Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

22 December 2017

All I want for Christmas is... playbills!

Digital Curator Mia Ridge with an update on our playbills crowdsourcing project (with apologises to Mariah Carey for the dodgy headline)...

What do you do once you've eaten all the chocolates and cheese and watched all the Christmas movies? If you haven't had a go at transcribing historic playbills yet, the holidays are a great time to start.

Home, Sweet Home from: A collection of playbills from miscellaneous theatres: Nottingham - Oswestry 1755-1848 Collection Item, ([British Isles]: s.n.], 1755-1848.) <>

As 2017 turns into 2018, we thought it was time for an update on our progress with In the Spotlight. We've had over 20,000 contributions from over 2,000 visitors from 61 countries. Together, they've completed 21 sets of tasks on individual volumes - a wonderful result. We're still analysing it but the transcribed data looks good so far. Our next step is agreeing the details of including the results in the Library's catalogue - once that's done, information from individual playbills will be searchable for the first time.

Since the project launched in early November we've had some fantastic feedback, questions and comments on our forum and on social media. For example, Sylvia Morris @sylvmorris1 has written two blog posts, International Migrants Day: Ira Aldridge and theatre and British Library project enlists public to transcribe historical playbills.Twitter users like @e_stanf shared fantastic images they'd discovered, and we even made The Stage and the Russian media! Look out for more updates and blog posts from project participants in the new year.

Questions from our participants include a request from a PhD student to collect references to plays set at fairs. A question about plays being 'for the benefit of' led to the Wikipedia entry for 'benefit performances' being updated with one of our images. Share your curiosities and questions on our forum or twitter - we love hearing from you!

We haven't forgotten about Convert-a-Card in the excitement of launching In the Spotlight. Since launch, this project for digitising information from old card catalogues has had over 33,000 contributions. Early in the new year, we'll be adding a thousand new records to the Library's catalogue. Our thanks to everyone who's made a contribution.

So if you're looking for entertainment these holidays, we invite you to step Into the Spotlight at and discover how people entertained themselves before Netflix!