Digital scholarship blog

4 posts from August 2021

25 August 2021

Dabbling in DCMI

One of the best bits of working in digital scholarship is the variety of learning, training and knowledge exchange we can participate in. I have come to my post as a Wikimedian with a background in digital humanities and voluntary experience, and the opportunity to solidify my skills through training courses is really exciting.

Shortly after I started at the library, I had the chance to participate in the Library Juice Academy’s course ‘Introduction to Metadata’. Metadata has always fascinated me: as someone who can still remember when the internet was installed in their house, by means of numerous AOL compact discs, the way digital information has developed is something I have had direct experience of, even if I didn’t realise it.

Green and yellow CD with 1990s AOL branding.
Image of AOL CD, courtesy of archive.org.

Metadata, simply put, is data about data. It tells us information about resource you might find in a library or museum: the author of a book, the composer of a song, the artist behind a painting. In analogue terms, this is like the title page in a novel. In digital terms, it sits alongside the content of the resource, in attached records or headers. In the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative format, one of the most common ways of expressing metadata, there are fifteen separate ‘elements’ you can apply to describe a resource, such as title, date, format and publisher.

Wikidata houses an amazing amount of data, which is unusual as it is not bounded by a set number of ‘elements’. There are many different ways of describing the items on Wikidata, and many properties and statements can be added to each item. There have been initiatives to integrate Wikidata and metadata in a meaningful way, such as the WikiProject Source Metadata and WikiCite. I have certainly found it very useful to have a sound understanding of metadata and its function, in order to utilise Wikidata effectively.

Image of Wikicite logo, with birthday branding.
Wikicite 8th Birthday Logo by bleeptrack.

The Library Juice Academy course was asynchronous and highly useful. Over four weeks, we completed modules involving self-selected readings, discussion forum posts and video seminars. I particularly enjoyed the varied selection of readings: the group of participants came from a breadth of backgrounds and experiences, and the readings reflected this. The balance between theoretical reading and practical application was excellent, and I enjoyed getting to work with MARCEdit for the first time.

I completed the course in May 2021, and was delighted to receive my certificate by email. I have a much stronger handle on the professional standard of metadata in the GLAM sector and how this intersects with the potential of the vast array of data descriptors available in Wikidata. It was also a great opportunity to think about the room for nuance, subjectivity and bias in data. During Week One, we considered ‘Misinformation and Bias in Data Processing’ by Thornburg and Oskins. I said the following in our forum discussion:

“What I have taken from this piece is a real sense of the hard work that goes into the preparation of resources, and the many different forms bias can take, often inadvertently. It has made me think about and appreciate the difficult decisions that have to be made, and the processes that underlie these practices.”

Overall, participating in this course and expanding my skills into more traditional librarianship fields was fascinating, and left me eager to learn more about metadata and start working more closely with our collections and Wikidata.

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

24 August 2021

Important information for email subscribers of the British Library's Digital Scholarship blog

Unfortunately, the third-party platform that the British Library uses for email notifications for our blogs is making changes to its infrastructure. This means that, from August 2021, we anticipate that email notifications will no longer be sent to subscribers (although the provider has been unable to specify when exactly these will cease).

To find out when new blog posts are published, we recommend following us on Twitter @BL_DigiSchol or checking this page on the British Library website where all our blogs are listed.

We want to assure you that we are actively looking into this issue and working to implement a solution which will continue your email notifications, however we do not know whether you will continue to receive notifications about new posts before we are able to implement this. But we promise to update the blog with further information as soon as we have it. Thank you for your patience and understanding while we resolve this.

We appreciate this is inconvenient and know many people are not on social media and have no intention of being so. Many rely on email notifications and may miss out without them. As soon as we have been able to implement a new solution we will post about it here. Thanks for bearing with us.

12 August 2021

Dates to discuss Wikidata at Wikimania 2021

Wikimania is often the highlight of any Wikimedian’s calendar. Hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimania is a conference like no other. A large number of participants take part in the annual celebration of open knowledge and Wikimedia projects. Previous events have taken place in  Stockholm (2019), Cape Town (2018), Montreal (2017) and Italy (2016). Due to the ongoing global pandemic situation, this year's conference being held 13-17 August 2021 is taking place entirely online, something Wikimania is ideally suited for!

  Logo for Wikimania 2021, 4 squares, 1 with a drawing of 12 peoples faces as if they are in a videocall, the 2nd of 2 jigsaw puzzle pieces, the 3rd of paper confetti and the 4th square showing 2 people sitting at a table talking

In addition to more traditional conference sessions, Wikimania will be running an Unconference, a Community Village, and a community Hackathon. Communication is encouraged through a variety of channels including Telegram, IRC and Wiki talk pages.

Telegram machine
A photograph of an old telegraph key by Sandra Tan on Unsplash

Looking at the programme, so many interesting topics are on the table for presentation and discussion: from copyright reform, to innovation and community development, there’s a wide spectrum of material to interest all Wikimedians of every level. Handily, events are rated in terms of their suitability for beginners, to make things as welcoming as possible. There is a whole strand of presentations devoted to Wikidata, which you can view here.

I am very excited to be presenting remotely at this conference on behalf of the British Library. I will be introducing the work of Tom Derrick on the Bengali Books Wikisource Competition, and Dominic Kane (UCL) on the India Office Records project. We have shaped our panel to show what GLAM institutions can do to promote and effectively utilise Wiki platforms for public engagement with library and archive collections. Our panel will run on Sunday 15th of August at 8.15pm (7.15pm UTC).

Wikimania is free to attend online, 13-17 August 2021, registration is open until midnight on Thursday 12th August. We hope to see you there!

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

03 August 2021

Automating the Recognition of Chinese Manuscripts: New Chevening British Library Fellowship

 

The Chevening Fellowship Programme is the UK government’s international awards scheme aimed at fostering knowledge exchange and collaboration, and developing global leaders. In 2015, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has partnered with the British Library to offer professionals two new fellowships every year, and recently the two organisations have announced the renewal of their partnership until 2024/25.

Chevening logo and the British Library logo

These fellowships are unique opportunities for one-year placements at the Library, working with exceptional collections under the Library’s custodianship. The Library has hosted international fellows through this scheme since 2016, with each fellowship framing a distinct project inspired by Library collections. Past and present Chevening Fellows at the Library have focused on geographically diverse collections, from Latin America through Africa to South Asia, with different themes such as archival material from Latin America and the Caribbean, African-language printed books, Nationalism, Independence, and Partition in South Asia and Big Data and Libraries.

We are thrilled to (re-)announce that one of the two placements available for the 2022/2023 academic year will focus on automating the recognition of historical Chinese handwritten texts. This fellowship, originally announced two years ago, had to be postponed due to the pandemic – and we are excited to be able to offer it again. This is a special opportunity to work in the Library’s Digital Research Team, and engage with unique historical collections digitised as part of the International Dunhuang Project and the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project. Focusing on material from Dunhuang (China), part of the Stein collection, this fellowship will engage with new digital tools and techniques in order to explore possible solutions to automate the transcription of these handwritten texts.

End piece of a Chinese Lotus Sutra Scroll (shelfmark: Or.8210/S.1606). Digitised as part of the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project.
End piece of a Chinese Lotus Sutra Scroll (shelfmark: Or.8210/S.1606). Digitised as part of the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project.

 

The context for this fellowship is the Library’s efforts towards making its collection items available in machine-readable format, to enable full-text search and analysis. The Library has been digitising its collections at scale for over two decades, with digitisation opening up access to diversely rich collections. However, it is important for us to further support discovery and digital research by unlocking the huge potential in automatically transcribing our collections. Until recently, Western languages print collections have been the main focus, especially newspaper collections. A flagship collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, the Living with Machines project, has been applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to UK newspapers, designing and implementing new methods in data science and artificial intelligence, and analysing these materials at scale.

Taking a broader perspective on Library collections, we have been exploring opportunities with non-Western collections too. Library staff have been engaging closely with the exploration of OCR and Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) systems for English, Bangla and Arabic. Digital Curators Tom Derrick, Nora McGregor and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert have teamed up with PRImA Research Lab and the Alan Turing Institute to ran four competitions in 2017-2019, inviting providers of text recognition methods to try them out on our historical material. We have been working with Transkribus as well – for example, Alex Hailey, Curator for Modern Archives and Manuscripts, used the software to automatically transcribe 19th century botanical records from the India Office Records. An ongoing work led by Tom Derrick is to OCR our digitised collection of Bengali printed texts, digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

 

Regions, text lines and illustrations demarcated as ground truth, as shown in Transkribus (Shelfmark: Or 3366). Digitised and available on Qatar Digital Library.
Regions, text lines and illustrations demarcated as ground truth, as shown in Transkribus (Shelfmark: Or 3366). Digitised and available on Qatar Digital Library.
 
 
Another screenshot from Transkribus, showing automatically transcribed Bengali printed text (Shelfmark: VT 1914 d). Digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.
Another screenshot from Transkribus, showing automatically transcribed Bengali printed text (Shelfmark: VT 1914 d). Digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

 

The Chevening Fellow will contribute to our efforts to identify OCR/HTR systems that can tackle digitised historical collections. They will explore the current landscape of Chinese handwritten text recognition, look into methods, challenges, tools and software, use them to test our material, and demonstrate digital research opportunities arising from the availability of these texts in machine-readable format.

This fellowship programme will start in September 2022 for a 12-month period of project-based activity at the British Library. The successful candidate will receive support and supervision from Library staff, and will benefit from professional development opportunities, networking and stakeholder engagement, gaining access to a range of organisational training and development opportunities (such as the Digital Scholarship Training Programme), as well as staff-level access to unique British Library collections and research resources.

For more information and to apply, please visit the Chevening British Library Fellowship page: https://www.chevening.org/fellowship/british-library/, and the “Automating the recognition of historical Chinese handwritten texts” fellowship page: https://www.chevening.org/fellowship/british-library-historical-chinese-texts/.

Applications open on 3 August, 12:00 (midday) BST and close on 2 November, 12:00 (midday) GMT.

Good Luck!

This post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She is on twitter as @BL_AdiKS