who was involved in the organisation of the Harry Potter exhibition.

People looking at exhibition
People looking at an exhibition in the British Library

During the meeting, I was able to gain an insight into the working life of a curator. Julian explained the sorts of things involved in this role, and also talked more about the exhibitions themselves, where inspiration comes from, as well as previous exhibitions and their structure. 

In addition to this, I was able to find out lots of details about the Harry Potter exhibition (it’s fascinating and definitely worth a visit, trust me!). Furthermore, we had an in-depth discussion about the Harry Potter series itself, and we talked about some of the key themes as well as key characters in the books. You’ll soon be able to find out more about the exhibition too, be sure to book your tickets early and visit the British Library to be part of what will truly be a magical experience!

Phoenix
A preview of the "Harry Potter- A History of Magic" Exhibition, coming soon on 27th October 2017

In the afternoon, I went to a classical music concert at the British Museum. As I stepped into the light interior of the museum, I felt a hundred memories instantly come to mind, dating back to various visits with my family and numerous school projects over the years. The British Library and British Museum singers presented a concert performance of ‘Trial by Jury’, an opera in one act, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. ‘Trial by Jury’ is set at a Court of Justice in 1876. The defendant, Edwin, has recently promised to marry a beautiful woman, Angelina, but has since changed his mind, for which reason Angelina is now suing him for Breach of Promise. After a multitude of entertaining events, involving the Jury, the public, the Usher, and many comic disagreements over the issue, a decision is finally reached. The Judge decides the only real logical solution to the problem is to marry Angelina himself, resulting in happiness for all parties. The choir then performed Te Deum, op 103, by Dvorak, a true choral masterpiece, and the performance itself was very moving.

Although the choir was relatively small in number, their bright and beautiful voices resonated across the room, creating a light-hearted and friendly atmosphere, upheld by the choir’s energy and enthusiasm. I always love seeing how music can unite people to interpret a piece together, and each member was fully involved in this collaborative effort to create stunning music, making the performance an unquestionable success.  

Choir
The British Museum and British Library Singers

When I returned to the office, I checked my e-mails and saw that Laurence Roger, Project Support Officer in the Collections Division, had very kindly offered to help me examine a book about Catullus’ poetry. The book that I eventually saw was dating back to the 18th century, and I spent the last section of my day looking at this book with Laurence, who is very nice, and I felt extremely lucky to be able to have access to it.

Book pic
One of the books that Laurence herself had lent me to look at.

Day 7

My seventh day of work experience arrived, and almost as soon as I got into the office, I set up my desk and eagerly launched straight into my working day. My morning consisted of independent work, where I further developed my research project and carried on with the interview storyboard for Hannah-Rose Murray, a finalist of the BL Labs competition in 2016. Her project was centred on black American activists in the 19th century, particularly their speeches and lectures from the 1830s to the 1890s. This was a period of history that I previously knew little about, and so I enjoyed learning about the influence that black Americans had on British society and seeing the way Hannah went around creating her project, bringing history to life. Read more about her project here. 

Locations of Frederick Douglass
Map displaying the locations of Frederick Douglass’ lectures in the United Kingdom and Ireland, a small section of Hannah-Rose Murray's project

At 12:30, I attended a Welcome Day at the British Library, and this presented me with an excellent opportunity to not only find out more about the different departments of the library, but also to tell some new members of staff about some of the work the Digital Scholarship Department does (I was also provided with a free lunch, always a bonus!). I talked to a variety of departments, ranging from Human Resources to Publishing and Retail, and everyone was extremely friendly, helpful and accommodating.

In the afternoon, I worked independently once again, more specifically on a YouTube transcription of an interview with Melodee Beals, a 2016 research award winner, who created an amazing project entitled ‘Scissors and Paste’. This project utilises the 1800-1900 British Library Newspapers collection to explore the possibilities of mining large-scale newspaper databases for reprinted and re purposed news content.

Melodee presenting her project
Melodee Beals presenting her project, 'Scissors and Paste'

After finishing my working day, I decided to wonder around and explore the British Library. The amazing thing about this place is that it really does resemble a maze, I constantly find myself discovering new places and rooms, with each day presenting something new and different to the previous one.

Day 8

As I entered the lift, I looked at the hard copy of my schedule, and I noticed that a meeting with a fashion company and members of the British Fashion Council was fixed that very morning. Feeling suddenly a little more self-conscious than usual about my appearance, I glanced cautiously in the mirror that was in the lift and my reflection stared back, wondering if anything could be done to cover the consequences that a malfunctioning alarm clock and getting ready in five minutes that morning could bring. After a few fruitless attempts of trying to somehow tame my hair, I finally accepted defeat and entered the meeting room.

The meeting at 9 o’clock was with a luxury womenswear brand. During the meeting, Mahendra introduced BL Labs, showing a presentation that informed the company about Digital Scholarship and detailed previous projects that the department had worked on, including ‘Burning Man’. A project with the fashion company was then initiated, which would involve the Library's collections, and some possible ideas for the project were also brainstormed. The fashion company talked more about their collections and how ideas for projects generally come about. It is inspiring to think how each individual collection, whether an assortment of garments or a literary exhibition of novels, tells its own unique story, and I found out that in many ways the research for the project is itself a sensational journey.

After this meeting, I returned back to my desk and had a quick catch-up with Mahendra, where we evaluated the YouTube transcription work, and the general progress made over the first half of this week. To finish off, I was whisked off to another meeting, this time with Wayne Boucher, a photographer who has a very big interest in beautiful stain-glass windows, and will be keeping in contact with the British Library to promote this stunning artwork.

Tiffany stain glass window
A Tiffany stain-glass window

Day 9

In the morning, I hurriedly entered the British Library through the staff entrance, as usual, but instead of walking over to the doors of the lift, I took a sharp right turn, and walked over to the Post Room. Mahendra had previously organised for me to visit the Post Room with Peter Clarke, Service Delivery Manager, Messenger/Post Service, and today I would be having a tour of certain sections of the building that are off bounds to not only the general public, but also to many members of staff. I was able to see the process of delivery take place, and even help with this crucial procedure, without which many of the library books that researchers and readers need would not be available. I was shown the delivery room by Keiran Duncan-Johnson, Late Team Leader LMS, Messenger/Post Service, Finance Division, and this was a huge, open space, which once more reminded me of the sheer scale of the place. 

I was also kindly shown round other areas of the library  I was previously unfamiliar with by Keiran, such as the modern languages sector and the Alan Turing Institute, both of which are incredible departments that work tirelessly to make great leaps in their corresponding fields of study to change the world for the better.

Alan Turing institute
The Alan Turing Institute

The afternoon commenced with a meeting with the music curator, Chris Scobie. For the second time that day, I was lucky enough to visit a new area of the library that is of limited access, and Chris showed me the music reading room, and most notably, the basement. The basement is where all the music scores and manuscripts lie, and needless to say, I was incredibly excited. As we browsed through the shelves of the collections, I saw multiple familiar names of composers, such as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and I even got to read and touch some of Elgar’s letters to Vaughan Williams and look at his original manuscript for his Enigma Variations!  

Elgar Manuscript
A digitised version of the original Elgar manuscript for the theme of the Enigma Variations

Day 10

As I walked down the second floor corridor, I soon came to face the wooden door of the office for what it seemed was the last time. I sighed and a miserable thought came into my head, as I began to contemplate what on earth I was going to do with myself on Monday, when I was no longer going to work here. However, I soon brushed it off, and decided to make the most of my final day at the British Library.

Door to office
The door to the office of the Digital Scholarship Department

My final day consisted of making concluding touches to my numerous projects, including refining and making last minute edits to some of the transcriptions I had done. I then met Christin Hoene from the University of Kent, who was working on a project that was based on the concept of sound within novels. I was able to show her some of the work that I did on Excel with my independent research project, which can be accessed here.

At lunchtime, rather than eating in the staff canteen as usual, I decided to eat my lunch in a free reading space in the centre of the library, whilst reading my book, ‘Mother Tongue’ by Bill Bryson. What I love most about libraries is that there are so many untold stories hiding in the shelves, and I feel like I could sit comfortably in here for hours. In fact, in the space of an hour, you could travel to as many as 10 countries, should you only have the will to open a few different books and immerse yourself in their stories. As Lloyd Alexander once said “Books can truly change our lives: the lives of those who read them, the lives of those who write them. Readers and writers alike discover things they never knew about the world and about themselves”.

Lloyd Alexander quotation
Another great Lloyd Alexander quotation

Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has made this experience a possibility for me, especially Mahendra, who has not only been very kind and patient, but has also provided me with so many wonderful opportunities and has helped me hugely with a multitude of different things. I have always loved books since a young age, and to be surrounded by so many was in itself very special, but to be able to work in the library and help the Digital Scholarship Department was just incredible. My experience here has taught me multiple valuable things, which is something I am eternally grateful for.

The same way I would never judge a book by its front cover, I will not judge a building by its name, for the British Library is infinitely more than just a residence for books. It is a museum in which there are many exhibitions, it is a research centre, and most importantly, it is an institution that stores the world’s knowledge behind its brick walls.

The-British-Library
The British Library

Inspiration can really come from absolutely anywhere, and from something small you can make something incredibly vast. It makes you think what you could do and what a difference it could make, if only you just choose to try. Inevitably, in life, you have to take risks, but more often than not, lots of these are worth taking in an attempt to brighten and bring artistic colour as well as creativity to the world. In the words of Stephen King, “books are a uniquely portable magic”, something which certainly rings true within the walls of this institution, where so many items are kept and so many new ones are constantly being acquired and discovered.

So, I send a big thank you to the British Library and all who work here, for making what was essentially a childhood dream into a reality and this will truly be a chapter of my life that I will always remember.

Nadya Miryanova

17 July 2017

A Wonderland of Knowledge - Behind the Scenes of the British Library (Nadya Miryanova work experience)

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Posted by Nadya Miryanova BL Labs School Work Placement Student, currently studying at Lady Eleanor Holles, working with Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

British Library
Introduction to the British Library

Day 1

It was with a mixture of anticipation, curiosity and excitement that I opened the door to the staff entrance and started my two week work placement in the world’s largest library. I have been placed with BL Labs in the Digital Scholarship department, where I am working with Mahendra Mahey (Project Manager of BL Labs) for the following two weeks. After the inescapable health and safety induction, I am now extremely well acquainted with the BL’s elaborate fire alarm system, and following lunch at the staff restaurant, Mahendra provided me with an introduction to the British Library and explained the work undertaken by the BL Labs.

When most people hear the word ‘library’, conventional ideas typically spring to mind, including a copious number of books, and, of course, a disgruntled librarian ironically rather loudly encouraging silence every five minutes. I must admit that initially, my perspective was the same.

However, my viewpoint was soon to be completely turned around.

BL interior
British Library interior

An extraordinary institution, the British Library is indeed widely known for its remarkable collection of books, it is home to around 14 million. However, contrary to popular belief, these are only a small section of the Library’s vast collections. In fact, the British Library actually has an extremely diverse range of items, ranging from patents to musical scores, and from ancient artifacts dating as far back as 1000 BC to this morning’s newspapers, altogether giving a grand figure of approximately 200 million documented items. I was also delighted to discover that the British Library has the world’s largest collection of stamps! It is estimated that if somebody looked at 5 items each day, it would take an astonishing 80,000 years to see the whole of BL collections. 

I learnt that the objective of the BL Labs is to encourage scholars, innovators, artists, entrepreneurs and educators to work with the Library's digital collections, supporting its mission to try to ensure that the wealth and diversity of the Library’s intellectual digital heritage is available for the research, creativity and fulfillment of everyone. At BL Labs, anyone is invited to address an important research question(s) or ideas which uses the Library’s digital content and data, by entering the annual Awards or becoming involved in a collaborative project or even just using the collections in whatever way they want.

Although initially a little nervous when entering this immense institution, my fears evaporated completely, when on my very first day of working here, I was brought immediately into a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, promoted by the sincere kindness and interest that I was met with from each member of the Library's staff. 

Books Image
The George the IV British Library book collection

Day 2

At precisely 9 o’clock in the morning, I found myself seated at my office desk, looking at the newly filled out Outlook calendar on my computer to see what new and exciting tasks I would be faced with that day and looking out for any upcoming events. My Tuesday consisted mostly of independent work at my desk, and after a quick catch-up with Mahendra at 9.30, where we discussed the working plan for the day and reviewed yesterday’s work, I sat down to start my second full day of work at the British Library.

BL labs symposium
British Library Labs leaflet

Between 2013-2016, the British Library Labs held a competition, which looked for transformative project ideas which used the British Library’s digital collections and data in new and exciting ways. The BL Labs Awards recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using these collections. Mahendra had previously introduced me to the Labs Competition and Awards pages of the BL Labs website, and my main objective was to update the ideas and project submissions on this page, specifically adding the remaining Competition 2016 Entries, reviewing the 2015 and 2014 entries and checking that they were all complete with no entries missing. The competition entries can be accessed on the website http://labs.bl.uk/Ideas+for+Labs.

This was an excellent opportunity for me to work on a new editing platform and further enhance my editing skills, which will doubtlessly prove very useful in everyday life as well as in the future. As I worked through editing and updating the pages, what struck me most was the incredible diversity and wide variety of ideas within the competition entries. From a project exploring Black Abolitionists and their presence in Britain, to the proposed creation of a Victorian meme machine, and from a planned political meeting’s mapper, to a suggested Alice in Wonderland bow tie design, each idea was entirely unique and original, despite the fact that each entry was adhering to the same brief. I was mesmerised by the amount of thought and careful planning that was evident in every submission, each one was intricately detailed and provided a careful and thorough plan of work. 

Victorian Meme
An example of a Victorian meme

After finishing lunch relatively early, I found myself with half an hour of my allocated break still left, and took the opportunity to explore the library. I walked down to the visitor’s entrance, and took a moment to admire the King’s library, a majestic tower of books standing in the British Library's centre. Stepping closer, I was able to read some of the inscriptions on the spines of the books, and was delighted to see that one of them was a book of Catullus’ poetry, poetry that I previously had studied in Latin GCSE. The scope of knowledge that lies within this library is practically endless, and it led me to reflect on the importance of the work of the BL Labs. I thought back to the competition entries, they prove that the possibilities for projects truly have no limit. The BL Labs are able to give scholars, academics and students the opportunity to access some of these digital collections such as books very easily and in any part of the world. Without this access, many of the wonderful projects that the BL currently works on would not be possible.

With that thought fresh in my mind, I was brought back to reality, and returned to my desk to continue working, this time on my mini-project. My last task for the day involved brainstorming ideas for this project. A direct focus was soon established, and I decided to explore the Russian language titles in the 65,000 digitised 19th Century Microsoft books. Later on, I shall be writing a blog post detailing my experience of working on this project.

Day 3

As the Piccadilly line train arrived at St Pancras, I actually managed to step and head off in the completely right direction for the first time that week (needless to say, my sense of direction is not the best). Feeling rather proud of myself, I walked with a skip in my step, ready to immerse myself in whatever plan of work awaited today.

I looked at the schedule of the day and my heart leapt, I was to be attending my first ever proper staff meeting. It was a very technical meeting, started off by the Head of Digital Scholarship, Adam Faquhar, who talked about current activities taking place in the Digital Scholarship department. Everyone made contributions to the general discussion in the meeting and Mahendra talked about the development of the BL Labs work and the progress made so far. It also provided me with an opportunity to talk about some of the things I was presently doing and I found that everybody was very receptive and supportive. I found it very interesting to be introduced to people who work in the same area on a day-to-day basis with the British Library and enjoyed hearing about all the different projects currently being undertaken.

SherlockNet Web interface
SherlockNet web interface

I then began working on some YouTube transcription work on the winners of the 2016 BL Labs competition, the first one being SherlockNet. The SherlockNet team worked to use convolutional neural networks to automatically tag and caption the British Library Flickr collection of digitised images taken largely from 19th Century books. If that doesn't sound impressive enough, consider the fact that this entry was submitted by three people, who were just 19 years old (undergraduate university students). My work involved listening carefully to each one of the interviews, and typing on a separate word document exactly what Luda Zhao, Karen Wang and Brian Do were talking about. This word document would then be used to make subtitles for the final film and would prove invaluable when creating a storyboard for the final cut down interview. 

BL poster
British Library Alice in Wonderland Poster

Day 4

As I turned the corner of Midland Road and stood to face the traffic lights, my gaze wondered over to the now familiar Alice in Wonderland poster that had the ‘British Library’ printed on it in block capitals. I smiled as I looked up at the Cheshire cat that was perched neatly on top of the first 'I' in the words 'British Library' and the cat smiled back, revealing a wide toothy grin. Alice, likewise, was looking up at the Cheshire cat, and in that moment, her situation was made very credible to me. She was surrounded by this entirely new world of Wonderland, and in a similar way, I find myself in a parallel world of continuous acquisition of knowledge, as each day I am learning something new, with the British Library being the Wonderland. A wonderful and well-known literary extract from Lewis Carol came to mind:

 “`Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' (Alice)

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.

`I don't much care where--' said Alice.

`Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

`--so long as I get somewhere,' Alice added as an explanation.

`Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.'

With this in mind, I briskly walked over to the doors of the office.

The beginning of my day consisted mostly of working on my own project, further classifiying a sub collection of Russian titles from the digitised collection of 65,000 books mostly from the 19th century. I worked on further enhancing the organisation and categorisation of these books, establishing a clear methodical approach that began with sorting the books into 2 categories-fiction and non-fiction. Curiously, the majority of the titles were actually non-fiction. After an e-mail correspondence with Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, I discovered that most of the books that were part of the digitisation were acquired at the time when they were published, so they were selected by Katya’s distant predecessors, a fact I found remarkable.

Nicholas II abdication in Russian
The Act of Abdication of Nicholas II and his brother Grand Duke Michael,
published as a placard that would be distributed
by hand or pasted to walls (shelfmark: HS.74/1870),
an example of a Russian language title that is now digitised

For the second-half of the day, I focussed once more on the YouTube transcriptions work and managed to finish transcribing the interviews for SherlockNet. I then discussed with Mahendra how I would storyboard the interviews in preparation for the film editing process. First, I would have to pick out specific sections of the interview that were most suitable to use in the film, marking the exact timings when the person started speaking to when they finished, and I then placed the series of timings in a chronological order. I was also able to choose the music for the end product (possibly my favourite part!), and I based my selection of the music on the mood of the videos and my perception of the characters of the individuals. I concluded my day by finding a no-copyright YouTube music page and discovered an assortment of possible music tracks. I managed to narrow down the selection to four possible soundtracks, which included titles such as ‘Spring in my Step’ and ‘Good Starts’.

Day 5

As I swiped my staff pass across the reader which permits access into the building, I checked my phone to see what the time was. It was 8.30am and concurrently, I caught sight of the date, Friday 14th July. I stopped in my tracks. Today was marking my first full working week at the British Library, I could hardly believe how quickly the time went! It forcibly reminded me of the inscription on my clock at home, ‘tempus fugit’ (time flees) because if there’s one thing that has gone abnormally fast here at my time at the BL, it’s time.

Hebrew manuscript
Digitised Hebrew Manuscript available through the British Library

In the morning, I attended a meeting discussing an event Mahendra is planning around the Digitised Hebrew manuscripts, and I was lucky enough to meet Ilana Tahan, the Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Orient Collections. The meeting included a telephone call to Eva Frojmovic, an academic at the Centre for Jewish Studies in the School of Fine Art of the History of Art and Cultural Studies in the University of Leeds. The discussion was centered mostly on an event that would be taking place where the BL would be talking about its collection of digitised Hebrew manuscripts in order to promote their free use to the general public. The very beautiful Hebrew manuscripts could actually have a very wide target audience, perhaps additionally reaching outside the academic learning sphere and having the potential to be used in the creative/artistic space.

Contrary to popular belief, the collection of 1302 digitised manuscripts can be used by anyone and everyone, leading to exciting possibilities and new projects. The amazing thing about the digital collections is that it makes it possible for someone who does not live in London to access them, where ever they may be in the world, and they can be looked at digitally, and can be used to enhance any learning experience, ranging from seminars or lessons to PhD research projects. The actual hard-copy of the manuscripts can also be, of course, accessed in the British Library. The structure and timings of the event were discussed, and a date was set for the next meeting and for the event. To finish the meeting, Mahendra offered an explanation of the handwriting recognition transcription process for the manuscripts. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and each individual handwritten letter is recognised as a shape by the computer, though it's important that the computer has ground truth (i.e. examples of human transcribed manuscripts). Each letter and word is recognised and processed and will very cleverly convert the original Hebrew handwritten-script written into computerised Hebrew script. This means it would then allow someone to search for words in the manuscript, easily and quickly using a computerised search tool. 

Ilana looking at manuscripts
Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Orient Collections,
looking through Hebrew manuscripts

For the majority of the afternoon, I was floating between a variety of different projects, doing more work on the YouTube transcriptions and enhancing my mini-project, as well as creating a table of the outstanding blogs that still had to be published on the British Library's Digital Scholarship blog.

At the end of the day, I did a review of my first week, evaluating the progress that I had made with Mahendra. Throughout the week, I feel that I have enhanced and developed a number of invaluable skills, and have gained an incredible insight into the working world.

I will be writing about my second week, as well as my mini-project soon, so please come and visit this blog again if you are interested to find out more about some of the work being done at the British Library.

 

 

16 May 2017

Michael Takeo Magruder @ Gazelli Art House

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

Takeo_BL-Labs-Blog_Gazelli1
Michael Takeo Marguder's Gazell.io works

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

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

MTM_NJ-internal
A New Jerusalem by Michael Takeo Magruder

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


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

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.

22 March 2017

British Library Launches OCR Competition for Rare Indian Books

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

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

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

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

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

Vt1712_Schoolbook_lion_0007

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

 

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

Quarterly_List

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

 

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

24 February 2017

Library Carpentry: software skills workshops for librarians

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Guest post by James Baker, Lecturer in Digital History and Archives, University of Sussex.

Librarians play a crucial role in cultivating world-class research and in most disciplinary areas today world-class research relies on the use of software. Established non-profit organisations such as Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry offer introductory software skills training with a focus on the needs and requirements of research scientists. Library Carpentry is a comparable introductory software skills training programme with a focus on the needs and requirements of library professionals: and by software skills, I mean coding and data manipulation that go beyond the use of familiar office suites. As librarians have substantial expertise working with data, we believe that adding software skills to their armoury is an effective and important use of professional development resource that benefits both library professionals and their colleagues and collaborators across higher education and beyond.

In November 2015 the first Library Carpentry workshop programme took place at City University London Centre for Information, generously supported by the Software Sustainability Institute as part of my 2015 Fellowship. Since then 21 workshops have run in 7 countries across 4 continents and the Library Carpentry training materials have been developed by an international team of librarians, information scientists, and information technologists. Our half-day lessons, which double up as self-guided learning materials, now cover the basics of data and computing, using a command line prompt to manipulate data, version control in Git, normalising data in OpenRefine, working with databases in SQL, and programming with Python.

What distinguishes these lessons from other learning materials are that the exercises and use cases that frame Library Carpentry are drawn from library practice and are based on data familiar to librarians: in most cases, open datasets of publication metadata released under an open licence by the British Library. Library Carpentry then is as much about daily practice as it is about novelty, about dealing with what is front of us today as much as about preparing us for what is coming.

These lessons and everything we do is in the commons, for the commons, and are not tied to any institution or person. We are a community effort built and maintained by the community. For more on Library Carpentry and our future plans, see our recent article in LIBER Quarterly (Baker et al. Library Carpentry: software skills training for library professionals. 2016. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/lq.10176) and our website librarycarpentry.github.io.

James_baker
James Baker, receiving the BL Labs Award for Teaching and Learning 2016 on behalf of the Library Carpentry community 

The Learning and Teaching Award given to Library Carpentry at the 2016 British Library Labs Awards has enabled us to extend this community. In November we launched a call for Library Carpentry workshops seeking financial support. We were humbled by the volume and diversity of the responses received and are delighted to be able to fund two very different workshops that will reach very different communities of librarians. The first is a collaboration between Somerset Libraries Glass Box Project, {Libraries:Hacked}, and Plymouth Libraries for a Library Carpentry workshop that will target public, academic, and specialist librarians. The second workshop will take place at University of Sheffield and will be coordinated by the White Rose Consortium for the benefit of university librarians across the region. Details of these events will be advertised at librarycarpentry.github.io in due course, along with four or five Library Carpentry workshops that were unable to fund but that will still enjoy logistical support from members of the Library Carpentry community.

Library Carpentry has taken great strides in a short period of time. We continue to maintain and update our lesson materials to ensure that they fit with library practice and we are working closely with Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry to map out a future direction for Library Carpentry that meets the needs of this valuable community. We are always looking for people to bring their expertise and perspective to this work. So if you want to get involved in any capacity, please post something in our Gitter discussion forum, raise a issue on or suggest an edit to one of our lessons, contact us via Twitter, or request support with a workshop. We'd love to hear from you.