Digital scholarship blog

24 May 2021

Two Million Images Inspire Creativity, Innovation, and Collaboration

BL/QFP Project celebrates two million images on the Qatar Digital Library and the creative ways we have used them.

This week we are celebrating a milestone achievement of two million images digitised and uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library (QDL). In addition to this bilingual, digital archive, the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project (BL/QFP Project) has also inspired creative and innovative pursuits. The material on the QDL is available to use and reuse, which allows for a wide variety of responses. Over the last few years, our Project’s diverse team has explored and demonstrated a multitude of ways to engage with these digital materials, including events, artwork, coding, and analysis.

The BL/QFP Project’s staff are skilled, experienced, and dedicated. They include cataloguers, historians, archivists, imaging specialists, conservators, translators, editors, and administrative support. This means that in one team (ordinarily housed in one office) we have a diverse pool of people, which has inspired some amazing interactions and ideas. Our skills range from photography, graphic design, and technology, to linguistics, history, and data analysis. By sharing and combining these talents, we have been able to engage with the digital material and resources in remarkable ways. We have all enjoyed learning about new areas, sharing skills and knowledge, engaging with fascinating materials, finding new ways of doing things, and collaborating with a range of people, such as the BL BAME Network and other partners.

Some of the work produced outside of our core deliverables is displayed below.

 

Hack Days

Hack Days are an opportunity to use innovative techniques to explore and respond to BL collections. The first BL/QFP Imaging Hack Day was held in October 2018, and led to an array of varied responses from our Imaging Team who used their skills to "hack" the QDL. Subsequent Hack Days have incorporated diverse topics, formats, collections, and participants. They are also award winning: the concept led by the Imaging Team won the British Library Labs Staff Award in 2019.

Poster for first Hack Day, created using images from manuscripts on the QDL, showing an orange tree with heads instead of fruit, saying 'Put Our Heads Together'
Figure 1: Poster for Hack Day created using images from manuscripts on the QDL

 

Astrolabe created by Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager) using Or 2411
Figure 2: Astrolabe created by Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager) using Or 2411

 

Example of images created to respond to the weaponry on the walls by Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician), showing flowers blooming from the muzzles of shotguns
Figure 3: Example of images created to respond to the weaponry on the walls by Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician)

 

Social media banner created by Rebecca Harris (Senior Imaging Technician) for International Women’s Day, showing seven different women from the collection
Figure 4: Social media banner created by Rebecca Harris (Senior Imaging Technician) for International Women’s Day

 

Imaging contrast showing insect damage to manuscript, ‘Four treatises on Astronomy’ (Or 8415), with one image of the manuscript page and the other showing just the pinpricks on a black background, created by Renata Kaminska (Digitisation Studio Manager)
Figure 5: Imaging contrast showing insect damage to manuscript, ‘Four treatises on Astronomy’ (Or 8415), created by Renata Kaminska (Digitisation Studio Manager)

 

Behind the scenes visualisations including conservation treatment, created by Sotirios Alpanis (former Head of Digital Operations) and Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician)
Figure 6: Behind the scenes visualisations including conservation treatment, created by Sotirios Alpanis (former Head of Digital Operations) and Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician)

 

Visual narratives made by combining digital images of desert by Melanie Taylor (Senior Imaging Support Technician)
Figure 7: Visual narratives made by combining digital images by Melanie Taylor (Senior Imaging Support Technician)

 

Colourisation of portrait of the Sharif of Mecca, from 1781.b.6/7, using historically accurate colours like gold and dark blue by Daniel Loveday (Senior Imaging Technician)
Figure 8: Colourisation of the portrait of the Sharif of Mecca, from 1781.b.6/7, using historically accurate colours by Daniel Loveday (Senior Imaging Technician)

 

A photo collage showing a creature with one foot, two leafy legs, a maze for a body, and seven heads comprised of flowers, two animal heads and two human heads. By Morgane Lirette (Conservator (Books), Conservation), Tan Wang-Ward (Project Manager, Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation), Matthew Lee (Imaging Support Technician), Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist)
Figure 9: Exquisite Corpse image created by collaging material from different images, including manuscripts from the QDL as well as BL Flickr and Instagram. By Morgane Lirette (Conservator (Books), Conservation), Tan Wang-Ward (Project Manager, Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation), Matthew Lee (Imaging Support Technician), Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist). Exquisite Corpse: Head part 1 (QDL), Head part 2 (QDL), Head part 3 (QDL), Head part 4 (QDL) Head part 5 (QDL), torso (Flickr), legs (Flickr), feet (Instagram)

 

Cyanotype Workshops

Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician), Daniel Loveday (Senior Imaging Technician) and the Imaging Team

Members of the Imaging team have since gone on to develop cyanotype workshops. The photographic printing process of cyanotype uses chemicals and ultraviolet light to create a copy of an image. The team led experiments on the process at one of the Project’s Staff Away Days. After its success, the concept was developed further and workshops were delivered to students at the Camberwell College of Arts. Images from manuscripts on the QDL were used to create cyanotype collages like those displayed below.

Cyanotype created using collage of images of a bird wearing a crown, a man holding two arms, and two fish in a bowl from the QDL, by Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician)
Figure 10: Cyanotype created using collage of images from the QDL, by Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician)

 

Cyanotype created using collage of images including women, text, buildings and animals from the QDL, by Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager)
Figure 11: Cyanotype created using collage of images from the QDL, by Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager)

 

Watermarks Project

Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician), Camille Dekeyser (Conservator), Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician), Heather Murphy (Conservation Team Leader)

The Watermarks Project is an ongoing collaboration between the Conservation and Imaging Teams. Together they have sought to examine and display watermarks found in our collection items. Starting with the physical items, and figuring out how best to capture them, they have experimented with ways to display the watermarks digitally. The process requires many forms of expertise, but the results facilitate the study and appreciation of the designs.

Two women standing by a book with cameras and tools
Figure 12: Studio setup for capturing the watermarks

 

Animated image showing traditional and translucid view of a manuscript with a watermark highlighted by digital tracing.
Figure 13: Gif image showing traditional and translucid view with watermark highlighted by digital tracing.

 

Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues and Translations Project

Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor), Mariam Aboelezz (Translation Support Officer), Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager), Sotirios Alpanis (former Head of Digital Operations), John Casey (Cataloguer, Gulf History), David Fitzpatrick (Content Specialist, Archivist), Susannah Gillard (Content Specialist, Archivist), John Hayhurst (Content Specialist, Gulf History), Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist), William Monk (Cataloguer, Gulf History), Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History), Curstaidh Reid (Cataloguer, Gulf History), George Samaan (Translation Support Officer), Tahani Shaban (Translation Specialist), David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History), Nariman Youssef (Arabic Translation Manager) and special thanks to the BL BAME Staff Network.

The Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues and Translations Project was joint winner of the 2020 BL Labs Staff Award. It is an ongoing, highly collaborative project inspired by a talk given by Dr Melissa Bennett about decolonising the archive and how to deal with problematic terms found in archive items. Using existing translation tools and a custom-built python script, the group has been analysing terms that appear in the original language of the documents, and assessing how best to address them in both English and Arabic. This work enables the project to treat problematic terms sensitively and to contextualise them in our catalogue descriptions and translations.

 

More projects

The work continues with projects that explore how to use and share different methods and technologies. For example, Hannah Nagle has taught us how to collage using digital images (How to make art when we’re working apart), Ellis Meade has created a Bitsy game based in the Qatar National Library that draws you inside a manuscript (‘Hidden world of the Qatar National Library’), and Dr Mariam Aboelezz has used the BL/QFP Translation Memory to analyse how we were using the Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿal) in our translations of catalogue descriptions (‘Investigating Instances of Arabic Verb Form X in the BL/QFP Translation Memory’).

Pixelated image of a stick person in front of the Qatar National Library using Bitsy from ‘Hidden world of the Qatar National Library’  blog post by Ellis Meade (Senior Imaging Technician)
Figure 14: Image of the Qatar National Library using Bitsy from ‘Hidden world of the Qatar National Library’ by Ellis Meade (Senior Imaging Technician)

 

We have also made the most of the Covid-19 restrictions and working from home, to share and learn skills such as coding, Arabic language, and photography. For example, through the Project’s ‘Code Club’, many of us have learnt about python and have written scripts to streamline our tasks. Furthermore, codes to explore the collections have also had creative outputs, such as Anne Courtney’s project “Making data into sound” (Runner-up, BL Labs Staff Awards, 2020).

The Project’s extraordinary collaborative work demonstrates some of the exciting and innovative ways to engage with library and archival collections. It also makes clear the wider benefits of digitisation and providing free online access to fully bilingual catalogued resources.

You can read about some of our projects in more detail in the blog posts below:

You can read about previous BL/QFP Hack Days in the blog posts below:

This is a guest post by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project, compiled by Laura Parsons. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.

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