Digital scholarship blog

5 posts from March 2019

29 March 2019

Staying Late at the Library ... to Algorave

Blog article by Algorave audio-visual artist Coral Manton. Coral is curating this British Library Lates Algorave in collaboration with British Library Events, BL Labs, Digital Scholarship and The Alan Turing Institute.

On the 5th April British Library Lates will host an Algorave in the atrium. Algorave artists will live-code music and visuals, writing code sequences generating algorithmic beats beneath the iconic Kings’ Library Tower.

Alex Mclean live coding on stage with light projections
Alex Mclean AKA Yaxu

The scene grew out of a reaction to ‘black-boxing’ in electronic music - where the audience is unable to interface with the ‘live-ness’ of what the performer is making. Nothing is hidden at an Algorave. In an Algorave you can see what the performer is doing through code projected onto walls in realtime. The creative process is open and shared with the audience. Code is shared freely. Performers share their screens with the crowd, taking them on a journey through making - unmaking - remaking, thought processes laid bare in lines of improvised code weaving it’s way through practised shaping of sound.

Carol Manton live coding on stage with light projections
Coral Manton AKA Coral

As a female coder, becoming part of the Algorave community has led me to reflect on the power of seeing women coding live, and how this encourages greater participation from women. Algorave attempts to maintain a positive gender balance. More than this the joy of seeing women confidently and openly experimenting with code, sharing their practise, making mistakes, revelling in uncertainty and error, crashing-restarting-crashing again to cheers from the supportive crowd willing the performances to continue sharing the anarchic joy of failure in a community where failure leads to new possibilities.

Shelly Knotts and Joanne Armitage live coding on stage with rear light projections
ALGOBABEZ AKA Shelly Knotts and Joanne Armitage

Algorave is a fun word - an algorithmic rave - a scene where people come to together to create and dance to music generate by code. Technically Algorave is described as "sounds wholly or partly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive conditionals”. The performers writes
 lines of code that create cyclic patterns of music, layered to create an evolving composition. The same is applied to the visuals: live coded audio reactive patterns, showing shapes bouncing, revolving, repeating to the beat of the music. All of this creates a shared club experience like no other.

Visual Artists Antonio Robert AKA hellocatfood: “I like to do Algorave because I think it runs an otherwise perfect black box computer into a live performance instrument. Playing at an Algorave forces me to abandon what I know and respond to everything happening around me. It shows me that even something as meticulously designed as a computer is a living tool that is subject to randomness and mistakes.”

Antonio Roberts live coding on stage with rear light projections
Antonio Roberts AKA hellocatfood

Algorave is an open, non-hierarchical global community, with it’s hub in Sheffield. There have been Algoraves in over 50 cities around the world. Algorave is not a franchise, it is a free culture, anyone can put on an Algorave - however their approach should align with the ethos of the community. Algorave collapses hierarchies - headliners are generally frowned upon. Diversity is key to the Algorave community. Algorave is open to everyone and actively promotes diversity in line-ups and audiences. The community is active both online and at live events organised by community members. The software people use is created within the community and open-source. There is little barrier to participation. If you are interested in Algorave come along, speak to the performers, join the online community, download some software
(e.g. IXI LangpuredataMax/MSPSuperColliderExtemporeFluxus, TidalCyclesGibberSonic PiFoxDot and Cyril) and get coding.

If this sounds like your scene or you want to know more, please join us at the Algorave Late Event. Tickets available here:

Also check out &

28 March 2019

Algorave till Late in the Imaginary City

Cropped imag city

These are exciting and busy times for BL Labs and the digital scholarship team, and we have a few digital/art-themed events next week - book your tickets and come along!

Friday 5th April sees the long-anticipated launch of the Imaginary Cities exhibition in the entrance hall gallery. The exhibition is the work of the British Library's artist in residence, Michael Takeo Magruder, who has been collaborating with BL Labs since 2016, transforming digitised 19th century urban maps into fantastic installations. We will post more about the exhibition next week, so watch this space. The exhibition will run until 14th July and is free to visit.

You can learn about Michael's residency through British Library Labs here (six minute video):

To launch the public opening of the exhibition, Michael is giving a talk about his work on the evening of Friday 5th April at the British Library (18:45 - 20:00). The talk is free but you need to book a place. On the same evening, we are hosting a Late at the Library Algorave in the British Library atrium (19:00 - 23:00) where algorave artists will live-code music and visuals, writing code sequences generating algorithmic beats beneath the iconic Kings’ Library Tower. The event is curated by the audio-visual artist, Coral Manton, in collaboration with the British Library Events team, BL Labs, Digital Scholarship, and the Alan Turing Institute. 

Coral is a Research Affiliate of the British Library. She's interested in the aesthetics of stored knowledge and exploring this in VR. She led a research project with the EThOS team exploring multimedia research in UK PhD theses and future multimodal theses. This project was cited in the AHRC Academic Book of the Future Report and in multiple academic publications.

Back in November 2017, Coral and Joanne Armitage rounded off the BL Labs Symposium with a mini algorave. We didn't record ourselves raving, but you can find our more about the algorave scene and what live coding is in Coral and Joanne's short presentation from the symposium here: 

Book tickets for the talk [Friday 5th April - 18:45-20:00] by the Imaginary Cities artist, Michael Takeo Magruder, here:

Book tickets for the Algorave [Friday 5th April - 19:30-23:00] here:

See here for a post about more details about the Algorave artists who are playing at the Algorave Late event, and about the Imaginary Cities exhibition on this blog soon.

Posted by BL Labs

26 March 2019

BL Labs Staff Award Runners Up: 'The Digital Documents Harvester'

This guest blog is by Jennie Grimshaw on behalf of her team who were the BL Labs Staff Award runners up for 2018.

Harvest Haystack uk

The UK Legal Deposit Web Archive (LDWA) contains terabytes of data harvested from the UK web domain. It has a public search interface at , but finding individual documents in what is in effect a vast unstructured dataset is challenging. The analogy of looking for a needle in a haystack comes to mind as being entirely appropriate.

The Digital Documents Harvesting and Processing Tool (DDHAPT) was designed to overcome the problem of finding individual known documents in the LDWA. It is an adaptation of the web archiving software that enables selectors to set up regular in-depth crawls of target, document heavy websites. The system then extracts new pdfs published since its previous visit from the target websites and presents them to the selector in a list with the most recent at the top:

DDH image 1

The selector can then view an image of the document on the screen by clicking on the title. If the document is in scope, basic metadata is created by completing an on-screen form. If the document doesn’t make the grade for the creation of an individual record, it can be removed from the list of new documents for selection by clicking on the green Ignore button on the right of the screen.

The metadata we create records the title and subtitle, publication year and publisher, edition, series, personal and corporate authors and ISBN (if present). Some fields such as title, publication year and publisher are automatically populated.  A broad subject heading is assigned from a pick list. Our aim is to create a “good enough” record that can stand without upgrading by the digital cataloguers, avoiding double handling.

DDH image 2

To save time and avoid transcription errors system allows the selector to highlight information in the document such as personal author, publisher, series title or ISBN. You then mouse up, which calls up a list of fields. Clicking on the appropriate field automatically transfers the data into it.

DDH image 3

Once the metadata has been created, the selector clicks on a submit button which starts the process of loading it into the British Library catalogue and the catalogues of the other five legal deposit libraries – the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and Trinity College Dublin. The document remains in the Legal Deposit Web Archive. Its URL in the web archive is recorded in the metadata and creates the link between the document and its catalogue record. Readers who find the record in the British Library’s public catalogue or those of any of the legal deposit libraries can then click on the “I want this” button and view the document on screen.

The DDHAPT is currently being used to monitor the publications of Westminster government departments and help us ensure that future generations of researchers can reliably access known official documents via the catalogues of the six legal deposit libraries. However, we intend to extend its use to cover the output of other non-commercial publishers such as campaigning charities, think tanks, academic research centres, and pressure groups as a way of making their archived publications easily discoverable.

Normally material collected under the non-print legal deposit regulations can only be viewed by law on the premised on one of the six legal deposit libraries. However, the Libraries have negotiated licences with the UK government and many other non-commercial online publishers that allow us to make their archived websites and the documents on them open and available remotely. These licences lift non-print legal deposit restrictions and allow us to make the documents covered by them available 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

In these ways the DDHAPT improves the discoverability of non-commercially published documents collected under non-print legal deposit, facilitates metadata creation through auto-population of some fields, and avoids double handling through creation of good quality metadata at the point of selection.

Watch the Digital Documents Harvester team receiving their award and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 8.15 to 14.45):

Find out more about Digital Scholarship and BL Labs. If you have a project which uses British Library digital content in innovative and interesting ways, consider applying for an award this year! The 2019 BL Labs Symposium will take place on Monday 11 November at the British Library.

19 March 2019

BL Labs 2018 Commercial Award Runner Up: 'The Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher'

This guest blog was written by David Zvi Kalman on behalf of the team that received the runner up award in the 2018 BL Labs Commercial category.


The bentsher is a strange book, both invisible and highly visible. It is not among the more well known Jewish books, like the prayerbook, Hebrew Bible, or haggadah. You would be hard pressed to find a general-interest bookstore selling a copy. Still, enter the house of a traditional Jew and you’d likely find at least a few, possibly a few dozen. In Orthodox communities, the bentsher is arguably the most visible book of all.

Bentshers are handbooks containing the songs and blessings, including the Grace after Meals, that are most useful for Sabbath and holiday meals, as well as larger gatherings. They are, as a rule, quite small. These days, bentshers are commonly given out as party favors at Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, since meals at those events require them anyway. Many bentshers today have personalized covers relating the events at which they were given.

Bentshers have never gone out of print. By this I mean that printing began with the invention of the printing press and has never stopped. They are small, but they have always been useful. Seder Oneg Shabbos, the version which I designed, was released 500 years after the first bentsher was published. It is, in a sense, a Half Millennium Anniversary Special Edition.


Bentshers, like other Jewish books, could be quite ornate; some were written and illustrated by hand. Over the years, however, bentshers have become less and less interesting, largely in order to lower the unit cost. In order to make it feasible for wedding planners to order hundreds at a time, all images were stripped from the books, the books themselves became very small, and any interest in elegant typography was quickly eliminated. My grandfather, who designed custom covers for wedding bentshers, simply called the book, “the insert.” Custom prayerbooks were no different from custom matchbooks.

This particular bentsher was created with the goal of bucking this trend; I attempted to give the book the feel of the some of the Jewish books and manuscripts of the past, using the research I was able to gather a graduate student in the field of Jewish history. Doing this required a great deal of image research; for this, the British Library’s online resources were incredible valuable. Of the more than one hundred images in the book, a plurality are from the British Library’s collections.


In addition to its visual element, this bentsher differs from others in two important ways. First, it contains ritual languages that is inclusive of those in the LGBTQ community, and especially for those conducting same-sex weddings. In addition, the book contains songs not just in Hebrew, but in Yiddish, as well; this was a homage to two Yiddishists who aided in creating the bentsher’s content. The bentsher was first used at their wedding.


More here:

Watch David accepting the runner up award and talking about the Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 5.33 to 7.26): 

David Zvi Kalman was responsible for the book’s design, including the choice of images. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he focuses on the relationship between Jewish history and the history of technology. Sarah Wolf is a specialist in rabbinics and is an assistant professor at the Jewish Theology Seminary of America. Joshua Schwartz is a doctoral student at New York University, where he studies Jewish mysticism. Sarah and Joshua were responsible for most of the books translations and transliterations. Yocheved and Yudis Retig are Yiddishists and were responsible for the book’s Yiddish content and translations.

Find out more about Digital Scholarship and BL Labs. If you have a project which uses British Library digital content in innovative and interesting ways, consider applying for an award this year! The 2019 BL Labs Symposium will take place on Monday 11 November at the British Library.

08 March 2019

The British Library / Qatar National Library Partnership Imaging Hack Day – International Women’s Day

On 7th February 2019, the Imaging Team from the British Library Qatar National Library Partnership drew up the blinds in the studio and turned it into an artist’s workshop once again for our second Hack Day. The team produced their Hack ideas and responded creatively to the collection items we are digitising and uploading to the Qatar Digital Library under the theme of International Women’s Day. Taking place on 8th March, we worked a month in advance in order to ensure our ideas could develop and be ready to share in time. International Women’s Day is celebrated globally and aims to end worldwide discrimination. The day is also dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women now and in the past.

Rebecca Harris working on her Hack Day banner

To advertise the Hack Day, Hannah Nagle produced a leaflet and two posters that superimposed information about the upcoming day onto images of items from the collection. The posters included details about the Prep Session on 24th January. This was a productive meeting where we were able to give informal presentations to our colleagues on the project and staff from the wider library. It allowed us to exchange ideas, receive feedback and talk about possible collaborations between staff (while also feasting on Hack Snacks provided by Sotirios Alpanis).

Hack Day Posters

In the final run up to 7th February, clear themes and patterns in our approach had already begun to emerge. As you will see below, many of us wanted to bring light to stories about women, empower the photographs of women who will forever remain nameless and bring focus to the idea of gender within the collection.

The Hacks

Both Rebecca Harris and Daniel Loveday created visuals to be used on social media platforms to replace profile pictures and banners during the build up to International Women’s Day. Dan used the International Women’s Day logo to create a GIF. Within the logo it flips through portraits of women we have very little information about from the archive. ‘I thought this would be a different way to explore how to empower our nameless women.’

GIF scrolling through images of women from digitised collections

Rebecca created a banner and five interactive photographs. ‘Both works are intended for use on Twitter and have been designed to draw traffic back towards the Qatar Digital Library and specifically the women found within it.’ Rebecca used the application ‘Thinglink’ to create the interactive photographs seen in the screenshot below. You can also see the banner in use on the @BLQatar Twitter page: 

Rebecca’s banner for social media

Screenshot of Rebecca’s interactive photographs

Jordi Clopes took a different approach and decided to focus on handwriting. Taking two letters written by Ms. Ruth Honor Hotblack, he extracted, resized and saved the individual characters to create the new and personalised ‘Ruth Honor Typography’. With some characters missing, Jordi created these in the style of Hotblack’s handwriting. Using the app ‘Calligraphr’ to create the font, Jordi wrote a piece of text and then superimposed it onto an image of an empty page from a book in the collection. You can see an example of the letters Jordi used and Jordi’s font in the images below.  

‘With more time and by using another female author more prolific in the collection, a nicer font could be created and, like the ‘Ruth Honor Typography’, could be installed onto any computer to be used in text editing software like Microsoft Word and Outlook.’

Letters from Ruth Honor Hotblack
India Office Records (IOR)/L/PS/12/3651 (Letters from Ruth Honor Hotblack regarding her cousin)

  The ‘Ruth Honor Typography’


Hannah Nagle chose to focus on data visualisations. Using the Qatar Digital Library, she collected a set of data on the reliability of the search engine to source photographs of women. Using this information Hannah created a zine called ‘She Was Here’. Its aim is to highlight photographs of women in the collection, particularly where the search engine has not given them appropriate prominence. The zine is also a collection of experimentations on representing data in imaginative ways. These include collages and manipulating photographs to highlight the women in the photographs. The first half of the zine explores the data through graphs and statistics while the second half is a creative exploration of the photographs of unnamed women from the search results. Hannah used visual techniques to comment on the lack of information recorded about them while giving them space and focus outside of the archive.


Darran Murray worked with four studio portraits of enslaved women. ‘These images have no identification of who they were, where they came from, where they were enslaved, or anything about their experience. For the Hack Day I incorporated new imagery and text into these images in the hope that the images used will provoke the viewer to re-think how they consider these women.’

Our Quality Assurance Officer worked on her project ‘Sounds of the Past’, aiming to showcase the lives and songs of female singers in the Arab world. The project focuses on the singers whose songs can be found in the Qatar Digital Library’s sound archive. The application used is Esri’s ArcGIS Story Maps and helped to create a more engaging and interactive narrative with text, images, sound and videos.


Melanie Taylor developed Instagram accounts for a range of Western Women who played a significant role in the British Imperialist efforts but who don’t typically appear in traditional studies of imperial history. These women include Lady Mary Curzon (the Vicereine of India), Gertrude Bell, Violet Dickson, Lady Anne Blunt and Lady Dorothy Mills. Melanie sourced archival material like letters, journals, articles, books and photographs held in British Library collections.

‘These women each took to the practice of letter and journal writing to record their day-to-day experiences - a highly mediated activity where the author wrote with their audience in mind and constructed their texts according to how they thought their lives should appear.’ In the future, Melanie wants to include interaction between these accounts to emulate the relationships these women would have had in real life via comments and likes. Melanie also wants to consider how these women would exploit social media platforms to fulfil their own personal missions. Watch this space and follow the link for more posts from Lady Curzon:

Matt Lee’s work for both this and the previous Hack Day explored alternative ways of drawing meaning from the collection items we digitise. ‘Since our first Imaging Hack Day, my aim has been to create a range of visual typologies from elements such as stamps, typography, colours and textures. By collecting and organising visual elements by general type I hope to provide a perspective of the collection items that we otherwise would not notice.’

For the second Hack Day, Matt created images that place, in sequence, every written description or mention of gender within randomly selected collection items. The result is a visual tapestry that shows the quantity and types of words that are used in reference to gender. To differentiate between the two genders one has been inverted.

Visual typology using IOR-L-PS-12-3951A

Visual typology using IOR-L-PS-12-3846

If you would like to explore the photographs and documents used in our Hack Day creations from the Qatar Digital Library or find out more about the India Office Records please follow the links below:


You can also read about our first Hack Day in the blog posts below:


The Imaging Team would like to thank Ruth Thompson, Ula Zeir, Serim Abboushi, Noemi Ortega-Raventos, Matt Griffin, Rolf Killius, Louis Allday, Francis Owtram, Richard Davies, Sotirios Alpanis and Renata Kaminska for their help and support.


This is a guest post by the Imaging Team from the British Library Qatar National Library Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar National Library Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar and Imaging Team members Matthew Lee and Hannah Nagle at @_mattlee_ and @hannagle.