THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

48 posts categorized "Humanities"

09 November 2017

You're invited to come and play - In the Spotlight

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Mia Ridge, Alex Mendes and Christian Algar from the Library's Digital Scholarship and Printed Heritage teams invite you to take part in a new crowdsourcing project...

It’s hard for most of us to remember life before entertainment on demand through our personal devices, but a new project at the British library provides a glimpse into life before electronic entertainment. We're excited to launch In the Spotlight, a crowdsourcing site where the public can help transcribe information about performance from the last 300 years. We're inviting online volunteers to help make the British Library's historic playbills easier to find while uncovering curiosities about past entertainments. You can step Into the Spotlight at http://playbills.libcrowds.com

The original playbills were handed out or posted outside theatres, and like modern nightclub flyers, they weren't designed to last. They're so delicate they can't be handled, so providing better access to digitised versions will help academic, local and family history researchers.

Playbills compiled into a volume
The Library’s collection has over a thousand volumes holding thousands of fragile playbills

 

What is In the Spotlight?

Individual playbills in the historical collection are currently hard to find, as the Library's catalogue contains only brief information about the place and dates for each volume of playbills. By marking up and transcribing titles, dates, genres, participant volunteers will make each playbill - and individual performances - findable online.

We’ve started with playbills from theatres in Margate, Plymouth, Bristol, Hull, Perth and Edinburgh. We think this provides wider opportunities for people across the country to connect with nationally held collections.

Crowdsourcing interface screenshot
Take a close look at the playbills whilst marking up or transcribing the titles of plays

 

But it's not all work - it's important to us that volunteers on In the Spotlight can indulge their curiosity. The playbills provide fascinating glimpses into past entertainments, and we're excited to see what people discover.

The playbills people can see on In the Spotlight provide a fabulous source for looking at British and Irish social history from the late 18th century through to the Victorian period. More than this, their visual richness is an experience in itself, and should stimulate interest in historical printing’s use of typography and illustrations. Over time, playbills included more detailed information, and these the song titles, plot synopses, descriptions of stage sets and choreographed action from the plays help bring these past performances to life.

Creating an open stage 

You can download individual playbills, share them on social media or follow a link back to the Library's main catalogue. You can also download the transcribed data to explore or visualise as a dataset.

We also hope that people will share their discoveries with us and with other participants, either on our discussion forum, or social media. Jumping In the Spotlight is a chance for anyone anywhere to engage with the historical printed collections held at the British Library. We’ve created our very own stage for dialogue where people can share and discuss interesting or curious finds - the forum is a great place to post about a particular typeface that takes your fancy, an impressive or clever use of illustration, or an obscure unheard-of or little known play. It's also a great place to ask questions, like 'why do so many playbills announce an evening’s entertainment, ‘For the Benefit’ of someone or other?'. In the Spotlight’s open stage means anyone can add details or links to further good reads: share your growing knowledge with others!

We're also keen to promote the discoveries of project volunteers, and encourage you to get in touch if you'd like to write a short post for the Library’s Untold Lives blog, the English & Drama blog or here on our Digital Scholarship blog. If forums and twitter aren't your thing, you can email us digitalresearch@bl.uk.

Playbill from Devonport, 1836
In the Spotlight is an ‘Open House’ – share your findings with others on the Forum, contribute articles to British Library blogs!

 

What's been discovered so far?

We quietly launched an alpha version of the interface back in September to test the waters and invite comments from the public. We’ve received some incredibly helpful feedback (thank you to all!) that has helped us fine-tune the interface design. We also received some encouraging comments from colleagues at other libraries who work with similar collections. We’ll take someone saying they are 'insanely jealous' of the crowdsourcing work we are doing with our historical printed collections as a good sign!

We've been contacted about some very touching human-interest stories too - follow @LibCrowds or sign up to our crowdsourcing newsletter to be notified when blog posts about discoveries go live. We're looking forward to the first post written by the In the Spotlight participant who uncovered a sad tale behind a Benefit performance for several actors in Plymouth in 1827.

What can you do?

Take on a part! Take a step Into the Spotlight at http://playbills.libcrowds.com and help record titles, dates and genres.

If you are interested in theatre and drama, in musical performance, in the way people were entertained, come and explore this collection and help researchers while you’re doing it. All you need is a little free time and it’s LOTS OF FUN! Help us make In the Spotlight the best show in town.

Lots-of-fun
Join in, it'll be lots of fun!

17 October 2017

Imaginary Cities – Collaborations with Technologists

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

In developing the Imaginary Cities project, I enlisted two long-standing colleagues to help collaboratively design the creative-technical infrastructures required to realise my artistic vision.

The first area of work sought to address my desire to create an automated system that could take a single map image from the British Library’s 1 Million Images from Scanned Books Flickr Commons collection and from it generate an endless series of everchanging aesthetic iterations. This initiative was undertaken by the software architect and engineer David Steele who developed a server-side program to realise this concept.

David’s server application links to a curated set of British Library maps through their unique Flickr URLs. The high-resolution maps are captured and stored by the server, and through a pre-defined algorithmic process are transformed into ultra-high-resolution images that appear as mandala-esque ‘city plans’. This process of aesthetic transformation is executed once per day, and is affected by two variables. The first is simply the passage of time, while the second is based on external human or network interaction with the original source maps in the digital collection (such as changes to meta data tags, view counts, etc.).


Time-lapse of algorithmically generated images (showing days 1, 7, 32 and 152) constructed from a 19th-century map of Paris

The second challenge involved transforming the algorithmically created 2D assets into real-time 3D environments that could be experienced through leading-edge visualisation systems, including VR headsets. This work was led by the researcher and visualisation expert Drew Baker, and was done using the 3D game development platform Unity. Drew produced a working prototype application that accessed the static image ‘city plans’ generated by David’s server-side infrastructure, and translated them into immersive virtual ‘cityscapes’.

The process begins with the application analysing an image bitmap and converting each pixel into a 3D geometry that is reminiscent of a building. These structures are then textured and aligned in a square grid that matches the original bitmap. Afterwards, the camera viewpoint descends into the newly rezzed city and can be controlled by the user.

Takeo_DS-Blog3-2_Unity1
Analysis and transformation of the source image bitmap
Takeo_DS-Blog3-3_Unity2
View of the procedurally created 3D cityscape

At present I am still working with David and Drew to refine and expand these amazing systems that they have created. Moving forward, our next major task will be to successfully use the infrastructures as the foundation for a new body of artwork.

You can see a presentation from me at the British Library Labs Symposium 2017 at the British Library Conference Centre Auditorium in London, on Monday 30th of October, 2017. For more information and to book (registration is FREE), please visit the event page.

About the collaborators:

Takeo_DS-Blog3-4_D-Steele
David Steele

David Steele is a computer scientist based in Arlington, Virginia, USA specialising in progressive web programming and database architecture. He has been working with a wide range of web technologies since the mid-nineties and was a pioneer in pairing cutting-edge clients to existing corporate infrastructures. His work has enabled a variety of advanced applications from global text messaging frameworks to re-entry systems for the space shuttle. He is currently Principal Architect at Crunchy Data Solutions, Inc., and is involved in developing massively parallel backup solutions to protect the world's ever-growing data stores.

Takeo_DS-Blog3-5_D-Baker
Drew Baker

Drew Baker is an independent researcher based in Melbourne Australia. Over the past 20 years he has worked in visualisation of archaeology and cultural history. His explorations in 3D digital representation of spaces and artefacts as a research tool for both virtual archaeology and broader humanities applications laid the foundations for the London Charter, establishing internationally-recognised principles for the use of computer-based visualisation by researchers, educators and cultural heritage organisations. He is currently working with a remote community of Indigenous Australian elders from the Warlpiri nation in the Northern Territory’s Tanami Desert, digitising their intangible cultural heritage assets for use within the Kurdiji project – an initiative that seeks to improve mental health and resilience in the nation’s young people through the use mobile technologies.

27 September 2017

In the Spotlight: Application design

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Alex Mendes, Research Software Engineer with the British Library's Digital Scholarship team, provides some insight into our adaptation of an existing crowdsourcing platform to meet our varied needs.

Earlier this month, we announced a preview of a new crowdsourcing project we're working on. In the Spotlight aims to make the library’s collection of historic playbills easier to find. This post will explore some of the factors involved in our initial project design and the technologies used within the core application.

In_the_spotlight_homepage

The In the Spotlight homepage

During the early stages of development we talked to people working on various projects that deal with similar material, such as Ensemble @ Yale, which is an experiment into crowdsourcing transcriptions of digitised programs for Yale dramatic productions. While these conversations were incredibly useful, and the projects inspiring, after some deliberation we decided that the overhead of modifying such an application to fit our particular needs was too large.

Such projects have often been built for, and become increasingly tightly coupled with, a particular institutional purpose. By starting with such an application and modifying it heavily with our own institution-specific code we would likely be assuming sole responsibility for future maintenance of that application. Being unable to merge our code back into the original, we would be left managing our own modified version; one with limited usefulness outside an increasingly specific purpose. We wanted to avoid creating a significant maintenance issue, and sought a more generic, yet customisable platform.

Accordingly, we turned to our  existing crowdsourcing platform, LibCrowds, which was launched in June 2015 to host the Convert-a-Card projects and help turn printed card catalogues into a searchable online database. The platform is based on PyBossa, a Python library for building crowdsourcing projects that is still very much in active development.

We hoped that it would be relatively quick to generate a new set of projects for collecting the crowdsourced playbills data. In fact, our first prototypes were ready back in April. However, as more detailed requirements were established we soon began to come up against some of the limits of the platform’s existing architecture.

Old theme

The projects page from the old LibCrowds theme

For instance, we needed to present the appearance of a self-contained website designed around the playbills, with additional pages and features not present in the core PyBossa model. We previously navigated some of these issues by developing custom plugins, but as the need for these grew the approach was becoming unwieldy.

Not long before we encountered these issues, PyBossa had released an update allowing for it to be run as a headless backend server. 'Headless' means that it can be run as a stand-alone piece of software, separate from any graphical user interface, and be interacted with purely via an API. This differs from the ‘traditional’ website, in which the front and backend communicate directly, causing the functionality and architecture of one to be heavily dependent on the other.

We took the plunge and decided to drop some of the work that had gone into the redesign up to that point, opting to run a headless PyBossa instance as our backend and rewriting our frontend as a separate single-page application (SPA), using the Vue.js framework. This approach gives us the freedom to structure the website as required, without having to modify large amounts of backend code. Backend plugins still have a place but the majority of custom functionality can be handled within the browser.

New theme

The new LibCrowds homepage.

This new frontend application comprises a set of core LibCrowds pages, including a homepage and an administration interface where staff can manage the projects. Sitting beneath these, each project has its own set of themed pages, giving the appearance of bespoke websites for each project. Crucially, the new architecture managed this without requiring us to maintain multiple application instances, or the handling of user authentication between those instances.

In hindsight, we should have spent more time on requirements gathering at the start of the process, as we iterated through a number of possible system designs before settling on our current architecture. However, we seem to be moving towards quite a clean solution and one that will hopefully provide a satisfying user experience.

The application is still in the beta phase and all suggestions are welcome via the GitHub issues page or the project forum.

26 September 2017

BL Labs Symposium (2017), Mon 30 Oct: book your place now!

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Bl_labs_logo

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, BL Labs Manager

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the fifth annual British Library Labs Symposium will be held on Monday 30 October, from 9:30 - 17:30 in the British Library Conference Centre, St Pancras. The event is FREE, although you must book a ticket in advance. Don't miss out!

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

Josie-Fraser
Josie Fraser will be giving the keynote at this year's Symposium

This year, Dr Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, will launch the Symposium and Josie Fraser, Senior Technology Adviser on the National Technology Team, based in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the UK Government, will be presenting the keynote. 

There will be presentations from BL Labs Competition (2016) runners up, artist/researcher Michael Takeo Magruder about his 'Imaginary Cities' project and lecturer/researcher Jennifer Batt about her 'Datamining verse in Eighteenth Century Newspapers' project.

After lunch, the winners of the BL Labs Awards (2017) will be announced followed by presentations of their work. The Awards celebrates researchers, artists, educators and entrepreneurs from around the world who have made use of the British Library's digital content and data, in each of the Awards’ categories:

  • BL Labs Research Award. Recognising a project or activity which shows the development of new knowledge, research methods or tools.
  • BL Labs Artistic Award. Celebrating a creative or artistic endeavour which inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • BL Labs Commercial Award. Recognising work that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools or services that build on, incorporate or enhance the British Library's digital content.
  • BL Labs Teaching / Learning Award. Celebrating quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the British Library's digital content.
  • BL Labs Staff Award. Recognising an outstanding individual or team who have played a key role in innovative work with the British Library's digital collections.  

The Symposium's endnote will be followed by a networking reception which will conclude the event, at which delegates and staff can mingle and network over a drink.  

Tickets are going fast, so book your place for the Symposium today!

For any further information please contact labs@bl.uk

07 September 2017

Introducing... Playbills In the Spotlight

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Mia Ridge, Alex Mendes and Christian Algar from the Library's Digital Scholarship and Printed Heritage teams introduce a new project...

Playbills were sheets of paper handed out or posted up (as in the picture of a Portsmouth theatre, below) to advertise entertainments at theatres, fairs, pleasure gardens and other such venues. The British Library has a fantastic collection of playbills dating back to the 1730s. Looking through them is a lovely way to get a glimpse at how Britons entertained themselves over the past 300 years.

Access_bl_uk_item_viewer_ark__81055_vdc_100022589190_0x000002
Passers-by read playbills outside a theatre in Portsmouth. From: A collection of portraits of celebrated actors and actresses, views of theatres and playbills,([1750?-1821?])<http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_100022589190.0x000002#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=164&z=-53.6544%2C795.6187%2C2422.3453%2C1335.8411>

 

Why do playbills matter?

The playbills are a great resource for academic and community researchers interested in theatre and cultural history or seeking to understand their local or family history. They're full of personal names, including actors, playwrights, composers, theatre managers and ticket sellers. The playbills list performances of plays we know and love now alongside less well-known, even forgotten plays and songs. But individual playbills are hard to find in the British Library's catalogues, because they are only listed as a group (in the past they were bound into volumes of frequently miscellaneous sheets) with a brief summary of dates and location/theatre names. The rich details captured on each historical page - from personal names to popular songs and plays to lost moments in theatrical history - aren't yet available to search online.

What is In the Spotlight?

We're launching a project called In the Spotlight soon to make these late 18th - late 19th century digitised playbills more findable online, and to give people a chance to see past entertainments as represented in this collection. In this new crowdsourcing project, members of the public can help transcribe titles, names and locations to make the playbills easier to find.

Detail from a playbill
Detail from a playbill


We're starting with a very simple but fun task: mark out the titles of plays by drawing around them. The screenshot shows how varied the text on playbills can be - it's easy enough for people to spot the title of upcoming plays on the page, but it's not the kind of task we can automate (yet). You'll notice the playbills used different typefaces, sizes and weights with apparent abandon, which makes it tricky for a computer to work out what's a title and what's not. That's why we need your help! 

How you can help

We've chosen two volumes from the Theatre-Royal, Plymouth and one from the Theatre Royal, Margate to begin with. You can find out more about the project and the playbills, or you can just dive in and play a role: https://playbills.libcrowds.com

This project is an 'alpha', work-in-progress that we think is almost but not quite ready for its moment in the spotlight. In theatrical terms, we’re still in rehearsal. Behind-the-scenes, we're preparing the transcription tasks for you, but in the meantime we're excited about giving people a chance to explore the playbills while marking up titles.

Your efforts will help uncover the level of detail important to researchers: titles; names of actors, dramatis personae; dates of performance, and the details of songs performed. Who knows what researchers will discover when the collection is more easily searchable? Key information from individual playbills will be added to the Library's main catalogue to permanently enhance the way these playbills can be found and reviewed for the benefit of all. The website also automatically makes the raw data available for re-use as tasks are completed.

What happens next?

We're taking an iterative approach and releasing a few volumes to test the approach and make sure the tasks we're asking for help with are sufficiently entertaining. Once we have sets of marked up titles for each volume of playbills, they're ready for the transcription task. Your comments and feedback now will make a big difference in making sure the version we formally launch is as entertaining as possible.

Please have a go and do let us know what you think: do the instructions make sense? Do the tasks work as you expected? Is there too much to mark and transcribe, or too little? Are you comfortable using the project forum to discuss the playbills? Are there other types of tasks you'd like to suggest for the pages you've seen? You can help by posting feedback on the project forum, emailing us digitalresearch@bl.uk or tweeting @LibCrowds.

Please consider this your official invitation to our dress rehearsal - we hope you'll find it entertaining! Join us and help us put playbills back in the spotlight at https://playbills.libcrowds.com.


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.

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