THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

06 April 2017

Free Public Lecture and Workshop: Exploring Scissors-and-Paste Journalism in The British Library’s Newspaper Collections

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Melodee Beals, Lecturer in History, Department of Politics, History and International Relations, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences, Loughborough University

Scissors and paste
Image courtesy of David Brewer CC-BY.

Two hundred years ago, the British public was abuzz with news of revolution, mass migration and an uncertain economic future. And into this excited and worried noise stepped an army of young and adventurous newspapers, working hard to give their readers the world at their fingers. From Calcutta to Peru, Sydney to Istanbul, Paris to New York, they overflowed with news of peoples, places and political scandals from all over the world.

But, before satellites, radio or the telegraph, they relied on people – friends, family, and fellow newspaper men and women – to send in letters and clippings from around the world to provide the most up-to-date and wide-ranging news to their readers. This scissors-and-paste journalism was the very backbone of many British newspapers up through the 1850s but we still don’t know enough about how it worked in practice.

You can help!

On 27 April 2017, British Library Labs and Loughborough University will be hosting a free, public workshop at the British Library in the Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation, London, introducing “Georgian Pingbacks”, a new crowdsourcing website to allow the public (you!) to help uncover how news—the good, the fake and the poorly punctuated—spread across the country. With just a few clicks on your smartphone, tablet or home computer on your daily commute or queuing for the till, you can contribute to the growing debate on what makes news “real” and what makes it “viral”.

After a talk on scissors-and-paste journalism by Dr M. H. Beals (Loughborough University), exploring the history of this much loved system of “theft”, we will take you through our brand new website, where you can help contribute to our collective understanding of historical journalism, one clip and one click at a time.

This event is free, open to the public and a complimentary lunch will be provided.

To register, please visit our Eventbrite website.

If you have any questions about the event, please contact Dr Beals at m.h.beals@lboro.ac.uk. Please note, to fully take part in the event, you will need to bring a laptop or other internet-ready device, such as a tablet or large-screen smartphone, but this is not a requirement for attendance.

28 March 2017

Mobile devices meet author, text, and reader

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. 

22 March 2017

British Library Launches OCR Competition for Rare Indian Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Quarterly_List

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

 

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

21 March 2017

Poetic Places and World Poetry Day 2017

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.

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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

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

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

24 February 2017

Library Carpentry: software skills workshops for librarians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

13 February 2017

Map Games and Odyssey Jam

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom & BL Labs collaborator Gary Green, on twitter as @ggnewed. Gary and Stella are interested in many things including games and interactive fiction.

Last Friday it was Late at the Library: You Are Here! an event celebrating all things cartographic to coincide with the current exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line.  So we thought it was a perfect excuse to bring out our mappy boardgames and set up a pop-up games parlour similar to the games area that we run in the British Library for International Games Day at Your Library in November. Fortunately many games use maps and we had great fun playing Carcassonne, Pandemic and Ticket To Ride Europe. Big kudos to the awesome Ben O'Steen, Sarah Cole and Jason Webber for all their help on the night. Also deserving a mention is BL Labs resident artist Michael Takeo Magruder, whose stand was opposite us. Michael was demonstrating the new Oculus version of his A New Jerusalem, a really cool immersive virtual reality art installation, you can see a video about the work here.

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Ticket To Ride Europe

In addition to playing boardgames, Gary has been busy setting up an online interactive fiction game jam; the theme of which is Homer's The Odyssey - an ancient tale of Odysseus’ journey home across the seas after the Trojan War, with a mix of fantastical mythical creatures, gods and mortals.

The aim is to encourage participants to create an interactive text based story based on this work. If you're not sure what interactive stories are, the IFDB site will give you a good idea. All text based digital works are welcome, including interactive fiction, text games and visual novels.

Even though the focus is on creating a written interactive story, it can include other media too – images, sound, video etc. If you’re looking for visual inspiration we’ve identified many images from the British Library's Flickr gallery, which you can use freely in your story if you want to. If you do use them, it would be lovely if you can give the British Library a mention in the credits of your game. Links to the collections of images appear on this page.

This writing challenge is tied in with Read Watch Play, a partnership of libraries worldwide encouraging themed discussions of books, films, music and games, each month they have a theme and for March it is #waterread. 

Odysseyjam

The #OdysseyJam challenge runs 11th – 27th March 2017,  it is hosted on the itch.io game site (https://itch.io/jam/odysseyjam) and anyone at all in the world can submit an entry… whether you’ve written interactive fiction before or not.

The Odyssey was epic, but your entry into #OdysseyJam doesn’t have to be a long piece of work. It also doesn’t have to cover the whole of the Odyssey – you could create something that focuses on a small part of the tale, and you don’t even have to set it in ancient Greece, just use The Odyssey for inspiration. You can also work as part of a team, or it can be a solo effort.

Want to join in but never made an interactive text based story before? Why not try using free software, such as:

If you post about your story on social media please use the hashtag #OdysseyJam, we can't wait to see the entries.