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

20 September 2022

Learn more about Living with Machines at events this autumn

Digital Curator, and Living with Machines Co-Investigator Dr Mia Ridge writes…

The Living with Machines research project is a collaboration between the British Library, The Alan Turing Institute and various partner universities. Our free exhibition at Leeds City Museum, Living with Machines: Human stories from the industrial age, opened at the end of July. Read on for information about adult events around the exhibition…

AI evening panels and workshop, September 2022

We’ve put together some great panels with expert speakers guaranteed to get you thinking about the impact of AI with their thought-provoking examples and questions. You'll have a chance to ask your own questions in the Q&A, and to mingle with other attendees over drinks.

We’ve also collaborated with AI Tech North to offer an exclusive workshop looking at the practical aspects of ethics in AI. If you’re using or considering AI-based services or tools, this might be for you. Our events are also part of the jam-packed programme of the Leeds Digital Festival #LeedsDigi22, where we’re in great company.

The role of AI in Creative and Cultural Industries

Thu, Sep 22, 17:30 – 19:45 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-role-of-ai-in-creative-and-cultural-industries-tickets-395003043737

How will AI change what we wear, the TV and films we watch, what we read? 

Join our fabulous Chair Zillah Watson (independent consultant, ex-BBC) and panellists Rebecca O’Higgins (Founder KI-AH-NA), Laura Ellis (Head of Technology Forecasting, BBC) and Maja Maricevic, (Head of Higher Education and Science, British Library) for an evening that'll help you understand the future of these industries for audiences and professionals alike. 

Maja's written a blog post on The role of AI in creative and cultural industries with more background on this event.

 

Workshop: Developing ethical and fair AI for society and business

Thu, Sep 29, 13:30 - 17:00 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/workshop-developing-ethical-and-fair-ai-for-society-and-business-tickets-400345623537

 

Panel: Developing ethical and fair AI for society and business

Thu, Sep 29, 17:30 – 19:45 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/panel-developing-ethical-and-fair-ai-for-society-and-business-tickets-395020706567

AI is coming, so how do we live and work with it? What can we all do to develop ethical approaches to AI to help ensure a more equal and just society? 

Our expert Chair, Timandra Harkness, and panellists Sherin Mathew (Founder & CEO of AI Tech UK), Robbie Stamp (author and CEO at Bioss International), Keely Crockett (Professor in Computational Intelligence, Manchester Metropolitan University) and Andrew Dyson (Global Co-Chair of DLA Piper’s Data Protection, Privacy and Security Group) will present a range of perspectives on this important topic.

 

Wikipedia editathon and Museum Late, October 6, 2022

We've put two events on the one day so that you can combine them into one awesome experience - or just come along to one!

Living with Machines Wikithon

Thu, October 6, 13:00 – 16:30 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required: https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/19104.

Ever wanted to try editing Wikipedia, but haven't known where to start? Join us for a session with our brilliant Wikipedian-in-residence to help improve Wikipedia’s coverage of local lives and topics at an editathon themed around our exhibition. 

Everyone is welcome! You won’t require any previous Wiki experience but please bring your own laptop for this event. Find out more, including how you can prepare, in my blog post on the Living with Machines site, Help fill gaps in Wikipedia: our Leeds editathon.

 

Museum Lates

Thu, October 6, 18:00 BST

Leeds City Museum • £5 and booking required https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/19101

See our exhibition while enjoying a range of activities, including some we've repeated from the family / school holidays programme because they sounded so fun we wanted to try them ourselves. Highlights include:

  • Leeds-based folk singers bringing historical protest songs from the Library's collections of ballads to life
  • Weaving demonstrations on a dobby loom by local textile artist, Agnis Smallwood
  • Weaving kits to try your hand at and take home
  • Lego robotics workshops
  • Pub quiz and plant workshops

Lwm800x400

16 August 2022

#WikiLibCon22: An International Experience

It was with a little bit of apprehension that I made my way to Ireland, in late July. After two years of limited travel, and international restrictions, it felt strange to be standing in line at an airport, passport in hand, on my way to an in-person conference. Mixed in with the nervousness, however, was excitement. I was on my way to the first ever Wikimedia + Libraries Convention, hosted at Maynooth University. I’m happy to report that it was a fantastic event and worth every minute of travel nerves.

Logo for Wikimedia and Libraries Convention.
Logo for Wikimedia and Libraries Convention. Image credit: Bridges2Information, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of hard work and inspiration had gone into making this event happen: with just three months to prepare, the organising committee outdid themselves at every turn. Laurie Bridges (Oregon State), Dr Rebecca O’Neill (Wikimedia Community Ireland), Dr Núria Ferran Ferrer (University of Barcelona) and Wikimedian of the Year 2022, Dr Nkem Osuigwe, arranged a weekend packed with fascinating talks, wonderful networking opportunities, and even some traditional Irish dancing. (Thankfully, the participants were observing this part!)

For me, the highlight of the weekend was meeting such a broad community of Wikimedians and library specialists. Having started my post remotely, the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world, in person, felt too good to be true, but as this photo demonstrates, it really did happen.

Group photo of participants at WikiLibCon22, outside St Patrick's College, Maynooth.
Participants in front of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth by B20180, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I did a lot of tweeting over the weekend, trying to capture these excellent presentations. You can catch a lot of impressions and fun memories of the weekend over on Twitter using the #WikiLibCon22 hashtag.

There were many highlights over the course of the two days. The keynote presentation by Dr Nkem Osuigwe was outstanding. She spoke about ‘Wikimedia Through The Prism Of Critical Librarianship’. I could not possibly do justice to the depth of thought in this excellent piece, but certain observations and quotes stood out. Nkem described critical librarianship as 'seek[ing] to find out who is misrepresented, underrepresented or not even seen at all, [a system which] seeks to uphold the human rights of user communities; to find out inequities within the system'. This is a very powerful statement which really ties in with the Wikimedia aim of knowledge equity and global knowledge. As Nkem pointed out, we have over 6000 living languages, and between 1000 and 2000 in Africa alone. Wikipedia is now extant in over 300 languages, but this is a small percentage of the world at large.

Many things in Nkem’s presentation have stuck with me, and the proverb “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” is one of the strongest. It was a true privilege to hear Nkem speak, and to meet so many wonderful people from the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA).

Image of Nkem Osuigwe presenting at WikiLibCon
Dr Nkem Osuigwe, B20180, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Participants came from all over the world, and from all different areas of Wikipedia. Viral hit Annie Rauwerda, of the famous @depthsofwiki account, was there to talk about her work in outreach and exploring the engagement potential of social media, while public librarian and author Amber Morrell spoke about her experience using TikTok @storytimeamber to educate and entertain. Unfortunately, I could not attend all of these papers in person, as I was presenting with Satdeep Gill (Wikimedia Foundation) on the work that the British Library and Two Centuries of Indian Print have done on Wikisource and Bengali books.

Other standout talks included Felix Nartey of the Wikimedia Foundation giving the second day keynote on ‘Wikimedia and Libraries: Working Together To Build The Infrastructure For Free Knowledge’. I attended an excellent workshop on importing bibliographic data to Wikidata, run by Dr Ursula Oberst (Leiden), and an insightful reflective talk by Liam Wyatt (Wikimedia Foundation) and Alice Kibombo (Wikimedia Community User Group Uganda) on ‘Libraries and Wikimedia: Where Have We Come From and Where Are We Going?’. I wanted to say particular thanks to Alice, who chaired our panel on Wikimedians in Residence. I was really pleased to talk alongside Rachel Helps (Brigham Young) and Kim Gile (Kansas City Public Library), sharing our experiences of Residencies and the role of a Resident. In her presentation with Liam, Alice asked a crucial question of all participants: 'Are we equipped to lead the change we'd like to see?' That has stuck with me. I feel strongly that after an event like #WikiLibCon22, we are certainly on the right path.

NB: You can see some of the presentations on Commons, as well as images from the event.

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Dr Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian).

05 August 2022

Burmese Script Conversion using Aksharamukha

This blog post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She's on Twitter as @BL_AdiKS.

 

Curious about Myanmar (Burma)? Did you know that the British Library has a large collection of Burmese materials, including manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, early printed books, newspapers, periodicals, as well as current material?

You can search our main online catalogue Explore the British Library for printed material, or the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue for manuscripts. But, to increase chances of discovering printed resources, you will need to search the Explore catalogue by typing in the transliteration of the Burmese title and/or author using the Library of Congress romanisation rules. This means that searching for an item using the original Burmese script, or using what you would intuitively consider to be the romanised version of Burmese script, is not going to get you very far (not yet, anyway).

Excerpt from the Library of Congress romanisation scheme
Excerpt from the Library of Congress romanisation scheme

 

The reason for this is that this is how we catalogue Burmese collection items at the Library, following a policy to transliterate Burmese using the Library of Congress (LoC) rules. In theory, the benefit of this system specifically for Burmese is that it enables a two-way transliteration, i.e. the romanisation could be precisely reversed to give the Burmese script. However, a major issue arises from this romanisation system: romanised versions of Burmese script are so far removed from their phonetic renderings, that most Burmese speakers are completely unable to recognise any Burmese words.

With the LoC scheme being unintuitive for Burmese speakers, not reflecting the spoken language, British Library catalogue records for Burmese printed materials end up virtually inaccessible to users. And we’re not alone with this problem – other libraries worldwide holding Burmese collections and using the LoC romanisation scheme, face the same issues.

The Buddha at Vesali in a Burmese manuscript, from the Henry Burney collection. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 1
The Buddha at Vesali in a Burmese manuscript, from the Henry Burney collection. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 1

 

One useful solution to this could be to find or develop a tool that converts the LoC romanisation output into Burmese script, and vice versa – similar to how you would use Google Translate. Maria Kekki, our Curator for Burmese collections, have discovered the online tool Aksharamukha, which aims to facilitate conversion between various scripts – also referred to as transliteration (transliteration into Roman alphabet is particularly referred to as romanisation). It supports 120 scripts and 21 romanisation methods, and luckily, Burmese is one of them.

Aksharamukha: Script Converter screenshot
Aksharamukha: Script Converter screenshot

 

Using Aksharamukha has already been of great help to Maria. Instead of painstakingly converting Burmese script manually into its romanised version, she could now copy-paste the conversion and make any necessary adjustments. She also noticed making fewer errors this way! However, it was missing one important thing – the ability to directly transliterate Burmese script specifically using the LoC romanisation system.

Such functionality would not only save our curatorial and acquisitions staff a significant amount of time – but also help any other libraries holding Burmese collections and following the LoC guidelines. This would also allow Burmese speakers to find material in the library catalogue much more easily – readers will also use this platform to find items in our collection, as well as other collections around the world.

To this end, Maria got in touch with the developer of Aksharamukha, Vinodh Rajan – a computer scientist who is also an expert in writing systems, languages and digital humanities. Vinodh was happy to implement two things: (1) add the LoC romanisation scheme as one of the transliteration options, and (2) add spaces in between words (when it comes to spacing, according to the LoC romanisation system, there are different rules for words of Pali and English origin, which are written together).

Vinodh demonstrating the new Aksharamukha functionality, June 2022
Vinodh demonstrating the new Aksharamukha functionality, June 2022

 

Last month (July 2022) Vinodh implemented the new system, and what we can say, the result is just fantastic! Readers are now able to copy-paste transliterated text into the Library’s catalogue search box, to see if we hold items of interest. It is also a significant improvement for cataloguing and acquisition processes, being able to create acquisitions records and minimal records. As a next step, we will look into updating all of our Burmese catalogue records to include Burmese script (alongside transliteration), and consider a similar course of action for other South or Southeast Asian scripts.

I should mention that as a bonus, Aksharamukha’s codebase is fully open source, is available on GitHub and is well documented. If you have feedback or notice any bugs, please feel free to raise an issue on GitHub. Thank you, Vinodh, for making this happen!