Digital scholarship blog

4 posts from February 2022

14 February 2022

PhD Placement on Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks through Correspondence

Every year the British Library host a range of PhD placement scheme projects. If you are interested in applying for one of these, the 2022 opportunities are advertised here. There are currently 15 projects available across Library departments, all starting from June 2022 onwards and ending before March 2023. If you would like to work with born digital collections, you may want to read last week’s Digital Scholarship blog post about two projects on enhanced curation, hybrid archives and emerging formats. However, if you are interested in Caribbean diasporic networks and want to experiment creating network analysis visualisations, then read on to find out more about the “Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks through correspondence (2022-ACQ-CDN)” project.

This is an exciting opportunity to be involved with the preliminary stages of a project to map the Caribbean Diasporic Network evident in the ‘Special Correspondence’ files of the Andrew Salkey Archive. This placement will be based in the Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives team at the British Library with support from Digital Scholarship colleagues. The successful candidate will be given access to a selection of correspondence files to create an item level dataset and explore the content of letters from the likes of Edward Kamau Brathwaite, C.L.R. James, and Samuel Selvon.

Photograph of Andrew Salkey
Photograph of Andrew Salkey, from the Andrew Salkey Archive, Deposit 10310. With kind permission of Jason Salkey.

The main outcome envisaged for this placement is to develop a dataset, using a sample of ten files, linking the data and mapping the correspondent’s names, location they were writing from, and dates of the correspondence in a spreadsheet. The placement student will also learn how to use the Gephi Open Graph Visualisation Platform to create a visual representation of this network, associating individuals with each other and mapping their movement across the world between the 1950s and 1990s.

Gephi is open-source software  for visualising and analysing networks, they provide a step-by-step guide to getting started, with the first step to upload a spreadsheet detailing your ‘nodes’ and ‘edges’. To show an example of how Gephi can be used, We've included an example below, which was created by previous British Library research placement student Sarah FitzGerald from the University of Sussex, using data from the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) to create a Gephi visualisation of all EAP applications received between 2004 and 2017.

Gephi network visualisation diagram
Network visualisation of EAP Applications created by Sarah FitzGerald

In this visualisation the size of each country relates to the number of applications it features in, as country of archive, country of applicant, or both.  The colours show related groups. Each line shows the direction and frequency of application. The line always travels in a clockwise direction from country of applicant to country of archive, the thicker the line the more applications. Where the country of applicant and country of archive are the same the line becomes a loop. If you want to read more about the other visualisations that Sarah created during her project, please check out these two blog posts:

We hope this new PhD placement will offer the successful candidate the opportunity to develop their specialist knowledge through access to the extensive correspondence series in the Andrew Salkey archive, and to undertake practical research in a curatorial context by improving the accessibility of linked metadata for this collection material. This project is a vital building block in improving the Library’s engagement with this material and exploring the ways it can be accessed by a wider audience.

If you want to apply, details are available on the British Library website at https://www.bl.uk/research-collaboration/doctoral-research/british-library-phd-placement-scheme. Applications for all 2022/23 PhD Placements close on Friday 25 February 2022, 5pm GMT. The application form and guidelines are available online here. Please address any queries to research.development@bl.uk

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom) and Eleanor Casson (@EleCasson), Curator in Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.

10 February 2022

In conversation: Meet Silvija Aurylaitė, the new British Library Labs Manager

The newly appointed manager of the British Library Labs (BL Labs), Silvija Aurylaitė, is excited to start leading the BL Labs Labs transformation with a new focus on computational creative thinking. The BL Labs is a welcoming space for everyone curious about computational research and using the British Library’s digital collections. We welcome all researchers - data scientists, digital humanists, artists, creative practitioners, and everyone curious about digital research.

Image of BL Labs Manager Silvija Aurylaite
Introducing Silvija Aurylaitė, new manager of BL Labs

Find out more from Silvija, in conversation with Maja Maricevic, BL Head of Higher Education and Science.

 

Maja: The Labs have a proud history of experimenting and innovating with the British Library’s digital collections. Can you tell us more about your own background?

Silvija: Ever since I discovered the BL Labs in London 8 years ago, I have been immersed into the world of experimentation with digital collections. I started researching collections from open GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) around the world and the implications of copyright and licensing for creative reuse. In a large ecosystem of open digital collections, my special interest has been identifying content for people to use to bring to life their creative ideas such as new design works.

Inspired by the Labs, I started developing my own curatorial web project, which won the Europeana Creative Design Challenge in 2015. The award gave me the chance to work with a team of international experts to learn new skills in areas such as IT, copyright and social entrepreneurship. This experience later evolved into the ‘Revivo Images’, a pilot website that gives guidance on open image collections around the world, which are carefully selected for quality, reliability of copyright and licence information, with explanations how to use the databases. It was a result of collaboration with a great interdisciplinary team including an IT lead, programmers, curators, designers and a copywriter.

All this gave me invaluable experience in overseeing a digital collections web project from vision to implementation. I learned about curating content from across collections, building an image database and mapping metadata using various standards. We also used AI and human input to create keywords and thematic catalogs and designed a simple minimalist user interface.

What I most enjoyed about this journey, actually, was meeting a great range of creative people in many creative fields, from professional animators to students looking for a theme for their BA final thesis - and learning what excited them most, and what barriers they faced in using open collections. I met many of them at various art festivals, universities, design schools and events where I delivered talks and creative workshops in my free time to spread the word about open digital collections for creativity. For two years I was also responsible for the ‘Bridgeman Education’ online database, one of the largest digital image collections with over 1.300.000 images from the GLAM sector, designed for the use of art images in higher education curricula. I had the opportunity to talk to many librarians, lecturers and students from around the world about what they find most useful in this new digital turn.

As a result of this, I am particularly excited about introducing the Labs to university students: from students in computer science departments with coding skills to researchers in social sciences and humanities, to creativity champions in fashion, graphic design or jewelry, who might be attracted to aesthetic qualities of our collections or those looking to pick up creative coding skills.

The landscape has changed a lot in the last 8 years since I learned about the Labs, and I gradually started my own journey of learning code and algorithmic thinking. Already in my previous role in the British Library, as the Rights Officer for the Heritage Made Digital project, we approached digital collections as data. Now we are all embracing computational data science methods to gain new insights into digital collections, and that is what the future British Library Labs is going to celebrate.

 

Maja: You have a strong connection to the BL Labs since you were the Labs volunteer 8 years ago. What most inspired you when you first heard of the Labs?

Silvija: Personally, the Labs were my first professional experience abroad after my MA studies in intellectual history at the American university in Budapest, and happened to be one of the main incentives to stay in London.

This city has attracted me for its serendipity - you can have a great range of urban experiences from attending the oldest special interest societies and visiting antiquarian bookshops to meeting founders of latest startups in their regular gatherings and getting up to speed with the mindset of perpetual innovation.

When I first heard about the Labs in one of its public events, this sentence struck me: “experiment with the BL digital collections to create something new”, with the “new” being undefined and open. I had this idea of a perpetuity - the possibility of endlessly combining the knowledge and aesthetics of the past, safeguarded by one of the biggest libraries of the world, with the creative visions, skills and technology of today and tomorrow.

Such endless new experiences of digital collections can be accelerated by creating a dedicated space for experimentation - a collider or a matchmaker - that contributes to the diverse serendipitous urban experience of London itself. This is how I see the Labs.

Looking from a user point of view, I am particularly excited about the ‘semiotic democracy’, or ‘the ability of users to produce and disseminate new creations and to take part in public cultural discourse’[1] (Stark, 2006). I believe this new playful approach to digitise out-of-copyright cultural materials will fundamentally change the way we see GLAMs. We’ll look at them less and less as spaces that are only there to learn about the past as it used to be, as a recipient, and more and more as a co-creator, able to enter into a meaningful dialogue and reshape meanings, narratives and experiences.

 

Maja: Prior to Labs appointment, you also have a significant rights management experience. What have you learned that will be useful for the Labs?

Silvija: It was a delight to work with Matthew Lambert, the Head of Copyright, Policy & Assurance, for the Heritage Made Digital project, led by Sandra Tuppen, in setting up the British Library’s copyright workflow for both current and historical digitisation projects. This project now allows users to explore the BL’s digital images in the Universal Viewer with attributed rights statements and usage terms.

These last 3.5 years was a great exercise in dealing with very large, often very messy, data to create complex systems, policies and procedures which allow oversight of all important aspects of the digital data including copyright and licencing, data protection and sensitivities. Of course, such work in the Library is of massive importance because it affects the level of freedom we later have to experiment, reuse and do further research based on this data.

Personally, the Heritage Made Digital project is also very precious to me because of its collaborative nature. They use MS SharePoint tool to facilitate data contributions from across many departments in the BL. And they are just fantastic at promoting and celebrating digitisation as a common effort to make content publicly accessible. I will definitely use this experience to suggest solutions on how to register and document both the BL’s datasets and related reuse projects as a similar collaborative project within the Library.

 

Maja: There is so much that is changing in digital research all the time. Are there particular current developments that you find exciting and why?

Silvija: Yes! First, I find the moment of change itself exciting - there is no book about the tools we use today that won’t be running out of date tomorrow. This is a good neuroplasticity exercise that trains the mind not to sleep and be constantly attentive to new developments and opportunities.

Second, I absolutely love to see how many people, from creators to researchers and library staff, are gradually and naturally embracing code languages. With this comes associated critical thinking, such as the ability to surpass often outdated old database interfaces to reveal exciting data insights simply by having a liberating package of new digital skills.

And, third, I am super excited about the possibility of upscaling and creating a bigger impact with existing breakthrough projects and brilliant ideas relating to the British Library’s data. I believe this could be done by finding consensus on how we want to register and document data science initiatives - finalised, ongoing and most wanted, both internally and externally - and then by promoting this knowledge further.

This would allow us to enter a new stage of the BL Labs. The new ecosystem of re-use would promote sustainability, reproducibility, adaptation and crowdsourced improvement of existing projects, giving us new super powers!

↩︎ Stark, Elisabeth (2006). Free culture and the internet: a new semiotic democracy. opendemocracy.net (June 20). URL: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/semiotic_3662jsp

09 February 2022

A Manuscript Reunited – and a IIIF Viewer Issue

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

 

Last year we saw a meticulous detective work by Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator Bink Hallum (British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership) to digitally reunite a thousand-year-old manuscript ending up in two different libraries. This is a Christian Arabic miscellany with texts on herbal remedies, medicine, astrology and other topics. Some of this manuscript’s folios are located at the British Library (on Qatar Digital Library: Or. 8857), others at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan (X 201 sup) - and some have been lost from the original manuscript.

Luckily, not only that both libraries have digitised their respective folios of this manuscript – they also made the digitised images available in IIIF. Being well aware of the benefits of IIIF, Bink has demonstrated in his blog post how to use the Mirador viewer to view both manuscript shelfmarks side by side. This virtual reunification of manuscript folios held in different collections has the potential to encourage and facilitate further research into Abbasid scientific traditions amongst Christian monastic communities.

Screenshot from Mirador, showing the two manuscript shelfmarks side by side (taken from Bink’s blog post)
Screenshot from Mirador, showing the two manuscript shelfmarks side by side (taken from Bink’s blog post)

 

Clearly, I found this to be a very useful example of using IIIF to bring together different instances of the same digital object into one environment. However, I wanted to take this work even further, and create a IIIF manifest which would include all existing folios – and in the right order. Attending Glen Robson’s 5-day IIIF Online Workshop a couple of weeks ago, I could finally give this a go.

 

The most straightforward way for me to do that was to grab the QDL manifest and Ambrosiana’s Biblioteca Digitale manifest, and open them in Atom text editor. Editing the JSON files directly, I copied the canvases of one manifest and pasted them into the other, and then removed canvases with images of the book binding and empty folios. The result looked promising – I could now view the united manuscript on the Universal Viewer.

This looks perfect when viewing a single page at a time (‘Single page view’). However, the unified manuscript looks quite strange when selecting the Universal Viewer’s ‘Two page view’, looking at the transition between the last folio of QDL, and the first folio of Ambrosiana.

The united manifest, as viewed on the Universal Viewer, using ‘Two page view’
The united manifest, as viewed on the Universal Viewer, using ‘Two page view’

 

The reason for this visual mismatch is that the images served from Qatar Digital Library are much larger than Ambrosiana’s, and the viewer does not scale them in relation to one another. Trying to tinker with canvas sizes, absolute or relative, within the manifest itself did not help. Apparently, this has been an issue with other use cases – see for example this discussion on GitHub, or Glen’s investigations of this issue when viewing items of different sizes on Mirador and the UV. Hopefully this scaling issue could be addressed, so we can all enjoy the consolidation of IIIF collection items in their full glory.

It should also be pointed out that although we have digitally reunited the two identified manuscript fragments, some folios are still missing: 36 folios from the beginning of the BL manuscript, 2 folios between folios 13 and 14 of the BL manuscript, 32 folios between the end of the BL manuscript and the beginning of the Ambrosiana manuscript, and a further 14 folios from within the Ambrosiana manuscript. We hope that these missing folios will be discovered one day, and the original manuscript shall be complete once again!

 

07 February 2022

New PhD Placements on Enhanced Curation: Hybrid Archives and Emerging Formats

The British Library is accepting applications for the new round of 2022 PhD Placement opportunities: there are 15 projects available across Library departments, all starting from June 2022 onwards and ending before March 2023. Two of the projects within the Contemporary British Collections department focus on Enhanced Curation as an approach to add to the research value of an archival object or digital publication.

Developing an enhanced curation framework for contemporary hybrid archives (2022-CB-HAC)” will outline a framework for Enhanced Curation in relation to contemporary hybrid archives. These archival collections are the record of the creative and professional lives of prominent individuals in UK society, containing both paper and digital material.  So far we have defined Enhanced Curation as the means by which the research value of these records can be enhanced through the creation, collection, and interrogation of the contextual information which surrounds them.

Luckily, we’re in a privileged position – most of our archive donors are living individuals who can illuminate their creative practice for us in real-time. Similarly, with forensic techniques, we’re capturing more data than ever before when we acquire an archive. The truly live questions are then – how can we use this position to best effect? What can we do with what we’re already collecting? What else should we be collecting? And how can we represent this data in engaging and enlightening new ways for the benefit of everyone, including our researchers and exhibition audiences?

Enhanced Curation, as we see it, is about bringing these dynamic collections to life for as many people as possible.  In approaching these questions, the chosen student will engage in a mixture of theoretical and practical work – first outlining the relevant debates and techniques in and around curation, archival science, museology and digital humanities, and then recommending a course of action for one particular hybrid personal archive. This is a collaborative exercise, though, and they will be provided with hands-on training for working with (and getting the most out of) this growing collection area by specialist curatorial staff at the Library.

Photograph of a floppy disk and its case
Floppy disk from the Will Self archive.

Collecting complex digital publications: Testing an enhanced curation method (2022-CB-EF)” focuses on the Library collection of emerging formats. Emerging formats are defined as born-digital publications whose structure, technical dependencies and highly interactive nature challenge our traditional collection methods. These publications include apps, such as the interactive adventure 80 Days, as well as digital interactive narratives, such as the examples collected in the UK Web Archive Interactive Narratives and New Media Writing Prize collections. Collection and preservation of these digital formats in their entirety might not always be possible: there are many challenges and implications in terms of technical capabilities, software and hardware dependencies, copyright restrictions and long-term solutions that are effective against technical obsolescence.

The collection and creation of contextual information is one approach to fill in the gaps and enhance curation for these digital publications. The placement student will helps us test a collection matrix for contextual information relating to emerging formats, which include – but is not limited to – webpages, interviews, reviews, blog posts and screenshots/screencast of usage of a work. These might be collected using a variety of methods (e.g. web archiving, direct transfer from the author, etc.) as well as created by the student themselves (e.g. interviews with the author, video recordings of usage, etc.) Through this placement, the student will have the opportunity to participate in a network of cultural heritage institutions concerned with the preservation of digital publications while helping develop one of the Library contemporary collections.

Photograph of a man looking at an iPad screen and reading an app
Interacting with the American Interior app on iPad.

Both PhD Placements are offered for 3 months full time, or part-time equivalent. They can be undertaken as hybrid placements (i.e. remotely, with some visits to the British Library building in London, St. Pancras), with the option of a fully remote placement for “Collecting complex digital publications: Testing an enhanced curation method”.

Applications for all 2022/23 PhD Placements close on Friday 25 February 2022, 5pm GMT. The application form and guidelines are available online here. Please address any queries to research.development@bl.uk

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari and Callum McKean, Digital Lead Curator, Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.