Digital scholarship blog

8 posts from December 2015

18 December 2015

BL Labs Awards (2015): Entrepreneurial category Award winning project

The winners of the British Library Labs Awards were announced at the British Library Labs Symposium, held on Monday 2nd November 2015, at the British Library. The Awards were launched in 2015 by the British Library Labs team in order to formally recognise outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and content.

Dina Malkova

This year, the Awards honoured projects within three key categories: Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurship. The winner of the Entrepreneurial Award (2015) was “Redesigning Alice: Etsy and the British Library joint project” by Dina Malkova.

The project has produced a range of bow ties and other gift products inspired by the incredible illustrations of Alice's Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll.

Below, Dina’s guest blog discusses the award-winning project for us: 

I have been inspired by the original Alice's Adventures Under Ground with fantastic illustrations by Lewis Carroll, and the thought of creating a range of bow ties and other gift products to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice!

My challenge was to create a new collection of gift products by using the original hand drawn illustrations by Lewis Carroll. In order to do this I had to first study the original manuscript, which was exciting  and introduced me to the world of Alice and Lewis Carroll close up.

Carroll manuscript

Lewis Carroll’s manuscript illustrations inspired the Redesigning Alice collection 

I then investigated and analysed customers’ buying patterns, preferences and tastes, in order to help me develop and design my products for popular tastes.  I also researched other Alice products and gifts online, to ensure my ideas were new and original. 

After these processes, I was able to decide upon a fragment of the original book illustration to be used as the  design on my range of bow ties, ties, cuff links and pocket squares.  I have created and developed the product range for the Lewes Bow Ties brand, which I have founded. The bow ties are limited editions and handmade from vintage fabrics. The bow ties are self-tied, adjustable in length and packaged individually in a vintage style gift box made of recycled paper.      

Bow ties

Dina's Redesigning Alice bow ties

The bow ties and cuff links are on sale in the British Library’s Alice in Wonderland pop-up shop, open in the Entrance Hall from Monday 23rd November 2015 – Saturday 16th April 2016.

You can find Dina’s range of  bow ties, in partnership with Etsy and the British Library, online:



17 December 2015

BL Labs Creative/Artistic Award (2015): runner up project ‘Nix’

The British Library Labs Awards were launched in 2015 by the British Library Labs team in order to formally recognise outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and content.

This year, the Awards honoured projects within three key categories: Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurship. The runner up of the Creative/Artistic award (2015) was ‘Nix’, entered by the Gothulus Rift team: Jackson Rolls-Gray, Sebastian Filby and Faye Allen.

Below, the Gothulus Rift guest blog tells us all about Nix:

Nix is an award winning virtual reality game made for the Oculus Rift, wherein players explore a warped underwater environment with Beckford's Fonthill Abbey as the centerpiece. Currently recognised for its achievement at the BL Labs Awards (2015), the game was also the winner of the Off the Map competition 2014. Using the virtual reality Oculus Rift headset, Nix challenges players to reconstruct Fonthill Abbey via collecting hidden and moving glowing orbs in a spooky underwater world.

Entrance hall Fonthill

The Entrance hall to Fonthill Abbey in Nix

Nix was created as a response to a brief provided by GameCity  as part of their Off the Map competition in collaboration with Crytek and The British Library. The competition challenged students to use the research materials featured in the British Library’s Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition  as inspiration for a game made using Crytek’s Cryengine software. The material provided by the British Library was intended as a starting point to inspire contestants to create games that would match the theme of the then upcoming exhibition about Gothic history.

Nix made extensive use of the British Library’s resources, utilising detailed sketches and maps of Fonthill Abbey including the surrounding countryside. Plans of the Abbey including a book providing in depth descriptions of its' interior spaces also assisted development of the project.

The British Library also provided an archive of sounds to help Gothulus Rift in the development process of Nix, some of which the team were able to modify and use. All of these resources were either provided to Gothulus Rift digitally via staff managing the Off the Map contest, or in-person when the team visited the British Library to see the original copies of the various sketches and maps made for Fonthill Abbey.

Nix play mode

Players in Nix must seek out and collect glowing orbs in order to rebuild Fonthill Abbey

Nix ustilises the  Cryengine development kit provided by Crytek, as well as a range of other games development-related programs such as Adobe Photoshop and 3DS Max/Maya. Extensive work was put in to getting the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to work with Cryengine, as no native support was available at the time. Being new to VR development. The team also undertook extensive research in to how to mitigate motion sickness–  resulting in the design decision to set the game underwater!

Welsh Games Development Show

People playing Nix at the Welsh Games Development Show (WGDS)

Nix has been showcased by Gothulus Rift at a variety of events, including the GameCity9 Launch Party in June 2014, which allowed members of the public to play Nix in Britain's first ever National Videogames Arcade, as well as at the Welsh Games Development Show (WGDS) in July 2014, a large expo designed to give games developers based in Wales an oppurtiunity to show their work.

Nix is available to download and play from the website (note: you will need an Oculus Rift headset):

If you don't have an Oculus Rift, then you can see a flythrough of Nix on YouTube:

16 December 2015

BL Labs Awards (2015): Creative/Artistic category Award winning project

The winners of the British Library Labs Awards were announced at the British Library Labs Symposium, held on Monday 2nd November 2015, at the British Library. The Awards were launched in 2015 by the British Library Labs team in order to formally recognise outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and content.


This year, the Awards honoured projects within three key categories: Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurship. The winner of the Creative/Artistic Award (2015) was “The Order of Things” by Mario Klingemann. 

The project involves the use of semi-automated image classification and machine learning techniques in order to add meaningful tags to the images and create thematic collections of the British Library’s one million Flickr Commons images.   

Below, Mario’s guest blog discusses the award-winning project for us:

The advent of over one million images from the British Library added by the Mechanical Curator on the Flickr Commons opened up a treasure trove of imagery for creative use. But it has come with one problem: initially the only way to find interesting images was to browse the collection either randomly or linearly since the only useful metadata available was the title of the book, the publishing year and the author. This motivated me to begin using semi-automated image classification and machine learning techniques in order to add meaningful tags to the images and to start the creation of thematic collections.

Over the course of a year I have tagged tens of thousands of images in the British Library Flickr collection and I have also added lots of collections to the "Lost Visions" project by the Cardiff University, which also uses British Library material.  

Furthermore, I have created various artworks with the images I have found and tagged on the Flickr Commons. You can view some of my work here:

Artistic representation
The Order of Things: artistic representation of a selection of images

Through my project, I wanted to investigate what kinds of material are contained in the Mechanical Curator’s selection and to what extent image classification and machine learning techniques can add useful metadata to such a huge, unsorted collection of images.

The biggest challenge is the sheer amount of data – one million doesn't sound like much these days, but if you do not have access to academic computer resources or a sponsor of computation time, then even seconds of calculation time can add up to weeks or months.

In order to address this, I have used a hybrid approach that mixes automatic classification with manual confirmation. At the base is a 128-dimensional feature vector that is calculated for each of the images in the collection. The classifier calculates histogram statistics as well as Haralick texture features over various representations of an image, by trying to turn various aspects of the image into numbers, colours, contrast, edges, structure and information content.

Using the feature vector, it calculates distances and similarities between images and allows them to either cluster by various aspects or it finds the nearest neighbours to a particular image. With the help of visual tools I have produced specifically for this purpose,  I can then create thematic collections or find images that fit into certain collections or have a similar style, very quickly and in a playful way.

Birds, fish & mammals

 The Order of Things: birds, fish & mammals

My classification approach works well for some cases but does not for others, for example it can distinguish a portrait from a map, but only in rare cases can it say whether a picture depicts a male or female. So in the next phase of my work I am planning to employ deep learning techniques to the same material in order to extract some more detailed metadata for certain classes of images.

Colour portraits
The Order of Things: colour portraits

Over the course of my project and research, I have posted about my progress on Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and Facebook,  where I have received very positive feedback and probably got many more people interested in exploring the British Library collections themselves. I've also talked about my research and art practice at various conferences, including at FITC, codemotion, Reasons to be Creative and Eyeo. In 2014, I was invited by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York to give a talk at "Archives as Instigator" about my work with the British Library archives , which was followed by a one day workshop.

You can find out more about Mario Klingemann and his projects online: ; ;


15 December 2015

BL Labs Research Award (2015): runner up project ‘Palimpsest’

The British Library Labs Awards were launched in 2015 by the British Library Labs team in order to formally recognise outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and content.

This year, the Awards honoured projects within three key categories: Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurship. The runner up of the Research Award (2015) was ‘Palimpsest: Telling Edinburgh’s Stories with Maps’. The project is an AHRC funded project entered by the Palimpsest team: Beatrice Alex, Miranda Anderson, Ian Fieldhouse, Claire Grover, David Harris-Birtill, Uta Hinrichs, James Loxley, Jon Oberlander, Nicola Osborne, Lisa Otty, Aaron Quigley, James Reid and Tara Thomson.

The Palimpsest team’s guest blog outlines their project for us:

“Edinburgh Castle is a noble rock — so are the Salisbury Craigs noble craigs — and Arthur's Seat a noble lion couchant, who, were he to leap down on Auld Reekie, would break her back-bone and bury her in the Cowgate.”

This quotation from John Wilson’s The Recreations of Christopher North (1854) illustrates one of the many ways in which Edinburgh has been used as a literary setting.  The first ever UNESCO City of Literature, it has a rich literary heritage which provides the backdrop for many novels and stories.  Thanks to Palimpsest, Edinburgh’s literary history can now be explored interactively via the LitLong web interface and mobile app. The LitLong tools link to more than 1,600 locations within Edinburgh mentioned in over 47,000 literary excerpts from around 550 books. The interfaces are aimed at scholarly and non-specialist audiences, including tourists exploring the streets of Edinburgh virtually or physically, locals who want to discover how authors described their city 150 years ago and literary scholars who are interested in place in the relations between place and literature.

Up the High St morph

Edinburgh High Street. Photo/painting morph created by Bing Liu

The aim of the Palimpsest project was to be able to discover and make available for exploration a broad spectrum of books, including forgotten gems which are not part of the established canon of Edinburgh literature. The process involved establishing ways to define when a book qualifies as being Edinburgh-centric, exploring the literary use of place names and their utility as a marker of setting, and developing a document retrieval and ranking tool to sift potential candidates out of the pool of literature to which the Palimpsest team had access. The results of this retrieval and ranking process were then checked manually by literary curators.  This combination of automatic and manual processing meant that the team were able to identify a wide range of literary works set in Edinburgh, while at the same time ensuring that all documents visualised by the LitLong tools contain Edinburgh place name mentions.


Palimpsest enables the exploration of Edinburgh’s rich literary history via the LitLong web interface, a mobile app & a search API

Within this process, a primary goal of Palimpsest was to conduct fine-grained geo-referencing to street, area, landmark and building names, as opposed to city-level geo-referencing which most prior work in that area had focussed on.  To achieve this, the team created an Edinburgh gazetteer by aggregating a number of existing geo-referenced data sets containing information on locations in Edinburgh including OS Locator, OpenStreetMap, and data from the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland.  Palimpsest adapted the existing Edinburgh Geoparser to geo-reference using the Edinburgh gazetteer containing both coordinate point references for locations and polygons for areas within Edinburgh.

The text processing work involved four distinct work packages: data preparation, document retrieval and ranking, creation of the Edinburgh gazetteer and text mining and geo-location of the final Palimpsest document collection. The aim was to take all electronically accessible literature and identify and geo-reference only the subset of literature set in Edinburgh.  As mentioned, the team used an assisted curation method, which employed the computer to identify possible candidates but then asked literary scholars to give their final say over which of the candidates were of real interest.  This approach included the creation and iterative refinement of a visual interface that could efficiently facilitate manual curation of the data. 

The data behind the interfaces was created by text mining out-of-copyright literary works as well as a select number of contemporary books, and included work from Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Muriel Spark and Irvine Welsh.  It is also accessible via an API. One hundred and eleven books and over 12,600 excerpts  – over 20% of the Palimpsest data  – were retrieved from the British Library’s Nineteenth Century Books collection.  All location mentions within them were geo-referenced by the Edinburgh Geoparser to a fine-grained Edinburgh gazetteer, and excerpts containing them are linked back to the original electronic documents of its data provider, and in the case of the British Library’s works to JISC Historical Text, to enable close reading.


A screen shot of the Palimpsest web interface

Using the assisted curation methodology, the team were able to uncover some relatively unknown literary gems such as John and Betty’s Scotch History Visit (Margaret Williamson, 1912), a fictional children story about Scottish history, and Noctes Ambrosianae (John Wilson, 1785-1854), a series of imaginary colloquies set in Edinburgh.  At the same time, Palimpsest included all the well-known works by Stevenson, Scott and others … even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

“I visited Edinburgh with languid eyes and mind; and yet that city might have interested the most unfortunate being. Clerval did not like it so well as Oxford: for the antiquity of the latter city was more pleasing to him. But the beauty and regularity of the new town of Edinburgh, its romantic castle, and its environs, the most delightful in the world, Arthur's Seat, St. Bernard's Well, and the Pentland Hills, compensated him for the change, and filled him with cheerfulness and admiration.”

In order to provide different entry points to explore the data set which may address different audiences and interest groups, the team created an interlinked visualisation which shows the literary works from multiple perspective: a map view (as an obvious way to explore geo-referenced data, and therefore one central component of the Palimpsest visualisations, available at alongside a timeline and a booklist. These views can be explored individually, but, at the same time, act as filters – for example, zooming into the map will update the booklist and timeline accordingly. Excerpts taken from the book and relating to individual Edinburgh locations are integrated into the visualisation in form of pop-ups and link back to the original electronic collections for further reading.  Additional filters are provided to enable more targeted searches of the literary texts by author name, location name and/or keyword. In addition, a mobile version of this interface offers the opportunity to stroll through the streets of Edinburgh and encounter literary excerpts based on the places one passes. Both visual interfaces underwent an internal testing and refinement before being released to the general public.  The Palimpsest data is also accessible via the LitLong Edinburgh mobile app available from the AppStore:


The LitLong mobile app

In summation, the Palimpsest project involved close collaboration between different disciplines as literary critical knowledge was vital in developing and fine-tuning not only the text processing but also the visualisation tools. Palimpsest makes it possible to see across numerous well known and less celebrated works simultaneously, and to explore their treatment of place.

Find out more about Palimpsest: ; ;


09 December 2015

From Data to Art: the Internet of Cultural Things

We have recently started an AHRC funded project in partnership with King’s College London and University of Southampton called “Internet of Cultural Things: Creative Explorations of Data in Cultural Institutions.” As the title suggests, the aim of the project is to explore new perspectives on the creation, use and understanding of the data produced by the BL, opening up cultural data to creative and critical scholarly analysis.

Different sets of data ranging from items ingested into our digital repository to catalogue searches, to item requests – to quote here some examples – will be explored by the artist-in-residence chosen for the project, Richard Wright, who will work on the data in order to produce a work of art that translates the Library’s relation with its collections and users.

As Richard mentions,

I have just joined the British Library as artist in residence and am very excited to be part of this research project instigated with Mark Cote and Jussi Parikka. In a nutshell, my aim is to use data visualisation to make public art at the British Library, in order to “transform the public's relationship to cultural institutions”.

 The project is not so much about extending services that already exist, providing other ways to do what we are already doing or just accessing more and more information. It is about using experimental art to “transform” our thinking about what is possible with data, public access and institutional spaces. So we are interested in questions like - how will massive amounts of publicly available data effect the way people use libraries and, more widely, how will it alter what kinds of culture and intellectual life it is possible for people to engage in?

Deluge Image simulation by Richard Wright

 Over the course of the coming year I will be proposing and testing new ideas for the possible futures of cultural data. These will be closer to artistic ideas about data rather than visual design and styling, information graphics or graphics for scientific epistemological purposes. I sometimes refer to this approach as bridging the gap between data and everyday experience. I am currently looking at ways to give datasets a “voice” so they can “talk” to each other, whether we can read a book using someone else's brain, a way to borrow books from other readers libraries and how to judge a book by its cover.

Public engagement with data is a key aspect of the project. Through a series of site-specific installations at the BL, we want to transform public conception regarding cultural data by demonstrating the value of an Arts and Humanities approach for a better understanding of the role that data and information play in cultural institutions.

At this very initial stage of our project we are looking at various datasets held at the BL and are thinking on how to represent massive volume of information into a meaningful and interactive artistic expression able to translate to the general public the rich and diverse universe of information produced by the Library.

By  Aquiles Alencar-Brayner and Richard Wright

08 December 2015

Using Open Refine to create XML Records for Wikimedia Batch Upload Tool

We do quite a bit of uploading of our British Library digitised collections to Wikimedia Commons and using their GLAMwiki Toolset allows us to fashion our metadata up front so it is consistent, and upload files in bulk by collection. This bulk uploader utility requires metadata to be in a flat-XML file.

There is actually quite a comprehensive guide over at Wikimedia Commons on how to get started using this tool but I thought I might also share an example of how we do it over here! In particular, how we use Open Refine to quickly turn a spreadsheet of records into an XML file appropriate for use in the GLAMwiki Toolset from a spreadsheet of records.



Example: Uploading BL Wildlife Sounds to Wikimedia Commons

Cheryl, our fabulous curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds at British Library wanted to upload a collection of Wildlife Sounds ahead of a Europeana Sounds Edit-a-thon.

  • In another browser window I checked to see if there was an existing metadata template for sounds so that I could see which standard Wikimedia fields we could map our own data to. The closest template I found was Musical Work which would roughly do the trick. 

  • Using the Musical Work template as my guide I did a few quick updates to Cheryl’s original data in OpenRefine (again, see Owen’s great guide for tips on how to do that using regular expressions in Open Refine). For example I:

1)    Changed her “CC License” column to “Permissions” and replaced her original text “cc-by” with the appropriate wiki subtemplate "{{cc-by-sa-4.0}}"

2)    Created a new column called "GWToolsetTitle" and populated it with the file name I wanted displayed for each image. We like to have the unique British Library shelfmark included in the file names of all of our items on Wikimedia Commons as standard practice so I created that by concatenating the existing Shelfmark Field with the Title field into a new GWToolsetTitle column. 

  • In Notepad++ I fashioned my XMLTemplate. If a field doesn’t already exist in the Wikimedia template you can create your own using the "other_fields" option. We wanted to have our own unique fields for "British Library Shelfmark", "Copyright Holder", "Recordist" and "Recording Date" displayed on Wikimedia Commons so I added those as other_fields in my template. Note in my XML template example that {{cell[“XXXX”].value}} refers to the column headings in my OpenRefine project.
  • Once I had my template in Notepad++ ready to go, I went back to my project in OpenRefine and clicked on "Export/Templating" on the right hand-side. 


  • There’s a lot of JSON in there as default.


  • I deleted all that JSON on the left side and copied and pasted my own XML template in there. You can see on the right side all of my columns are instantly transformed into a flat XML record ready for export!


  • Clicking on "Export" downloaded a .txt file which I saved as .xml. I ran it through a validator tool (I like Code Beautify) to make sure it all checked out. Then presto! This is the the flat-XML file I then used in the batch upload tool!

 By Nora McGregor, Digital Curator


03 December 2015

New member of the Digital Scholarship team

Alongwor 013Hello, my name’s Andrew Longworth and I’ve recently joined the Digitisation Scholarship team as a Digitisation Project Analyst so I thought I’d write a short introductory blog post. I’m here as a maternity leave sub for the next 4 months and my main role will be to help curators and external sponsors kick start their digitisation projects. As you know there are so many fascinating and unique items in the British Library catalogue which we’re keen to have
digitised and it’s exciting to be involved in making these assets available online to people all over the world.

I’ll also be working on publishing our legacy digital content while I’m here. We have a range of material waiting to be ingested into our digital library system but some of it needs a little bit of preparation work before it can be made open to the public. To give a little bit of insight into this process, for those who might be interested, it involves checking it’s been catalogued correctly, it’s legally clear to be uploaded and it has full and accurate metadata. The issue of metadata is one that I find very interesting, and the seemingly never-ending desire for greater metadata quantity and quality in the world of digital scholarship is one that throws up many challenges and opportunities.

One of the other fun things about working in the Digital Scholarship team which I’m only just beginning to appreciate is that they’re involved in some really engaging events. About a week before my first day I managed to get myself along to the BL Labs Symposium where I was able to hear some inspiring presentations and meet some worthy competition winners. And what do you know, there’s a Digital Conversations event on today which I’d definitely recommend signing up for if you can.

All in all I’ve had a great introduction to the British Library and I’ve found everyone here to be welcoming, passionate and clever. If you need to get in touch or have some suggestions about utilising the digital collection please feel free to drop us a line at

02 December 2015

Games, Literature, Libraries and Learning

I just wanted to say a rather belated, but massive thank you to everyone who came along to the British Library for  International Games Day at Your Library 2015 recently. It was excellent to see people having so much fun. Also, extra special kudos to my wonderful team of volunteers: Csilla from the London on Board group, Ross & Elsa from Gambling Lambs, GameCity, Fancy Crab StudiosMatt, Sarah, Rob, Cheryl, Catherine, Ka-Ming, Ludi (our artist and our Alice on the day!), Ben and last but definitely not least our white rabbit Gary. We played a great variety of games with visitors, some of the games were associated with the world of Alice in Wonderland, such as Parade and several games had an animals theme, including Animal Upon Animal, Wildlife Safari and Cheryl's favourite Rhino Hero.


Animal Upon Animal; a wooden stacking game like Jenga, but much cuter!

Furthermore, if you are interested in videogames and and interactive literature, then you may wish to come along to a free evening event at the British Library tomorrow (book your ticket here). Jordan Erica Webber, a freelance journalist specialising in games, is chairing the evening and we have a superb panel of speakers;

Jon Ingold, Creative Director at inkle, who made 80 Days, inspired by Jules Verne's classic adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days, which was Time Magazine's Game of the Year in 2014.

Annabel Smyth, Community/PR Manager at 3 Turn Productions, who are creating Ever, Jane, an on-line role-playing game set in the virtual world of Regency England and the works of Jane Austen.

Professor Andrew Burn, Professor of English, Media & Drama, and Director of the DARE centre, UCL Institute of Education. Andrew leads the Playing Beowulf project, which is developing a game-authoring tool called MissionMaker that enables users to transform the Beowulf poem into digital games, interpreting the text into playable characters, landscapes and events.

Dr. Tomas Rawlings, Design & Production Director at Auroch Digital and its acclaimed news-gaming initiative He blogs at and will talk about JtR125; a playable documentary reflecting on 125 years since Jack The Ripper terrorised London.

Also, if you are interested in games in education, there is a one day conference on Monday 7 December in the British Library Conference Centre all about videogame creation as a method of learning in schools. The conference is called Ludic Literature and Literary Games and more details, including how to book a place, can be found here.

This conference is suitable for researchers and educators in literary studies, game studies, media studies, film studies, mediaeval studies; librarians, curators and archivists in the GLAM sector. Keynote speakers include: Professor Ian Bogost, Georgia Institute of Technology and Professor Andrew Prescott, Theme Fellow, AHRC Digital Transformations. This event marks the end of Playing Beowulf: Gaming the Library, a project conducted by UCL Education and English, in partnership with the British Library and University of Sydney, supported by the AHRC’s Digital Transformations programme. Go here to find out more about the project.


Stella Wisdom, Curator, Digital Research