THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

29 posts categorized "Literature"

23 February 2018

The Cartographer's Confession

Add comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Git Lit, Learning & Teaching Award Runner Up

Add comment

Applications of Distributed Version Control Technologies Toward the Creation of 50,000 Digital Scholarly Editions

The British Library maintains a collection of roughly 50,000 digital texts, scanned from public-domain books, most of which were originally published in the 19th century. As scanned books, their text format is Analyzed Layout and Text Object (ALTO) Extensible Markup Language (XML), a verbose markup format created by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, and one which is only marginally human-readable. Our project, Git-Lit, converts each text to the plain text format Markdown, creates version-controlled repositories for each using the distributed version control system Git, and posts the repositories to the project management platform GitHub, where they can be edited by anyone. Along the way, websites for each text, optimized for readability, are automatically generated via GitHub Pages. These websites integrate with the annotation platform Hypothes.is, enabling them to be annotated. In this way, Git-Lit aims to make this collection of British Library electronic texts discoverable, readable, editable, annotatable, and downloadable.

A Screenshot of the Website Automatically Generated from the British Library Electronic Text
A Screenshot of the Website Automatically Generated from the British Library Electronic Text


The biggest advantage of using a distributed version control system like Git is that it leverages the kinds of decentralized collaboration workflows that have long been in use in software development. Open-source software and web development, for which Git and GitHub were originally designed, is a much-studied methodology, long proven to be more effective than closed-source methods. Rather than maintain a central silo for serving code and electronic texts, the decentralized approach ensures a plurality of textual versions. Since anyone may copy ("fork") a project, modify it, and create their own version, there is no one central, canonical text, but many. Each version may freely borrow ("pull") from others, request that others integrate their changes ("pull request"), and discuss potential changes ("issues") using the project management subsystems of GitHub. This workflow streamlines collaboration, and encourages external contributions. Furthermore, since each change ("commit") requires a description of the commit, and reasons for it, the Git platform enforces the kind of editorial documentation necessary for scholarly editing. We like to think of git-based editing, therefore, as scholarly editing, and GitHub-based collaboration as a democratization of scholarly editing.

Furthermore, since GitHub allows instant editing of texts in the web browser, it is a simple and intuitive method of crowdsourcing the text cleanup process. Since OCRd texts are often full of errors, GitHub allows any reader to correct an obvious OCR error she or he finds. The analogous process of reporting errors to centralized text repositories like Project Gutenberg has been known to take several years. On GitHub, however, it is instantaneous.

Not the least advantage of this setup is the automated creation of websites from the plain text sources. Not only does this transform the markdown to a clean, readable edition of the text, but it provides integration with the annotation platform Hypothes.is. Hypothes.is allows for social annotation of a text, making it ideal for classroom use. Professors may assign a British Library text as a course reading, and may require their students annotate it, an activity which can generate discussions in the limitless virtual margins of this electronic textual space.

The Git-Lit project has so far posted around 50 texts to GitHub, as prototypes, with the full corpus of roughly 50,000 texts soon to come. After the full corpus is processed in this way, we'll begin enhancing some of the metadata. So far, we have developed techniques for probabilistically inferring the language of each text, and using Ben Schmidt's document vectorization method, Stable Random Projection, we have been able to probabilistically infer Library of Congress classifications, as well. This enables the automatic generation of sub-corpora like PR (British Literature), or PZ (American Literature).

In the coming year, we hope to integrate the Git-Lit transformed British Library texts into a structured database, further enhancing the discoverability of its texts. We have just received a micro-grant from NYC-DH to help launch Corpus-DB, a project also aiming to produce textual corpora, and through Corpus-DB, we will soon create a SQL database containing the metadata, our enhanced and inferred metadata, and other aggregated book data gleaned from public APIs. This will soon allow readers and computational text analysts the ability to download groups of British Library electronic texts. Users interested in downloading, say, all novels set in London, will be able to get a complete full-text dump of all public-domain novels in this category by visiting a URL such as api.corpus-db.org/novels/setting/London. We expect that this will greatly streamline the corpus creation process that takes up so much of the time of a computational text analysis.

Both Git-Lit and Corpus-DB are open-source projects, open to contributions from anyone, regardless of skill. If you'd like to contribute to our project in some way, get in contact with us, and we'll tell you how you can help.

Jonathan Reeve
Jonathan Reeve

Jonathan Reeve is a third-year graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he specializes in computational literary analysis. Find his recent experiments at jonreeve.com.

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

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Jonathan Reeve

22 January 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Data Mining Verse in 18th Century Newspapers by Jennifer Batt

Add comment

Dr Jennifer Batt, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol, reported on an investigation in finding verse using text and data-mining methods in a collection of digitised eighteenth-century newspapers in the British Library’s Burney Collection to recover a complex, expansive, ephemeral poetic culture that has been lost to us for well over 250 years. The collection equates to around 1 million pages, around 700 or so bound volumes of 1271 titles of newspapers and news pamphlets published in London and also some English provincial, Irish and Scottish papers, and a few examples from the American colonies.

A video of her presentation is available below:

Jennifer's slides are available on SlideShare by clicking on the image below or following the link:

Datamining for verse in eighteenth-century newspapers
Datamining for verse in eighteenth-century newspapers

https://www.slideshare.net/labsbl/datamining-for-verse-in-eighteenthcentury-newsapers

 

 

22 December 2017

All I want for Christmas is... playbills!

Add comment

Digital Curator Mia Ridge with an update on our playbills crowdsourcing project (with apologises to Mariah Carey for the dodgy headline)...

What do you do once you've eaten all the chocolates and cheese and watched all the Christmas movies? If you haven't had a go at transcribing historic playbills yet, the holidays are a great time to start.

Home, Sweet Home from: A collection of playbills from miscellaneous theatres: Nottingham - Oswestry 1755-1848 Collection Item, ([British Isles]: s.n.], 1755-1848.) <http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_100022589132.0x000002>

As 2017 turns into 2018, we thought it was time for an update on our progress with In the Spotlight. We've had over 20,000 contributions from over 2,000 visitors from 61 countries. Together, they've completed 21 sets of tasks on individual volumes - a wonderful result. We're still analysing it but the transcribed data looks good so far. Our next step is agreeing the details of including the results in the Library's catalogue - once that's done, information from individual playbills will be searchable for the first time.

Since the project launched in early November we've had some fantastic feedback, questions and comments on our forum and on social media. For example, Sylvia Morris @sylvmorris1 has written two blog posts, International Migrants Day: Ira Aldridge and theatre and British Library project enlists public to transcribe historical playbills.Twitter users like @e_stanf shared fantastic images they'd discovered, and we even made The Stage and the Russian media! Look out for more updates and blog posts from project participants in the new year.

Questions from our participants include a request from a PhD student to collect references to plays set at fairs. A question about plays being 'for the benefit of' led to the Wikipedia entry for 'benefit performances' being updated with one of our images. Share your curiosities and questions on our forum or twitter - we love hearing from you!

We haven't forgotten about Convert-a-Card in the excitement of launching In the Spotlight. Since launch, this project for digitising information from old card catalogues has had over 33,000 contributions. Early in the new year, we'll be adding a thousand new records to the Library's catalogue. Our thanks to everyone who's made a contribution.

So if you're looking for entertainment these holidays, we invite you to step Into the Spotlight at http://playbills.libcrowds.com and discover how people entertained themselves before Netflix!

29 November 2017

Crowdsourcing using IIIF and Web Annotations

Add comment

Alex Mendes from the Digital Scholarship team explains how the LibCrowds platform uses emerging standards for digitised images and annotations.

Our new crowdsourcing project, In the Spotlight, was officially launched at the start of November 2017. The project asks volunteers to identify and transcribe key data held in digitised playbills. Here we explore two of the key technologies we adopted to enable this: IIIF and Web Annotations.

Task-configuration
Configuring a selection task using JSON

Commonly, when an institution began digitising a new type of content, or a particular project realised that the current infrastructure didn’t fit their needs, they may have built or commissioned a new image viewer, one that would probably be tightly coupled with their custom metadata structures. This leads to an ever-growing collection of isolated data silos that, among other issues, do not allow the information they contain to be easily reused.

The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) is a set of APIs (protocols for requests between computers) that aims to tackle this issue by allowing images and metadata to be requested in a standardised way. Via these APIs, particular regions of images can be requested in a specified quality, size and format. The associated metadata includes information about how the images should be displayed and in what order. As this metadata is standardised, different image viewers can be built that are all able to understand and display the same sets of images. The one increasingly used by the library for catalogue items is called the 'Universal Viewer'.

Another IIIF-compliant viewer, called LibCrowds Viewer, has been developed for In the Spotlight. The viewer takes advantage of the flexibility enabled by the APIs described above. Images and metadata already held by the British Library can be requested, combined with some additional configuration details, and used to generate sets of crowdsourcing tasks. This means that we don’t need to host any additional image data, nor are we tied to any institution-specific metadata structures. In fact, the system could be used to generate crowdsourced annotations for any IIIF-compliant content.

Transcriptions are collected in the form of Web Annotations, a W3C standard that was published at the start of this year. This is another step towards future interoperability and reuse. By adopting this standard we can share our transcriptions more easily across the Web and incorporate them back into our core discovery systems.

As well as making the crowdsourced transcriptions searchable via the library’s catalogue viewer, they will be made available via the IIIF Content Search API, further increasing the ways in which the data could be reused. For example, we could develop programmatic ways to search the collection for a particular person who performed in a certain play in a given location.

To enable such exciting functionality we first need to collect the data and since we launched volunteers have completed over 14,000 tasks, which is a fantastic start. Visit In the Spotlight to get involved.

09 November 2017

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

Add comment

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!

04 November 2017

International Games Week 2017

Add comment

Today at the British Library we are hosting a pop-up game parlour for International Games Week. So if you are in the Library between 10:00 and 16:00 come play some games!

IGW_Logo_Africa-EuropeWe have our usual favourites, including Animal Upon Animal, Biblios, Carcassonne, Dobble, Pandemic, Rhino Hero, Scrabble and Ticket To Ride Europe.

Plus some new ones, including The Hollow Woods: Storytelling Card Game, which revives the Victorian craze for ‘myrioramas’ and Great Scott! - The Game of Mad Invention, a Victorian themed card game for 3 to 5 players, made by Sinister Fish Games, which uses images selected from the British Library’s Mechanical Curator collection on Flickr in their artwork

Great Scott! - The Game of Mad Invention

It is always lovely to see the British Library’s digital collections being used in creative projects and this week Robin David won the BL Lab's commercial award for his game Movable Type; which also used the Mechanical Curator images in the artwork for a card-drafting, word-building game that has been described like Scrabble crossed with Sushi Go. Moveable Type was a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, which sold out quickly, but we understand they have a new Kickstarter being launched very soon, we'll keep you posted!

Cassie Elle's explanation of Movable Type by Robin David

In addition to board and card games, we are also delighted to host Sally Bushell and James Butler from Lancaster University, who the British Library are working with on the AHRC funded project Creating a Chronotopic Ground for the Mapping of Literary Texts. They have been using Minecraft for The Lakescraft Project; which created an innovative teaching resource to provide a fun and innovative means of introducing concepts centred around the literary, linguistic, and psychological analysis of Lake District's landscape. This is a fascinating initiative and I'm pleased to report Lakescraft has evolved into a broader project called Litcraft, to use the approach for exploring literature set in other locations.

Introduction to The Lakescraft Project

Introductory video for Litcraft's first public release: R.L.Stevenson's Treasure Island

So lots of exciting fun games happening today in the  British Library and if you can't be here in person, do keep an eye on social media using the hashtag #ALAIGW. Also do check out what games clubs and events may be running in your local library.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, you can follow her on twitter @miss_wisdom

07 September 2017

Introducing... Playbills In the Spotlight

Add comment

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.