Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

2 posts from June 2022

27 June 2022

IIIF-yeah! Annual Conference 2022

At the beginning of June Neil Fitzgerald, Head of Digital Research, and myself attended the annual International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Showcase and Conference in Cambridge MA. The showcase was held in Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology’s iconic lecture theatre 10-250 and the conference was held in the Fong Auditorium of Boylston Hall on Harvard’s campus. There was a stillness on the MIT campus, in contrast Harvard Yard was busy with sightseeing members of the public and the dismantling of marquees from the end of year commencements in the previous weeks. 

View of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dome IIIF Consortium sticker reading IIIF-yeah! Conference participants outside Boylston Hall, Harvard Yard


The conference atmosphere was energising, with participants excited to be back at an in-person event, the last one being held in 2019 in Göttingen, with virtual meetings held in the meantime. During the last decade IIIF has been growing as reflected by the fast expanding community  and IIIF Consortium, which now comprises 63 organisations from across the GLAM and commercial sectors. 

The Showcase on June 6th was an opportunity to welcome those new to IIIF and highlight recent community developments. I had the pleasure of presenting the work of British Library and Zooninverse to enable new IIIF functionality on Zooniverse to support our In the Spotlight project which crowdsources information about the Library’s historical playbills collection. Other presentations covered the use of IIIF with audio, maps, and in teaching, learning and museum contexts, and the exciting plans to extend IIIF standards for 3D data. Harvard University updated on their efforts to adopt IIIF across the organisation and their IIIF resources webpage is a useful resource. I was particularly impressed by the Leventhal Map and Education Center’s digital maps initiatives, including their collaboration on Allmaps, a set of open source tools for curating, georeferencing and exploring IIIF maps (learn more).

 The following two days were packed with brilliant presentations on IIIF infrastructure, collections enrichment, IIIF resources discovery, IIIF-enabled digital humanities teaching and research, improving user experience and more. Digirati presented a new IIIF manifest editor which is being further developed to support various use cases. Ed Silverton reported on the newest features for the Exhibit tool which we at the British Library have started using to share engaging stories about our IIIF collections.

 Ed Silverton presenting a slide about the Exhibit tool Conference presenters talking about the Audiovisual Metadata Platform Conference reception under a marquee in Harvard Yard

I was interested to hear about Getty’s vision of IIIF as enabling technology, how it fits within their shared data infrastructure and their multiple use cases, including to drive image backgrounds based on colour palette annotations and the Quire publication process. It was great to hear how IIIF has been used in digital humanities research, as in the Mapping Colour in History project at Harvard which enables historical analysis of artworks though pigment data annotations, or how IIIF helps to solve some of the challenges of remote resources aggregation for the Paul Laurence Dunbar initiative.

There was also much excitement about the Detekiiif browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that detects IIIF resources in websites and helps collect and export IIIF manifests. Zentralbibliothek Zürich’s customised version ZB-detektIIIF allows scholars to create IIIF collections in JSON-LD and link to the Mirador Viewer. There were several great presentations about IIIF players and tools for audio-visual content, such as Avalon, Aviary, Clover, Audiovisual Metadata Platform and Mirador video extension. And no IIIF Conference is ever complete without a #FunWithIIIF presentation by Cogapp’s Tristan Roddis this one capturing 30 cool projects using IIIF content and technology! 

We all enjoyed lots of good conversations during the breaks and social events, and some great tours were on offer. Personally I chose to visit the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map and Education Centre and exhibition about environment and social justice, and BPL Digitisation studio, the latter equipped with the Internet Archive scanning stations and an impressive maps photography room.

Boston Public Library book trolleys Boston Public Library Maps Digitisation Studio Rossitza Atanassova outside Boston Pubic Library


I was also delighted to pay a visit to the Harvard Libraries digitisation team who generously showed me their imaging stations and range of digitised collections, followed by a private guided tour of the Houghton Library’s special collections and beautiful spaces. Huge thanks to all the conference organisers, the local committee, and the hosts for my visits, Christine Jacobson, Bill Comstock and David Remington. I learned a lot and had an amazing time. 

Finally, all presentations from the three days have been shared and some highlights captured on Twitter #iiif. In addition this week the Consortium is offering four free online workshops to share IIIF best practices and tools with the wider community. Don’t miss your chance to attend. 

This post is by Digital Curator Rossitza Atanassova (@RossiAtanassova)

16 June 2022

Working With Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons: Poetry Pamphlets and Lotus Sutra Manuscripts

Greetings! I’m Xiaoyan Yang, from Beijing, China, an MSc student at University College London. It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to do a four-week placement at the British Library and Wikimedia UK under the supervision of Lucy Hinnie, Wikimedian in Residence, and Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator, Contemporary British Collections. I mainly focused on the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets Project and Lotus Sutra Project, and the collaboration between the Library and Wikimedia.

What interested you in applying for a placement at the Library?

This kind of placement, in world-famous cultural institutions such as the Library and Wikimedia is  a brand-new experience for me. Because my undergraduate major is economic statistics, most of my internships in the past were in commercial and Internet technology companies. The driving force of my interest in digital humanities research, especially related data, knowledge graph, and visualization, is to better combine information technologies with cultural resources, in order to reach a wider audience, and promote the transmission of cultural and historical memory in a more accessible way.

Libraries are institutions for the preservation and dissemination of knowledge for the public, and the British Library is one of the largest and best libraries in the world without doubt. It has long been a leader and innovator in resource protection and digitization. The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) initiated by the British Library is now one of the most representative transnational collaborative projects of digital humanistic resources in the field. I applied for a placement opportunity hoping to learn more about the usage of digital resources in real projects and the process of collaboration from the initial design to the following arrangement. I also wanted  to have the chance to get involved in the practice of linked data, to accumulate experience, and find the direction of future improvements.

I would like to thank Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert for her kind introduction to the British Library's Asian and African Digitization projects, especially the IDP, which has enabled me to learn more about the librarian-led practices in this area. At the same time, I was very happy to sit in on the weekly meetings of the Digital Scholarship Team during this placement, which allowed me to observe how collaboration between different departments are carried out and managed in a large cultural resource organization like the British Library.

Excerpt from Lotus Sutra Or.8210 S.155. An old scroll of parchment showing vertical lines of older Chinese script.
Excerpt from Lotus Sutra Or.8210 S.155. Kumārajīva, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What is the most surprising thing you have learned?

In short, it is so easy to contribute knowledge at Wikimedia. In this placement, one of my very first tasks was to upload information about winning and shortlisted poems of the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets for each year from 2009 to the latest, 2021, to Wikidata. The first step was to check whether this poem and its author and publisher already existed in Wikidata. If not, I created an item page for it. Before I started, I thought the process would be very complicated, but after I started following the manual, I found it was actually really easy. I just need to click "Create a new Item". 

I always remember that the first item of people that I created was Sarah Jackson, one of the shortlist winners of this award in 2009. The unique QID was automatically generated as Q111940266. With such a simple operation, anyone can contribute to the vast knowledge world of Wiki. Many people who I have never met may read this item page  in the future, a page created and perfected by me at this moment. This feeling is magical and full of achievement for me. Also, there are many useful guides, examples and batch loading tools such as Quickstatements that help the users to start editing with joy. Useful guides include the Wikidata help pages for Quickstatements and material from the University of Edinburgh.

Image of a Wikimedia SPARQL query to determine a list of information about the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet uploads.
An example of one of Xiaoyan’s queries - you can try it here!

How do you hope to use your skills going forward?

My current dissertation research focuses on the regional classic Chinese poetry in the Hexi Corridor. This particular geographical area is deeply bound up with the Silk Road in history and has inspired and attracted many poets to visit and write. My project aims to build a proper ontology and knowledge map, then combining with GIS visualization display and text analysis, to explore the historical, geographic, political and cultural changes in this area, from the perspective of time and space. Wikidata provides a standard way to undertake this work. 

Thanks to Dr Martin Poulter’s wonderful training and Stuart Prior’s kind instructions, I quickly picked up some practical skills on Wiki queries construction. The layout design of the timeline and geographical visualization tools offered by Wiki query inspired me to improve my skills in this field more in the future. What’s more, although I haven’t had a chance to experience Wikibase yet, I am very interested in it now, thanks to Dr Lucy Hinnie and Dr Graham Jevon’s introduction, I will definitely try it in future.

Would you like to share some Wiki advice with us?

Wiki is very self-learning friendly: on the Help page various manuals and examples are presented, all of which are very good learning resources. I will keep learning and exploring in the future.

I do want to share my feelings and a little experience with Wikidata. In the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets Project, all the properties used to describe poets, poems and publishers can be easily found in the existing Wikidata property list. However, in the second Lotus Sutra Project, I encountered more difficulties. For example, it is difficult to find suitable items and properties to represent paragraphs of scrolls’ text content and binding design on Wikidata, and this information is more suitable to be represented on WikiCommons at present.

However, as I learn more and more other Wikidata examples, I understand more and more about Wikidata and the purpose of these restrictions. Maintaining concise structured data and accurate correlation is one of the main purposes of Wikidata. It encourages reuse of existing properties as well as imposing more qualifications on long text descriptions. Therefore, this feature of Wikidata needs to be taken into account from the outset when designing metadata frameworks for data uploading.

In the end, I would like to sincerely thank my direct supervisor Lucy for her kind guidance, help, encouragement and affirmation, as well as the British Library and Wikimedia platform. I have received so much warm help and gained so much valuable practical experience, and I am also very happy and honored that by using my knowledge and technology I can make a small contribution to linked data. I will always cherish the wonderful memories here and continue to explore the potential of digital humanities in the future.

This post is by Xiaoyan Yang, an MSc student at University College London, and was edited by Wikimedian in Residence Dr Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian) and Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom).