THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

6 posts from June 2019

28 June 2019

Digital Conversations: Celebrating Ten Years of the New Media Writing Prize

As part of our Digital Conversations series and the season of events accompanying the Library's Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition; we invite you to join us for an evening discussing the future of the ‘written’ word.  In partnership with Bournemouth University, if:book uk, and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library; we are celebrating ten years of the New Media Writing Prize, by hosting a panel event on Thursday 18 July, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre. To book a ticket go here.

The New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) is an international award, which showcases exciting and inventive, interactive stories and poetry that integrate a variety of formats, platforms, and digital media. 

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On the 18th July, we will have an fascinating discussion featuring previous prize winners and innovative writers from around the world. This event will be chaired by NMWP co-founder and organiser Jim Pope from Bournemouth University, and speaking on the panel will be:

  • Andy Campbell, Digital Director at the One to One Development Trust and the founder/lead author of Dreaming Methods, One to One’s award-winning in-house Virtual Reality, digital storytelling and games development studio. Andy has been a NMWP judge since the prize was launched in 2010, has witnessed innovations and developments in digital publishing and has predictions for what may come next.
Digital Fiction Curios Exterior
Digital Fiction Curios is a unique digital archive of early electronic literature designed in the style of a ‘curiosity shop’, by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston
  • Amira Hanafi is a writer and artist based in Cairo. Her work ‘A Dictionary of the Revolution’, an experiment in polyvocal storytelling, won the New Media Writing Prize in 2018. In 2014, she initiated conversations around keywords used to talk about the 2011 Egyptian uprising and its aftermath with nearly 200 people. The project was published as a website using data visualization to allow readers to navigate through 125 texts that are woven from transcription of this speech.
A Dictionary of the Revolution
A Dictionary of the Revolution, by Amira Hanafi
  • Kayt Lackie, winner of the 2018 NMWP Dot Award for The VESSEL Project in Northern Ontario, Canada. This is an alternate reality game set in a fictionalised version of Elliot Lake. A weekend-long festival where the town of Elliot Lake becomes the setting of a real-world ‘video game’ – where players, as themselves, solve puzzles/gather clues/overcome challenges while experiencing a story created and performed by community participants.
Vessel project
The Ephemera Box Storytelling Installation from the The Vessel Project
  • Christine Wilks, a digital writer, artist and developer of interactive narratives and playable media. Her digital fiction, 'Underbelly', won the very first New Media Writing Prize in 2010.  She is currently building her own platform for authoring and playing text-driven interactive digital narratives, which she is using to develop a psychological thriller for her practice-based PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University.
Underbelly-Spin the Wheel
Underbelly, by Christine Wilks

We would be delighted to see you there to join our conversation, Thursday 18 July, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre, please book a ticket from: https://www.bl.uk/events/digital-conversations-celebrating-ten-years-of-the-new-media-writing-prize.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

26 June 2019

BL Labs Awards 2019: enter before midday on Monday 9th 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 (2019) is 12:00 noon (BST) on Monday 9th September. Submit your entry, and help us spread the word to all interested parties over the next few months or so. This will ensure we have another year of fantastic digital-based projects highlighted by the Awards!

This year, BL Labs is commending work in four key areas:

  • Research - A project or activity that 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 that 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 of noon BST on Monday 9th September 2019 for entering the BL Labs Awards has passed, the entries will be shortlisted. Selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Thursday 10th October 2019. 

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 to the runner up in each Awards category at the BL Labs Symposium on 11th November 2019 at the British Library, St Pancras, London.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up over the last four years has led to the production of a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. In 2018, the Awards commended work in four main categories – Research, Artistic, Commercial and Teaching & Learning:

2018-BL-Labs-Award-Winners
BL Labs Award Winners 2018
(Top left - Delius Catalogue of Works, Top right - Another Intelligence Sings, Bottom right - The British Library Fashion Collection and Bottom right - Pocket Miscellanies)
  • Research category Award (2018) winner: The Delius Catalogue of Works: the production of a comprehensive catalogue of works by the composer Delius, based on research using (and integrated with) the BL’s Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue by Joanna Bullivant, Daniel Grimley, David Lewis and Kevin Page from Oxford University’s Music department.
  • Artistic Award (2018) winner: Another Intelligence Sings (AI Sings): an interactive, immersive sound-art installation, which uses AI to transform environmental sound recordings from the BL’s sound archive by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker independent artists and experience designers.
  • Commercial Award (2018) winner: Fashion presentation for London Fashion Week by Nabil Nayal: the Library collection - a fashion collection inspired by digitised Elizabethan-era manuscripts from the BL, culminating in several fashion shows/events/commissions including one at the BL in London.
  • Teaching and Learning (2018) winner: Pocket Miscellanies: ten online pocket-book ‘zines’ featuring images taken from the BL digitised medieval manuscripts collection by Jonah Coman, PhD student at Glasgow School of Art.

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

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of of British Library Labs.

25 June 2019

Imaginary Cities Exhibition at the British Library

Michael-takeo-magruder-imaginary-cities-4

Until 14 July 2019

Entrance Hall Gallery, British Library

Our new art exhibition, Imaginary Cities, by British Library Labs artist in residence, Michael Takeo Magruder, has been drawing a steady stream of curious visitors since its opening on the 5th April 2019. Staged in the Entrance Hall Gallery, the show features four large technology-based art installations specially commissioned by the Library.

The works represent the artist's creative responses to a set of four nineteenth century city maps of London, Paris, New York and Chicago.

A-plan-of-london-and-its-environs-from-a-topographical-dictionary-of-england-1834
One of the digitised maps: 'A Plan of London and its Environs', drawn by R. Creighton, engraved by J. Walker. In 'A Topographical Dictionary of England ...' by Samuel Lewis, 1835

These four original digitised maps come from the British Library’s One Million Images from Scanned Books collection, which was made available on Flickr Commons in 2013. In the intervening six years, it has received over one billion views and sparked a wealth of creative responses, from the development of new artificial intelligence research, image tagging software and video games to educational initiatives, commercial products and artworks that have been exhibited all over the world.

From the 65,000 books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that were digitised, some 50,000 images of maps were identified and tagged by volunteers. Read more... Taking these maps as his initial inspiration, Michael then began to develop his ideas for this exhibition.

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Cabinet containing some of the map-rich 19th century books that were digitised at the BL

Imaginary Cities was borne out of Michael's collaboration with British Library Labs, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and British Library funded project that inspires and facilitates exciting and innovative uses of the Library’s digital collections and data. Michael has worked with BL Labs for several years as researcher and artist in residence, putting our digitised resources and the user-data associated with them to work in completely new ways.

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A detail taken from Michael Takeo Magruder's gilded artwork based on the 1872 map of Paris and the public's digital interactions with it

In creating the art installations on display, Michael has employed traditional techniques such as precious metal gilding and woodworking alongside cutting edge digital technologies to produce four very different artworks. He worked closely with the computer scientist, David Steele, who used the digitised maps and data representing the public's live interaction with them to transform the singular into an endless set of iterations.

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UV-active installation based on the 1874 map of Chicago and user interactions

Another of Michael's long-term collaborators, Drew Baker, took the static 2D plans and extruded them into 3D in a real-time virtual game environment – taking the map and creating a synthetic 'city' from it. The resulting artwork is housed in the small darkened room within the gallery space, with a large 2D screen and a VR headset... When you don the Oculus headset, what you see is a virtual reality cityscape based on New York City which is continuously regenerated to reflect the live visitor data associated with the historical map on Flickr Commons, such as page views, interactions and volunteer image tagging.

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Visitor using the Oculus headset to explore the 3D imaginary city based on the digitised map, 'Plan of the City of New York,' created in 1766-76

The exhibition has been reviewed in the press and by leading art magazines such as Studio International and Artlyst as well as featuring in Techworld's Culture Crossover series, which showcases 'examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture'.

We encourage you to come and enjoy the free exhibition over the final weeks of its run. If you haven't yet visited, or are unable to make it to the British Library in person, you can take a virtual tour around the exhibition here (video duration 4:36 minutes):

More videos about Imaginary Cities are available here:

  • A guided tour of the exhibition by Michael Takeo Magruder, 4 April 2019 (duration 30:32 minutes).
  • A conversation with the artist, Michael Takeo Magruder, and his collaborators, Drew Baker, David Steele and the manager of BL Labs, Mahendra Mahey. Chaired by Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, 5 April 2019 (duration 1 hour 15 minutes).
  • The opening night speeches by Prof Dame Carol Black and the artist Michael Takeo Magruder at the private view of Imaginary Cities, British Library, 4 April 2019 (duration 19:31 minutes).
  • Michael talking about his residency with BL Labs at the British Library, 19 October 2017 (duration 6 minutes).

For information on events associated with Imaginary Cities, see www.bl.uk/events/imaginary-cities.

Upcoming events include talks and exhibition tours as part of the Knowledge Quarter Conference on 26 June 2019 and the Imaginary Cities Book Launch on 10 July 2019 (at the British Library).

The Imaginary Cities exhibition is generously supported by The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

Posted by Eleanor Cooper on behalf of BL Labs.

19 June 2019

The Shape of Contemporary British Interactive Fiction

When I started this Innovation Placement, I had no idea what I was doing. Six months on, and the main thing I’ve learned is that I know even less than I thought I did. Which is not to say that I haven’t learned a lot, just that archiving interactive narrative is an even more complex and varied task than I had imagined, as are the works of interactive fiction themselves.

One of my key goals was to explore how to preserve interactive works for future researchers. My first task was finding suitable works – they had to be web-based (no downloadable files), be recognisable as interactive narratives in some way and be identifiably created in the UK. Sites such as IFDB (the Interactive Fiction Database) and Sub-Q (the only commercial IF-focussed magazine) and competitions such as Spring Thing and IFComp were invaluable sources, but determining whether the authors were UK-based was more difficult. Some remained entirely anonymous, or gave no indication as to their location on their website or social media, which meant it was not possible to include them in this particular project.

Once found, capturing the works initially didn’t appear to be too much of a challenge. The UK Web Archive’s crawlers were able to get most hypertexts while Webrecorder made it possible to collect most other works. However, playback was where the difficulties crept in. Some works captured well, but wouldn’t play back. Or played back, but with errors. Or showed that actually, the works had still been pulling information from the live web, and when placed in the archive and severed from this outside contact, no longer worked. You can see the Webrecorder collection here, and the UKWA Collection here, although the latter is a work-in-progress. A full list of all works reviewed (some of which were not collectable for various reasons) can be found here.

If you’re a maker of interactive works, I strongly suggest that you submit your work to UKWA or make a copy on Webrecorder and download the WARC (Web ARChive) files it creates (or both), because it will likely be some time before libraries develop systematic collecting policies for these works due to the many challenges associated with collecting and sharing them. Having your work backed up in WARC format may help you stay ahead of the curve!

My other key goal was to get a sense of the ‘shape’ of contemporary British web-based interactive fiction. If I had to draw it, I’d probably do something like this:

Shapes1

Or maybe even like this:

Shapes2

It’s messy and disruptive and gloriously so. But that’s not to say there aren’t some common threads running through the work. Some themes and motifs cropped up many times in many different guises.  Trains, cats, mental health and interactive fiction itself were all addressed by multiple creators, some taking on several of these topics at once in one work. Librarians and archivists were surprisingly well-represented as creators of interactive works, with a piece by the British Library’s own Andy Jackson included in the collection, and creators based at various other UK libraries also contributing works.

Naturally, I wrote some more formal reports on the types of works being created, the tools being used, and the methods used to collect them. However, I felt that the only way to truly summarise the experience of reading and playing and attempting to collect all these amazing works was to create a piece of interactive fiction that mimics the experience of reading and playing and attempting to capture all these amazing works. The result was The Memory Archivist which hopefully goes some way towards conveying the challenges faced by archivists of complex digital works, but also why tackling those challenges is important. I hope you enjoy it.

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.

14 June 2019

Palestine Open Maps mapathon: follow up and data usage experiments

This guest post is by Majd Al-Shihabi, he is a systems design engineer and urban planning graduate student at the American University of Beirut. He is the inaugural recipient of the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship. You can find him on Twitter as @majdal.

 

Last Saturday, the British Library hosted a mapathon run by Palestine Open Maps team to vectorise the map content of 155 maps made at 1:20,000 scale by the British Mandate of Palestine.

Before the mapathon itself, I visited the maps collection at the Library, and after working with the maps for almost two years, I finally saw the original maps in physical form.

About 35 mappers participated in the mapathon, and they vectorised content covering most of historic Palestine. The flashing features in the animation below are the ones created through the mapathon.

View post on imgur.com

They include hundreds of features, including cisterns, schools, police stations, places of worship, parts of the road network, residential areas, and more.

Some of the features, such as towns, had Wikipedia articles and Wikidata items, which we linked to the map data as well.

Often, we are asked, what happens with the data that we produce through those mapathons? First and foremost, it is available for download here, under an Open Data Commons Attribution License.

The data is already being used by other projects. For example, Ahmad Barclay, a partner in the Palestine Open Maps project, has collaborated with the Palestinian Oral History Archive, to map all landmarks mentioned in testimonies by Palestinians recounting life in Palestine before the 1948 Nakba. The result is a map that serves as a spatial way of navigating oral history. View the map here.

 

10 June 2019

Collaborative Digital Scholarship in Action: A Case Study in Designing Impactful Student Learning Partnerships

The Arts and Sciences (BASc) department at University College London has been at the forefront of pioneering a renascence of liberal arts and sciences degrees in the UK. As part of its Core modules offering, students select an interdisciplinary elective in Year 2 of their academic programme – from a range of modules specially designed for the department by University College London academics and researchers.

When creating my own module – Information Through the Ages (BASC0033) – as part of this elective set, I was keen to ensure that the student learning experience was both supported and developed in tandem with professional practices and standards, knowing that enabling students to progress their skills developed on the module beyond the module’s own assignments would aid them not only in their own unique academic degree programmes but also provide substantial evidence to future employers of their employability and skills base. Partnering with the British Library, therefore, in designing a data science and data curation project as part of the module’s core assignments, seemed to me to provide an excellent opportunity to enable both a research-based educative framework for students as well as a valuable chance for them to engage in a real-world collaboration, as providing students with external industry partners to collaborate with can contribute an important fillip to their motivation and the learning experience overall – by seeing their assessed work move beyond the confines of the academy to have an impact out in the wider world.

Through discussions with my British Library co-collaborators, Mahendra Mahey and Stella Wisdom, we alighted on the Microsoft Books/BL 19th Century collection dataset as providing excellent potential for student groups to work with for their data curation projects. With its 60,000 public domain volumes, associated metadata and 1 million+ extracted images, it presented as exciting, undiscovered territory across which our student groups might roam and rove, with the results of their work having the potential to benefit future British Library researchers.

Structuring the group project around wrangling a subset of this data: discovering, researching, cleaning and refining it, with the output from each group a curated version of the original dataset we therefore felt presented a number of significant benefits. Students were enabled to explore and develop technical skills such as data curation, software knowledge, archival research, report writing, project development and collaborative working practices, alongside experiencing a real world, digital scholarship learning experience – with the outcomes in turn supporting the British Library’s Digital Scholarship remit regards enabling innovative research based on the British Library digital collections.

Students observed that “working with the data did give me more practical insight to the field of work involved with digitisation work, and it was an enriching experience”, including how they “appreciated how involved and hands-on the projects were, as this is something that I particularly enjoy”. Data curation training was provided on site at the British Library, with the session focused on the use of OpenRefine, “a powerful tool for working with messy data: cleaning it; transforming it from one format into another; and extending it with web services and external data.”[1] Student feedback also told us that we could have provided further software training, and more guided dataset exploration/navigation resources, with groups keen to learn more nuanced data curation techniques – something we will aim to respond to in future iterations of the module – but overall, as one student succinctly noted, “I had no idea of the digitalization process and I learned a lot about data science. The training was very useful and I acquired new skills about data cleaning.”

Overall, we had five student groups wrangling the BL 19th Century collection, producing final data subsets in the following areas: Christian and Christian-related texts; Queens of Britain 1510-1946; female authors, 1800-1900 (here's a heatmap this student group produced of the spread of published titles by female authors in the 19th century); Shakespearean works, other author’s adaptations on those works, and any commentary on Shakespeare or his writing; and travel-related books.

In particular, it was excellent to see students fully engaging with the research process around their chosen data subset – exploring its cultural and institutional contexts, as well as navigating metadata/data schemas, requirements and standards.

For example, the Christian texts group considered the issue of different languages as part of their data subset of texts, following this up with textual content analysis to enable accurate record querying and selection. In their project report they noted that “[u]sing our dataset and visualisations as aids, we hope that researchers studying the Bible and Christianity can discover insights into the geographical and temporal spread of Christian-related texts. Furthermore, we hope that they can also glean new information regarding the people behind the translations of Bibles as well as those who wrote about Christianity.”

Similarly, the student group focused on travel-related texts discussed in their team project summary that “[t]he particular value of this curated dataset is that future researchers may be able to use it in the analysis of international points of view. In these works, many cities and nations are being written about from an outside perspective. This perspective is one that can be valuable in understanding historical relations and frames of reference between groups around the world: for instance, the work “Travels in France and Italy, in 1817 and 1818”, published in New York, likely provides an American perspective of Europe, while “Four Months in Persia, and a Visit to Trans-Caspia”, published in London, might detail an extended visit of a European in Persia, both revealing unique perspectives about different groups of people. A comparable work, that may have utilized or benefitted from such a collection, is Hahner’s (1998) “Women Through Women’s Eyes:Latin American Women in Nineteenth Century Travel Accounts.” In it, Hahner explores nineteenth century literature written to unearth the perspectives on Latin American women, specifically noting that the primarily European author’s writings should be understood in the context of their Eurocentric view, entrenched in “patriarchy” and “colonialism” (Hahner, 1998:21). Authors and researchers with a similar intent may use [our] curated British Library dataset comparably – that is, to locate such works.”

Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group

Over the ten weeks of the module, alongside their group data curation projects, students covered lecture topics as varied as Is a Star a Document?, "Truthiness" and Truth in a Post-Truth World, Organising Information: Classification, Taxonomies and Beyond!, and Information & Power; worked on an individual archival GIF project which drew on an institutional archival collection to create (and publish on social media) an animated GIF; and spent time in classroom discussions considering questions such as What happens when information is used for dis-informing or mis-informing purposes?; How do the technologies available to us in the 21st century potentially impact on the (data) collection process and its outputs and outcomes?; How might ideas about collections and collecting be transformed in a digital context?; What exactly do we mean by the concepts of Data and Information?; How we choose to classify or group something first requires we have a series of "rules" or instructions which determine the grouping process – but who decides on what the rules are and how might such decisions in fact influence our very understandings of the information the system is supposedly designed to facilitate access to? These dialogues were all situated within the context of both "traditional" collections systems and atypical sites of information storage and collection, with the module aiming to enable students to gain an in-depth knowledge, understanding and critical appreciation of the concept of information, from historical antecedents to digital scientific and cultural heritage forms, in the context of libraries, archives, galleries and museums (including alternative, atypical and emergent sources), and how technological, social, cultural and other changes fundamentally affect our concept of “information.”

“I think this module was particularly helpful in making me look at things in an interdisciplinary light”, one student observed in module evaluation feedback, with others going on to note that “I think the different formats of work we had to do was engaging and made the coursework much more interesting than just papers or just a project … the collaboration with the British Library deeply enriched the experience by providing a direct and visible outlet for any energies expended on the module. It made the material seem more applicable and the coursework more enjoyable … I loved that this module offered different ways of assessment. Having papers, projects, presentations, and creative multimedia work made this course engaging.”

Situating the module’s assessments within such contexts I hope encouraged students to understand the critical, interdisciplinary focus of the field of information studies, in particular the use of information in the context of empire-making and consolidation, and how histories of information, knowledge and power intersect. Combined with a collaborative, interdisciplinary curriculum design approach, which encouraged and supported students to gain technical abilities and navigate teamwork practices, we hope this module can point some useful ways forward in creating and developing engaging learning experiences, which have real world impact.

This blog post is by Sara Wingate-Gray (UCL Senior Teaching Fellow & BASC0033 module leader), Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager) and Stella Wisdom (BL Digital Curator for Contemporary British Collections).