THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

22 posts categorized "Visual arts"

14 May 2018

Seeing British Library collections through a digital lens

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Digital Curator Mia Ridge writes: in this guest post, Dr Giles Bergel describes some experiments with the Library's digitised images...

The University of Oxford’s Visual Geometry Group has been working with a number of British Library curators to apply computer vision technology to their collections. On April 5 of this year I was invited by BL Digital Curator Dr. Mia Ridge to St. Pancras to showcase some of this work and to give curators the opportunity to try the tools out for themselves.  

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Visual Geometry’s VISE tool matching two identical images from separate books digitised for the British Library’s Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

Computer vision - the extraction of meaning from images - has made considerable strides in recent years, particularly through the application of so-called ‘deep learning’ to large datasets. Cultural collections provide some of the most interesting test-cases for computer vision researchers, due to their complexity; the intensity of interest that researchers bring to them; and to their importance for human well-being. Can computers see collections as humans do? Computer vision is perhaps better regarded as a powerful lens rather than as a substitute for human curation. A computer can search a large collection of images far more quickly than can a single picture researcher: while it will not bring the same contextual understanding to bear on an image, it has the advantage of speed and comprehensiveness. Sometimes, a computer vision system can surprise the researcher by suggesting similarities that weren’t readily apparent.

As a relatively new technology, computer vision attracts legitimate concerns about privacy, ethics and fairness. By making its state of the art tools freely available, Visual Geometry hope to encourage experimentation and responsible use, and to enlist users to help determine what they can and cannot do. Cultural collections provide a searching test-case for the state of the art, due to their diversity as media (prints, paintings, stamped images, photographs, film and more) each of which invite different responses. One BL curator made a telling point by searching the BBC News collection with the term 'football': the system was presented with images previously tagged with that word that related to American, Gaelic, Rugby and Association football. Although inconclusive due to lack of sufficiently specific training data, the test asked whether a computer could (or should) pick the most popular instances; attempt to generalise across multiple meanings; or discern separate usages. Despite increases in processing power and in software methods, computers' ability to generalise; to extract semantic meaning from images or texts; and to cope with overlapping or ambiguous concepts remains very basic.  

Other tests with BL images have been more immediately successful. Visual Geometry's Traherne tool, developed originally to detect differences in typesetting in early printed books, worked well with many materials that exhibit small differences, such as postage stamps or doctored photographs. Visual Geometry's Image Search Engine (VISE) has shown itself capable of retrieving matching illustrations in books digitised for the Library's Indian Print project, as well as certain bookbinding features, or popular printed ballads. Some years ago Visual Geometry produced a search interface for the Library's 1 Million Images release. A collaboration between the Library's Endangered Archives programme and Oxford researcher David Zeitlyn on the archive of Cameroonian studio photographer Jacques Toussele employed facial recognition as well as pattern detection. VGG's facial recognition software works on video (BBC News, for example) as well as still photographs and art, and is soon to be freely released to join other tools under the banner of the Seebibyte Project.    

I'll be returning to the Library in June to help curators explore using the tools with their own images. For more information on the work of Visual Geometry on cultural collections, subscribe to the project's Google Group or contact Giles Bergel.      

Dr. Giles Bergel is a digital humanist based in the Visual Geometry Group in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford.  

The event was supported by the Seebibyte project under an EPSRC Programme Grant EP/M013774/1

 

01 May 2018

New Digital Curator in the Digital Scholarship Team

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Adi Keinan-SchoonbaertHello all! My name is Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, and I’m the new Digital Curator for Asian and African collections at the British Library. One of the core remits of the Digital Scholarship team is to enable and encourage the reuse of the Library’s digital collections. When it comes to Asian and African collections, there are always interesting projects and initiatives going on. One is the Two Centuries of Indian Print project, which just started a second phase in March 2018 – a project with a strong Digital Humanities strand led by Digital Curator Tom Derrick. Another example is a collaborative transcription project, supporting the transcription of handwritten historical Arabic scientific works for Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) research with the help of volunteers.

To give a bit of a background about myself and how I got to the Library: I’m an archaeologist and heritage professional by education and practice, with a PhD in Heritage Studies from University College London (2013). As a field archaeologist I used to record large quantities of excavation-related data – all manually, on paper. This was probably the first time I saw the potential of applying digital tools and technologies to record, manage and share archaeological data.

My first meaningful engagement with archaeological data and digital technologies started in 2005, when I joined the Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group (IPAWG) to create a database of all archaeological sites surveyed or excavated by Israel in the West Bank since its occupation in 1967, and its linking with a Geographic Information System (GIS), enabling the spatial visualisation and querying of this data for the first time. The research potential of this GIS-linked database proved so great, that I’ve decided to further explore it in a PhD dissertation. My dissertation focused on archaeological databases covering the occupied West Bank, and I was especially interested in the nature of archaeological records and the way they reflect particular research interests and heritage management priorities, as well as variability in data quality, coverage, accuracy and reliability.

Following my PhD I stayed at UCL Institute of Archaeology as a post-doctoral research associate, and participated in a project called MicroPasts, a UCL-British Museum collaboration. This project used web-based, crowdsourcing methods to allow traditional academics and other communities in archaeology to co-produce innovative open datasets. The MicroPasts crowdsourcing platform provided a great variety of projects through which people could contribute – from transcribing British Museum card catalogues, through tagging videos on the Roman Empire, to photomasking images in preparation for 3D modelling of museum objects.

With the main phase of the MicroPasts project coming to an end, I joined the British Library as Digital Curator (Polonsky Fellow) for the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project. This role allowed me to create and implement a digital strategy for engaging, accessing and promoting a specific digitised collection, working closely with curators and the Digital Scholarship team. My work included making the collection digitally accessible (on data.bl.uk, working with British Library Labs) and encouraging open licensing, creating a website, promoting the collection in different ways, researching available digital methods to explore and exploit collections in novel ways, and implementing tools such as an online catalogue records viewer (TEI XML), OpenRefine, and 3D modelling.

A 6-months backpacking trip to Asia unexpectedly prepared me for my new role at the Library. I was delighted to join – or re-join – the Library’s Digital Research team, this time as Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections. I find these collections especially intriguing due to their diversity, richness and uniqueness. These include mostly manuscripts, printed books, periodicals, newspapers, photographs and e-resources from Africa, the Middle East (including Qatar Digital Library), Central Asia, East Asia (including the International Dunhuang Project), South Asia, SE Asia – as well as the Visual Arts materials.

I’m very excited to join the Library’s Digital Research team work alongside Neil Fitzgerald, Nora McGregor, Mia Ridge and Stella Wisdom and learn from their rich experience. Feel free to get in touch with us via digitalresearch@bl.uk or Twitter - @BL_AdiKS for me, or @BL_DigiSchol for the Digital Scholarship team.

21 April 2018

On the Road (Again)

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Flickr image: Wanderer
Image from the British Library’s Million Images on Flickr, found on p 198 of 'The Cruise of the Land Yacht “Wanderer”; or, thirteen hundred miles in my caravan, etc' by William Gordon Stables, 1886.

Now that British Summer Time has officially arrived, and with it some warmer weather, British Library Labs are hitting the road again with a series of events in Universities around the UK. The aim of these half-day roadshows is to inspire people to think about using the library's digitised collections and datasets in their research, art works, sound installations, apps, businesses... you name it!

A digitised copy of a manuscript is a very convenient medium to work on, especially if you are unable to visit the library in person and order an original item up to a reading room. But there are so many other uses for digitised items! Come along to one of the BL Labs Roadshows at a University department near you and find out more about the methods used by researchers in Digital Scholarship, from data-mining and crowd sourcing to optical character recognition for transcribing the words from an imaged page into searchable text. 

At each of the roadshow events, there will be speakers from the host institution describing some of the research projects they have already completed using digitised materials, as well as members of the British Library who will be able to talk with you about proposed research plans involving digitised resources. 

The locations of this year's roadshows are: 

Mon 9th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (Open University) - internal event

Mon 26th March - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (CityLIS) - internal event

Thu 12th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Bristol & Cardiff Digital Cultures Network)

Tue 24th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (UCL)

Wed 25th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Kent)

Wed 2nd May - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Edinburgh)

Tue 15th May - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Wolverhampton)

Wed 16th May - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Lincoln)

Tue 5th June - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Leeds)

  BL Labs Roadshows 2018
See a full programme and book your place using the Eventbrite page for each event.

If you want to discover more about the Digital Collections, and Digital Scholarship at the British Library, follow us on Twitter @BL_Labs, read our Blog Posts, and get in touch with BL Labs if you have some burning research questions!

12 April 2018

The 2018 BL Labs Awards: enter before midnight Thursday 11th October!

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With six months to go before the submission deadline, we would like to announce the 2018 British Library Labs Awards!

The BL Labs Awards are a way of formally recognising outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and data.

Have you been working on a project that uses digitised material from the British Library's collections? If so, we'd like to encourage you to enter that project for an award in one of our categories.

This year, BL Labs is awarding prizes for a winner and a runner up in four key areas:

  • Research - A project or activity which shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Commercial - An activity that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the Library's digital content.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour which inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Teaching / Learning - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.

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BL Labs Awards 2018 Winners (Top-Left- Research Award Winner – A large-scale comparison of world music corpora with computational tools , Top-Right (Commercial Award Winner – Movable Type: The Card Game), Bottom-Left(Artistic Award Winner – Imaginary Cities) and Bottom-Right (Teaching / Learning Award Winner – Vittoria’s World of Stories)

There is also a Staff award which recognises a project completed by a staff member or team, with the winner and runner up being announced at the Symposium along with the other award winners.

The closing date for entering your work for the 2018 round of BL Labs Awards is midnight BST on Thursday 11th October (2018). Please submit your entry and/or help us spread the word to all interested and relevant parties over the next few months. This will ensure we have another year of fantastic digital-based projects highlighted by the Awards!

Read more about the Awards (FAQs, Terms & Conditions etc), practice your application with this text version, and then submit your entry online!

The entries will be shortlisted after the submission deadline (11/10/2018) has passed, and selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Friday 26th October 2018. 

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 to the runner up in each of the Awards categories at the BL Labs Symposium on 12th November 2018 at the British Library, St Pancras, London.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up from the last three years has resulted in a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. You can read about some of last year's Awards winners and runners up in our other blogs, links below:

BLAwards2018-Staff
British Library Labs Staff Award Winner – Two Centuries of Indian Print

To act as a source of inspiration for future awards entrants, all entries submitted for awards in previous years can be browsed in our online Awards archive.

For any further information about BL Labs or our Awards, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

22 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Picturing Canada and Interactive Map (Staff Award Runner Up)

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Putting collection metadata on the map: Picturing Canada

The Picturing Canada project began in 2012 as a British Library, Eccles Centre and Wikimedia UK collaboration to digitise a collection and experiment with releasing high quality reproductions of collection items into the public domain. At its heart the project sought to open up an under-used collection of photographs, connecting them with new audiences and uses outside of the walls of the British Library. It also provided a template for the Library’s subsequent public domain releases and has been provided many around with an insight into the depth of the Library’s Canadian collections.

Before the collection could be released it needed to be digitised and robust metadata created. Fortunately the Library had a good working batch of metadata created off the back of work done by researchers from Dalhousie University in the 1980s. The initial use of this to the project was clear but in digitising the images and putting them and the metadata online something became apparent; most images had some sort of information (be it a title or a photographer’s studio address) that could be used to determine a geographical location for the images.

At the time, this realisation was parked for future investigation but the 2015 exhibition, ‘Canada Through the Lens’, drawing off the same digitised collection, opened up an opportunity to try and use this information to map the collection and generate new insights into its contents. Much of the coordinate determination and mapping was done by Joan Francis, co-awardee of the BL Labs runner-up prize, who worked to find and add coordinates for the photographs. This was a relatively simple but time-consuming process involving finding locations in the metadata image title or, in the case of a photographer’s studio address, on the photograph itself. These text-based locations were then converted into co-ordinates compatible with Google Fusion Tables (there’s an excellent tutorial here) and added to records for each image.

 

The result of this is the map that you see above, a series of points which can be clicked on to see a partial metadata record for the item as well as a link to the photograph itself on Wikipedia Commons. As the work is time-consuming and fraught with potential error we have still only worked to a robust mapping of about four fifths of the collection and this is the work you see here. Interestingly, map is not just a useful finding aid – although it performs this function very well.

Mapping the collection also provides insight into the geography of photographic production in Canada during the period this collection was created (1895 – 1923). It is clear, for instance, how significant the eastern metropolitan areas of Toronto, Montreal and Quebec are to Canada’s photographic production in this period. Similarly, the corridors of production seen running close to the Canada-US border and occasionally spurring north also suggest the significance of the railroad to Canada’s photographic economy. So the map helps users to find images but also offers more questions; an exciting prospect for continued work.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Philip Hatfield and Joan Francis

Submit a project for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.

29 January 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Face Swap, Artistic Award Runner Up

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Blog post by Tristan Roddis, Director of web development at Cogapp.

The genesis of this entry to the BL Labs awards 2017 (Artistic Award Runner up) can be traced back to an internal Cogapp hackathon back in July. Then I paired up with my colleague Jon White to create a system that was to be known as “the eyes have it”: the plan was to show the users webcam with two boxes for eyes overlaid, and they would have to move their face into position, whereupon the whole picture would morph into a portrait painting that had their eyes in the same locations.

So we set to work using OpenCV and Python to detect faces and eyes in both live video and a library of portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.

We quickly realised that this wasn’t going to work:

Green rectangles are what OpenCV think are eyes. I have too many. 
Green rectangles are what OpenCV think are eyes. I have too many. 

It turns out that eye detection is a bit too erratic, so we changed tack and only considered the whole face instead. I created a Python script to strip out the coordinates for faces from the portraits we had to hand, and another that would do the same for an individual frame from the webcam video sent from the browser to Python using websockets. Once we had both of these coordinates, the Python script sent the data back to the web front end, where Jon used the HTML <canvas> element to overlay the cropped portrait face exactly over the detected webcam face. As soon as we saw this in action, we realized we’d made something interesting and amusing!

image from media.giphy.com

And that was it for the first round of development. By the end of the day we had a rudimentary system that could successfully overlay faces on video. You can read more about that project on the Cogapp blog, or see the final raw output in this video:

A couple of months later, we heard about the British Library Labs Awards, and thought we should re-purpose this fledgling system to create something worth entering.

The first task was to swap out the source images for some from the British Library. Fortunately, the million public domain images that they published on Flickr contain 6,948 that have been tagged as “people”. So it was a simple matter to use a Flickr module for Python to download a few hundred of these and extract the face coordinates as before.

Once that was done, I roped in another colleague, Neil Hawkins, to help me add some improvements to the front-end display. In particular:

  • Handling more than one face in shot
  • Displaying the title of the work
  • Displaying a thumbnail image of the full source image

And that was it! The final result can be seen in the video below of us testing it in and around our office. We also plugged in a laptop running the system to a large monitor in the BL conference centre so that BL Labs Symposium delegates could experience it first-hand.

If you want to know more about this, please get in touch! Tristan Roddis tristanr@cogapp.com

A clip of Tristan receiving the Award is below (starts at 8:42 and finishes at 14:10)

 

19 January 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Imaginary Cities by Michael Takeo Magruder - Artistic Award Winner

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Artist Michael Takeo Magruder has been working with the British Library's digitised collections to produce stunning and thought-provoking artworks for his project, Imaginary Cities. This is an Arts-meets-Humanities research project exploring how large digital repositories of historical cultural materials can be used to create new born-digital artworks and real-time experiences which are relevant and exciting to 21st century audiences.

The project uses images - and the associated metadata - of pre-20th century urban maps drawn from the British Library’s online 1 Million Images from Scanned Books collection on Flickr Commons, and transformed this material into provocative fictional cityscapes. 

Michael was unable to attend the fifth annual British Library Labs Symposium in person, but gave a presentation about his work virtually which you can see here in this video:

Michael was also announced as the winner of the BL Labs Artistic Award 2017 and here is a short clip of him receiving his award via Skype:

(Michael's award is announced at 14 minutes and 30 seconds in to the video.)

If you are inspired to create something with the British Library's collections, find out more on the British Library Labs Awards pages. The deadline this year is midnight BST 11th October 2018. The winners will be announced at our sixth BL Labs symposium on Monday 12 November, 2018.

Posted by BL Labs.

 

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.