Digital scholarship blog

4 posts from April 2021

29 April 2021

The Butcher, the Baker, but not the Candlestick Maker

It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost a year since we took a look at some of the weird and wonderful epithets that have been used to distinguish individuals in the Library’s archives and manuscripts catalogue. Twelve months on, the Western Manuscripts cataloguing team is still working its way through the personal name records – correcting errors, enhancing records, and merging duplicate names.

In doing so, yet more items of epithetical interest have emerged. Who amongst us would not have their curiosity piqued by a man described as a pastry-maker and impersonator of King Ferdinand of Portugal? I’m sure we would all wish to take our hats off to the person labelled advocate for world peace (could there be a more noble calling?). We might be impressed at the range of skills held by the builder and composer and be in awe of the derring-do associated with the British flying ace.

But it’s in the area we today call nominative determinism that I’ve started to see some patterns. You know the kind of thing: the farmer whose surname is Farmer, the miller called Miller, and so on. Those are the obvious ones but with a bit of lateral thinking one can find some slightly less obvious examples in Explore Archives and Manuscripts. Nominative determinism once removed, if you like.

The world of religion is a rich seam. We have clergy of various types called Parsons, Bishop, Deacon, Vicars, and Dean, although I’m not sure being called Demons is the most appropriate name for the former owner of a collection of religious treatises.

Then there are the trades and professions. In the catalogue we have a master mason called Stone and a joiner called Turner. And if there’s one thing a bricklayer needs it’s physical strength so being called Backbone is a good start. A schoolmaster called Read makes sense, and when you think of the materials a jeweller works with then so does being called Dargent. A baker called Assh seems ironic (perhaps he was a graduate of the King Alfred School of Baking).

I don’t think there could be a more appropriate name for a soldier than Danger (although Bullitt comes close), and Haddock and Waters seem apt for seafarers too. Ditto, an explorer called Walker.

But of course there are always those who refuse to play along, those who didn’t get the memo. So we have the carpenter called Butcher, the butcher called Baker, the draper called Cooper, the groom called Chandler, the tailor called Fisher, and the mason called Mercer.

And finally, I am disappointed to report that the individual named Le Cat was not, in fact, a burglar.

Burglar coming in through the window with light illuminating a cat
British Library digitised image from page 47 of "The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of Night. A story of the present day. With numerous illustrations" available on our Flickr collection

This guest blog post is by Michael St John-McAlister, Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager at the British Library.

28 April 2021

1Lib1Ref​ Wikidata Online Office Hours

We blogged recently about IFLA’s Wikidata and Wikibase Working Group's preparations for the next #1Lib1Ref campaign, which runs from 15th May to 5th June 2021. The Wikidata project page for this work is here, which includes resources, such as this Zine about Wikidata.

Star with an owl in the centre
Barnstar for partcipation in the 1lib1ref 2021 campaign, created for Polish Wikipedia, featuring the Owl of Athena symbol. If you don't know what a barnstar is, there is an explanation here.

There is a recording of the Train-The-Trainers workshop run by Meg Wacha, which took place on Wednesday 21st April, now available to watch on YouTube and the slidedeck from this session is here. Meg's presentation gave a great overview on how librarians can run events in their libraries to contribute to Wikidata during the #1Lib1Ref campaign period. Useful urls mentioned in this session, include:

As a follow on from the Train-The-Trainers workshop, the IFLA group are hosting a series of five upcoming Wikidata in #1Lib1Ref online office hours, these have been scheduled for different times in the day, to support participation from all parts of the world. These sessions aim to provide librarians with opportunities to discuss Wikidata work with international colleagues. See below for details of dates and times:

  • Wednesday 5th May at 15:00 BST, 16:00 CEST/The Hague, 14:00 UTC
  • Tuesday 11th May at 23:00 BST, 00:00 CEST /The Hague, 22:00 UTC 
  • Wednesday 19th May at 15:00 BST, 16:00 CEST/ The Hague, 14:00 UTC 
  • Wednesday 26th May at 07:00 BST, 08:00 CEST/The Hague, 06:00 UTC
  • Tuesday 1st June at 23:00 BST, 00:00 CEST/The Hague, 22:00 UTC

To book to attend these #1Lib1Ref online office hours, please fill in this online form and you will be sent the Zoom link. If you have any questions about them, please contact Camille Francoise ([email protected]). 

We also want to give a shout out to the LD4 Wikidata Affinity Group, who hold bi-weekly Affinity Group Calls, Wikidata Working Hours, Wikibase and WBStack Working Hours throughout the year. Finally, being librarians, we recommend checking out this Bibliography of Wikidata, a continuously updated list of books, academic conference presentations, peer-reviewed papers and other types of academic writing, which focus on Wikidata as their subject.

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian) & Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom). They will both be at the #1Lib1Ref online office hour on Wednesday 5th May.

20 April 2021

A Novel Approach To Novels That Shaped Our World!

It is wonderful to be collaborating with Leeds Libraries on their online Games Jam this month, which is encouraging people to create playful interactive adaptations of books in the BBC’s Novels that Shaped Our World list.

An open book with the pages coming to life with a dragon, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and Discworld
Eye-catching artwork for the Games Jam created by Amy Evans (@tiger_tea)

In my experience game jams are a brilliant way of bringing historic and literary digital library and archive collections to life in a completely new way. I’ve ran a few at the British Library and I’m always keen to share what I’ve learned with other libraries, including contributing to Living Knowledge Network skills sharing events, such as one we held on the topic of games and playfulness in libraries, in November 2017 at Leeds Central Library, you can read more about this here.

3 people sitting at a table doing a games activity
@_jerryjenkins @ggnewed & @ella_snell doing a puzzle escape game in a box by @lizcable at a #LivingKnowledgeNetwork skills day (image © Stella Wisdom)

There are endless possibilities for adapting works of literature into games and interactive experiences. Earlier this year I attended an Oxford/London IF meetup group online event, where Emily Short gave a fascinating talk about the storylet game design process for creating Orwell’s Animal Farm an indie adventure game, which is based on George Orwell’s novel, where all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. There is a review of this game here.

Leeds Libraries have programmed a range of online events to inspire creativity, as part of their games jam. Last week I attended a thought provoking workshop led by Liz Cable on how to create literary escape rooms. It made me think of a very atmospheric Dracula inspired escape room called Carfax, situated in a sandstone cave system, which I had visited in Nottingham a few years ago. During the covid-19 pandemic Cave Escape have reworked this game into an online escape experience called Carfax - The Hunter, so anyone can play a version of this game from home.

Liz has a wealth of knowledge about all types of game making tools, apps and platforms, which she generously shares. I first met her at the MIX conference at Bath Spa University back in 2015, where she took me and a few other conference delegates to an escape room in Bath. This was the first time I had been to one; so it was Liz who opened my eyes to a new world of escape game experiences! 

There are still more excellent Leeds Libraries Games Jam online events coming up this week:

All these events can be booked from Leeds Libraries Eventbrite page and if you want to watch recordings of previous events, check out their Novels That Shaped Our World YouTube playlist.

The Novels that Shaped Our World jam itself is taking place over Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th April. Thanks to Libraries Connected and Arts Council England there is a £150 prize for the winner and two £50 prizes for the runners up. More information can be found here.

If you are considering taking part, but are unsure where to start, then you may also be interested in reading this Writing Tools for Interactive Fiction blog post by my colleague Giulia Carla Rossi, which describes a number of free online tools that don’t require any previous programming knowledge. I also recommend joining the jam's Facebook group, where participants can talk to each other and ask questions. Good luck if you make and submit a game, I’m looking forward to reading and playing the entries.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom)

14 April 2021

Wrangling Wikidata With #1lib1ref 2021

Since starting at the Library at the beginning of March, one of the highlights of my working week has been meeting with the IFLA Wikidata and Wikibase Working Group. IFLA is the International Federation of Library Associations, a global body representing the interests of libraries worldwide.

This working group ‘aims to coordinate actions, events and preparation of documents to leverage Wikidata and Wikibase in support of documenting collections and support capacity building in linked data, structured data, and cataloguing work’. For the last six weeks, myself and Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, have been working alongside collaborators from such disparate locations as Jerusalem, New York and Toronto, amongst others, to prepare materials, events and opportunities for the upcoming #1lib1ref campaign.


The next #1Lib1Ref runs from 15th May to 5th June 2021. This campaign, run by the Wikimedia Foundation, invites library staff and patrons to improve the reliability of sources in Wikipedia. Using the philosophy of ‘1 librarian, 1 reference’ the campaign focusses on filling in the gaps of missing references – if just one person adds just one reference, think of what we could do collectively! Full information can be found at the #1Lib1Ref Wikimedia page.

Ahead of this upcoming #1Lib1Ref, IFLA’s Wikidata and Wikibase Working Group are offering a Train-The-Trainers workshop, for up to 50 participants, on Wednesday 21st April at 16:00 CET. This training session, run by Meg Wacha of City University, New York, will show participants how to set up an event to contribute to Wikidata during the #1Lib1Ref campaign period. More details and registration for this online event on Wednesday 21st April can be found on the IFLA website here.

The group will provide resources that can help you learn how to edit Wikidata, and demonstrate the advantages that Wikidata provides for library collections. They will also be holding online weekly informal open office hours throughout May and early June, in which participants can seek advice and guidance from experienced Wikimedians. The British Library will be hosting one of these virtual office hour sessions on Wednesday 5th of May at 3pm BST, details about these and how to book can be found here.

We hope to see you there!

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian)