THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

21 posts categorized "Literature"

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

 

28 March 2017

Mobile devices meet author, text, and reader

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This a guest post is by Alastair Horne introducing his PhD topic, you can follow him on twitter as @pressfuturist, and also on Instagram.

I’m a collaborative doctoral partnership student based here at the British Library and at Bath Spa University, supervised jointly by Stella Wisdom here, and Professor Kate Pullinger at Bath. In my research, I’m exploring how one of the most disruptive technologies of the past few decades – the ubiquitous mobile computing device, in the form of the smartphone or tablet computer – is changing the relationship between author, text, and reader.

Taking the launch of the original iPhone in 2007 as my starting point, I’m looking at the influence of mobile devices in two complementary areas. The first part of my research considers ‘mobile fictions’: narratives written specifically for smartphones and tablets; stories which build on the possibilities generated by such devices for new kinds of storytelling. The second explores how the social media platforms most commonly used on mobile devices – particularly Twitter and Facebook – offer opportunities for widespread, intense, and sustained interaction between authors and readers. Alongside those two areas of research, I’m also working on a creative project that will put many of the ideas explored in my research into practice: a short mobile audio fiction to be experienced over the course of a ten-minute walk through Brompton Cemetery.

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Brompton Cemetery's secret time machine, copyright Alastair Horne

Issues around collecting and digital preservation are central to all three strands of my research, which is why I’m delighted to be based in the British Library and to have the chance to learn from – and ultimately, I hope, to contribute to – practice here. I’ll be considering how we might archive smartphone apps when so many are abandoned by their developers, left broken and unusable by updates to their operating systems – while others end up entirely deleted, so that the only evidence of their existence is a few reviews and the occasional broken link to an appstore. I’ll also be exploring how we can preserve the conversations that take place on social media. Furthermore, I’ll be attempting to put these learnings into practice – and establish some best practices – when exploring archiving my own creative project. 

21 March 2017

Poetic Places and World Poetry Day 2017

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

Happy World Poetry Day!

The Digital Scholarship team are marking the day with an event exploring how poetry, history and literature can be discovered and experienced via digital technologies. Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence Sarah Cole is talking about the development of Poetic Places, a free app for iOS and Android devices, that creates digital encounters with poems and literature in the locations described, accompanied by sounds and illustrations from cultural heritage collections; including the British Library's images on Flickr.

Being a creative type Sarah has also been using the Flickr collection in her new enterprise Badgical Kingdom, which takes images from galleries, libraries, archives, and museums released under Creative Commons licenses and turns them into badges. Sarah hopes to bring forgotten works out into the everyday world where they can be re-admired. Furthermore, every piece is sent with a card detailing a little of the design’s history and naming the institution which has made the work available; including the Rijksmuseum, whose collections have inspired these flower brooches, which could make perfect Mother's Day presents in my opinion.

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

Images of Billycock Cat Pin, copyright Sarah Cole.

Also speaking at the event are 

  • Dr Jennifer Batt, a lecturer in English, University of Bristol, who has been working with British Library Labs on an innovative project to data mine 18th-century newspapers for verse.
  • Dr Duncan Hay, from the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis who works on the Survey of London, check out their map. It is also worth noting that Duncan is a colleague of Martin Zaltz Austwick, who did GPS mapping of a walk based around the first section of William Gull's coach ride in Alan Moore's From Hell. There is a short video of this here.

For those of you unable to join us this evening and also those of you who are; please check out the British Library's drama and literature recordings on SoundCloud. These include excellent poems from The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets winners and shortlisted entries and readings from other British Library events, enjoy ...

 Recording of Richard Scott reading from his pamphlet ‘Wound’, published by The Rialto

09 March 2017

Archaeologies of reading: guest post from Matthew Symonds, Centre for Editing Lives and Letters

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Digital Curator Mia Ridge: today we have a guest post by Matthew Symonds from the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters on the Archaeologies of reading project, based on a talk he did for our internal '21st century curatorship' seminar series. Over to Matt...

Some people get really itchy about the idea of making notes in books, and dare not defile the pristine printed page. Others leave their books a riot of exclamation marks, sarcastic incredulity and highlighter pen.

Historians – even historians disciplined by spending years in the BL’s Rare Books and Manuscripts rooms – would much prefer it if people did mark books, preferably in sentences like “I, Famous Historical Personage, have read this book and think the following having read it…”. It makes it that much easier to investigate how people engaged with the ideas and information they read.

Brilliantly for us historians, rare books collections are filled with this sort of material. The problem is it’s also difficult to catalogue and make discoverable (nota bene – it’s hard because no institutions could afford to employ and train sufficient cataloguers, not because librarians don’t realise this is an issue).

The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe (AOR) takes digital images of books owned and annotated by two renaissance readers, the professional reader Gabriel Harvey and the extraordinary polymath John Dee, transcribes and translates all the comments in the margin, and marks up all traces of a reader’s intervention with the printed book and puts the whole thing on the Internet in a way designed to be useful and accessible to researchers and the general public alike.

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Screenshot, The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe

AOR is a digital humanities collaboration between the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) at University College London, Johns Hopkins University and Princeton University, and generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

More importantly, it’s also a collaboration between academic researchers, librarians and software engineers. An absolutely vital consideration of how we planned AOR, how we work on it, how we’re planning to expand it, was to identify a project that could offer a common ground to be shared between these three interests, where each party would have something to gain from it.

As one of the researchers, it was really important to me to avoid forming some sort of “client-provider” relationship with the librarians who curate and know so much about my sources, and the software engineers who build the digital infrastructure.

But we do use an academic problem as a means of giving our project a focus. In 1990, Antony Grafton and the late Lisa Jardine published their seminal article ‘“Studied for Action: how Gabriel Harvey read his Livy’ in the journal Past & Present.

One major insight of the article is that people read books in conjunction with one another, often for specific, pragmatic purposes. People didn’t pick up a book from their shelves, open at page one and proceed through to the finis, marking up as they went. They put other books next to them, books that explained, clarified, argued with one another.

By studying the marginalia, it’s possible to reconstruct these pathways across a library, recreating the strategies people used to manage the vast quantities of information they had at their disposal.

In order to produce this archaeology of reading, we’ve built a “digital bookwheel”, an attempt to recreate the revolving reading desk of the renaissance period which allowed the lucky owner to manoeuvre back and forth their books. From here, the user can call up the books we’ve digitised, read the transcriptions, and search for particular words and concepts.

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Screenshot, The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe


It’s built out of open source materials, leveraging the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) and the IIIF-compliant Mirador 2 Viewer. Interested parties can download the XML files of our transcriptions, as well as the data produced in the process.

The exciting thing for us is that all the work on creating this digital infrastructure – which is very much a work in progress -- has provided us with the raw materials for asking new research questions, questions that can only be asked by getting away from our computer and returning back to the rare books room.

27 February 2017

British Library resources on digital scholarship for PhD students

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C5453-02a_Arundel_74_f.2v croppedFinding your way around the vast collections of the British Library can be daunting at first, but there are lots of resources and staff keen to help doctoral students get started in this post from Digital Curator Mia Ridge (@mia_out).

These resources were compiled for the digital scholarship sessions at the British Library's doctoral open days. We'd love to hear from you with questions or comments at digitalresearch@bl.uk.

Learning about our collections

Help for researchers - a great place to start with general collections queries

Collection guides

Subject pages

Discovering digitised content

Catalogues: http://explore.bl.uk for printed materials ('I want this' will list digitised items); http://searcharchives.bl.uk for archives and manuscripts

Digitised manuscripts, Illuminated manuscripts and Hebrew manuscripts

British Library sounds for music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds

Flickr - particularly rich in images from 19th century books

Wikimedia Commons

International Dunhuang Project (IDP) - manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road

Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) - international digitisation projects

data.bl.uk - text, images and catalogue 'metadata' datasets available for research and creative re-use

British National Bibliography metadata

Learning about digital scholarship

The British Library's Digital Scholarship pages list digital datasets, staff, case studies and projects

BL Labs Awards and Competitions are a great source of inspiration

The British Library's Digital Scholarship blog (you're reading it right now!) and twitter account @Bl_DigiSchol

Humanist mailing list

Events with online / in-person sessions include IHR Digital History Seminar and Digital Classicist

The Institute of Historical Research offers training courses or there's the Programming Historian

Finally, your university may be a member of a training consortium (CHASE, White Rose, etc) that offers specialist digital scholarship courses