THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

19 posts categorized "Printed books"

09 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

 

What is In the Spotlight?

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

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

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

 

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

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

Creating an open stage 

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

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

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

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

 

What's been discovered so far?

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

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

What can you do?

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

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

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

17 October 2017

Imaginary Cities – Collaborations with Technologists

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

About the collaborators:

Takeo_DS-Blog3-4_D-Steele
David Steele

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

Takeo_DS-Blog3-5_D-Baker
Drew Baker

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

27 July 2017

A workshop on Optical Character Recognition for Bangla

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I was fortunate enough to travel to Kolkata recently along with other members of the Two Centuries of Indian Print team where we ran a workshop on ‘Developments with Optical Character Recognition for Bangla’. The event, which took place at Jadavpur University, proved an excellent forum to share knowledge in this area of growing interest and was reflected in the range of library professionals, academics and computer scientists who attended from ten institutions across Bengal and from the US.

Applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to printed texts is one of the key expectations of 21st century scholars and library users, who want to quickly find information online that accurately meets their research needs. Cultural institutions are gateways to millions of items containing knowledge that can transform modern research. The workshop looked at the developments, challenges and opportunities of OCR in opening up vast quantities of knowledge to digital researchers.

Dr. Naira Khan from the University of Dhaka’s Computational Linguistics department kicked off the workshop by introducing the key process of how OCR works, including ‘pre-processing’ steps such as binarisation which reduces a scanned page of text to its binary form to remove background noise, isolating only the text on the page. Skew detection, another pre-processing technique, corrects scans with angular text that can cause problems for OCR systems that require perfectly horizontal or vertical text. Dr. Khan moved on to explain how OCR systems segment pages into text and non-text regions right down to pixel detection to recognise word boundaries. When it comes down to recognising individual characters, Bangla script presents some unique challenges, containing such a vast range of compound characters, vowel signs and ligatures, not to mention the distinctive top line connecting characters known as the ‘Matra’. Breaking the characters into their geometric features such as lines, arcs and circles enables combinations of features to be formed, classified as characters and expressed in digital form as OCR output.  

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Dr. Khan introducing the concepts of OCR

After Dr. Khan’s inspiring talk attendees learned of the British Library’s particular challenge searching for an OCR solution for our 19th century Bengali books currently being digitised, and the potential use of an OCR’d dataset for Digital Humanities researchers wanting to perform text and data mining. The books span an enormous range of genres from works by religious missionaries, to those covering food, science and works of fiction. So obtaining OCR would enable automated searching and analysis of the full text across hundreds of thousands of pages that could lead to exciting research discoveries in South Asian studies.   

The event concluded with a practical session during which attendees used different OCR software on a sample of the BL’s digitised Bengali books. They experimented with Tesseract, Google Drive, i2ocr and newOCR. The general consensus was Google Drive proved to be the most accurate! Although, there are other tools we have only just begun to try out such as Transkribus that may be useful.

PracticalExercise_blogWorkshop participants trying out various OCR tools

All-in-all the workshop proved a really worthwhile exercise in widening knowledge among Indian institutions about the challenges and possible uses of OCR for Bangla. The work currently being undertaken by universities and technology centres using state-of-the-art machine learning techniques to perform text recognition will hopefully close the gap between Bangla (as well as other Indic scripts) and Latin scripts when it comes to efficient OCR tools.

 

This is a post by Tom Derrick, Digital Curator for the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

17 July 2017

A Wonderland of Knowledge - Behind the Scenes of the British Library (Nadya Miryanova work experience)

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Posted by Nadya Miryanova BL Labs School Work Placement Student, currently studying at Lady Eleanor Holles, working with Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

British Library
Introduction to the British Library

Day 1

It was with a mixture of anticipation, curiosity and excitement that I opened the door to the staff entrance and started my two week work placement in the world’s largest library. I have been placed with BL Labs in the Digital Scholarship department, where I am working with Mahendra Mahey (Project Manager of BL Labs) for the following two weeks. After the inescapable health and safety induction, I am now extremely well acquainted with the BL’s elaborate fire alarm system, and following lunch at the staff restaurant, Mahendra provided me with an introduction to the British Library and explained the work undertaken by the BL Labs.

When most people hear the word ‘library’, conventional ideas typically spring to mind, including a copious number of books, and, of course, a disgruntled librarian ironically rather loudly encouraging silence every five minutes. I must admit that initially, my perspective was the same.

However, my viewpoint was soon to be completely turned around.

BL interior
British Library interior

An extraordinary institution, the British Library is indeed widely known for its remarkable collection of books, it is home to around 14 million. However, contrary to popular belief, these are only a small section of the Library’s vast collections. In fact, the British Library actually has an extremely diverse range of items, ranging from patents to musical scores, and from ancient artifacts dating as far back as 1000 BC to this morning’s newspapers, altogether giving a grand figure of approximately 200 million documented items. I was also delighted to discover that the British Library has the world’s largest collection of stamps! It is estimated that if somebody looked at 5 items each day, it would take an astonishing 80,000 years to see the whole of BL collections. 

I learnt that the objective of the BL Labs is to encourage scholars, innovators, artists, entrepreneurs and educators to work with the Library's digital collections, supporting its mission to try to ensure that the wealth and diversity of the Library’s intellectual digital heritage is available for the research, creativity and fulfillment of everyone. At BL Labs, anyone is invited to address an important research question(s) or ideas which uses the Library’s digital content and data, by entering the annual Awards or becoming involved in a collaborative project or even just using the collections in whatever way they want.

Although initially a little nervous when entering this immense institution, my fears evaporated completely, when on my very first day of working here, I was brought immediately into a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, promoted by the sincere kindness and interest that I was met with from each member of the Library's staff. 

Books Image
The George the IV British Library book collection

Day 2

At precisely 9 o’clock in the morning, I found myself seated at my office desk, looking at the newly filled out Outlook calendar on my computer to see what new and exciting tasks I would be faced with that day and looking out for any upcoming events. My Tuesday consisted mostly of independent work at my desk, and after a quick catch-up with Mahendra at 9.30, where we discussed the working plan for the day and reviewed yesterday’s work, I sat down to start my second full day of work at the British Library.

BL labs symposium
British Library Labs leaflet

Between 2013-2016, the British Library Labs held a competition, which looked for transformative project ideas which used the British Library’s digital collections and data in new and exciting ways. The BL Labs Awards recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using these collections. Mahendra had previously introduced me to the Labs Competition and Awards pages of the BL Labs website, and my main objective was to update the ideas and project submissions on this page, specifically adding the remaining Competition 2016 Entries, reviewing the 2015 and 2014 entries and checking that they were all complete with no entries missing. The competition entries can be accessed on the website http://labs.bl.uk/Ideas+for+Labs.

This was an excellent opportunity for me to work on a new editing platform and further enhance my editing skills, which will doubtlessly prove very useful in everyday life as well as in the future. As I worked through editing and updating the pages, what struck me most was the incredible diversity and wide variety of ideas within the competition entries. From a project exploring Black Abolitionists and their presence in Britain, to the proposed creation of a Victorian meme machine, and from a planned political meeting’s mapper, to a suggested Alice in Wonderland bow tie design, each idea was entirely unique and original, despite the fact that each entry was adhering to the same brief. I was mesmerised by the amount of thought and careful planning that was evident in every submission, each one was intricately detailed and provided a careful and thorough plan of work. 

Victorian Meme
An example of a Victorian meme

After finishing lunch relatively early, I found myself with half an hour of my allocated break still left, and took the opportunity to explore the library. I walked down to the visitor’s entrance, and took a moment to admire the King’s library, a majestic tower of books standing in the British Library's centre. Stepping closer, I was able to read some of the inscriptions on the spines of the books, and was delighted to see that one of them was a book of Catullus’ poetry, poetry that I previously had studied in Latin GCSE. The scope of knowledge that lies within this library is practically endless, and it led me to reflect on the importance of the work of the BL Labs. I thought back to the competition entries, they prove that the possibilities for projects truly have no limit. The BL Labs are able to give scholars, academics and students the opportunity to access some of these digital collections such as books very easily and in any part of the world. Without this access, many of the wonderful projects that the BL currently works on would not be possible.

With that thought fresh in my mind, I was brought back to reality, and returned to my desk to continue working, this time on my mini-project. My last task for the day involved brainstorming ideas for this project. A direct focus was soon established, and I decided to explore the Russian language titles in the 65,000 digitised 19th Century Microsoft books. Later on, I shall be writing a blog post detailing my experience of working on this project.

Day 3

As the Piccadilly line train arrived at St Pancras, I actually managed to step and head off in the completely right direction for the first time that week (needless to say, my sense of direction is not the best). Feeling rather proud of myself, I walked with a skip in my step, ready to immerse myself in whatever plan of work awaited today.

I looked at the schedule of the day and my heart leapt, I was to be attending my first ever proper staff meeting. It was a very technical meeting, started off by the Head of Digital Scholarship, Adam Faquhar, who talked about current activities taking place in the Digital Scholarship department. Everyone made contributions to the general discussion in the meeting and Mahendra talked about the development of the BL Labs work and the progress made so far. It also provided me with an opportunity to talk about some of the things I was presently doing and I found that everybody was very receptive and supportive. I found it very interesting to be introduced to people who work in the same area on a day-to-day basis with the British Library and enjoyed hearing about all the different projects currently being undertaken.

SherlockNet Web interface
SherlockNet web interface

I then began working on some YouTube transcription work on the winners of the 2016 BL Labs competition, the first one being SherlockNet. The SherlockNet team worked to use convolutional neural networks to automatically tag and caption the British Library Flickr collection of digitised images taken largely from 19th Century books. If that doesn't sound impressive enough, consider the fact that this entry was submitted by three people, who were just 19 years old (undergraduate university students). My work involved listening carefully to each one of the interviews, and typing on a separate word document exactly what Luda Zhao, Karen Wang and Brian Do were talking about. This word document would then be used to make subtitles for the final film and would prove invaluable when creating a storyboard for the final cut down interview. 

BL poster
British Library Alice in Wonderland Poster

Day 4

As I turned the corner of Midland Road and stood to face the traffic lights, my gaze wondered over to the now familiar Alice in Wonderland poster that had the ‘British Library’ printed on it in block capitals. I smiled as I looked up at the Cheshire cat that was perched neatly on top of the first 'I' in the words 'British Library' and the cat smiled back, revealing a wide toothy grin. Alice, likewise, was looking up at the Cheshire cat, and in that moment, her situation was made very credible to me. She was surrounded by this entirely new world of Wonderland, and in a similar way, I find myself in a parallel world of continuous acquisition of knowledge, as each day I am learning something new, with the British Library being the Wonderland. A wonderful and well-known literary extract from Lewis Carol came to mind:

 “`Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' (Alice)

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.

`I don't much care where--' said Alice.

`Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

`--so long as I get somewhere,' Alice added as an explanation.

`Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.'

With this in mind, I briskly walked over to the doors of the office.

The beginning of my day consisted mostly of working on my own project, further classifiying a sub collection of Russian titles from the digitised collection of 65,000 books mostly from the 19th century. I worked on further enhancing the organisation and categorisation of these books, establishing a clear methodical approach that began with sorting the books into 2 categories-fiction and non-fiction. Curiously, the majority of the titles were actually non-fiction. After an e-mail correspondence with Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, I discovered that most of the books that were part of the digitisation were acquired at the time when they were published, so they were selected by Katya’s distant predecessors, a fact I found remarkable.

Nicholas II abdication in Russian
The Act of Abdication of Nicholas II and his brother Grand Duke Michael,
published as a placard that would be distributed
by hand or pasted to walls (shelfmark: HS.74/1870),
an example of a Russian language title that is now digitised

For the second-half of the day, I focussed once more on the YouTube transcriptions work and managed to finish transcribing the interviews for SherlockNet. I then discussed with Mahendra how I would storyboard the interviews in preparation for the film editing process. First, I would have to pick out specific sections of the interview that were most suitable to use in the film, marking the exact timings when the person started speaking to when they finished, and I then placed the series of timings in a chronological order. I was also able to choose the music for the end product (possibly my favourite part!), and I based my selection of the music on the mood of the videos and my perception of the characters of the individuals. I concluded my day by finding a no-copyright YouTube music page and discovered an assortment of possible music tracks. I managed to narrow down the selection to four possible soundtracks, which included titles such as ‘Spring in my Step’ and ‘Good Starts’.

Day 5

As I swiped my staff pass across the reader which permits access into the building, I checked my phone to see what the time was. It was 8.30am and concurrently, I caught sight of the date, Friday 14th July. I stopped in my tracks. Today was marking my first full working week at the British Library, I could hardly believe how quickly the time went! It forcibly reminded me of the inscription on my clock at home, ‘tempus fugit’ (time flees) because if there’s one thing that has gone abnormally fast here at my time at the BL, it’s time.

Hebrew manuscript
Digitised Hebrew Manuscript available through the British Library

In the morning, I attended a meeting discussing an event Mahendra is planning around the Digitised Hebrew manuscripts, and I was lucky enough to meet Ilana Tahan, the Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Orient Collections. The meeting included a telephone call to Eva Frojmovic, an academic at the Centre for Jewish Studies in the School of Fine Art of the History of Art and Cultural Studies in the University of Leeds. The discussion was centered mostly on an event that would be taking place where the BL would be talking about its collection of digitised Hebrew manuscripts in order to promote their free use to the general public. The very beautiful Hebrew manuscripts could actually have a very wide target audience, perhaps additionally reaching outside the academic learning sphere and having the potential to be used in the creative/artistic space.

Contrary to popular belief, the collection of 1302 digitised manuscripts can be used by anyone and everyone, leading to exciting possibilities and new projects. The amazing thing about the digital collections is that it makes it possible for someone who does not live in London to access them, where ever they may be in the world, and they can be looked at digitally, and can be used to enhance any learning experience, ranging from seminars or lessons to PhD research projects. The actual hard-copy of the manuscripts can also be, of course, accessed in the British Library. The structure and timings of the event were discussed, and a date was set for the next meeting and for the event. To finish the meeting, Mahendra offered an explanation of the handwriting recognition transcription process for the manuscripts. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and each individual handwritten letter is recognised as a shape by the computer, though it's important that the computer has ground truth (i.e. examples of human transcribed manuscripts). Each letter and word is recognised and processed and will very cleverly convert the original Hebrew handwritten-script written into computerised Hebrew script. This means it would then allow someone to search for words in the manuscript, easily and quickly using a computerised search tool. 

Ilana looking at manuscripts
Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Orient Collections,
looking through Hebrew manuscripts

For the majority of the afternoon, I was floating between a variety of different projects, doing more work on the YouTube transcriptions and enhancing my mini-project, as well as creating a table of the outstanding blogs that still had to be published on the British Library's Digital Scholarship blog.

At the end of the day, I did a review of my first week, evaluating the progress that I had made with Mahendra. Throughout the week, I feel that I have enhanced and developed a number of invaluable skills, and have gained an incredible insight into the working world.

I will be writing about my second week, as well as my mini-project soon, so please come and visit this blog again if you are interested to find out more about some of the work being done at the British Library.

 

 

16 May 2017

Michael Takeo Magruder @ Gazelli Art House

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

Takeo_BL-Labs-Blog_Gazelli1
Michael Takeo Marguder's Gazell.io works

Earlier this year I was invited by Gazelli Art House to be a digital artist-in-residence on their online platform Gazell.io. After a series of conversations with Gazelli’s director, Mila Askarova, we decided it would be a perfect opportunity to broker a partnership with British Library Labs and use the occasion to publish some of the work-in-progress ideas from my Imaginary Cities project at the British Library.

Given Gazelli’s growing interest in and reputation for exhibiting virtual reality (VR) art, we chose to launch my March showcase with A New Jerusalem since it was in many ways the inspiration for the Imaginary Cities concept.

MTM_NJ-internal
A New Jerusalem by Michael Takeo Magruder

During the second half of my Gazell.io residency I began publishing various aesthetic-code studies that had been created for the Imaginary Cities project. I was also invited by Gazelli to hold a private sharing event at their London gallery in Mayfair to showcase some of the project’s physical experiments and outcomes. The evening was organised by Gazelli’s Artist Liaison, Victoria Al-Din, and brought together colleagues from the British Library, art curators from leading cultural institutions and academics connected to media art practice. It was a wonderful event, and it was incredibly useful to be able to present my ideas and the resulting artistic-technical prototypes to a group with such a deep and broad range of expertise. 


Sharing works in progress for the Imaginary Cities project at Gazelli Art House, London. 30th March 2017

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.

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-03-09/76bacc2c-befe-4e7c-b729-c49cf47adf0b.png
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.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/98739f1160a9458db215cec49fb033ee/2017-03-09/ac83353a40f24bea921e478b1450993e.png
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.

24 January 2017

Publication of Quarterly Lists: Catalogues of Indian Books

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The Two Centuries of Indian Print project is pleased to announce the online availability of some wonderful catalogues held by the library, generally known as the Quarterly Lists. They record books published quarterly and by province of British India between 1867 and 1947.

Digitised for the first time, the Quarterly Lists can now be accessed as searchable PDFs via the British Library's datasets portal, data.bl.uk. Researchers will be able to examine rich bibliographic data about books published throughout India, including the names and address of printers and publishers, publication price and how many copies were sold.

 

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Our next steps will be to OCR the Quarterly Lists to create ALTO XML for every page, which is designed to show accurate representations of the content layout. This will allow researchers to apply computational tools and methods to look across all of the lists to answer their questions about book history. So if a researcher is interested in what the history of book publishing reveals about a particular time period and place, we would like to make that possible by giving them full access to this dataset.

To get to this point however, we will have to overcome the layout challenge that the Quarterly Lists present. Across all of the lists we have found a few different layout styles which are rather tricky for OCR solutions to handle meaningfully. Note for instance how the list below compares to the one from the Calcutta Gazette above. Through the Digital Research strand of the project we will be seeking out innovative research groups willing to take a crack at improving the OCR quality and accuracy of tabular text extraction from the Quarterly Lists. 

The Quarterly Lists available on data.bl.uk are out of copyright and openly licensed for reuse. If you or anyone you know are interested in using the Quarterly Lists in your research or simply want to find out more about them, feel free to drop me an email; Tom.Derrick@bl.uk or follow more about the project @BL_IndianPrint

You can read more about the history of the Quarterly Lists, in a previous blog I wrote last year.

10 November 2016

British Library Labs Symposium 2016 - Competition and Award Winners

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The 4th annual British Library Labs Symposium took place on 7th November 2016 and was a resounding success! 

More than 220 people attended and the event was a fantastic experience, showcasing and celebrating the Digital Scholarship field and highlighting the work of BL Labs and their collaborators. The Symposium included a number of exciting announcements about the winners of the BL Labs Competition and BL Labs Awards, who are presented in this blog post. Separate posts will be published about the runners up of the Competition and Awards and posts written by all of the winners and runners up about their work are also scheduled for the next few weeks - watch this space!

BL Labs Competition winner for 2016

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library announced that the overall winner of the BL Labs Competition for 2016 was...

SherlockNet: Using Convolutional Neural Networks to automatically tag and caption the British Library Flickr collection
By Karen Wang and Luda Zhao, Masters students at Stanford University, and Brian Do, Harvard Medicine MD student

Machine learning can extract information and insights from data on a massive scale. The project developed and optimised Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN), inspired by biological neural networks in the brain, in order to tag and caption the British Library’s Flickr Commons 1 million collection. In the first step of the project, images were classified with general categorical tags (e.g. “people”, “maps”). This served as the basis for the development of new ways to facilitate rapid online tagging with user-defined sets of tags. In the second stage, automatically generate descriptive natural-language captions were provided for images (e.g. “A man in a meadow on a horse”). This computationally guided approach has produced automatic pattern recognition which provides a more intuitive way for researchers to discover and use images. The tags and captions will be made accessible and searchable by the public through the web-based interface and text annotations will be used to globally analyse trends in the Flickr collection over time.

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SherlockNet team presenting at the Symposium

Karen Wang is currently a senior studying Computer Science at Stanford University, California. She also has an Art Practice minor. Karen is very interested in the intersection of computer science and humanities research, so this project is near and dear to her heart! She will be continuing her studies next year at Stanford in CS, Artificial Intelligence track.

Luda Zhao is currently a Masters student studying Computer Science at Stanford University, living in Palo Alto, California. He is interested in using machine learning and data mining to tackle tough problems in a variety of real-life contexts, and he's excited to work with the British Library to make art more discoverable for people everywhere.

Brian Do grew up in sunny California and is a first-year MD/PhD student at Harvard Medical School. Previously he studied Computer Science and biology at Stanford. Brian loves using data visualisation and cutting edge tools to reveal unexpected things about sports, finance and even his own text message history.

SherlockNet recently posted an update of their work and you can try out their SherlockNet interface and tell us what you think.

BL Labs Awards winners for 2016

Research Award winner

Allan Sudlow, Head of Research Development at the British Library announced that the winner of the Research Award was...

Scissors and Paste

By Melodee Beals, Lecturer in Digital History at Loughborough University and historian of migration and media

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Melodee Beals presenting Scissors & Paste

Scissors and Paste utilises the 1800-1900 digitised British Library Newspapers, collection to explore the possibilities of mining large-scale newspaper databases for reprinted and repurposed news content. The project has involved the development of a suite of tools and methodologies, created using both out-of-the-box and custom-made project-specific software, to efficiently identify reprint families of journalistic texts and then suggest both directionality and branching within these subsets. From these case-studies, detailed analyses of additions, omissions and wholesale changes offer insights into the mechanics of reprinting that left behind few if any other traces in the historical record.

Melodee Beals joined the Department of Politics, History and International Relations at Loughborough University in September 2015. Previously, Melodee has worked as a pedagogical researcher for the History Subject Centre, a teaching fellow for the School of Comparative American Studies at the University of Warwick and a Principal Lecturer for Sheffield Hallam University, where she acted as Subject Group Leader for History. Melodee completed her PhD at the University of Glasgow.

Commercial Award winner

Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Audiences at the British Library announced that the winner of the Commercial Award was...

Curating Digital Collections to Go Mobile

By Mitchel Davis, publishing and media entrepreneur

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Mitchell Davis presenting Curating Digital Collections to Go Mobile

As a direct result of its collaborative work with the British Library, BiblioLabs has developed BiblioBoard, an award-winning e-Content delivery platform, and online curatorial and multimedia publishing tools to support it. These tools make it simple for subject area experts to create visually stunning multi-media exhibits for the web and mobile devices without any technical expertise. The curatorial output is almost instantly available via a fully responsive web site as well as through native apps for mobile devices. This unified digital library interface incorporates viewers for PDF, ePub, images, documents, video and audio files allowing users to immerse themselves in the content without having to link out to other sites to view disparate media formats.

Mitchell Davis founded BookSurge in 2000, the world’s first integrated global print-on-demand and publishing services company (sold to Amazon.com in 2005 and re-branded as CreateSpace). Since 2008, he has been founder and chief business officer of BiblioLabs- the creators of BiblioBoard. Mitchell is also an indie producer and publisher who has created several award winning indie books and documentary films over the past decade through Organic Process Productions, a small philanthropic media company he founded with his wife Farrah Hoffmire in 2005.

Artistic Award winner

Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning at the British Library announced that the winner of the Artistic Award was... 

Here there, Young Sailor

Written and directed by writer and filmmaker Ling Low and visual art by Lyn Ong

Hey There, Young Sailor combines live action with animation, hand-drawn artwork and found archive images to tell a love story set at sea. Inspired by the works of early cinema pioneer Georges Méliès, the video draws on late 19th century and early 20th century images from the British Library's Flickr collection for its collages and tableaux. The video was commissioned by Malaysian indie folk band The Impatient Sisters and independently produced by a Malaysian and Indonesian team.

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Ling Low receives her Award from Jamie Andrews

Ling Low is based between Malaysia and the UK and she has written and directed various short films and music videos. In her fiction and films, Ling is drawn to the complexities of human relationships and missed connections. By day, she works as a journalist and media consultant. Ling has edited a non-fiction anthology of human interest journalism, entitled Stories From The City: Rediscovering Kuala Lumpur, published in 2016. Her journalism has also been published widely, including in the Guardian, the Telegraph and Esquire Malaysia.

Teaching / Learning Award winner

Ria Bartlett, Lead Producer: Onsite Learning at the British Library announced that the winner of the Teaching / Learning Award was...

Library Carpentry

Founded by James Baker, Lecturer at the Sussex Humanities Lab, who represented the global Library Carpentry Team (see below) at the Symposium

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James Baker presenting Library Carpentry

Library Carpentry is software skills training aimed at the needs and requirements of library professionals. It takes the form of a series of modules that are available online for self-directed study or for adaption and reuse by library professionals in face-to-face workshops. Library Carpentry is in the commons and for the commons: it is not tied to any institution or person. For more information on Library Carpentry see http://librarycarpentry.github.io/

James Baker is a Lecturer in Digital History and Archives at the School of History, Art History and Philosophy and at the Sussex Humanities Lab. He is a historian of the long eighteenth century and contemporary Britain. James is a Software Sustainability Institute Fellow and holds degrees from the University of Southampton and latterly the University of Kent. Prior to joining Sussex, James has held positions of Digital Curator at the British Library and Postdoctoral Fellow with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies of British Art. James is a convenor of the Institute of Historical Research Digital History seminar and a member of the History Lab Plus Advisory Board.

 The Library Carpentry Team is regularly accepting new members and currently also includes: 

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The Library Carpentry Team

British Library Labs Staff Award winner

Phil Spence, Chief Operating Officer at the British Library announced that the winner of the British Library Labs Staff Award was...

Libcrowds

Led by Alex Mendes, Software Developer at the British Library

LibCrowds is a crowdsourcing platform built by Alexander Mendes. It aims to create searchable catalogue records for some of the hundreds of thousands of items that can currently only be found in printed and card catalogues. By participating in the crowdsourcing projects, users will help researchers everywhere to access the British Library’s collections more easily in the future.

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Nora McGregor presenting LibCrowds on behalf of Alex Mendes

The first project series, Convert-a-Card, experimented with a new method for transforming printed card catalogues into electronic records for inclusion in our online catalogue Explore, by asking volunteers to link scanned images of the cards with records retrieved from the WorldCat database. Additional projects have recently been launched that invite volunteers to transcribe cards that may require more specific language skills, such as the South Asian minor languages. Records matched, located, transcribed or translated as part of the crowdsourcing projects were uploaded to the British Library's Explore catalogue for anyone to search online. By participating users can have a direct impact on the availability of research material to anyone interested in the diverse collections available at the British Library.

Alex Mendes has worked at the British Library for several years and recently completed a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with the Open University. Alex enjoys the consistent challenges encountered when attempting to find innovative new solutions to unusual problems in software development.

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Alex Mendes

If you would like to find out more about BL Labs, our Competition or Awards please contact us at labs@bl.uk