THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

5 posts from April 2019

24 April 2019

The ‘Season of Place’ – learning about all things digital mapping

This post by the British Library’s Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, reports on a training ‘season’ dedicated to digital mapping.

One of the British Library Digital Scholarship team’s core purposes is to deliver training to BL staff on a wide variety of digital humanities skills, and we’ve been doing so for over seven years. Since last year, we’ve been experimenting with a new format to deliver our Digital Scholarship Training Programme (DSTP) – that would allow flexibility and adaptability through modularity. We offer a thematic series of talks, hands-on workshops and courses in different shapes and sizes. We call this series a ‘season’ or ‘strand’. Digital Curator Mia Ridge has succinctly described this experimental training format in her recent blog post.

Mia was the first to co-ordinate a series of training modules around a specific topic – content mining for digital scholarship with cultural heritage collections. I was next to organise a second series of training, which we called the ‘Season of Place’. With the help of colleagues such as Gethin Rees (Lead Curator for Digital Map Collections) and Magdalena Peszko (Curator for Map Collections), we’ve planned, co-ordinated and delivered a series of modules on digital mapping, running from December 2018 to the end of March 2019.

The ‘Season of Place’

Creating web maps, visualising collections spatially, and understanding the research potential of digital maps are all unsurprisingly very popular topics among BL staff. Our collection items are naturally rife with associated geographical information, whether place of publication/creation or the mention of place names in the text. Mapping collection items data, whether catalogue records or textual content, in isolation or in conjunction with other data, could offer fresh perspectives on heritage material, boost discovery and empower analysis and research.

The aim of the ‘Season of Place’ was therefore three-fold:

  • To demonstrate the importance of geographical information embedded within BL collections, and the applicability of geospatial tools and technologies to these collections.
  • To provide staff with the skills to use a set of online tools to perform actions such as mapping historical data, geoparsing content and enriching catalogue records with geographical data.
  • To spark inspiration through case studies and examples of cutting-edge visualisations and research using digital maps.

What did we cover?

Our training sessions included talks, courses and hands-on sessions delivered by internal and external experts covering topics such as cataloguing geospatial data, geoparsing, georeferencing, working with online mapping tools, digital research using online maps, and public engagement through interactive platforms and crowdsourcing.

Online tools and platforms included (but were not limited to):

  • Recogito: recently winning Best DH Tool Award, Recogito is an online platform for collaborative document annotation. It is maintained by Pelagios Commons, a Digital Humanities initiative aiming to foster better linkages between online resources documenting the past. Recogito provides a personal workspace where one can upload, collect and organise source materials – texts, images and tabular data – and collaborate in their annotation and interpretation. We had Dr Valeria Vitale deliver a fantastic workshop dedicated to this platform. 
  • Google My Maps: as Google Fusion Tables is shutting down in December 2019, we’ve decided to teach how to use this mapping tool instead. Google My Maps is a free tool that allows the creation of custom maps online in a straightforward way. A great BL case study is an interactive map created by Nick Dykes, visualising the spatial spread of hand-drawn maps and other documents from the War Office Archive.

  • Bounding Box: with this tool for metadata enrichment for catalogue records one can create basic geospatial metadata. This has been used, for example, in Qatar Digital Library catalogue records.
  • Palladio: this set of web-based tools, created by Stanford’s Humanities + Design Lab, can be used to create maps and network visualisations. It’s very useful for showing connections between various entities across time and space.
  • Georeferencer: this is a British Library platform created to crowdsource the georeferencing (assigning points on a map image to corresponding geographical coordinates) of over 50,000 digitised maps from the BL collection. This has been a massive hit, with many people helping us create digital geospatial data for these historic maps.

 

 

  • OpenRefine: Owen Stephens delivered his superb OpenRefine course, teaching BL staff the basic capabilities of this tool to clean and normalise data (e.g. in preparation to be mapped). However, this time Owen added some extra location-related topics: retrieving data from online sources (using Name Entity Recognition) and using ‘reconciliation’ services to match local data to external data sources. OpenRefine is a popular tool at the BL, and Graham Jevon from the Endangered Archives Programme is now working on a sequence of regular expressions to standardise EAP data.

We were honoured to have several external speakers coming to the BL and telling us about their ideas and projects. These included Sally Bushell and Rebecca Hutcheon (Lancaster University) talking about ‘Chronotopic Cartographies and Litcraft: Mapping Space and Time in Literature’; John Hessler (Library of Congress) presenting on ‘Machine and Deep Learning for Librarians: Designing Tools for Collections Discovery in the 21st Century’; Leif Isaksen (University of Exeter) on ‘How to Decide What to Where: Semantic Geo-annotation and the Pelagios Network’; and Sam Griffiths (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture) talking about ‘Exploring the interface of political meeting places and urban space in Ancoats, Manchester c.1780-1860’.

This impressive line-up was complemented by a public ‘Digital Conversation’ talk and panel on ‘Data, Place and Digital Economies’, chaired by Ian Cooke and included Mark Birkin, Miranda Marcus, Jeremy Morley and Emmanouil Tranos.

What’s next?

My colleague Stella Wisdom has embarked on her promising ‘Season of Emerging Formats’ (based on the BL Emerging Formats project), looking at publication types that are a bit more challenging to curate and preserve. Nora McGregor also has a thing or two up her sleeve, so stay tuned!

 

18 April 2019

Collecting Emerging Formats

The Emerging Formats project, started in 2017 by the British Library and the other five UK Legal Deposit Libraries, has been investigating the rise of new complex digital publications that could pose new challenges for libraries and other cultural institutions in terms of collection and preservation. In particular, this project has chosen to prioritise three formats: eBook mobile apps, web-based interactive narratives, and structured data.

These formats reflect the changes and developments in both technology and storytelling in contemporary digital culture. This project meets the Legal Deposit Libraries’ purpose to respond to innovation and to represent the changing nature and diversity of the UK publishing industry. It also fulfills the libraries’ role of long term preservation, as these formats are by their technical nature ephemeral and at risk of loss.

After holding a workshop last November to better define the challenges related to complex digital objects preservation, the British Library organised a series of user experience testing sessions, with the help of an external consultant, Bunnyfoot Ltd. A first round of interviews was carried out at the British Library and at the library of Trinity College Dublin and it identified a strong user interest in collecting and preserving emerging formats, which was later confirmed by two service design group workshops at Bunnyfoot Lab.

Female interacting with the 80 Days app for iPad
Interacting with the 80 Days app for iPad

We are now in the process of testing different collection management methods, using a number of publications selected during the scoping phase as case studies. For example, we are collecting Inkle’s eBook mobile app 80 Days in different file formats (Android app; PC version) and through different acquisition methods (file transfer; download via access code) to test their viability and the different implications they might have in terms of access and preservation. 80 Days is a narrative-based interactive adventure, which offers a unique take on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days – set in an alternative steampunk universe, the story requires the reader’s active participation in order to progress, with thousands of different routes and possible outcomes.

In the case of capturing web-based interactive fiction, two different web archiving tools have been tested – The British Library’s own Annotation and Curation Tool (ACT) and Rhizome’s WebRecorder. While each tool has distinct characteristics which might make it more suitable to a specific type of interactive fiction, both tools proved effective in capturing web-based narrative to a degree. A collection around the topic of e-publishing trends and emerging formats is currently being developed on the UK Web Archive website, with the possibility of nominating yours or someone else's work for inclusion.

As well as investigating collecting methods for complex objects, we are also exploring the requirements for access. At present, only the websites that we have collected using our ACT tool are available in the Library. We are also exploring the possibility of collecting contextual information around these publications. Collecting descriptive material around an object has been tried for time based digital media and digital games. Capturing and preserving sources of information such as websites, trailers, and press kits might prove invaluable in clarifying authorial intent and object use once a format is obsolete or cannot be accessed anymore.

To find out further information about the Emerging Formats project, please see our project page.

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari.

16 April 2019

BL Labs 2018 Commercial Award Winner: 'The Library Collection'

This guest blog post is by the team led by fashion designer, Nabil Nayal - winner of the BL Labs Commercial Award for 2018 - for his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, presented at the 2018 London Fashion Week.

Fashion models posing in room set
Nabil Nayal's SS19 Collection: fashion shoot at the British Library

The Nabil Nayal SS19 collection (The Library Collection) made history by becoming the first fashion show, on the official London Fashion Week schedule, to be hosted at the iconic British Library. The British Library’s digital archives deeply informed the collection. The Tilbury Speech, delivered by Queen Elizabeth I ahead of the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588, was central to the use of print, as were other manuscripts, digitised images, maps and hymn sheets from the era. The collection encapsulates Nabil’s obsession with Elizabethan craftsmanship, whilst symbolising the power and strength of a woman who succeeded in bringing England into its Golden Age.

Nabil undertook historical research in the British Library for his PhD on Elizabethan dress, so the opportunity to collaborate with the Library in order to emphasise the importance of research in fashion education and practice was something he felt passionately about doing. Paying particular attention to the Library’s Elizabethan and Medieval Manuscripts archives, Nabil conducted his research with guidance from expert curators and with support from the Reading Room staff. Using key word search terms and date limitations to search through the digitised archives was particularly useful to find historically accurate documents to incorporate into the collection.

fashion model posing in manuscript inspired design
Nabil's design takes inspiration from the British Library's digitised 1588 manuscript of Queen Elizabeth I's 'Tilbury Speech'  © Nabil Nayal 2018

Elizabethan silhouettes were modernised in this collection by printing these manuscripts onto Nabil’s designs, including a three-metre-long cloak featuring the Tilbury Speech. A UK-based supplier, Silk Bureau, digitally printed the archival material on to a range of fine silks and cottons, which were then used to make garments within the collection. Nabil’s love of the classic white shirt was further explored too, offering a puritan backdrop that ‘whitewashes’ the complex hand-cut embellishments made of bonded poplins and marcella.

The designs in the SS19 collection have been sold to prestigious international stores such as Dover Street Market and Joyce and the collection will be launching exclusively in Selfridges this May (2019). The presentation also generated a huge response in key press and social media, including coverage in Vogue.

5 models posing on the catwalk
Nabil's Elizabethan-inspired designs at the BL Fashion Shoot © Nabil Nayal 2018

Nabil’s interest in promoting historical research within fashion was not limited to this collection. Currently, the brand is working with Collette Taylor of Vega Associates to continue to raise awareness of the potential of the Library’s collections to inspire the next generation of fashion researchers. Nabil held a Research Masterclass at the British Library in November 2018 to work with emerging designers as part of a fashion research competition to develop a capsule collection inspired by the Library’s collections.

This collaboration between Nabil Nayal and the British Library highlights the importance of design education and research for the future-proofing and continued success of UK creative industries, which is a pressing issue. Since 2010, there has been a 34% drop in GCSE entries across the arts, despite the fact that the UK fashion industry supports over 880,000 jobs and delivered a direct contribution of £28 billion to the UK economy in 2015. The wealth of free resources at the British Library provides ample opportunity for design students to explore how education and research can enrich their creativity and allow them to succeed within the fashion industry.

Nabil’s work has received praise from the late Karl Lagerfeld and celebrities such as Rihanna, Lorde and Florence Welch. His SS19 collection epitomises the way that the use of archival research within fashion can generate commercial success, suggesting that the ever-changing fashion industry can benefit from becoming more historically informed and that modernity can be evoked through an interest in the past.

Watch Jennifer Davies receiving the Commercial award on behalf of Nabil's team, and talking about the collection on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 7.26): 

You can read other blogs about Nabil Nayal at London Fashion Week and the fashion show at the British Library, and if you're feel inspired, use the British Library's online Fashion resources.

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.

15 April 2019

Net Art

According to Tate, Net Art is art which uses ‘a computer in some form or other, whether to download imagery that is then exhibited online, or to build programs that create the artwork.’ Tate’s recent event, Lives of Net Art, sought to explore some of these unique digital works and the challenges and opportunities associated with creating, curating and collecting them. Highlights included Tate in Space, a BorderXing Guide and Rhizome’s preservation tools and goals.

Tate in Space was a 2002 project by Susan Collins which imagined how and why a British art institution might launch a gallery into space. Essentially an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) before they were a known concept, Tate in Space worked almost too well. Various newspapers, particularly those overseas, took the tongue-in-cheek work at face value and reported as if Tate really had launched a satellite. This provoked concern from the British National Space Centre, who got in touch to ensure all the necessary permissions had been obtained…

Heath Bunting’s BorderXing Guide considered space in an entirely different manner – the spaces between countries and how they are interpreted. Visiting borders across Europe and exploring their viability for making crossings, Bunting meticulously recorded his journeys and made them available via his website. Naturally, border agents became very interested in Bunting’s movements, and this led to his next work, The Status Project, an online database cataloguing how our identities are constructed from the information held about us.

What both these pieces had in common was that the ‘work’ could not be reduced to its website. Experiences outside of the work, reactions to the work (both public and governmental) and related online and offline content all come together in order for the viewer to contextualise it and make sense of it. They are net art not only in the sense of the technology used in part of their construction, but also in the sense of the network of meaning that radiates from them. It is this that Rhizome attempts to, at least partially address with their Webrecorder tool, a curation tool capable of capturing dynamic websites and online content.   

Webrecorder also enables the building of collections so that net art can not only be captured on the website on which it appears, but also in relation to other articles, sites and data that help to frame the work for audiences viewing it outside of its original context. However, Preservation Director Dragan Espenschied was keen to stress that such collections can perhaps never truly recreate the work as it was, but instead aim to create a more fitting record of its existence than merely collecting software and hardware.

Female wearing VR headset in Imaginary Cities Exhibition
Michael Takeo Magruder, Imaginary Cities at the British Library, 2019. Photographs by David Steele (c) Michael Takeo Magruder

The British Library may soon face a similar challenge for its latest exhibition, Imaginary Cities by artist in residence Michael Takeo Magruder, which opened on 5th April and is on display until Sunday 14th July 2019. Drawing on 19th century maps found in the Library’s One Million Images from Scanned Books collection, the installations not only reflect real world cities and the techniques and practices involved in their construction, but also the digital structures associated with cityscapes, which change and regenerate via the user data of their visitors. Can such a work ever be considered to have been collected? Or, like the cities it seeks to represent, will it leave only a digital footprint of a highly specific experience?

This post is by the Library's Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction Lynda Clark, on twitter as @Notagoth. You can find out more about the Library's Emerging Formats project here.

12 April 2019

The British Library’s new Collection Metadata Strategy

“Our vision is that by 2023 the Library’s collection metadata assets will be unified on a single, sustainable, standards-based infrastructure offering improved options for access, collaboration and open reuse”

Front cover of Foundations for the Future document
Fig. 1: The front cover of the new Collection Metadata Strategy 2019-2023

April 2019 sees the launch of the British Library’s latest Collection Metadata Strategy Foundations for the Future .

Metadata word cloud
Fig. 2: A collection metadata tag cloud

‘Collection metadata’ is an umbrella term for structured data capturing the key properties, relationships and holdings supporting collection management. The British Library’s collection metadata evolved from simple inventory lists to encompass all information required to access, preserve and coordinate resources. Efficient exploitation of metadata underpins user services in a networked world. It is therefore a key resource requiring dedicated management to maximise its potential. 

Front cover of the Unlocking the Value document
Fig. 3: The front cover of the original Collection Metadata Strategy 2015-2018

The British Library formally acknowledged metadata’s importance in 2015 with the publication of its first collection metadata strategy. Unlocking the Value described the foundational principles required to manage metadata as an asset in its own right rather than as a by-product of other activities. This concept proved influential for other national and state libraries with several developing similar strategies. The first strategy period saw great progress in centralising management and support of metadata policy and best practice but also included other notable achievements, including creation of:

  • Automated workflows to upgrade publisher eBook metadata to library standards with minimal intervention
  • Software tools to convert print catalogues to contemporary metadata formats and to automatically enhance over 1 million older catalogue records
  • Open metadata services used by over 2150 institutions in 127 countries
Heatmap showing BL open metadata users
Fig. 4: British Library open metadata users by country – 2019

‘Foundations for the Future’ will build on such achievements to ensure collection metadata becomes even more accessible, relevant and useful by addressing key challenges and new opportunities including:

Increasing Volume and Complexity -Traditional methods of metadata generation, management and dissemination are not scalable or appropriate to an era of rapid digital change, rising expectations and diminishing resources.

New Metadata Creation Options -The changing information landscape presents many new opportunities. Open web resources, automated metadata generation from full text and crowdsourcing offer interesting possibilities requiring exploration.

Improving Visibility - If collection metadata is unavailable, the resources described are effectively invisible. A programme of metadata creation is required to improve visibility of any ‘hidden’ content and enable use.

Tree diagram showing BL metadata users
Fig 5: Users of British Library Collection Metadata

Rights Management – To manage increasingly diverse and dynamic options for hybrid print/digital and local/remote access to content, we must create an equally sophisticated rights metadata infrastructure.

Preservation Metadata – The long-term future of digital collections can only be secured by good preservation metadata. Only by accurately recording key content properties to recognised metadata standards will it be possible to offer current digital content to future users.

Unifying Infrastructure – Collection metadata’s potential is constrained by the requirement to address contemporary challenges with outdated systems, standards and practices. The new strategy proposes the creation of an integrated standards and systems infrastructure capable of unifying and presenting collection metadata in a way unachievable since the British Library’s foundation.

Sun diagram of metadata roadmap
Fig. 6: The Collection Metadata Strategy Roadmap, 2019-2023

A summary roadmap has been created to show the steps planned to address these challenges and ensure that by 2023:

  • The complexity of the British Library’s collection metadata infrastructure will be reduced by convergence on an agreed set of supported standards and systems
  • The unified collection metadata infrastructure will offer new access and processing options enabling improved user services
  • Efficient, sustainable collection metadata workflows will match the increasing scale and complexity of collection content via implementation of new techniques for record creation and exploitation of external data sources

Through the achievement of these goals ‘Foundations for the Future’ will ensure The British Library’s collection metadata will complete its evolution from passive descriptor to active agent, supporting sustainable and relevant services to new generations.

This is a guest post by Neil Wilson, Head of Collection Metadata at the British Library.