Hacking the BL from home
BL/QFP Project and BL BAME Network Hack Day: 13th January, 2021
We may be unable to visit the British Library in person, or see our colleagues except for on our computer screens, but on Wednesday 13th January we proved that lockdown is no barrier to a Hack Day. For the first time our Hack Day was opened up to British Library staff from outside the BL/QFP Project, as we invited members of the BL BAME Network to join us. It was exciting to have a wide variety of people with different roles and Hack Day experience, which was reflected in the diverse ideas and results displayed on the day. There was no particular subject or theme for this Hack Day. The only objectives were to try or learn something new, meet some people from around the Library and have a bit of fun along the way.
It felt slightly weird holding our Hack Day online via Microsoft Teams, rather than gathered in the BL/QFP Project’s office on the 6th floor of the Library. However, with various types of technology and online platforms, including the Teams breakout function and a shared Google doc, we still managed to work collaboratively whilst working from home. Throughout the Teams rooms, it was great to see and hear amazing ideas, helpful team work, interesting discussions, valuable sharing of skills and knowledge, and laughter.
We hope you enjoy reading about our hacks as much as we enjoyed the process of making them together.
Contributors: Morgane Lirette (Conservator (Books), Conservation), Tan Wang-Ward (Project Manager, Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation), Matthew Lee (Imaging Support Technician, BL/QFP Project), Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager, BL/QFP Project), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL/QFP Project)
Our project for this Hack Day collaboration was centered on the idea of the Exquisite Corpse – a fun and creative game popularised by the Surrealists as a tool to create bizarre and wonderful compositions.
The result was a cross collaborative effort, involving staff from the International Dunhuang Project, Conservation and the BL/QFP Project, that created a series of visual collages using material from the Library's digital collections, Flickr and Instagram accounts as well as the Qatar Digital Library (QDL). We created five exquisite corpses in total.
The biggest takeaway from the day was how easy, fun and creative this process was in facilitating cross library networking and collaboration but also as a tool for invention and exploration of the Library’s diverse collections.
OCR Text Analysis
Contributors: David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project) & Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL/QFP Project)
This hack aimed to extend work undertaken as part of the Addressing Problematic Terms Project to explore the BL/QFP’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) data.
Inspiration for the Hack was drawn from Olivia Vane’s excellent OCR visualisation tool, Steptext. OCR is an automated process employed during the BL/QFP’s digitisation process that ‘reads’ the images captured and turns them into searchable text.
Initially the team came up with a list of terms to search the OCR text for. Then we wrote a Python script to search the OCR files for each term, and output three graphs, built using Bokeh.
The results show how it is possible both to identify where specific terms are used in the records and to analyse how they are used over time. This will be of great help as we seek to take the project to the next stage.
OCR Exquisite Corpses
Contributor: Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL/QFP Project)
Taking inspiration from the Exquisite Corpse Hack project, the code for the OCR text analysis was re-factored to produce OCR Exquisite Corpses. Here is the process:
- Taking an initial search term, a shelfmark was picked at random and the term was searched for, this process was repeated until a match was found.
- Once a match was made the subsequent four words were selected, completing the first sentence of an exquisite corpse.
- The final word of the sentence was then used to begin the process again, creating a link between the two sentences.
- This was repeated four times to create surreal nonsense poem.
- Finally, using Google Translate’s text to speech service, an mp3 file was created for each poem.
The Hack team nominated some everyday words to generate OCR Exquisite Corpses. Here are some highlights:
- BREAD and wine: he THEN he in his, POSSESSION of the enemy's ENTRENCHED camp at Brasjoon, ABOUT 80 per cent
- BLUE and gold lackered, WORK fur r North & THE 15th November, 1933, WITH ENCLOSURES FOREIGN: Immediate
- MUTINY had been prevented BY wandering tribes, small TRIBUTARY to Persia; AND has the honour TO deal with the
Investigating Instances of Arabic Verb Form X in the BLQFP Translation Memory
Contributor: Mariam Aboelezz
I investigated uses of Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿala) in the BLQFP Translation Memory using our translation software, memoQ. I chose this verb form because it conveys the meaning of seeking or acquiring something for oneself, possibly by force, and could therefore elicit unconscious bias in our translations. I identified 55 unique verbs that take this form, six of which were potentially problematic. A closer look at the most frequent verb (istawlá; to take forcefully or wrongfully) suggests that some unconscious bias may have travelled from the primary sources to the catalogue descriptions or been introduced during translation. The results provide a prompt for further discussions about problematic language among translators and cataloguers.
Birds of the QDL team
Contributors: Anne Courtney (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project), Sara Hale (Digitisation Officer, Heritage Made Digital/Asian and African Collections), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project), Annie Ward (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL/QFP Project)
The Birds of the QDL team set out to explore how birds appear in the digital records. Sara and Annie used manuscript paintings of bird species as inspiration, creating an animated GIF of a hoopoe and data visualisations of the search results for different birds. Anne tracked bird sightings in one of the IOR ship’s logs by combining quotes from the log with sound recordings and images to help bring the record to life. Francis investigated the Socotra cormorant, British guano extraction and the resistance of the islanders. We enjoyed experimenting with different formats to highlight some of the regional birds and the contexts in which they appear.
Story-Mapping: The Shater’s Journey
Contributors: Jenny Norton-Wright (Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, BL/QFP Project) & Ula Zeir (Content Specialist, Arabic Language, BL/QFP Project)
Our Hack project aimed to create an interactive map tracing the footsteps of a shater [shāṭir, foot-courier] who made a 700-mile return journey between Gombroon and Shiraz in 1761 bearing an important letter, as recounted in one of the Gombroon Diaries (IOR/G/29/13).
First, we collected background information on the journey and on the term shater, and transcribed the relevant diary entries. We then used the Esri ArcGIS StoryMap Tour platform to visualise and map the events. The Tour function integrates text boxes, captions, and associated images with a background map tracking the points of the journey, and supports hyperlinking to the IOR materials on the QDL.
For more information about the Gombroon Diaries:
Diary and Consultations of Mr Alexander Douglas, Agent of the East India Company at Gombroon [Bandar-e ʻAbbās] in the Persian Gulf, commencing 2 October 1760 and ending 30 December 1761, British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/G/29/13, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100000001251.0x00036a>
British Library mosaic
Contributor: Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL/QFP Project)
This project involved learning how to create mosaics using images from the Library and QDL collections. This was inspired by a presentation by Pardaad Chamsaz (Curator Germanic Collections, BL European Studies) about the Decolonising the BL working group of the BL BAME Network. He said that we should remember that the Library is made up of many different people. I decided to try using Mosaically to use multiple images to create an image of the British Library, to show that it takes many parts to make a whole. This also highlights the Library’s vast collections. I then repeated this with images from the QDL to show an image of the QDL homepage.
You can also read about the previous Hack Days in the blog posts below: