Digital scholarship blog

7 posts from January 2016

28 January 2016

Book Now! Nottingham @BL_Labs Roadshow event - Wed 3 Feb (12.30pm-4pm)

Do you live in or near Nottingham and are you available on Wednesday 3 Feb between 1230 - 1600? Come along to the FREE UK @BL_Labs Roadshow event at GameCity and The National Video Game Arcade, Nottingham (we have some places left and booking is essential for anyone interested).


BL Labs Roadshow in Nottingham - Wed 3 Feb (1200 - 1600)
BL Labs Roadshow at GameCity and The National Video Game Arcade, Nottingham, hosted by the Digital Humanities and Arts (DHA) Praxis project based at the University of Nottingham, Wed 3 Feb (1230 - 1600)
  • Discover the digital collections the British Library has, understand some of the challenges of using them and even take some away with you.
  • Learn how researchers found and revived forgotten Victorian jokes and Political meetings from our digital archives.
  • Understand how special games and computer code have been developed to help tag un-described images and make new art.
  • Find out about a tool that links digitised handwritten manuscripts to transcribed texts and one that creates statistically representative samples from the British Library’s book collections.
  • Consider how the intuitions of a DJ could be used to mix and perform the Library's digital collections.
  • Talk to Library staff about how you might use some of the Library's digital content innovatively.
  • Get advice, pick up tips and feedback on your ideas and projects for the 2016 BL Labs Competition (deadline 11 April) and Awards (deadline 5 September). 

Our hosts are the Digital Humanities and Arts (DHA) Praxis project at the University of Nottingham who are kindly providing food and refreshments and will be talking about two amazing projects they have been involved in:

ArtMaps: putting the Tate Collection on the map project
ArtMaps: Putting the Tate Collection on the map

Dr Laura Carletti will be talking about the ArtMaps project which is getting the public to accurately tag the locations of the Tate's 70,000 artworks.

The 'Wander Anywhere' free mobile app developed by Dr Benjamin Bedwell.
The 'Wander Anywhere' free mobile app developed by Dr Benjamin Bedwell.

Dr Benjamin Bedwell, Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham will talk about the free mobile app he developed called 'Wander Anywhere'.  The mobile software offers users new ways to experience art, culture and history by guiding them to locations where it downloads stories intersecting art, local history, architecture and anecdotes on their mobile device relevant to where they are.

For more information, a detailed programme and to book your place, visit the Labs and Digital Humanities and Arts Praxis Workshop event page.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

The BL Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

27 January 2016

Come to our first @BL_Labs Roadshow event at #citylis London Mon 1 Feb (5pm-7.30pm)

Labs Roadshow at #citylis London, Mon 1 Feb (5pm-7.30pm)

Live in or near North-East London and are available on Monday 1 Feb between 1700 - 1930? Come along to the first FREE UK Labs Roadshow event of 2016 (we have a few places left and booking is essential for anyone interested) and:

#citylis London BL Labs London Roadshow Event Mon 1 Feb (1730 - 1930)
#citylis at the Department for Information ScienceCity University London,
the first BL Labs Roadshow event Mon 1 Feb (1700 - 1930)
  • Discover the digital collections the British Library has, understand some of the challenges of using them and even take some away with you.
  • Learn how researchers found and revived forgotten Victorian jokes and Political meetings from our digital archives.
  • Understand how special games and computer code have been developed to help tag un-described images and make new art.
  • Talk to Library staff about how you might use some of the Library's digital content innovatively.
  • Get advice, pick up tips and feedback on your ideas and projects for the 2016 BL Labs Competition (deadline 11 April) and Awards (deadline 5 September). 

Our first hosts are the Department for Information Science (#citylis) at City University London. #citylis have kindly organised some refreshments, nibbles and also an exciting student discussion panel about their experiences of working on digital projects at the British Library, who are:

#citylis student panel  Top-left, Ludi Price and Top-right, Dimitra Charalampidou Bottom-left, Alison Pope and Bottom-right, Daniel van Strien
#citylis student panel.
Top-left, Ludi Price 
Top-right, Dimitra Charalampidou
Bottom-left, Alison Pope
Bottom-right, Daniel van Strien

For more information, a detailed programme and to book your place (essential), visit the BL Labs Workshop at #citylis event page.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

The BL Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

25 January 2016

The @BL_Labs Roadshow (2016)

Do you want to learn more about the digital collections the British Library has? Discover how others have used them in creative and surprising ways? Talk to Library staff and understand some of the challenges of how you might use our digital content innovatively. Get advice, pick up tips and consider entering your own ideas and projects into the Labs Competition (deadline 11 April) and Awards (deadline 5 September). You can browse our archive of ideas submitted for competitions and awards here.

Come to one of our 15 UK events as part of the @BL_Labs Roadshow between Feb 1 to April 4 2016. Events will include presentations from the British Library and host institutions, practical hands-on workshops, a chance to explore and discuss what you may do with some of the Library's data through an 'Ideas Lab' and for you to speak and get feedback from experts.

Register for a FREE event and OPEN TO ALL (unless otherwise stated). Further details about locations see below: 

Locations in the UK where members of the Digital Scholarship team will be visiting between Feb-April 2016.
Locations in the UK where members of the Digital Scholarship team will be visiting between Feb-April 2016.




For any further questions please contact us at [email protected].

The British Library Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

22 January 2016

BL Labs Competition and Awards for 2016

Today the Labs team is launching the fourth annual Competition and Awards for 2016. Please help us spread the word by tweeting, re-blogging, and telling anyone who might be interested!

British Library Labs Competition 2016

The annual Competition is looking for transformative project ideas which use the British Library’s digital collections and data in new and exciting ways. Two Labs Competition finalists will be selected to work 'in residence' with the BL Labs team between May and early November 2016, where they will get expert help, access to the Library’s resources and financial support to realise their projects.

Winners will receive a first prize of £3000 and runners up £1000 courtesy of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Labs Symposium on 7th November 2016 at the British Library in London where they will showcase their work.

The deadline for entering is midnight British Summer Time (BST) on 11th April 2016.

Labs Competition winners from previous years have produced an amazing range of creative and innovative projects. For example:

(Top-left)  Adam Crymble's Crowdsource Arcade (Bottom-left) Katrina Navickas' Political Meetings Mapper and (Right) Bob Nicholson's Mechanical Comedian.
(Top-left) Adam Crymble's Crowdsource Arcade and some specially developed games to help with tagging images
(Bottom-left) Katrina Navickas' Political Meetings Mapper and a photo from a Chartist re-enactment 
(Right) Bob Nicholson's Mechanical Comedian

A further range of inspiring and creative ideas have been submitted in previous years and some have been developed further.

British Library Labs Awards 2016

The annual Awards, introduced in 2015, formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using the British Library’s digital collections and data. This year, they will be commending work in four key areas:

  • Research - A project or activity which shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Commercial - An activity that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the Library's digital content.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour which inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Teaching / Learning - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 for the runner up for each category at the Labs Symposium on 7th November 2016 at the British Library in London, again courtesy of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The deadline for entering is midnight BST on 5th September 2016.

The Awards winners for 2015 produced a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects in  Research, Creative/Artistic, Entrepreneurship categories and a special Jury's prize:

(Top-left) Spatial Humanities research group at the University Lancaster,  (Top-right) A computer generated work of art, part of  'The Order of Things' by Mario Klingemann,  (Bottom-left) A bow tie made by Dina Malkova  and (Bottom-right) work on Geo-referenced maps at the British Library that James Heald is still involved in.
(Top-left) Spatial Humanities research group at the University Lancaster plotting mentions of disease in newspapers on a map in Victorian times,
(Top-right) A computer generated work of art, part of 'The Order of Things' by Mario Klingemann,
(Bottom-left) A bow tie made by Dina Malkova inspired by a digitised original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland
(Bottom-right) Work on Geo-referencing maps discovered from a collection of digitised books at the British Library that James Heald is still involved in.
  • Research: “Representation of disease in 19th century newspapers” by the Spatial Humanities research group at Lancaster University analysed the British Library's digitised London based newspaper, The Era through innovative and varied selections of qualitative and quantitative methods in order to determine how, when and where the Victorian era discussed disease.
  • Creative / Artistic:  “The Order of Things” by Mario Klingemann involved the use of semi-automated image classification and machine learning techniques in order to add meaningful tags to the British Library’s one million Flickr Commons images, creating thematic collections as well as new works of art.
  • Entrepreneurship: “Redesigning Alice” by Dina Malkova produced a range of bow ties and other gift products inspired by the incredible illustrations from a digitised British Library original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll and sold them through the Etsy platform and in the Alice Pop up shop at the British Library in London.
  • Jury's Special Mention: Indexing the BL 1 million and Mapping the Maps by volunteer James Heald describes both the work he has led and his collaboration with others to produce an index of 1 million 'Mechanical Curator collection' images on Wikimedia Commons from the British Library Flickr Commons images. This gave rise to finding 50,000 maps within this collection partially through a map-tag-a-thon which are now being geo-referenced.

A further range of inspiring work has been carried out with the British Library's digital content and collections.

If you are thinking of entering, please make sure you visit our Competition and Awards archive pages for further details.

Finally, if you have a specific question that can't be answered through these pages, feel free to contact us at [email protected], or why not come to one of the 'BL Labs Roadshow 2016' UK events we have scheduled between February and April 2016 to learn more about our digital collections and discuss your ideas?

We really look forward to reading your entries!

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

The British Library Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


20 January 2016

BL Digital Scholarship goes Latin

Last year I was invited to visit two important National Libraries in Latin America. There I had the opportunity to meet colleagues working on digital projects in both institutions and share with them our experiences and projects involving access, use, enhancement, interpretation and dissemination of our digital collections.

In October I went to Santiago de Chile to give a talk at the National Library of Chile (BNC) as part of the commemorations of the 12th anniversary of Memoria Chilena, a Web interface created by the BNC that offers public access to a wide range of digital objects, both born-digital and digitised content, including still and moving images, sounds, maps, textual resources and other data sets, all of which relate to Chilean history and contemporary society. Chile is the only country in Latin America to have a legal deposit regulation for non-print materials which was introduced at the same time as the United Kingdom in 2013. Like the BL, the BNC manages the country’s Web Archive programme and both institutions adopt a similar policy in terms of harvesting, preservation and access to archived Web content. During my visit I shared how the BL is providing remote access to special collections provided by our Web Archive programme without infringing copyright and data protection regulations. Our Chilean colleagues were also interested in learning how we are providing visualisation tools such as N-gram, tag clouds and 3D walls to facilitate discovery, access and analysis of archived UK Web content to researchers around the world.

ChileAquiles Alencar-Brayner, Ana Tirnoni Barrios (Director of BNC) and Roberto Aguirre (Head of Digital Collections at BNC)

In my public talk at the BNC I offered an overview of the various projects on which our Digital Scholarship team is working at the moment including BL Labs, Endangered Archives and Digital Scholarship Training programmes, and I showed how we are engaging with new audiences through crowdsourcing activities such as our georeferencing platform, convert-a-card project, Off-the-Map competition, edit-a-thon gatherings and many other exciting activities supported by our team that allow the wider pubic to creatively engage with our rich and diverse digital collections. My presentation, in Spanish, is available for access and download at .

In December I went back to South America, this time to a very warm Rio de Janeiro, where I met colleagues from the National Library of Brazil (BNB) to discuss ideas and projects involving digital scholarship. The BNDigital, the digital platform of the BNB, offers access to more than 1.5M digitised documents from the Library’s collections including periodicals, books, photographs, manuscripts and maps all of which makes the platform the most important and one of the most used resources for accessing digital content in the country. The Brazilian National Library is currently working in partnership with the National Library of Portugal on the Luso-Brazilian Digital Library, a single platform that offers access to digital objects from both institutions bringing together millions of relevant documents allowing users to have a more comprehensive view of the relations between both countries in colonial and post-independence period.

The massive volume and diversity of digital content available in the libraries I visited offer a great opportunity to promote Digital Research in both countries. But access to digital content in today’s environment cannot be understood without a big data approach to our electronic collections. For that, libraries, museums and archives need to adopt digital tools for comparison, visualisation, text mining, metadata enhancement and crowdsourcing activities – to mention a few examples – that would support researchers and the general public in the manipulation, interpretation and better understanding of the ever increasing data provided by our institutions. This was the main message I gave in Chile and Brazil – a message that was received with great enthusiasm by colleagues always eager to expand their digital collections beyond the simplistic and misconceived idea of electronic content as a mere surrogate of physical objects.

Aquiles Alencar-Brayner

Digital Curator

08 January 2016

BL Labs Entrepreneurial Award (2015): runner up project ‘The British Library “Library Wall”’

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 runner up of the Entrepreneurial Award (2015) was ‘The British Library “Library Wall”: The nineteenth century “British Classics” collection’, by the Artefacto team: Sara Wingate Gray and Kate Lomax.

Below, Artefacto’s Sara Wingate Gray guest blog tells us all about their project:

The British Library “Library Wall” is a curated collection of digitised texts from the British Library's nineteenth century books collection, which people are able to freely obtain, read and share through the use of smartphones or other “smart” mobile devices such as ipads and tablets by pointing their device at the installation. The physical installation currently exists in a designed and printed large-scale poster-type format, which is easily fixed to any blank space (such as a wall, above a desk, in a coffee shop etc.) where, in essence, any potential reader might be able to pass by, look at and then download texts from it to immediately read and share on their mobile devices and beyond. It is a digital bookshelf in a physical, material form. The project explores both digital distribution technologies and open access (public domain) texts.

  Library Wall banner
Find Artefacto and the Library Wall on Twitter: @artefactors ;

Our starting point for this project was a prototype installation, which we created in September 2014 in the London borough of Haringey. The Ribbon Factory Library Wall is North London’s first digital outdoor bookshelf, enabling anyone walking by to scan a QR-coded book title and watch as the book downloads onto their smartphone or tablet, ready to read.

The success of this project (and some of the interesting technological challenges we encountered along the way) encouraged us to continue developing our Library Wall ideas, and so when the BL Labs Awards (2015) were announced we thought it would be interesting to iterate Library Wall from a British Library perspective. There is a vast source of digital content in the form of Public Domain, open-licensed material, which has been lovingly collected, curated, archived and now made available in digital form by the British Library for the benefit of humankind. But digital discoverability remains an issue. How do we facilitate new ways of enabling users to access this amazing content? Might it be worthwhile re-considering the human, physical factor in this process – can we meld the analogue experience of a reader serendipitously discovering a new book with its digital counterpart?

Overall, our Library Wall project ideas are geared towards recognising and building upon some of the emerging technological trends of the 21st century. A surge in the use of smart mobile devices and mobile internet access, as well as new internet-related technologies, has been a driving force in how users now obtain and interact with knowledge and information in the digital world. Apps, QR-codes and NFC, for example, are some of the technological innovations that have helped more recently effect this important shift. Meanwhile, in the world of the 21st century knowledge and information sector, and in particular for providers such as libraries – despite this digital access-awakening – the “overriding ebook issues for libraries continue to be the withholding of content and the imposition of problematic and differing license terms and conditions by major trade publishers” (IFLA 2014 eLending Background Paper pdf).

Library Wall is also about exploring questions relating to the role of libraries and librarians in curation, collection development and reader development services. In producing The British Library “Library Wall”, we wanted to investigate how we might showcase specifically themed collections of British Library content, in this instance selecting what we've termed nineteenth century “British Classics”. Thus, we have digitally sent the work of Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, H. Rider Haggard, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, and Emily Bronte out into the world and the smart device-holding hands of the public. By providing a new way for potential readers to access and experience these authors’ words, we think The British Library “Library Wall” plays a small part in revivifying these classic British works.

Library wallThe British Library “Library Wall”

Twenty texts from the British Library's nineteenth century books collections were especially curated by us to be included as titles available for users to download from The British Library “Library Wall”. These texts were found and selected using the British Library's online catalogue to refine our search terms to incorporate texts available in the public domain and, where available, selecting a specific edition which included interesting illustrations, cover designs etc.

We then collected the URL of the PDF text, generated by the British Library’s catalogue and used this to generate a QR-code which was placed onto the spine of a corresponding book title on “Library Wall”, enabling essentially a very easy to use, simple ‘point-and-click’ process for a user to immediately access British Library content. The British Library “Library Wall” therefore removes some of the friction already implicit in a user attempting to access this same content via the British Library’s online catalogue - where purposeful searching, exact search terms and multi-clicks are required by a user before they actually reach the readable PDF version of a text.

The major challenge for this project was in the area of curation: selecting content to include in The British Library “Library Wall”. This was driven by several factors, including recognising the need to provide an easy ‘entry point’ for potential users – coming across Library Wall in a physical location. By selecting authors likely already familiar to readers (R. L. Stevenson's ‘Treasure Island’ and books by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Charles Dickens etc.) our approach aimed to encourage users to interact with the installation. Similarly, another challenge was that we initially wished to focus on less well-known works by familiar authors, but quickly discovered that not all well-known authors and well-known titles (let alone lesser known ones) were available in the British Library's nineteenth century books collection. This reduced our initial range of potential titles to curate, but enabled us to re-focus our range with a specific theme, deciding to focus on nineteenth century “British Classics” and selecting the most interesting editions (cover design, illustrations, etc.) of certain titles once we had focused on this specific thematic.

Ultimately, our Library Wall projects, and The British Library “Library Wall” project in particular, attempt reconciliation between the digital and the analogue, presenting digital content in an easy-to-access/view physical form and recognising the role of the British Library in providing open access to cultural content. The British Library “Library Wall” also aims to promote the access, use and re-use of British Library public domain content, which might otherwise remain hidden within the British Library’s online content offering where, without knowing what you are looking for, a diamond in the haystack can easily be missed.

Artefacto & Library wallUsers have begun to ‘pin’ Artefacto and the Library Wall on Pinterest, helping to spread word of the project:

By providing a physical, material object for users to chance upon, while out in the world of their busy daily lives, Library Wall becomes a new act of public dissemination, channelling digital content out and into a local community, instead of waiting for the community to discover British Library digital content through purposeful online search and access via the British Library's online platforms.

We were thrilled to be picked as the runner-up in the Entrepreneurial category of the BL Labs Awards (2015), and have some great Library Wall plans for the future in-the-offing – we’ve already got a Library Wall operating in Karachi, as well as Haringey, so if you’re interested in us bringing a Library Wall to you and your community, or would just like to collaborate with us, please do send us a tweet @artefactors or get in touch by email.

06 January 2016

Finding a Platform for Poetic Places

This is a guest post by Sarah Cole, the British Library’s current Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Sarah is working on a project called Poetic Places, which explores relationships between literary geographies, cultural heritage collections, and real world environments, via the creation of a smartphone geolocation user experience that shares British Library digital content in relevant real-world locations; enabling participants to experience meaningful “poetic” connections between location, history and literature.

I'd always intended to utilise an existing platform to create the Poetic Places mobile experience. We're on a tight timeframe—we only have a few more months to curate the content and build the app—and I'm not presently knowledgeable enough to program an app from scratch. That's a part of the research aspect of this project—how easy or difficult is it to build a location-based mobile app for cultural organisations?

We started the project with a platform in mind—a great system that allows audiences to interact with content and 'characters' via text or social media—but my research soon highlighted a few major hurdles. The main one was the amount of gamification that would be required to make a system designed for live events work for relatively static content. I also want the experience to be accessible to a broad audience and I was concerned I might be compromising that by making a complex game-like system of it.

image from
Image taken from page 51 of '“Mountain, Moor and Loch” illustrated by pen and pencil, on the route of the West Highland Railway' (British Library HMNTS 010370.f.13)

So I set to looking for an alternative platform. The following requirements developed as I explored my options: Geofencing/GPS-Triggered Events A key aspect of Poetic Places is the situation of poems (and other poetic depictions) in the locations they depict. Being based all over London, iBeacons wouldn't make suitable triggers; it would be difficult to find places to put them outside and I don't think an iBeacon would last long stuck to Westminster Bridge, for example. Apps utilising location aren't uncommon so I thought it'd be easy to find a platform with such a feature, though I felt this would function better as part of... A Native App As opposed to a responsive website, I've felt that Poetic Places would operate better and a native iOS/Android app. Whilst there are downsides to this—taking up space on users' phones and being forced to distribute through the appropriate app stores—it does mean that users won't have to rely on cellular data and will make things easier regarding... Push Notifications I've always had the idea that Poetic Places should be able to notify users whenever they happen upon a place with an associated poem. Many of the people I've discussed the app with have also immediately assumed this is how it will work. Location-triggered push notifications (which is what such a scenario requires) are the domain of native apps, and allow us to do some interesting things, such as have bonus, hidden content. First, though, the app has to be... Media-Friendly By this, I mean that the platform has to allow us to create an app that presents images, text, audio, and ideally film in a decent manner. I'd thought this would be ubiquitous in modern app platforms, but a couple of platforms let me down on this when I tested them. Others were impressively well-designed but simply weren't... Affordable Poetic Places is an experiment in many ways and as such is being built on a modest budget. That aside, I don't want to sink piles of money into the platform for this project as that would make it an expensive one-off, limiting the repeatability for other (particularly smaller) organisations and usefulness of the lessons learnt. It also limits the long-term viability of the app if maintenance costs are too high.

GPS-trigged events. Push notifications. Native App. Media-Friendly. Affordable.

I thought a platform meeting these criteria wouldn't be too hard to find. I thought I might even have a few to choose from. I was wrong. I had a few false starts, where I started building a test app in a platform only to discover a fatal flaw: pictures weren't zoomable, the geofencing didn't actually work, the level of coding required was too high, it cost thousands of pounds to export to the App Store, etc. I was initially surprised by these problems, but every stumbling block has helped me to realise what I want Poetic Places to do, to look like, and to refine my search. Eventually I found what I was looking for at GoodBarber, a Corsican platform that has a simple building interface but allows more complex customisation. 


Video review of GoodBarber by AppToolTester

Since selecting a platform I've made substantial progress in building Poetic Places and I will be testing the app over the next few months, so watch the Digital Scholarship blog for further updates.

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Screen capture image of Poetic Places in development