Digital scholarship blog

9 posts from September 2016

29 September 2016

Multimedia PhD Research and Non-text Theses Case Studies

This is a guest post by Coral Manton, PhD research Student with i-DAT at the University of Plymouth funded through the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training

As part of my placement with EThOS researching multimedia and non-text research outputs in PhD theses, see previous blog post. I travelled all over the UK to universities to meet doctoral researchers from a diverse range of disciplines. I was amazed by the variety of innovative work being produced and how important it is that we find ways to record it. I have written a series of online case studies. I met researchers from fields as diverse as architecture, neuroscience, digital writing and stem cell biology.

One of the first things I noticed was the cross-disciplinary approach researchers were taking and how many were learning skills outside their own field. For example a PhD candidate trained in psychology spending the first year of her PhD programming virtual reality avatars and a researcher looking at how people with coeliac disease self-manage their autoimmune disease developed apps to gather data and share information helping others with the condition.

Screenshots from Spoonie Living App Developed by Doctoral Researcher Sam Martin

Many researchers felt libraries should provide training in how to prepare theses for online archiving. Two researchers I met found out too late that they would not be able to include images of their own work integral to their research in they way they wanted and their theses have been seriously compromised as a result.

Katherina Manolessou with her two volume thesis and published picture book Zoom Zoom Zoom. Katherina approached he thesis in the same way as developing her picture book. Her thesis has two volumes one text and one images. When the thesis was to go online her library told her to redact almost all of the images seriously damaging her thesis.

I was amazed that most researchers interviewed had not had discussions with their libraries about storing their data and did not wish to rely on them to archive it seeing that as their responsibility. Researchers had developed methods for maintaining web pages and apps ready for future hardware and software advances. They had considered security and future access to their data storing it in multiple locations and various file formats. For some researchers working with human participants it was unethical to store data that could identify participants, such as audio or video, and they had destroyed all of their multimedia outputs at the end of their PhD. Others discovered using motion capture was a way of keeping completely anonymous human data.

Joanna Hale, UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, developed a programmable Avatar for her PhD to better understand mimicry

Not storing and making accessible some scientific data impedes future research progression and in doing so wastes value resources by researchers repeating experiments. Through dissatisfaction at the lack of progresson sharing scientific data Mark Hahnel founded Figshare –I am pleased to say he is going to talk about his experiences at the workshop I am running for PhD students producing multimedia research this week. I will be reporting on this workshop in the next blog post.

A multimodal approach to the PhD including multimedia work has the potential to open PhD research to new, non-academic, audiences. Through exhibition and public engagement research can be shared widely and be of social benefit. I was pleased to note that all researchers interviewed thought that, when ethical, open access to data is fundamental and were keen to share their research.

Today I am running an academic workshop for doctoral researchers producing multimedia work and my next blog post will report our findings. There is also a public Digital Conversations event happening this evening (Thursday 29 September) celebrating innovative multimedia PhD research. Sign up for this free event here:

27 September 2016

Multimedia PhD Research and Non-text Theses

This is a guest post by Coral Manton, PhD research Student with i-DAT at the University of Plymouth funded through the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training

There is a growing trend towards PhD students producing multimedia and non-text research outputs. Some students are able to include these outputs in their thesis but generally in appendixes. The inclusion of multimedia work is dependent on thesis format guidelines decided by individual universities – and to some extent the practicalities of handling big data, software etc. This means that for many PhD students recording multimedia outputs, in the way they would choose, is not possible and compromises must be made. This often means representing multimedia work in descriptive text or low res images. Many PhD students and supervisors are showing a desire to rethink the traditional thesis to include multimedia research including video, audio, data, games, apps and web pages.

EThOS File Types
Data visualisation of various multimedia file formats stored on EThOS other than the standard PDF

As we shift theses from bound volumes to digital downloads the possibilities for innovation seem endless. Yet for librarians, storing and making accessible multiple file formats in an ever changing digital landscape, poses a tremendous challenge. I was employed on a PhD research placement by the British Library to explore these issues and opportunities for the EThOS web service to adapt to meet the challenge of supporting pioneering PhD research.

The reason I applied for this placement was that I wanted to answer some of my own questions about the legacy of my research. My professional background is in museums, libraries and archives. I am doing a practice based PhD in which I am developing a visual museum collection database to enhance curator and visitor understanding of the collection in storage working with Birmingham Museums Trust. For me the knowledge that my thesis will become part of a collection on EThOS is important, but as half of my thesis is made up of multimedia practice I am keen to find solutions for recording that significant element in my thesis for future researchers.

EThOS is the UK’s national theses service, managed by the British Library. EThOS aims to bring together a record of all doctoral theses awarded in the UK. The service works closes with university libraries. Individual universities can decide whether to deposit the full thesis text in the EThOS digital repository or just the metadata (title, author, abstract, university etc.); in any case EThOS signposts to the institution’s online repository where the full text can usually either be read online or requested.  EThOS provides researchers with the opportunity to search 90% of UK theses in one place showcasing to the world the wealth of knowledge being generated in UK universities.

Another strand of EThOS is digitisation of print theses. I was excited to find on my first visit to the British Library’s Boston Spa site, home of EThOS, that print theses were coming into the library containing floppy discs and cassette tapes, housed in the back in holes made by cutting out pages reminiscent of thrillers in which books held secret keys! So innovation through multimedia outputs in the PhD is not a new thing, it has just been hiding in pages at the back.   


“Computer applications to special education”, R. Collins, Keele University, 1989. Two Volumes; vol 2 full of computer code. Brochure and user manual. 5 x 5.25 floppy disks, some using BBC Education software

The best way to investigate multimedia in theses was to go and meet the researchers producing the work, find out exactly what kind of things they are producing and start conversations about how best to represent multimedia work for future researchers to access. I have spent the past three months travelling to various universities to meet researchers working in diverse disciplines and recorded the best of what I found in case studies that are currently being uploaded on the British Library website. In my next blog post I will analyse some of the themes coming through in these case studies.

 I have organised an academic workshop for PhD students and supervisors to discuss issues, which I will report on in a future blog post and furthermore there is a public Digital Conversations evening event, taking place at the British Library in London on the 29th September showcasing some of this amazing multimedia research which you can sign up for here:

26 September 2016

British Library Labs Staff Awards 2016: Looking for entries now!

Four-light-bulbsNominate a British Library staff member or team who has been instrumental in doing something exciting, innovative and cool with the British Library’s digital collections or data.

The 2016 British Library Labs Staff Award will recognise a team or current member of staff at the British Library that has played a key role in innovative work with the Library’s digital collections or data. This is the first time that the British Library is bestowing this Award and it will highlight some of the work the Library does and the people who do it. 

Perhaps the project you know about demonstrated the development of new knowledge or was an activity that delivered commercial value to the library. Did the person create an artistic work that inspired, stimulated, amazed and provoked? Do you know of a project developed by the Library where quality learning experiences for learners were developed using the Library’s digital content? 

You may nominate a current member of British Library staff, a team, or yourself(s) if you work at the Library, for the Award using this form.

The deadline for submission is 12:00 (BST), Monday 24th October 2016.

The winner(s) will be announced on Monday 7th November 2016 at the British Library Labs Annual Symposium where they will be asked to talk about their work.

The Staff Award complements the British Library Labs Awards, introduced in 2015, which recognises outstanding work that has been done in the broader community. Last year’s winners drew attention to artistic, research, and entrepreneurial activities that used our digital collections.

British Library Labs is a project within the Digital Scholarship department at the British Library that supports and inspires the use of the Library's digital collections and data in exciting and innovative ways. It is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

If you have any questions, please contact us at

@bl_labs #bldigital @bl_digischol

20 September 2016

Black Abolitionists: Performance and Discussion for Black History Month by Hannah-Rose Murray

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Hannah-Rose Murray, 2016 finalist of the BL Labs 2016 Competition.

To celebrate Black History Month in October 2016, you are welcome to attend an evening of performance on the 6th October, 7pm, hosted by the British Library Labs project and the Eccles Centre for American Studies in the Auditorium, Conference Centre, British Library, St Pancras, London, UK.

I am very lucky to be one of the finalists for the Labs Competition for 2016, and together we have organized an event that celebrates our project. Through my work with the Labs team, we are attempting to use machine learning to search through the digitized newspaper collections to access black abolitionist speeches and performances that have never been discovered before (read more here). This stems from my PhD project, which focuses on African Americans in Britain during the nineteenth century and the myriad ways they resisted British racism.

Two of the individuals I study are William and Ellen Craft, and we are really pleased to be working with two performers who will bring this incredible history to light on the evening of the 6th.

Ellen Craft dressed as a man to escape from slavery. Image from "The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom" 2nd ed.,

William and Ellen Craft were born enslaved in Georgia. Ellen worked as a house servant, and when she was 20, married William (although by law in the South slave marriages were not legal.) They were determined to escape as they were fearful their master would sell them separately further South and they did not want to raise children in slavery. In 1848, they devised an ingenious escape plan: Ellen would pose as a gentleman with William as her manservant, and they would catch a series of trains and steamboats to the North. Ellen was fair-skinned, which was a result of her mother’s rape by her master, the plantation owner. Ellen could thus pass for a white person, but she could not read or write. To overcome this, Ellen strapped a bandage to her right hand to give her a reason not to be able to write just in case she was asked. This was an incredibly dangerous mission to accomplish - if caught, both William and Ellen would have been tortured and most certainly separated to different parts of the South, never to see each other again. It is a testimony to their bravery they managed to succeed.


For a short time, the Crafts settled in Boston but legally they were still enslaved in the eyes of the American government. When slave catchers threatened to steal them back into slavery, they set sail for England where they remained for over a decade. The Crafts soon became part of an abolitionist network in which hundreds of African Americans travelled to Britain to lecture against slavery, raise money to purchase enslaved family members or to live in Britain relatively safely from the violence they experienced in America. British audiences were fascinated by their incredible escape attempt, and were shocked that a ‘white’ person like Ellen could ever have been enslaved. Both William and Ellen travelled around Britain to educate Britons about the true nature of slavery and demanded their support in helping Americans abolish it.

During the evening, performer and writer Joe Williams will play William Craft. Joe has an MA from Leeds University’s School of Performance and Cultural industries and is the founder of Heritage Corner, which focuses on African narratives in British history. He has written performed works on leading abolitionists as well as on Victorian circus genius Pablo Fanque.

Martelle Edinborough will play Ellen Craft. Martelle has stage, film and television credits that include commercials and short films. Martelle has recently worked with the Leeds based Geraldine Connor Foundation on Forrest Dreaming and Chicken Shop Shakespeare’s contribution to this year’s Ilkley Literature Festival.

There will be a short welcome and introduction to the Crafts, and after which the performance will commence for an hour, with time for a Q&A afterwards.

Tickets are £8 (with some concessions available), and available here.

Please note a small number of free seats are available for community residents in Camden (London, England). If you think you are eligible, please contact Emma Morgan, Community Engagement Manager at the British Library at

09 September 2016

BL Labs Symposium (2016): book your place for Mon 7th Nov 2016


Posted by Hana Lewis, BL Labs Project Officer.

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the fourth annual British Library Labs Symposium will be held on Monday 7th November, from 9:30 - 17:30 in the British Library Conference Centre, St Pancras. The event is free, although you must book a ticket in advance. Don't miss out!

The Symposium showcases innovative projects which use the British Library’s digital content, and provides a platform for development, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field.

Professor Melissa Terras will be giving the keynote at this year's Symposium

This year, Dr Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, will launch the Symposium. This will be followed by a keynote from Professor Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, will present awards to the BL Labs Competition (2016) finalists, who will also give presentations on their winning projects. 

After lunch, Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator at the British Library, will announce the winners of the Shakespeare Off the Map 2016 competition, which challenged budding designers to use British Library digital collections as inspiration in the creation of exciting interactive digital media. Following, the winners will be announced of the BL Labs Awards (2016)which recognises projects that have used the British Library’s digital content in exciting and innovative ways. Presentations will be given by the winners in each of the Awards’ categories: Research, Commercial, Artistic and Teaching / Learning. A British Library Staff Award will also be presented this year, recognising an outstanding individual or team who have played a key role in innovative work with the British Library's digital collections.  

The Symposium's endnote will be followed by a networking reception which will conclude the event, at which delegates and staff can mingle and network over a drink.  

So book your place for the Symposium today!

For any further information please contact


07 September 2016

Digital Scholarship in Brazil: an expanding field

Brazil has been recently in the spotlight for hosting the 2016 Olympics  –  what few people know is that it is also making good progress in promoting digital scholarship activities. At the end of July, just before the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, I was invited to participate in two different conferences in the country where I had the opportunity to share with Brazilian colleagues the work we have been doing at the BL in promoting wider access and re-use of our digital collections.

My first stop in Brazil was São Paulo, where I delivered the keynote speech at the  3rd International Congress on Archives, Libraries and Museums: Preserve for Future Generations. The conference raised interesting points about preservation and access to digital content, especially from a more inter-institutional perspective. Although dealing with similar collections items, cultural heritage organizations in Brazil are still struggling to develop interoperable systems able to retrieve and present information in a seamless way to their users. In my talk I stressed, among other things, the urgent need for Brazilian institutions to start archiving Web pages published in the country’s domain as a delay in implementing a Web Archiving programme oin Brazil will lead to an irreparable loss of important information for future generations. At the moment, according to,  there are almost 4 million Web sites registered in the .br domain – all the information published in these pages will disappear permantely if Brazilian institutions don’t start archiving them. While in São Paulo I visited the impressive Biblioteca Mário de Andrade, the largest library in the city that provides 24 hour service to its users. I was amazed to walk through the closed stacks of the building containing more than 200,000 titles and see the huge variety of titles available in digital format to its users.  

On Friday, 22nd July, a week before the official opening of the Olympic games, I went to Rio de Janeiro where I delivered the closing speech for the Seminar on Technology and Culture  at the prestigious Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa (FCRB). It was a great pleasure to be back at the FCRB as a guest speaker for the launch of its new online catalogue, Rubi, which offers a more interactive and faster access to the the institution’s rich digital collections.

Casa Rui
Aquiles Alencar-Brayner being introduced by the Director of Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, Dr. Ana Ligia Medeiros


During my trip I had the opportunity to talk to colleagues working in libraries, archives and museums who are eager to follow the examples adopted by the BL in their institutions. Colleagues were particularly interested in learning more about our successful Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), which has been offering invaluable support to archives around the world enabling them to preserve, digitise and disseminate their collections. So far the programme has supported 7 projects in Brazil and our plan is to increase this number by receiving more applications from Latin America. The British Library (in association with the Chevening programme) is offering a year fellowship for researchers from Latin American and the Middle East to work with us aiming at enhancing EAP’s visibility in both regions.

My mission in promoting digital scholarship in Brazil is far from over as I am flying back to the country next week. This time I was invited by the Universidade Nacional de Brasília (UnB), to deliver a presentation and two workshops on Digital Curatorship at the 11th International Workshop on Information Science, from 12th to 15th September. After that I will participate in the 7th Week of Integration of Librarianship Students, from 19th to 23rd September, at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO), where I will talk in more length about digitisation workflows and other projects involving metadata enhancement and collection dissemination at the BL, including the exciting Elastic System project, featuring the work of our artist-in-residence, Richard Wright. It is always great to see how the work done by the BL Digital Scholarship team is inspiring colleagues abroad to start digital scholarship activities in their home institutions!

Aquiles Alencar-Brayner, Digital Curator


06 September 2016

BL Labs Awards (2016): deadline extended to Monday 12 September!

The BL Labs Awards formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and data.

The closing date for entering the BL Labs Awards (2016) has just been extended and people can take advantage of this opportunity to submit until 0900 BST on Monday 12th September 2016. 

This year, the BL Labs Awards is commending fantastic digital-based projects 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.

After the submission deadline, the entries will be shortlisted. Selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Wednesday 21st September 2016. A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 to the runner up of each Awards category at the Labs Symposium on 7th November 2016 at the British Library, St Pancras, courtesy of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners of 2015 has led to the production a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. Last year, the Awards commended work in three main categories – Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurship:


(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.

For any further information about BL Labs or our Awards, please contact us at

02 September 2016

Fashion Utopias and the British Library’s Flickr collection

Posted by Hana Lewis on behalf of Kris Hofmann and BL Labs

The International Fashion Showcase 2016 asked designers from around the world to imagine Utopia at Somerset House, London. Animation director Kris Hofmann was invited to create an animation exploring the Utopian theme. Kris and curator Claudia Rose Lukas decided to use images from British Library’s Flickr Commons collection in her project. Below, Kris’s guest blog gives us insight into her work and experiences in undertaking this project:  

Fashion Utopias at Somerset HouseUtopia is an imagined or unknown place, a no-place said to possess desirable, almost-perfect qualities. In the 500 years since the word ‘Utopia’ was coined by Thomas More, the concept has continued to appeal to writers, authors and artists alike.  

'Fashion Utopias' was the chosen theme of the International Fashion Showcase 2016, a British Council and British Fashion Council-lead initiative that celebrates emerging designers from across the globe and has become an integral part of London Fashion Week since its inception in 2012.

Austrian room at IFS 2016 at Somerset House / Austria

Although the term Utopia refers to an abstract and unknown place, at its core the Utopian ideal is the notion that we can learn from different places, people and cultures. It felt like an incredibly timely and inspiring choice of theme.

Claudia Rosa Lukas, the curator of the Austrian contribution to the show invited me to create an animation around the theme, which would feature works of five different designers. The piece would be played on loop during the exhibition at Somerset House and would be presented as a set of small outtakes, in the form of five vines, used for promotional purposes during and in the run up to the show. 

Claudia noted a conceptual link between the British Council's vision for the show and the British Library's initiative to open up their image archive for public use, notably the Flickr Commons collection of more than 1 million images digitised from out-of-copyright books. 

For one, it is an idea of openness and creative exchange that lies at the heart of both.

On another level we gather information and inspiration not unlike we explore unchartered terrain or a city we haven't visited.

An explorer, setting out to discover the world, who may happen upon Utopia and learn from this unfamiliar, yet wondrous place, has much in common with an explorer of books, knowledge and art.

Animating a coat by Pia Bauernberger photography by Joe Giacoment

Together, Claudia and I decided upon a juxtaposition of stop frame animated items of fashion and a collage of images from the British Library’s Flickr Commons 1 million collection. Whilst the collection might still prove challenging to use if you are searching for something specific, delving into the incredible wealth of image material with a completely open mind was an inspiration like no other.

Each image holds a mystery of its own, making you question it's origin and purpose within the context of a book, ponder what collection it may come from and who may have used it before.

The laboriousness of the exercise proved to be a hugely enjoyable creative journey, through which I browsed thousands of Flickr pages and eventually downloaded about 500 images, which would become the building blocks of our animated Utopia.

Inspired by the images I had chosen, I drafted a first map. There would be an intricate crystal cave, river lands with colourful and overgrown banks, a savannah and a mechanical city; there would be a planet with an Orwellian eye on the world, un-manned bicycles travelling from planet to planet and an imagined window into space giving you a glimpse into the infinite.

In the second stage, all elements had to be neatly cut out and split across a seemingly endless number of layers. For example, in order to animate an illustration of a plant, each leaf needs to be able to move independently. Finally, shoes, bags, dresses, tops and coats were animated and placed into the setting.

5th/12 vines by Kris Hofmann for Roshi Porkar Spring Summer 2016 Collection  

As with all creative work, the reactions of the audience to an artwork can cover the spectrum of emotional responses. But there was nothing to worry about… We found that just as much as the unique quality and richness of the images had provided a joyous adventure for me, those on the outside were appreciative of the voyages' final fruits. Mirroring the excitement of my own discovery into the treasure trove of images, I witnessed people’s attention glide from one corner of our animated Utopia to the next – seeing something new at every step of the way.

Note: The piece was brought to life with a soundscape by Marian Mentrup and beautifully shot by Joe Giacomet.

Featured designers: Pia Bauernberger, Dimitije Gojkovic, Isabel Helf, Flora Miranda and Roshi Porkar.

You can find out more about Kris Hofman and her work through her webpage; Twitter @MissKrisHofmann ; or email