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

11 June 2021

Libraries & Museums & Archives (Oh My!)

Folks interested in creative reuse of digitised sound recordings, may want to come along to the "Libraries & Museums & Archives (Oh My!)" online conference this Saturday (12th June 2021), organised by The Folklore Library & Archive. Where Cheryl Tipp, the British Library's Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds and I will give a talk on how the Library’s sound archive has been innovatively used to create atmospheric soundscapes both in the virtual landscapes of videogames, and for physical sites of archaeological interest, such as Creswell Crags Museum and Visitor Centre. Plus how the Wildlife and Environmental Sounds collection has been interpreted in other artistic projects, including visualisations by Andy Thomas, and some delightful needlework by textile artist Cat Frampton.

Folklore Library and Archive logo with an open book and a wax seal
The Folklore Library & Archive artwork by Rhi Wynter

In our presentation we'll mention entries in the Off the Map competition, such as Midsummer by Tom Battey. Submissions to the recent Games in the Woods game jam for the Urban Tree Festival, such as Noisy Wood by Ash Green.

Also the fantastic Faint Signals by Invisible Flock, an interactive virtual woodland sound experience, which has been featured recently by Europeana Pro in an article on Seven tips for digital storytelling with cultural heritage, and in this BBC Culture story about The sounds that make us calmer.

Screen image of Faint Signals abstract virtual woodland
Faint Signals by Invisible Flock

The conference will be held online via Zoom, with ticket money going towards the Folklore Library and Archive’s appeal to save the archive of the late folklorist Venetia Newall. Furthermore, all ticket holders will be able to access video replays of the talks after the event, go here for booking your place. There is a stellar line-up of speakers from other organisations, including:

  • Jim Peters, Collections manager (Dept of Prehistory and Europe) from the British Museum talking about his favourite objects from the collections.
  • Alexandra Stockdale-Haley from the National Science and Media Museum, talking about The Cottingley Fairy artefacts and their role in the modern day.
  • Librarians from Senate House Library giving a presentation on The Harry Price Library of Magical Literature.
  • Geraldine Beskin, owner of the Atlantis Bookshop talking about Ghosts of the Theatre.
  • Rachel Morris, co-founder of Metaphor Museum Designers, speaking about the role of the archive in Museums and how to interpret it.
  • Peter Hewitt, founder of the Folklore Museums Network talking about their work bringing museums together.
  • Clare Smith, Historical Collections Curator from the Metropolitan Police Museum giving a talk on The Crime Museum fact vs fiction, and other police artifacts.
  • Lucy Gibbon, Acting Senior Archivist from Orkney Library & Archive will round off the event with stories from the Orkney Archives.

 We hope to see you there! Do follow #folklorelibrary for twitter chat during the conference.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

02 June 2021

Triangulating Bermuda, Detroit and William Wallace

Last Monday I began a work placement with the British Library working with its Wikimedian-in-Residence, Dr Lucy Hinnie, to add information and text from the India Office Records to Wikisource and Wikidata.

My first day mainly consisted of a several different meetings. I was introduced to the team dealing with the India Office Records, which really helped me to get a better sense of the importance of the project and its key objectives. I then attended a metadata workshop (metadata is, generally speaking, data about data, e.g. the author of a book, the time a photo was taken etc). This introduced me to the British Library’s current metadata practices and will be very useful when I begin to upload data to Wikidata in ensuring it is as useful as possible. Finally, I attended a meeting with the curators of the Contemporary British collections, which gave me an overview of the range of the Library’s activities online, its current and future exhibitions and its holdings.

On my second day, I finished my basic Wikipedia training and moved on to getting fully registered, which is needed if you want to add new pages to Wikipedia. This requires 10 edits to existing Wikipedia pages. The fastest way to do this was by completing Citation Hunt, according to Dr Hinnie. What she did not mention was Citation Hunt is roughly what would happen if the British Library catalogue and the Easter Bunny came together to plan an Easter egg hunt in St Pancras.

Screen grab showing the interface for Citation Hunt
Screenshot of Citation Hunt

Citation Hunt gives a random passage of Wikipedia in need of citation and you can either add a citation or skip to another. As you might imagine, these pages are completely unrelated to one another. As such, Citation Hunt had me trawling the internet for such delights as:

• Proof that William Wallace appeared in Age of Empires II. Unfortunately, ‘I remember that bit from when I played’ does not meet Wikipedia’s reliable source guidelines. (William Wallace - Wikipedia)

• A discussion of the OECD ‘Acquis Communautaire.’ (Acquis communautaire - Wikipedia)

• The amount of RAM of in an Atari 1040ST, even though that computer is well and truly before my time. (Atari ST - Wikipedia)

• Evidence that Bill Gates invested in a particular company. (Bill Gates - Wikipedia)

I also found myself lost in the Bermudan Economy (Economy of Bermuda - Wikipedia) and growing into researching commercial agriculture (Ethylene - Wikipedia). Most surreal of all was adding directions from Google Maps for the relative locations of two places in Detroit. (Detroit - Wikipedia) I have never been to Detroit…

Ending my first week, I attended a meeting of the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team. It was really interesting to hear about all the different digital initiatives going on, both within the BL and in partnership with other organisations.

This week, I'm having further training on the tools I will need to use for this project and then, for the remaining four weeks of the placement, I will be uploading and enriching data from the India Office Records.

I look forward to updating you soon on the progress I make!

This is a guest post by UCL Digital Humanities MA student Dominic Kane.

26 May 2021

Endangered Archives and Notable Women

At the beginning of this month, I began a work placement with the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). The EAP hosted a group of University College London students for several projects, and I was working to further connect EAP collections with Wikimedia. We were able to tailor the project to our interests, which meant that I was able to spend my placement researching and writing about two pioneering women photographers, Marie-Lydie Bonfils (EAP644) and Annemarie Heinrich (EAP755).

Creating a Wikipedia article

I began with Marie-Lydie Bonfils (1837–1918), an early woman photographer and co-owner of the Maison Bonfils studio in Beirut. The Bonfils family archive was digitised in a 2013 project between the EAP and the Jafet Memorial Library, American University of Beirut, and the physical archive is currently preserved at the Sursock Museum.

Perhaps unsurprisingly to those interested in women’s history, while her husband, Félix Bonfils, already had his own Wikipedia article, Marie-Lydie did not. So, I created a new article for her, adding to Félix’s along the way as well. I worked from as many biographical sources as I could possibly access online, including the excellent EAP blog post on Marie-Lydie.

Image of Marie-Lydie Cabanis Bonfils Wikipedia entry
Marie-Lydie Cabanis Bonfils' Wikipedia entry

Wikipedia’s notability criteria were a concern for me when publishing. Topics on Wikipedia must be considered “notable” to avoid needless and self-promotional content. This can have the unintended consequence of noteworthy articles being removed if they are not able to demonstrate their significance to other users. Balancing the objective language of Wikipedia with the need to persuade others of Marie-Lydie’s importance was something I had to be careful of when writing the text.

Once published, the article was given a C rating, which shows room for improvement and expansion. As I was waiting in suspense to see if the article would be removed entirely, a C was really quite exciting! Wikipedia articles are ongoing, collaborative projects rather than the completed essays that I am more used to in my studies. This has encouraged me to have a different and more productive mindset about my work more broadly.

Editing a Wikipedia article

Next, I began to look into Annemarie Heinrich (1912–2005). A German photographer who lived most of her life in Argentina, Heinrich was particularly famous for her celebrity portraits, such as those of Carmen Miranda, Pablo Neruda and Eva Perón. Her archive was added to the EAP collections in 2016, in a project with the Institute for Research in Art and Culture, Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, Argentina. I expanded upon Heinrich’s short existing Wikipedia article.

On beginning my research, I discovered that her article on Spanish Wikipedia was much more extensive. This provided a useful starting point for biographical information and tracking down additional citations (thank you GCSE Spanish!). Heinrich’s lack of recognition on the English-speaking web made research difficult, but also highlighted the importance of adding more information about her onto English Wikipedia.

Black and white image of Annemarie Heinrich
A portrait of Annemarie Heinrich, date unknown. Public Domain.

Wrapping my head around Wikidata

I was also introduced to Wikidata on my placement, another of Wikimedia’s projects consisting of open linked data and a completely unknown field to me. On the placement, we were able to attend the IFLA Wikidata and Wikibase Working Group office hour. The thought-provoking whistle-stop tour of the platform that we were given in this meeting had me creating an account immediately after closing the Zoom call tab.

Image of the Wikidata logo
Wikidata logo, Public Domain.,

As expected due to their Wikipedia articles, Félix Bonfils and Annemarie Heinrich had Wikidata item entries already, but so did Marie-Lydie, their son, Adrien, and Maison Bonfils. This is likely because of the generally less intensive notability criteria on Wikidata.

I did have a few challenges with Wikidata over my second week. One arose when I tried to add the EAP to the Bonfils’ items. Adrien Bonfils had an existing property for “has works in the collection”, with museums and galleries listed, so I added the EAP to this section. However, on looking at a similar artist’s item entry, I found that there is also a property for “archives at” that might better apply.

Image of a Wikidata entry about the Bonfils Collection
Wikidata entry for the Bonfils Collection

Seeing this, I not only realised that I might have used the wrong category, but also that there might be others that were more relevant that I just hadn’t seen yet! Being able to search for each qualifier allows for a flexible and tailored user experience but, for a newbie, the amount of choice can be a bit overwhelming! The upside is that Wikidata is quite forgiving, with changes easily made and explanatory symbols popping up when the system recognises a mistake (as can be seen in the image below).

Image of amended Wikidata entry for the Bonfils Collection
Amended Wikidata entry for the Bonfils Collection on Wikidata

To sum up, researching the lives and careers of these women photographers from the EAP collections has been fascinating. It has been so rewarding to help to increase their online discoverability, and that of the EAP.

Working remotely, this placement was bound to be unusual in some ways, but the BL team was really welcoming and encouraged us all to ask lots of questions (which I absolutely did!). I have learnt a lot about Wikimedia in these few weeks and I will definitely continue exploring and making edits in the future.

This is a guest post by UCL Archives and Records Management MA student and recent Wiki convert, Hope Lowther (@hopelowther)