THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

25 posts categorized "Literature"

29 November 2017

Crowdsourcing using IIIF and Web Annotations

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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

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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!

04 November 2017

International Games Week 2017

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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

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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.


28 June 2017

Ambient Literature

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Does where you read affect how you read?

How can digital media create a bridge between story and place?

Ambient Literature is a project seeking to answer these questions.  This is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the University of West England, Bath Spa University and the University of Birmingham, investigating how situated storytelling is changing through pervasive and ubiquitous computing. Drawing on literary studies, creative writing, design, human-computer interaction, performance and new media studies it is examining emergent forms of literature; challenging the locational and technological future of the book.

Forming the heart of the project, three authors; Kate Pullinger, James Attlee and Duncan Speakman are each creating new experimental works that respond to the presence of a reader, and aim to show how we can redefine the rules of the reading experience through the use of technology.

The first of these works to be made available is "It Must Have Been Dark By Then" by Duncan Speakman, this is an audio walk, within which each reader is invited to reflect on their fragile relationship with the world around us. Field recordings and stories from the edge of the Sahara, abandoned Latvian villages, and the disappearing swamplands of Louisiana weave into the audience’s drift through a landscape both familiar and foreign. 

Here at the British Library we are delighted to be hosting sessions for members of the public to experience this work. These will be taking place 4-8 July 2017; to book a free place go to http://www.bl.uk/events/it-must-have-been-dark-by-then. Participants will need to bring their own smartphones (iOS or Android), but headphones and instructions will be provided. If you book a place, to get started quickly once you arrive, it would really help if you can download the app on your smartphone before coming to the library: iOS and Android. Also please open the app, and download the additional content once prompted. These are the audio files that accompany the app itself, and are about 200MB. We also advise to make sure your phone is well charged and if you have a portable power bank it is a good idea to bring it with you!

Furthermore, on 5 July 2017, we are hosting an evening panel discussion about the relationships between digital technology, location and literature. Join Ambient Literature project leader Tom Abba and writers Kate Pullinger, James Attlee and Duncan Speakman for a fascinating event talking about location-based reading experiences using pervasive technology, which respond to the reader and use digital media as a bridge between story and place. To book your place, go to https://www.bl.uk/events/ambient-literature-panel-discussion. Hope to see you there.

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Ambient Literature writers: Kate Pullinger, Duncan Speakman and James Attlee

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

03 May 2017

How can a turtle and the BBC connect learners with literature?

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Illustration of a youth on a turtle
Image from 'When Life is Young: a collection of verse for boys and girls'. This turtle is ace but we used a different kind of turtle for our project.

Digital Curator Mia Ridge explains how and why we used linked open data to help more people find British Library content.

Despite the picture, it's not a real turtle (sorry to disappoint you). We've used a file format called 'Turtle' (.ttl) to help make articles and collections in Library's Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians easier for teachers to find.

We did this to make content available to the BBC's Research and Education Space (RES) Project. RES helps make public archives easier to find and use in education and teaching. It collects and organises the digital collections of libraries, museums, broadcasters and galleries so that developers can create educational products to connect learners to information and collections.

We were keen to join the RES project and help learners discover our collections and knowledge, but first we had to find the right content and figure out some technical issues. This post gives an overview of how we did it.

Finding the right content

Our collections are vast. Knowing where to start can be daunting. Which section of our website would be most immediately useful for the RES project's goals and audiences?

After looking over our online material, the Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians site seemed like a perfect match. Discovering Literature is a free educational resource that puts manuscript and printed collection items in historical, cultural and political context. The Romantics and Victorians site includes thousands of collection items, hundreds of articles, films, teachers’ notes and more to help make collection items more accessible, so it was a great place to start.

Using linked open data to make information easier to find

Created with support from Jisc and Learning on Screen, the RES platform collects data published as linked open data, which at its simplest means data that is structured and linked to vocabularies that help define the meaning of terms used.

For example, we might include a bit of technical information to unambiguously identify Elizabeth Barrett Browning as the author of the published volumes of poetry or as the writer of a letter. Applying a shared identifier helps connect our resources to information about Barrett Browning in other collections. A teacher preparing a lesson plan can be sure that the RES resources they include are accurate and authoritative articles that'll help their students understand Barrett Browning and other writers.

How did we do it?

There were three main stages in creating linked open data for the RES project, involving staff across the Library, at an external agency and at the BBC. Short, weekly conference calls kept things moving by making us accountable for progress between calls.

First, we had to work out which vocabularies to apply to describe people, the works they created, the collection items used to illustrate articles, the articles themselves, etc. Some terms, like the names of published authors, already exist in other vocabularies so we could just link to them. Others, like the 'genre' or 'literary period' used to describe a work, were particular to the Library. We posted work in progress online so that other people could review and comment on our work.

Once the mappings were agreed, the technical work of updating code used in the content management system so that special pages containing the data could be published as 'Turtle'-formatted files was carried out.  Licence information was included to meet the RES Project requirements.

Finally, the work was tested on a staging server, then checked again by the RES team once the changes had gone live on our website. If you're curious about the underlying linked data technologies, the BBC's guide to the Research & Education Space for contributors and developers has all the details.

Looking to the future

We learned a lot of practical and technical lessons that we hope to apply to future projects. For a start, there are more Discovering Literature sites, and others using a similar web architecture. If you're interested in other perspectives, the RES Project have collected different experiences on their platform, process and progress on their blog. I'm looking forward to seeing how the linked open data we created is used to connect learners to our collections and knowledge.

12 April 2017

New technologies challenging author and reader roles

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This a guest post is by Carol Butler introducing her PhD topic, you can follow her on twitter as @fantomascarol.

New technologies are challenging the traditional view of what it is to be an author or a reader. A range of digital tools are used by readers and authors to ask each other questions, share interpretations and knowledge, and to socialise.

I am a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student based at the British Library (BL) and City, University Of London, supervised by Ian Cooke at the BL, and Dr Stephann Makri at City. My research explores how online social networking technologies enable authors and readers to interact in ways that were previously not possible. I am interested in how this can impact understanding of a written work, and how it can shape an author’s ongoing or future work.

Authors and readers have always sought to better their understanding of a written work- and of each other- by exchanging questions and feedback. However, historically, their communications have been mediated through a hierarchical chain, for example through letters sent privately via an author’s agent. Constrained by process, available technology and geography, this has also largely only possible after a finished work has been published. Interaction has therefore been somewhat slow and limited.

There are now digital tools for reading-related activities used by authors and readers alike, for example GoodReads, which is for writing reviews and cataloguing books. With these tools, communities discuss their reading, partake in competitions and also share their writing. In some, an author may use reader feedback to develop writing in progress, which may be published as a working draft, rather than a final artefact. Authors can also field questions from their readers - either as an ongoing open communication channel, or in a timed Q&A session (an example of this can be seen here).

Other tools, such as Genius, support discussion about a text directly on top of it, through digital annotations. An example can be seen here, where a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been annotated line by line, with readers sharing their interpretations and providing links to external reading. Also here, the author has annotated his own work (in green), to offer deeper contextual understanding to the reader.

However, as well as purpose-made tools, communities also use ones that were intended for different purposes, such as social media sites, e.g. Twitter. People also do not always confine their behaviour to any one tool, and so an activity starting in one tool may often bleed into, repeat, or further develop in another.

A useful example of how readers meander between multiple tools can be found here, where a reader describes his process for reading a physical book- a task supported by checking in with a range of tools and social networks.

A symbiotic relationship between tools and behaviour means that technology evolves in response to how it is used. However, with reader and author activity dispersed across multiple tools, often contrary to a tools intended purpose, and over fluctuating periods of time, this usage cannot be readily observed or understood.

By ascertaining where, how and why readers and authors interact with each other and the tools, I hope to better understand their needs and behaviours. I will investigate how interaction behaviour is mediated, hindered by, and at times resultant of this technology. My intent is to develop theory to explain their behaviour which I can use to provide design guidelines for future tools, to help better support their needs. I will also be looking at what types of works, ways of working and publishing trends emerge from this use of technology, and the challenges posed for the British Library in collecting and preserving them.

I will shortly be conducting interviews with authors and readers to begin to unveil both their motivations for interacting in this manner, and their experiences with doing so.  

I would be happy to speak to anyone with an interest in this area, either by email or in person, so feel free to contact me (carol.butler@bl.uk).

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The traditional view of reader and author roles- where the reader only sees a finished artefact, isolated from the drafts and processes that formed it - is challenged by readers’ increasingly participatory involvement prior to publication.

06 April 2017

Off the Page: Literature and Games

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It is currently the London Games Festival (30 March – 9 April 2017), which champions and showcases the cultural power of interactive entertainment in the capital. All sorts of exciting events are being held. Last week I attended a Games Culture Summit hosted by the British Council, which discussed the relationship of culture to games, including discussion of developing and supporting creative communities, arts practice and commercial development. I was pleased to hear Jo Summers speak in a session looking at skills for collaborating with cultural institutions, drawing on her experience of running WordPlay at the British Library in November 2016. Jo is also an organiser of Now Play This; an experimental game design showcase, running for the third time at Somerset House in London from 7-9 April, 2017, as part of the London Games Festival. 

Not to be left out, here at the British Library we are running a free festival fringe event, Off the Page: Literature and Games, on Saturday 8 April, 13:00 – 16:00 in the Knowledge Centre, exploring the overlap between literature and games. Looking at how the fictional worlds of our favourite novels and plays are represented in games and in return what games bring to the written word? We have invited a range of speakers to discuss this evolving landscape and inspiring projects; including myself talking about the Library's Off the Map competition, which challenged students to create Alice in Wonderland and Shakespearean themed games. The other speakers are:

Places are free, but must be booked via: https://off_the_page.eventbrite.co.uk.

Look forward to seeing you there!

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

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Off the Page event, image taken from Off the Map 2016 winning game The Tempest by Team Quattro