Digital scholarship blog

4 posts from February 2015

24 February 2015

Magna Carta: My Digital Rights Project

This is a guest post by Sarah Shaw, the Magna Carta: My Digital Rights Project Manager:

Have you ever wondered when enough is enough? When banter becomes cyberbullying or when protection descends into an invasion of privacy? We're asking students aged 11-18 from across the globe to consider these questions through our new online learning resource, Magna Carta: My Digital Rights.

The project was borne out of a discussion that has been going on for a few years now – do we need a Magna Carta for the internet? Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, certainly thinks that we do and his World Wide Web Foundation is campaigning for a bill of rights to protect the Web. Here at the British Library we’re also joining this conversation and celebrating the anniversary of not only the Web, aged 25 in 2014, but also Magna Carta (800 years young this year).

Our project will crowd-source a Magna Carta for the digital age, solely based on the opinions of young people – that generation of ‘digital natives’ who will be tasked with protecting the Web in the future, and who are charged with establishing their rights and responsibilities online. Through collaborations with the British Council, the World Wide Web Foundation and Southbank Centre we've brought this debate to life.

On our website you'll find 15 video scenarios that have been developed to get young people debating in the classroom. Each video poses a key question such as 'should access to the Web be a human right?' which students then debate with their peers. Each scenario has a supporting set of teachers' notes which feature helpful links, relevant legal notes and some prompt questions to encourage students to get to the heart of the discussion. Once the debate is done, the class submits their clause to our Magna Carta for the digital age.

And the most exciting bit? Well, the supporting videos and articles that we've produced feature some fantastic content, even if we say so ourselves: Shami Chakrabarti CBE of Liberty; Rachel Logan of Amnesty International UK; and Simon Phipps of the Open Source Initiative are just a few of the fantastic people that have contributed to the site. They really open up some of the wider debates around the Web and provide digestible information about the complexities of freedom, access and privacy online.

The resource has been really well received so far, and it was even featured on BBC Radio One's The Surgery this month as part of their week discussing internet safety.

So what next? Well, we want as many schools as possible to take part in these debates. In June 2015, we'll unveil our Magna Carta for the digital age – made up entirely of the clauses that young people have submitted. If you know a teacher or a student, please make them aware of this project and encourage them to have their say.

To find out more visit

If you want to discuss how you can use this resource in the classroom email us at [email protected]

Join the debate on Twitter #MyDigitalRights



20 February 2015

What would Library Carpentry look like?

Yesterday I posed a question on Twitter:

I asked the question because I attended a Software Carpentry bootcamp in 2013. Because I loved that bootcamp. Because I still value what I learnt over those two days. And because I realised - not immediately but sometime thereafter - that although I was made very welcome that my presence diluted the core purpose of Software Carpentry: to teach computational competence to scientists and that the more non-scientists entered the room, much as they were welcome, the more that purpose was diluted (I want to make it very clear that this is not a criticism of Software Carpentry. They do wonderful work. For more on Software Carpentry see Greg Wilson's excellent 'Software Carpentry: Lessons Learned').

Anyway, the fact that I attended a Software Carpentry bootcamp - and that many non-scientists have done the same - suggests there is an audience for the skills Software Carpentry teaches beyond scientific domains (that is, science in an Anglophonic sense).

To return to my question on Twitter, a bunch of generous library(ish) folks (Owen Stephens, Steph Taylor, Torsten Reimer, Cam Mcdonell, Mike Mertens) responded with thoughts, suggestions, and links: in the latter regard to Software Carpentry bootcamps aimed to librarians, to Data Science Training For Librarians, and to Mashed Library. My ensuing conversation with Owen Stephens best captures what I think Library Carpentry could be: much like Software Carpentry but with subtle emphases on what matters to library and information science folks (and with an eye perhaps on what matters to the research communities many serve), with core topics largely unchanged (so Unix command line, Python, Git, SQL, regular expressions - though Mcdonell, 2014 reports low demand for Git), and with the science specific material - R, MATLAB - replaced with library specific material such as 'a lesson based on processing a circulation card' (Mcdonell, 2014). This is not unlike how the British Library Digital Research team tailor topics covered in our internal Digital Scholarship Training Programme to the needs of the staff here at the British Library (for more on the programme, see British Library Digital Scholarship Training Programme: a round-up of resources you can use).

But - and it is a big but - those are just my thoughts on the matter. For something like Library Carpentry to be a thing it would need a community to define it, to grow it, and to love it. And for many reasons I feel poorly placed to 'coordinate' this defining, growing, loving, not least because I'm a bit of an imposter: a historian working in a library (though as Andromena Yelton remarked in her recent - and wonderful - Code4Lib Conference keynote, people working in libraries all have lives before they started working in libraries) whose technical skills are not deeply rooted or adaptive enough to deliver Software Carpentry style training.

What I do have, however, are some Software Sustainability Institute Fellowship funds earmarked for the task of exploring what Library Carpentry might look like. Hence my question and this post. I could use these funds to pay for my attendance at a series of events, to organise some training for myself, to sate my urge to travel. But I'm not going to. Instead I'm asking you to suggest how I might make best use of those funds. Should I run an event where a large community of librarians of various skill levels can contribute to building a blueprint for Library Carpentry? Should I pay transport costs to get a select group of awesome and well connected folks together to build a consortium and bid for philanthropic funds? Should I just use the money to just pay for trainers to train library folks with skills a la Software Carpentry? Or should I do something totally different?

Over to you.

James Baker

Curator, Digital Research



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18 February 2015

THATCamp British Library Labs

On 13 February the British Library hosted a THATCamp (or 'The Humanities and Technology Camp'), a participant-driven, unconference where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together in sessions pitched and voted on at the beginning of the day.

From ten initial proposals, seven sessions ran that covered topics including extracting intangible attributes from text, big data musicology, metadata visualisation, teaching visual sources, tools, collaboration, and experimenting with British Library data.


In the finest THATCamp spirit we didn't just talk but also made things, including a series of sample lesson plans for working with digital images using image analysis tools, and a MoPad full of links, suggestions for further reading, and discussion points.


Since the event Owen Stephens has written a blog entitled 'Talking about Tools' reflecting on the session he proposed. As more blogs emerge I shall add them here.

UPDATE 18/02: Emmanouil Benetos has written up 'DML project at THATCamp British Library Labs'.

UPDATE 24/02: Francesca Benatti has posted up her 'Report: THATCamp British Library Labs' and Simon Brown a short report at the Listening Experience Data blog.


For my own part, I was fascinated to see an evident tension across the day between approaches that saw digital tools and methods as interventions in research processes and approaches that saw digital tools and methods as enablers of explanation at the end of research processes; or - to put it crudely - between 'data, in data out' and 'data in, visualisation out'. Whether or not the ecosystem of 'pretty' software that we inhabit is to blame for this was unclear, but as touched on during a discussion around 'boring' research software it will be interesting to track over the coming years whether humanists come to prefer flashy, end-project tools to softer, more mundane software skills.

We are grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council Visualising European Crime Fiction: New Digital Tools and Approaches to the Study of Transnational Popular Culture project for their support of THATCamp British Library Labs. For more information about the project, please visit:

James Baker

Curator, Digital Research



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05 February 2015

Alice's Adventures Off the Map

The Off the Map competition, which  the British Library is proud to run with our best mates at GameCity, is back and for 2015 it is part of the British Library's celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland. 

Lots of exciting things are planned for this anniversary; including a free exhibition at the Library (Autumn 2015 – Spring 2016) exploring how Alice has been adapted and appropriated by successive generations, and the enduring influence of the original Alice in Wonderland story and illustrations. The exhibition will be particularly special to the Library, as we own the original manuscript of the story, written and illustrated by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll), and on which all subsequent adaptations are based, some more faithfully than others!

Carroll lewis nursery small

Illustration from The Nursery Alice (Cup.410.g.74.)

If you are a full time student in UK Higher Education who likes making digital games and/or writing interactive fiction, then please do check out the Alice's Adventures Off the Map website: for details on how to enter the 2015 competition. Also, to register to take part, then sign up here. The closing date is 22 June, so we think that is plenty of time for teams to create something amazing!

There are two upcoming events at the British Library in London for participating teams and individuals taking part in the Alice's Adventures Off the Map competition. Attending will provide a perfect opportunity to find out more about the competition and to ask British Library Curators about this year's sub-themes (Oxford, Underground and Gardens) and the selected collection items.

Both events are identical, so please only sign up for one!

16 February:

6 March:

If you have any questions about these events, which are not answered by the information on the Eventbrite pages, please email [email protected]


Stella Wisdom

Curator, Digital Research