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

28 February 2024

Safeguarding Tomorrow: The Impact of AI on Media and Information Industries

The British Library has joined forces with the Guardian to hold a summit on the complex policy impacts of AI on media and information industries. The summit, chaired by broadcaster and author Timandra Harkness, brings together politicians, policy makers, industry leaders, artists and academics to shed light on key issues facing the media, newspapers, broadcasting, library and publishing industries in the age of AI. The summit is on Monday 11 March 2024 14:00 - 17:20; networking reception 17:30 - 19:00 GMT; the ticket link is below.

Lucy Crompton-Reid, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK; Sara Lloyd, Group Communications Director & Global AI Lead at Pan Macmillan and Matt Rogerson from the Guardian will tackle the issue of copyright in the age of algorithms.

Novelist Tahmima Anam; Greg Clark MP, Chair Science & Technology Committee; Chris Moran from the Guardian and Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library will discuss the issue of AI generated misinformation and bias.

 

A conference panel on stage with an audience in raked seating
Data Debate event at the British Library chaired by Timandra Harkness

AI is rapidly changing the world as we know it, and the media and information industries are no exception. AI-powered technologies are already being used to automate tasks, create personalised content, and deliver targeted advertising. In the process AI is quickly becoming both a friend and a foe. People can use AI to flood the online environment with misinformation, creating significant worries, for example, around how deep fakes, and AI personalised and targeted content could influence democratic processes. At the same time, AI could become a key tool to combat misinformation by identifying fake news articles and social media posts.

Many creators of content - from the organisations creating and publishing content, to individual authors, artists and actors - are worried that their copyright has been infringed by AI and we have already seen a flurry of legal action, mostly in the United States. At the same time, many artists are embracing AI as a part of their creative process. The recent British Library exhibition on Digital Storytelling explored the ways technology provides new opportunities to transform and enhance the way writers write and readers engage, including interactive works that invite and respond to user input, and reading experiences influenced by data feeds.

And it is not only in the world of news that there is a danger of AI misinformation. In science, where AI is revolutionising many areas of research from helping us discover new drugs to aiding research on complexities of climate change, we are, at the same time, encountering the issue of fake, AI generated scientific articles. For libraries, AI holds the future promise of improving discovery and access to information, which would help library users to find relevant information quickly. Yet, AI is also introducing significant new challenges when it comes to understanding the provenance of information sources, especially in making the public aware if the information has been created or selected by algorithms rather than human beings.

How will we know - and will we care - if our future newspapers, television programmes and library enquiries are mediated and delivered by AI? Or if the content we are consuming is a machine rather than a human creation? We are used to making judgements about people and organisations that we trust on the basis of how we perceive their professional integrity, political leanings, their stance on the issues that we care about, or just likability and charisma of the individual in front of us. How will we make similar judgments about an algorithm and its inherent bias? And how will we govern and manage this new AI-powered environment?

Governmental regulation of AI is under development in the UK, the US, the EU and elsewhere. At the beginning of February 2024 the UK government released its response to the UK AI Regulation White Paper, signaling the continuation of ‘agile’ AI regulation in the UK, which attempts to balance innovation and economic benefits of AI while also giving greater responsibility related to AI to existing regulators. The government’s response also reserves an option for more binding regulation in the future. For some, such as tech companies investing in AI products, this creates uncertainty for their future business models. For others, especially many in the creative industries and artists affected by AI, there is a disappointment due to the absence of regulations in relation to AI being trained by using content under copyright.

Inevitably, as AI further develops and becomes more prevalent, the issues of its regulation and adoption in the society will continue to evolve. AI will continue to challenge the ways in which we understand creators’ rights, individual and corporate governance and management of information, and the ways in which we acquire knowledge, trust different information sources, and form our opinions on what to buy to who to vote for.

Join us to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead. You can book your place on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/safeguarding-tomorrow-the-impact-of-ai-in-media-information-industries-tickets-814482728767?aff=oddtdtcreator.

18 October 2023

Join the British Library as a Digital Curator, OCR/HTR

In this post, Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, shares some background information on how the new post advertised for a Digital Curator for OCR/HTR will help the Library streamline post-digitisation work to make its collections even more accessible to users.

 

We’ve been digitising our collections for almost three decades, opening up access to incredibly diverse and rich collections, for our users to study and enjoy. However, it is important that we further support discovery and digital research by unlocking the huge potential in automatically transcribing our collections!

We’ve done some work over the years towards making our collection items available in machine-readable format, in order to enable full-text search and analysis. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology has been around for a while, and there are several large-scale projects that produced OCRed text alongside digitised images – such as the Microsoft Books project. Until recently, Western languages print collections have been the main focus, especially newspaper collections. A flagship collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, the Living with Machines project, applied OCR technology to UK newspapers, designing and implementing new methods in data science and artificial intelligence, and analysing these materials at scale.

OCR of Bengali books using Transkribus, Two Centuries of Indian Print Project
OCR of Bengali books using Transkribus, Two Centuries of Indian Print Project

 

Machine Learning technologies have been dealing increasingly well with both modern and historical collections, whether printed, typewritten or handwritten. Taking a broader perspective on Library collections, we have been exploring opportunities with non-Western collections too. Library staff have been engaging closely with the exploration of OCR and Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) systems for EnglishBangla and Arabic. Digital Curators Tom Derrick, Nora McGregor and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert have teamed up with PRImA Research Lab and the Alan Turing Institute to run four competitions in 2017-2019, inviting providers of text recognition methods to try them out on our historical material.

We have been working with Transkribus as well – for example, Alex Hailey, Curator for Modern Archives and Manuscripts, used the software to automatically transcribe 19th century botanical records from the India Office Records. A digital humanities work strand led by former colleague Tom Derrick saw the OCR of most of our digitised collection of Bengali printed texts, digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project. More recently Transkribus has been used to extract text from catalogue cards in a project called Convert-a-Card, as well as from Incunabula print catalogues.

An example of a catalogue card in Transkribus, showing segmentation and transcription
An example of a catalogue card in Transkribus, showing segmentation and transcription

 

The British Library is now looking for someone to join us to further improve the access and usability of our digital collections, by integrating a standardised OCR and HTR production process into our existing workflows, in line with industry best practice.

For more information and to apply please visit the British Library recruitment site and look for the Digital Curator for OCR/HTR position. Applications close on Sunday 5 November 2023. Please pay close attention to questions asked in the application process. Any questions? Drop us a line at [email protected].

Good luck!

 

09 October 2023

Strike a Pose Steampunk style! For our Late event with Clockwork Watch on Friday 13th October

This Friday (13th October) the British Library invites you to join the world of Clockwork Watch by Yomi Ayeni, a participatory storytelling project, set in a fantastical retro-futurist vision of Victorian England, with floating cities and sky pirates, which is one of the showcased narratives in our Digital Storytelling exhibition.

Flyer with text saying Late at the Library, Digital Steampunk at the British Library, London. Friday 13 October, 19:30 – 22:30

We are delighted that Dark Box Images will be bringing their portable darkroom to the Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event and taking portrait photographs. If this appeals to you, then please arrive early to have your picture taken. Photographer Gregg McNeill is an expert in the wet plate collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. Gregg’s skill in using an authentic Victorian camera creates genuinely remarkable results that appear right in front of your eyes.

Black and white photograph of a woman wearing an elaborate outfit and a mask with her arms outstretched wide with fabric like wings
Wet plate collodion photograph of Jennifer Garside of Wyte Phantom corsetry, taken by Gregg McNeill of Dark Box Images

If you want to pose for the camera at our steampunk Late, or have a portrait drawn by artist Doctor Geof, please don’t be shy, this is an event where guests are encouraged to dress to impress! The aesthetic of steampunk fashion is inspired by Victoriana and 19th Century literature, including Jules Verne’s novels and the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Steampunk looks can include hats and googles, tweed tailoring, waistcoats, corsets, fob watches and fans. Whatever your personal style, we encourage you to unleash your creativity when putting together an outfit for this event.

Furthermore, whether you are seeking a new look or some finishing touches, there will be an opportunity to browse a Night Market at this Late event, where you can purchase and admire a range of exquisite hand crafted items created by:

  • Jema Hewitt, a professional costumer and academic, will be bringing some of her unique, handmade jewellery and accessories to the Library Late event. She was one of the originators of the early artistic steampunk scene in the UK, subsequently exhibiting her costume work internationally, and having three how-to-make books published as her alter ego “Emilly Ladybird”. Jema currently specialises as a pattern cutter for film, theatre and TV, as well as lecturing and teaching workshops.
Photograph of jewellery, hats and clothing
Jewellery, hats and clothing created by Jema Hewitt/Emilly Ladybird
  • Doctor Geof, an artist, scientist, comics creator and maker of whimsical objects. His work is often satirical, usually with an historical twist, and features tea, goblins, krakens, steampunk, smut, nuns, bees, cats and more tea. Since 2004 you may have encountered him selling his comics, prints, cards, mugs, pins, and for some reason a lot of embroidered badges (including an Evil Librarian patch!) at various events. As one of the foremost Steampunk artists in the UK, Doctor Geof has worked with and exhibited at the Cutty Sark, Royal Museums Greenwich, and Discovery Museum Newcastle. He is a talented portrait artist, so please seek him out if you would like him to capture your likeness in ink and watercolour.
A round embroidered patch with a cartoon figure wearing goggles and carrying books. Text says "Evil Librarian"
Evil Librarian embroidered patch by Dr Geof

  • Jennifer Garside, a seamstress specialising in modern corsetry, which takes inspiration from historical styles. Her business, Wyte Phantom, opened in 2010, and she has made costumes for opera singers, performers and artists across the world.

  • Tracy Wells, a couture milliner based in the Lake District. She creates all kinds of hats and headpieces, often collaborating with other artists to explore new styles, concepts and genres.
Photograph of a woman wearing a steampunk hat with feathers
Millinery by Tracy Wells
  • Herr Döktor, a renowned inventor, gadgeteer, and contraptionist, who has been working in his Laboratory in the Surrey Hills for the last two decades, building a better future via the prism of history. He will be bringing a small selection of his inventions and scale models of his larger ideas. (His alter ego, Ian Crichton, is a professional model maker with thirty years experience as a toy prototype maker, museum and exhibition designer, and, most recently, building props and models for the film industry, he also lives in the Surrey Hills). 
Photograph of a man wearing a top hat and carrying a model submarine
Herr Döktor, inventor, gadgeteer, and contraptionist. Photograph by Adam Stait
  • Linette Withers established Anachronalia in 2012 to be a full-time bookbinder, producing historically-inspired books, miniature books, and quirky stationery. Her work has been shortlisted for display at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford as part of their ‘Redesigning the Medieval Book’ competition and exhibition in 2018 and one of her books is held in the permanent collection of The Lit & Phil in Newcastle after being part of an exhibition of bookbinding in 2021. She also teaches bookbinding in her studio in Leeds.

  • Heather Hayden of Diamante Queen Designs creates handmade vintage inspired, kitsch, macabre, noir accessories for everybody to wear and enjoy. Heather studied fashion and surface pattern design in the 80's near Leeds during the emergence of Gothic culture and has remained interested in the darker side of life ever since. She became fascinated with Steampunk after seeing Datamancer's Steampunk computer, loving the juxtaposition of new and old technology. This inspired her to make steampunk clothing and accessories using old and found items and upcycling as much as possible.
Photograph of a mannequin head wearing a headpiece with tassels, feathers, flowers and beads
Headpiece by Diamante Queen Designs
  • Matthew Chapman of Raphael's Workshop specialises in creating strange and sublime chainmail items, bringing ideas to life in metal that few would ever consider. From collars to corsets, serpents to squids, arms to armour and medals to masterpieces, you should visit his stall and see what creations spark the imagination.
Photograph of a table displaying a range of wearable items of chainmail jewellery and accessories
Chainmail jewellery and accessories created by Raphael's Workshop

We hope that this post has whetted your appetite for the delights available at the Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event on Friday 13th October at the British Library. Tickets can be booked here.