THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

7 posts from April 2018

25 April 2018

Some challenges and opportunities for digital scholarship in 2018

In this post, Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge shares her presentation notes for a talk on 'challenges and opportunities for digital scholarship' at the British Library's first Research Collaboration 'Open House'.

I'm part of a team that supports the creation and innovative use of the British Library's digital collections. Our working definition of digital scholarship is 'using computational methods to answer existing research questions or challenge existing theoretical paradigms'. In this post/talk, my perspective is informed by my knowledge of the internal processes necessary to support digital scholarship and of the issues that some scholars face when using digital/digitised collections, so I'm not by any means claiming this is a complete list.

Opportunities in digital scholarship

  • Scale: you can explore a bigger body of material computationally - 'reading' thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of volumes of text, images or media files - while retaining the ability to individually examine individual items as research questions arise from that distant reading
  • Perspective: you can see trends, patterns and relationships not apparent from close reading individual items, or gain a broad overview of a topic
  • Speed: you can test an idea or hypothesis on a large dataset; prototype new interfaces; generate classification data about people, places, concepts; transcribe content

Together, these opportunities enable new research questions.

Sample digital scholarship tools and methods

Some of these processes help get data ready for analysis (e.g. turning images of items into transcribed and annotated texts), while others support the analysis of large collections at scale, improve discoverability or enable public engagement.

  • OCR, HTR - optical character recognition, handwritten text recognition
  • Data visualisation for analysis or publication
  • Text and data mining - applying classifications to or analysing texts, images or media. Key terms include natural language processing, corpus linguistics, sentiment analysis, applied machine learning. Examples include: Voyant tools, Clarifai image classification.
  • Mapping and GIS - assigning coordinates to quantitative or qualitative data
  • Public participation and learning including crowdsourcing, citizen science/history. Examples include In the Spotlight, transcribing information from historical playbills.
  • Creative and emerging formats including games
An experiment with image classification with Clarifai
An experiment with image classification with Clarifai

Putting it all together, we have case studies like Dr. Katrina Navickas, BL Labs Winner 2015's Political Meetings Mapper. This project, based on digitised 19th century newspapers, used Python scripts to calculate the meeting date, and extract and geocode their locations to create a map of Chartist meetings.

The Library has created a data portal, data.bl.uk, containing openly licensed datasets. We aim to describe collections in terms of their data format (images, full text, metadata, etc.), licences, temporal and geographic scope, originating purpose (e.g. specific digitisation projects or exhibitions) and collection, and related subjects or themes. Other datasets may be available by request, or digitised via funded partnerships.

We're aware that, currently, it can be hard to use the datasets from data.bl.uk as they can be too large to easily download, store and manipulate. This leads me neatly onto...

Challenges in digital scholarship

  • Digitisation and cataloguing backlog - the material you want mightn't be available without a special digitisation project
  • Providing access to assets for individual items - between copyright and technology, scholars don't always have the ability to download OCR/HTR text, or download all digitised media about an item
  • Providing access to collections as datasets - moving more material into the 'sweet spot' of material that's nicely digitised in suitable formats, usable sizes, with open licences allowing for re-use is an on-going (and expensive, time-consuming process)
  • 'Cleaning' historical data and dealing with gaps in both tools provision and source collections - none of these processes are straightforward
  • Providing access to platforms or suites of tools - how much should the Library take on for researchers, and how much should other institutions or individuals provide?
  • Skills - where will researchers learn digital scholarship methods?
  • Peer review - what if your discipline lacks DS-skilled peers? How can peers judge a website or database if they've only had experience with monographs or articles? How can scholars overcome prejudice about the 'digital'?
  • Versioning datasets as annotations or classifications change, software tools improve over time, transcriptions are corrected, etc - some of these changes may affect the argument you're making

Overall, I hope the opportunities outweigh the challenges, and it's certainly possible to start with small projects with existing tools and digital sources to explore the potential of a larger project.

If you've used BL data, you can enter the BL Labs awards - they don't close until October so you have time to start an experimental project now! You can also ask the Labs team to reality check your digital scholarship idea based on Library collections and data.

Digital scholarship is constantly shifting so on another date I might have come up with different opportunities and challenges. Let me know if you have challenges or opportunities that you think could be included in this very brief overview!

21 April 2018

On the Road (Again)

Flickr image: Wanderer
Image from the British Library’s Million Images on Flickr, found on p 198 of 'The Cruise of the Land Yacht “Wanderer”; or, thirteen hundred miles in my caravan, etc' by William Gordon Stables, 1886.

Now that British Summer Time has officially arrived, and with it some warmer weather, British Library Labs are hitting the road again with a series of events in Universities around the UK. The aim of these half-day roadshows is to inspire people to think about using the library's digitised collections and datasets in their research, art works, sound installations, apps, businesses... you name it!

A digitised copy of a manuscript is a very convenient medium to work on, especially if you are unable to visit the library in person and order an original item up to a reading room. But there are so many other uses for digitised items! Come along to one of the BL Labs Roadshows at a University department near you and find out more about the methods used by researchers in Digital Scholarship, from data-mining and crowd sourcing to optical character recognition for transcribing the words from an imaged page into searchable text. 

At each of the roadshow events, there will be speakers from the host institution describing some of the research projects they have already completed using digitised materials, as well as members of the British Library who will be able to talk with you about proposed research plans involving digitised resources. 

The locations of this year's roadshows are: 

Mon 9th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (Open University) - internal event

Mon 26th March - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (CityLIS) - internal event

Thu 12th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Bristol & Cardiff Digital Cultures Network)

Tue 24th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (UCL)

Wed 25th April - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Kent)

Wed 2nd May - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Edinburgh)

Tue 15th May - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Wolverhampton)

Wed 16th May - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Lincoln)

Tue 5th June - BL Labs Roadshow 2018 (University of Leeds)

  BL Labs Roadshows 2018
See a full programme and book your place using the Eventbrite page for each event.

If you want to discover more about the Digital Collections, and Digital Scholarship at the British Library, follow us on Twitter @BL_Labs, read our Blog Posts, and get in touch with BL Labs if you have some burning research questions!

13 April 2018

Gaming the Gothic on Friday the 13th

“The bats have left the bell tower, the victims have been bled”  - Happy Friday the 13th to those of you with gothic sensibilities! I’ve been enjoying singing along to the wonderful CHVRCHES cover of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” originally by Bauhaus, while preparing for the Gaming the Gothic conference, which takes place at the University of Sheffield today, and where @GamingTheGothic have promised both cake and badges!

I am giving a paper on the Off the Map videogame design competition, which accompanied the British Library’s exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’, which in 2014 celebrated 250 years of gothic literature and culture, starting from the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.

The Off The Map competition challenged higher education students based in the UK to create videogames inspired by the British Library’s collections and in 2014 three students from University of South Wales created a winning underwater game where the player rebuilds Fonthill Abbey, the once-stunning Gothic revival country house in Wiltshire home to author William Beckford, which was demolished in 1846 after the collapse of its spectacular 300-foot tower twenty years earlier.

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Image from 2014 Off the Map winning game Nix

 

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Image taken from "Delineations of Fonthill and its Abbey", by John Rutter; published by the author, 1823 (BL 191.e.6-81)

The winning team used images, maps of the estate and sounds held in the British Library’s collections to create Nix; a game for the first generation Oculus Rift, a revolutionary virtual reality headset for 3D gaming. Tim Pye, curator of the British Library’s exhibition Terror and Wonder, said this about their entry:

“What is so impressive about the Nix game is the way in which it takes the stunning architecture of the Abbey, combines it with elements from its troubled history and infuses it all with a very ghostly air. The game succeeds in transforming William Beckford’s stupendously Gothic building into a magical, mysterious place reminiscent of the best Gothic novels.”

Keeping the gothic flames burning in 2018 and to mark the 200th year anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team is pleased to be collaborating on Gothic Novel Jam with Read Watch Play; an online reading group that has monthly themes. Last year we partnered on Odyssey Jam and it was inspiring to see the end results, which I blogged about here.

To get involved in Gothic Novel Jam participants need to make something creative inspired by the gothic novel genre. Then by the 31st July upload or share it on the itch.io Gothic Novel Jam site. Entries can include stories, poetry, art, games, music, films, pictures, soundscapes, or any other type of digital media response.

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Gothic Novel Jam, #GothNovJam, promotional postcard

As part of the jam we want participants to use images from the British Library Flickr account as inspiration for submissions. They’re freely available for anyone to use and the following albums may be particularly inspiring:

However, don't feel limited to using just those images, the full list of albums can be found here. There are also the Off the Map Gothic Collections of images on Wikimedia Commons and sounds on SoundCloud, which you are free to use. If you want to learn more about the gothic genre and it's authors, check out this hugely informative section of the Discovering Literature website.

Although the gothic novel is the main jam theme, we’ll also be announcing a sub-theme on the 1st July, so please follow the #GothNovJam hashtag on social media for more news and also to see what others are creating for the jam. Good luck and have fun!

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Button badges made for the Gaming the Gothic conference, really hope I get a #CakeAndDeath one!

This post is by resident goth, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.

12 April 2018

British Library Labs application for Digital Research support

BL Labs supports researchers, artists, entrepreneurs and educators who want to use the British Library's digital collections and data

We are proud to announce the launch of a new service where we will able to provide up to 5 days support to help you develop a project idea that uses our digital collections and data. In that time, we will help you understand the collection(s) you want to work with and will provide technical, curatorial and legal advice about your project. We can also help you with scope, costs, time-frames, risks and any other relevant issues.

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Get support to develop an idea using the British Library's Digital Collections & Data

We will review and select applications at the beginning of each month. If your application is selected, we will work with you to provide targeted support and help you develop your project further.

We strongly recommend that before you submit your idea you explore the digital collections and data you are interested in and contact us at labs@bl.uk for some initial guidance.

For inspiration, you can use this guide to find your way around our online archive of collaborative projects, competition and award entries. 

Once you're ready to go, send in your application using this form.

The 2018 BL Labs Awards: enter before midnight Thursday 11th October!

With six months to go before the submission deadline, we would like to announce the 2018 British Library Labs Awards!

The BL Labs Awards are a way of formally recognising outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and data.

Have you been working on a project that uses digitised material from the British Library's collections? If so, we'd like to encourage you to enter that project for an award in one of our categories.

This year, BL Labs is awarding prizes for a winner and a runner up 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.

BLAwards2018
BL Labs Awards 2018 Winners (Top-Left- Research Award Winner – A large-scale comparison of world music corpora with computational tools , Top-Right (Commercial Award Winner – Movable Type: The Card Game), Bottom-Left(Artistic Award Winner – Imaginary Cities) and Bottom-Right (Teaching / Learning Award Winner – Vittoria’s World of Stories)

There is also a Staff award which recognises a project completed by a staff member or team, with the winner and runner up being announced at the Symposium along with the other award winners.

The closing date for entering your work for the 2018 round of BL Labs Awards is midnight BST on Thursday 11th October (2018). Please submit your entry and/or help us spread the word to all interested and relevant parties over the next few months. This will ensure we have another year of fantastic digital-based projects highlighted by the Awards!

Read more about the Awards (FAQs, Terms & Conditions etc), practice your application with this text version, and then submit your entry online!

The entries will be shortlisted after the submission deadline (11/10/2018) has passed, and selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Friday 26th October 2018. 

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 to the runner up in each of the Awards categories at the BL Labs Symposium on 12th November 2018 at the British Library, St Pancras, London.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up from the last three years has resulted in a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. You can read about some of last year's Awards winners and runners up in our other blogs, links below:

BLAwards2018-Staff
British Library Labs Staff Award Winner – Two Centuries of Indian Print

To act as a source of inspiration for future awards entrants, all entries submitted for awards in previous years can be browsed in our online Awards archive.

For any further information about BL Labs or our Awards, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

11 April 2018

Ambient Literature Festival

As the final months of the Ambient Literature project approach, the research team are convening a series of final events (more on which below), but are also spending time drawing out conclusions and reflections regarding the last two years of work. Below is a guest post discussing this by Tom Abba from the Ambient Literature project and the University of the West of England, you can  follow him on twitter as @tomabba:   

When we began in May 2016, we were upfront about the challenges of the work we were going to make and address. Here’s what we said at the launch event at Hachette’s (then shiny new) headquarters in Blackfriars:

Here’s an admission at the start of a research programme:

We don’t know what Ambient Literature is.

We’ve started to map the territory, to define by identifying borders and by testing the edges. It’s important to note though, that we don’t want to reduce the idea to something tight and defined, rather our intention is to open it up, so show by doing, making and thinking. We do know that Ambient Literature asks for writing to be specific, to be for this form. That there are rules, grammars of making and thinking about readers and texts in new ways.

Twenty three months later, I think we know what this is, and we’ve made progress toward a set of rules and grammars for making work in this form. Each of our three commissions demonstrates how Ambient Literature might work, and each does so in a completely different way. Duncan Speakman’s It Must Have Been Dark By Then, James Attlee’s The Cartographer’s Confession and Kate Pullinger’s Breathe (made with Editions at Play) ask something of their audience that is particular to the decisions each writer made, how those were translated into a technologically mediated form, and the goals at the heart of each of those works. In different ways, for different reasons, we’re very proud of each of them.

Ambient lit

Ambient Literature has been an extended conversation about storytelling, situation, audience, presence and much much more. We opened that conversation up last year at our half-way Symposium, and want to take it much further now. We want to show, and to talk to you all, and celebrate everything that’s been part of this journey. If you’re interested in being part of that conversation and celebration, then our Showcase Festival takes place on 23rd April at the British Library Conference Centre. We’ll be sharing our secrets and discoveries, and letting you look behind the scenes at how each of our projects were created. The event will feature workshops with Duncan Speakman and Kate Pullinger and talks, as well as a guided tour through the London of The Cartographer’s Confession with its author James Attlee and producer Emma Whittaker. We’re aiming the event at publishing industry professionals, students and practitioners, as well as anyone interested in the future of reading and writing. We can promise at the very least you’ll come away knowing something new about digital storytelling. If you would like to attend please register here and book places on to the workshops.

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Schedule for Ambient Literature Festival

We’re also taking the whole project to the Hay Festival in May. We’re running workshops, hosting a panel discussion (with guests including Dan Franklin and Joanna Walsh) and are making a new piece of work - Words We Never Wrote - specially for Hay. It premieres at the Festival and explores the meaning of writing, language and storytelling. We’re incredibly proud of this piece - it asks questions about linearity and form, art and suggestion that we’ve been aching to address for years. We’re delighted to be at Hay and, if you want to join us there, we can promise you a little bit of magic when you visit. 

05 April 2018

Digital Conversations @BL: Digital Comics

Venturing off the page; into multimedia and new narrative forms – we invite you to join us for an evening exploring the worlds of digital comics.

Over the past year, our Contemporary British Collections team have been busy exploring how comics are created and distributed in the 21st century. You can read these blog posts about projects done by our PhD placement researchers:

The Proper Serious Work of Preserving Digital Comics and Collecting Webcomics in the UK Web Archive by Jen Aggleton, who created a UK Web Archive collection of web comics.

21st Century British Comics by Olivia Hicks.

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An extract from The Archivist by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey

Continuing this work, we have been collaborating with John Freeman and Graham Baines of British Comics website downthetubes.net to bring together an exciting panel of comics creators for our next Digital Conversation at the British Library. We’ll be exploring the fortunes of comics in the online world, and looking ahead at what’s next for digital comics. Our panel brings together a great range of experience in creating comics and digital media in many forms:

Kate Ashwin – has been creating internet comics since 2002 and is the creator of Widdershins, a series mixing magic, comedy and adventure, set in a fictional West Yorkshire town.

Yomi Ayeni – creates work across different media, including film and digital projects as well as comics. His Clockwork Watch series was voted best Graphic Novel in 2015 by readers of Steampunk Chronicle.

Daniel Merlin Goodbrey – is a pioneer of digital comics, experimenting with the hypercomic form and “infinite canvass” comics (an extract from The Archivist can be seen above). Daniel’s comics, and writing about comics, can be found on e-merl.com

Bryan Talbot – is one of Britain’s best known comic artists and credited as one of the creators of the graphic novel form. His work includes The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Alice in Sunderland, the Grandville series of steampunk detective thrillers, Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes and Sally Heathcote: Suffragette.    

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Page from Widdershins Vol 5. by Kate Ashwin

Comics have always provided an immediate and emotionally-engaging way of telling imaginative stories. British comics creators have been at the vanguard of innovation, and this has been true also of digital comics. Join our Digital Conversation to find out how new technologies are leading to new forms of story-telling, plus what the challenges and opportunities are for building web comics collections. 

The Digital Comics Conversation event takes place in The Terrace Restaurant at the British Library on Wednesday 18th April, 18.30- 20.30; for more details including booking, visit: https://www.bl.uk/events/digital-conversation-digital-comics.

This is a guest post by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications, on twitter as @IanCooke13.