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155 posts categorized "Collaborations"

20 August 2019

Innovation Labs and the digital divide

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Guest posting by Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor Library and Information Studies UCL Qatar with contributions from Tuesday Bwalya, Lecturer, Library and Information Science Department, The University of Zambia (UNZA) and Fidelity Phiri, Visiting Researcher, UCL Qatar.

Can you recall seeing an interesting digital cultural heritage object from Zambia lately? If you search the Europeana Collections portal, you will find some 2500 digital objects coming from European heritage institutions. Alongside these items, you can enjoy the sound recording of a grunting and splashing Hippopotamus captured on 2 July 1985 on Luangwa river in Zambia. This object was aggregated from the British Library’s sound collection

Digitisation efforts of various Zambian institutions date back to 2002; for example, at the National Archives of Zambia (which does not have its own website at the time of writing this post), finding digital content originating from Zambian institutions is currently a challenge, unless you are visiting these institutions in person. One possible reason is that institutions in Zambia digitise for the purposes of internal collection management, preservation, and on-site use, like many other organisations. A rare exception is the digitised collection of the records of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) of Zambia, which was created in 2007 in collaboration with the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library. While it cannot be accessed on any Zambian digital platform, it is available on the website of the British Library.

Is this situation (of very little accessible digital material online in the archives) common for all cultural sectors? Let us have a look at museums. In this domain, the Livingstone Museum was the first to carry out digitisation activities in 2009. The National Museum Board of Zambia, an umbrella organisation for 5 national and 2 community museums, also has an online presence with digitised images. However, trying to explore the Photo gallery or Audio/video files in the Multimedia section on the website returns the ominous 404 Page not found error although the Board definitely has plenty of objects to share. 

Certainly, one could argue that the poor institutional online digital presence is to be expected in a country within the Global South where a digital divide still exists.  After all, even finding data to assess the scale of this digital divide is a challenge, and the body of publications on digital divide in Africa had been quite limited with some 100 identified works over 12-year period (2000-2012). There is also a lack of recent estimates on the state of technological use in museums. Back in 2002, Lorna Abungu suggested that "[a]t present, out of 357 known museums throughout the African continent (including the Indian Ocean islands), only seventy-five have – on an institutional level – at least basic Internet access for e-mail." 

And, while tackling the digital divide is one of the big challenges of the Global South, when we look at it specifically from the digital cultural heritage perspective it has a global effect. Those within the divide are not able to use modern information and communication technologies to their full advantage. This is one of the reasons digitisation is either delayed or caters only for on-site use in Zambia, for example. But for those on the other side of the divide it results in impaired access to the digital heritage currently being accumulated in the regions affected by the digital divide. This is why the users searching for the sounds of hippopotamus splashing will have a chance to discover them only if they are deposited in a collection on the other side of the divide. 

To foster a change within this current situation of a lack of accessibility to the digital cultural heritage of Zambia, UCL Qatar joined forces with the National Museums Board of Zambia to deliver a day-long workshop on Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions which was hosted on 1 August, 2019 by the Livingstone Museum. You can read more about this event , in a 'Reflections from the First Sub-Saharan African Workshop on Digital Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions' blog post.

Fig. 4. Workshop participants
Fig. 1. After discussing how to overcome some of the disadvantages of the digital divide:
Participants in the Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions which was hosted on 1 August, 2019 by the Livingstone Museum

There was a clear message from Mahendra Mahey, of British Library Labs that innovation in user engagement can start small, with the use of open source tools and popular web platforms. This event provided useful insights on the questions newcomers to the Innovation Lab community have to ask. In September, a Book Sprint to develop the first guide for setting up, running and maintaining a Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs will be held in Doha, Qatar. 

Here are some of these interesting questions for the wider labs community:

  • Keeping in mind how the level of technological innovation is different on both sides of the divide; what should an innovation lab within the divide offer? Incremental innovation to the state of technology around or advanced innovation to match the global leaders?
  • How much can open platforms support innovation for these labs?
  • Can the route of using predominantly open tools and platforms for innovation labs be used also as a way to enhance open science in the Global South? 

Until a shift in the digital access happens, we will continue browsing some digital content on Zambian heritage coming from other cultural heritage organisations outside Zambia, beyond the digital divide.

Fig. 4. Workshop participants Dr Milena Dobreva-McPherson, is Associate Professor Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar with international experience of working in Bulgaria, Scotland and Malta. Since graduating M.Sc. (Hons) in Informatics in 1991, Milena specialized in digital humanities and digital cultural heritage in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, where she earned her PhD in 1999 in Informatics and Applied Mathematics and served as the Founding Head of the first Digitisation Centre in Bulgaria (2004); she was also a member of the Executive Board of the National Commission of UNESCO. Milena’s research interests are in the areas of innovation diffusion in the cultural heritage sector; citizen science; and users of digital libraries. Milena is a member of the editorial board of the IFLA Journal - Sage, and of the International Journal on Digital Libraries (IJDL) - Springer and a member of the steering committed of the three biggest conference series in digital libraries, IJDL, TPDL and ICADL. Consultant of the Europeana Task Force on Research Requirements.  

Tuesday Mr Tuesday Bwalya, Lecturer, Library and Information Science Department, The University of Zambia (UNZA). He holds a Master’s Degree in Information Science from China. In addition, Mr. Bwalya has received training in India and Belgium in Library Automation with Free and Open Source Library Management Systems such as Koha and ABCD. His research interests include free and open source library management systems; open access publishing; database systems; web development; records management; cataloguing and classification.

Fidelity Fidelity Phiri is currently employed as Librarian at Moto Moto Museum and a visiting researcher at UCL Qatar. He has worked for National Museums Board of Zambia since 2001. He  holds a Bachelor's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Zambia. Fidelity  also graduated in April 2019 from UCL Qatar and  is a holder of a Master’s degree in Library and Information studies. His research interests are in bibliometrics studies and digital humanities/units  that provide access to digital collections.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Fred Nyambe for the photos and Dania Jalees for the editing.

Reflections from the First Sub-Saharan African Workshop on Digital Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions

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Guest posting by Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor Library and Information Studies UCL Qatar with contributions from Tuesday Bwalya, Lecturer, Library and Information Science Department, The University of Zambia (UNZA) and Fidelity Phiri, Visiting Researcher, UCL Qatar.

Recently UCL Qatar joined forces with the National Museums Board of Zambia to deliver a day-long workshop on Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions which was hosted on 1 August, 2019 by the Livingstone Museum, Zambia. This workshop was the first of its kind in Sub Saharan Africa and was made possible with the support of the Africa and the Middle East Teaching Fund of the UCL Global Engagement Office. Initially planned for 15 professionals from the cultural heritage sector, it attracted 27 participants (see Fig. 1) coming from six towns located in four out of the ten provinces in Zambia (see map).

Fig. 1.  Participants by sector and gender in the First Sub Saharan Workshop on Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions in Zambia, 1‌ August 2019
Fig. 1.  Participants by sector and gender in the First Sub Saharan Workshop on Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions in Zambia, 1‌ August 2019

After two vibrant events about Digital Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage organisations, this was the first event bringing together a higher proportion of participants from museums and archives in addition to the libraries represented. The Building Library Labs event was the first of its kind ever held at the British Library in September 2018, followed by a second workshop in Copenhagen (March, 2019); both attracted mostly library professionals though there were a few attendees from Archives, Galleries and Museums.  

The Innovation Labs emerged as specialised library units supporting a variety of users in experimenting with digital content in the mid 2000s. However, engaging users with digital content is equally important for museums, archives and galleries. And the exchange of institutional experience across the digital cultural heritage sector is essential for professionals who work there, especially when the number of Innovation Labs around the world is growing steadily. The presenters at the event in Zambia included Milena Dobreva-McPherson, UCL Qatar, Fidelity Phiri, Mr Tuesday Bwalya, University of Zambia, Mr Fred Nyambe (Registrar of Collections, Livingstone Museum) and Mr Brian Mwale, (Chief Librarian, National Archives of Zambia). Fiona Clancy (Digitisation Workflow Manager, British Library), Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager, British Library), and Somia Salim, who is an MA student in Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar, also contributed online (see full programme with links to some of the presentations).

The call for innovation in the heritage sector was clearly communicated in the welcome address delivered on behalf of the Livingstone district acting commissioner Harriet Kawina; this had been duly reported in several publications in Zambian national newspapers (see for an example Fig.2).

Fig. 2. Article on the event in the MAST independent newspaper, 5.08.2019
Fig. 2. Article on the event in the MAST independent newspaper, 5 August 2019

The mixture of presentations discussing the current trends in user engagement with digital content and local examples of digitisation projects and how it works in reality, created a great opportunity to discuss the stumbling blocks in opening content for wider access and use. For some Zambian institutions, the main issue is a lack of a coherent and systematic digitisation efforts, and there was a shared feeling amongst attendees that there needed to be more guidance and clear policies about digitisation for them to follow, which are still not currently in place. Other institutions accumulated digital content and keep it available only internally, not looking into or even considering access and use to external audiences using online platforms on a systematic basis. 

The workshop discussions were lively and engaged; they identified that there is definitely a larger scope to learn from each other locally. In addition, there was a growing realisation amongst organisations that opening their digital content for use by an external audience is now the next step on the agenda of those who have already accumulated it. The feedback of one of the participants, which perhaps summarised this the most clearly, suggested what needs to happen after this workshop in three-steps: 

  • Put the knowledge acquired in the workshop to use ASAP.
  • Conduct a follow up workshop to determine progress in the innovation labs created.
  • Organise a massive awareness campaign to introduce potential users to the innovation labs created.

The workshop participants also experienced the traditional scheduled power outage for the day which explains why the photo illustrating the presentation of certificates is a bit dark (but hey, in the digital world we can easily fix such glitches!)

Fig.3. Participant receiving a certificate from Assoc. Prof. Milena Dobreva
Fig.3. Participant receiving a certificate from Associate Professor Milena Dobreva

Bringing for the first time to the Sub Saharan region the knowledge about innovation labs, fostering dialogue between representatives of different cultural heritage institutions, and discussing the issue of improving access to digital content is just a humble first step in what we hope will help local institutions to improve user engagement and overcome the current digital divide which keeps available digital content hidden from the world.  Read more about Innovation Labs and the digital divide.

Fig. 4. Workshop participants Dr Milena Dobreva-McPherson, is Associate Professor Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar with international experience of working in Bulgaria, Scotland and Malta. Since graduating M.Sc. (Hons) in Informatics in 1991, Milena specialized in digital humanities and digital cultural heritage in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, where she earned her PhD in 1999 in Informatics and Applied Mathematics and served as the Founding Head of the first Digitisation Centre in Bulgaria (2004); she was also a member of the Executive Board of the National Commission of UNESCO. Milena’s research interests are in the areas of innovation diffusion in the cultural heritage sector; citizen science; and users of digital libraries. Milena is a member of the editorial board of the IFLA Journal - Sage, and of the International Journal on Digital Libraries (IJDL) - Springer and a member of the steering committed of the three biggest conference series in digital libraries, IJDL, TPDL and ICADL. Consultant of the Europeana Task Force on Research Requirements.  

 

Tuesday Mr Tuesday Bwalya, Lecturer, Library and Information Science Department, The University of Zambia (UNZA). He holds a Master’s Degree in Information Science from China. In addition, Mr. Bwalya has received training in India and Belgium in Library Automation with Free and Open Source Library Management Systems such as Koha and ABCD. His research interests include free and open source library management systems; open access publishing; database systems; web development; records management; cataloguing and classification.

 

Fidelity Fidelity Phiri is currently employed as Librarian at Moto Moto Museum and a visiting researcher at UCL Qatar. He has worked for National Museums Board of Zambia since 2001. He  holds a Bachelor's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Zambia. Fidelity  also graduated in April 2019 from UCL Qatar and  is a holder of a Master’s degree in Library and Information studies. His research interests are in bibliometrics studies and digital humanities/units  that provide access to digital collections.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Fred Nyambe for the photos and Dania Jalees for the infographic and the editing.

15 August 2019

Creating Geo-located Digital Sound Walks

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A few months ago, here at the British Library we held an interesting Exploring with Sound Walks event, that discussed digital projects that connect literature, sound recordings, place, technology and walking. Several digital tools were mentioned by the presenters at this event, so this post, by Marcin Barski, is a practical guide for creating geo-located sound walks.

We hope you are inspired to create your own walks, listen to sound walks, vote for your favourite (you need to be logged in to vote), and maybe attend one of the Sound Walk Sunday events taking place on the 1st and throughout the month of September 2019. If you can easily travel to London, you may also be interested in attending a Sound Walk Sunday walkshop in and around the British Library, taking place 10:00-13:00 on Saturday 31st August.

Man standing next to a tree, wearing headphones and listening to a sound walk experience
Image copyright Stefaan van Biesen

Over to Marcin for his advice on creating sound walks:

Let's start with some basic definitions. A sound walk is any activity that involves both walking and some form of listening. Listening is a much broader term than most of us would ever suspect. It can basically relate to the very act of giving attention to sound, but if we focus on details we soon realise that, as much as it happens mostly involuntarily, in certain circumstances and contexts we can direct it at the topics or phenomena that otherwise would have been lost in the very rich audiosphere that incessantly surrounds us.

It's rather important to understand that those topics and phenomena do not necessarily need to be of audial nature. Using pre-recorded sets of narratives, spoken word or studio-engineered music, we can make our audience aware of stories normally hidden from sight.

In recent years several tools have been developed that help sound walk artists, educators and creators place sounds in exact locations. Once placed, we need to tell our audience how to find and experience them. This can be achieved by voice instructions, QR codes or most commonly (and conveniently) by using mobile apps that determine the user's position via GPS and trigger sounds in the exact locations where we would like them to be heard.

Below you will find a quick guide on how to start creating your own geo-located sound walk, along with descriptions of some of the tools that can make the process smooth and stress free.

  1. Know your subject

The very first thing you will need to do is to decide what story you want to tell. Do you know it well enough already, or is there a need to do some research? Is the story self-explanatory, or will you need to explain some or all details to your audience? And - actually, maybe the first question to ask - is it a story at all? Some sound walks can be based on natural recordings and music only, meaning the whole covered area changes its character without a single word.

Once your story is ready, decide how it should be conveyed to your audience. Do you prefer to tell the story yourself, or maybe it will be better to find and interview other people with significant knowledge of the topic? Creating a sound walk can sometimes be similar to working on a radio piece, in which important elements are delivered by experts or insiders. Will you need to record everything yourself or is it possible to find archival sounds that would add something valuable to your content?

  1. Choose the area

In the next step you will need to decide what area should be covered with your sounds and narratives. Would you like the sounds to be located only in the described and meaningful locations, or would you prefer to have the whole area covered with some more or less abstract background recordings? In the latter case, you need to take into consideration that the larger the area, the more sounds will be needed to fill all the silent spaces.

Bear in mind that your audience will most likely experience your piece by foot, hence the distances between the particular spots should not be too large. The best results are achieved when distances between the sounds allow for smooth and undistracted strolling.

Remember to consider safety! Don't force your audience to walk in hazardous or restricted areas. They will be using headphones, so choose a route away from busy roads.

  1. Choose your tools

Each app you are going to use will come with specific requirements for the format or duration of your recordings. In most cases these requirements will be easy to meet, but make sure you are doing it correctly right from the beginning to avoid the hassle of file conversion or additional editing in later stages. You will find helpful descriptions of some of the available apps below.

Creating a geo-located sound walk can be fun not only for you, but also for others. Consider working in a group in which all of you have assigned tasks or subjects to cover. You will be surprised how much a socially creative activity it can become. Some people create sound walks with children, or with their local community groups.

  1. Recording and editing

We don't all carry high quality microphones in our pockets. Of course, if you want to create an audiophile experience, you will need to secure professional audio recorders and microphones, however technology is not a barrier anymore. You can even use your smartphone to make your recordings - their quality will definitely be good enough to record speech.

If you'd like to use background sounds, and you have no means of making the recordings yourself, there are repositories of sounds available on the Internet. Impressive collection of sounds can be found, for example, on the British Library's SoundCloud channel. You can also search at http://archive.org and http://freesound.org - which are available for you to use free of charge.

There's quite a number of open-source and free sound editing software on the Internet. If you're not a professional sound designer, most likely Audacity will be enough for you. It's easy to use and has all the features you may need. It's also quite popular so you will find many helpful tutorials online.

  1. Placing sounds

This is probably the most pleasant and at the same time the most challenging part of the work. Be prepared to spend hours in your chosen area and to have your patience tested. Although most of the apps allow for fairly accurate placing of sounds, you will need to test each single location yourself. Sometimes you will need to move a sound by a few metres, other times you will want to change the way in which two sounds interact with each other. Wear comfortable shoes and submit to the trial and error process. Despite the challenges, trust us, it's fun!

  1. Go public and advertise

Once you are sure that all of your recordings are out there and in the exact places you want them to be, you can make your walk public. In most of the available apps you can publish with just one click. And when it's public, don't forget to tell everyone to try it. It's very rewarding to hear back from your audience - you will realise how much your work has re-shaped their perception of the chosen space.

Person standing in front of a church building, they are wearing headphones and listening to a sound walk
Image copyright Stefaan van Biesen

Here is a list of digital tools and platforms available for making sound walks:

Echoes

Echoes gives you the freedom to explore breath-taking GPS-triggered audio tours wherever you are. With the Echoes Creator, you can quickly and easily upload audio, images, and text, geolocate them on the map, and publish them for the world to see. Just add shapes to the map, which create geofenced areas. These will trigger content when your listeners physically walk inside them.

Echoes is free to use and available at http://echoes.xyz

PlaceCloud

Placecloud's mission is to reveal the cultural significance of everyday places. To achieve this, they have invented something called 'placecasts', or place-specific podcasts: short audio recordings with GPS coordinates attached to them. Users can listen to them while being physically present in the places they refer to.

Placecloud keeps the process simple: many of the steps described above won't be necessary when working with this tool. By adding your recordings you become part of a wider community of 'placecasters'.

http://www.placecloud.io

VoiceMap

VoiceMap is a tool for digital storytelling in public spaces. It's designed for storytellers and passionate locals all over the world who can - in an easy way - share their thoughts and narratives about the places they live in. As a creator you can guide your audience around your city - and get paid for this.

http://voicemap.me

Locosonic

Similar to Echoes, Locosonic is designed for creating "movies for your ears" - as they call it. Locosonic Soundscapes link sounds, music and stories to a location. While exploring an area, you will hear the Soundscape that matches your location. Like an additional sense, Locosonic allows you to experience places through their stories and music.

http://www.locosonic.com

CGeomap

CGeomap  is a collaborative tool which allows people to work together on the same project. Very easy to use, it creates simultaneously an online map and a browser-based web app, geolocating audio, text and visual content, without the need to install on your device.

It is more limited in terms of sound than Echoes or Locosonic, but adds media to your walk, and generates simultaneously an online media map, accessible for all on desktop. An extra feature allows the user to shift, while walking, from one map to the other, activating up to three layers of content in one place.

Info: http://bit.ly/300hpMS

Aporee

radio aporee ::: miniatures for mobiles is a platform for (creating) sound walks. These are created and organised by a web-based editing tool and listened to with a mobile phone app, while walking outside, at the site where the piece is created for. In addition to the phone apps, a (prototype) browser-based web app is also available, without the need to install the app on your device.

https://aporee.org/mfm/


We hope you have fun making and listening to sound walks! Sound Walk Sunday events are taking place on the 1st and throughout the month of September 2019. One of them "Ecumenopolis – the whole world is one city", by Geert Vermeire, is being made for walkers around the British Library London, the State Library of Moscow, the National Library of Greece and the City Library of Sao Paulo, so we can't wait to listen to this work.

This post is introduced by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom) and Andrew Stuck from the Museum of Walking.  Many thanks to Marcin Barski, curator, music publisher, sound and installation artist, co-founder of the Instytut Pejzażu Dźwiękowego (Polish Soundscape Institute) for writing this practical guide to creating sound walks.

29 July 2019

Invitation to join ‘Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs Book Sprint’, Doha, Qatar, 23-27 September 2019

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs and Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor Library and Information Studies UCL Qatar.

Laboratory Greyscale 3 resized 1600 x 900
Building Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs

Calling all of you that work in and/or do research in Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs! Join us in Doha, Qatar 23-27 September 2019 for a week long Book Sprint!

Apply now by midnight 5 August 2019 for one of the fully funded trips to take part!

We want to create a new guide for setting up, running and maintaining a Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Lab. Let’s share our experiences (both awesome and challenging) far and wide so that other organisations don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

This is a fantastic opportunity to contribute to a legacy for the Cultural Heritage sector that is bigger than any of us individually. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but it will also be a fun, creative, and rewarding process!

The idea for the sprint came from the Building Library Labs event we held at the British Library in September 2018, work which we built on in Copenhagen (March, 2019).

The event is generously sponsored by UCL Qatar, Qatar University Library and Books Sprint Ltd.

We will let applicants know by 8 August 2019 if they have been successful.

If you are not chosen, or simply can’t make it, don’t worry! We will find other ways to get you involved after the book is published.  We intend to promote the work as part of ‘International Open access week’ which will take place between 21-27 October 2019. We also want to make sure the book is a ‘living publication’ that will be constantly updated and amended online to ensure its continued relevance and usefulness to the broader cultural heritage sector and possibly further.

If you have any specific questions before you apply, please feel free to email me at mahendra.mahey@bl.uk or Milena at m.dobreva@ucl.ac.uk

28 June 2019

Digital Conversations: Celebrating Ten Years of the New Media Writing Prize

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As part of our Digital Conversations series and the season of events accompanying the Library's Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition; we invite you to join us for an evening discussing the future of the ‘written’ word.  In partnership with Bournemouth University, if:book uk, and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library; we are celebrating ten years of the New Media Writing Prize, by hosting a panel event on Thursday 18 July, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre. To book a ticket go here.

The New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) is an international award, which showcases exciting and inventive, interactive stories and poetry that integrate a variety of formats, platforms, and digital media. 

New-media-logo-1080x380

On the 18th July, we will have an fascinating discussion featuring previous prize winners and innovative writers from around the world. This event will be chaired by NMWP co-founder and organiser Jim Pope from Bournemouth University, and speaking on the panel will be:

  • Andy Campbell, Digital Director at the One to One Development Trust and the founder/lead author of Dreaming Methods, One to One’s award-winning in-house Virtual Reality, digital storytelling and games development studio. Andy has been a NMWP judge since the prize was launched in 2010, has witnessed innovations and developments in digital publishing and has predictions for what may come next.
Digital Fiction Curios Exterior
Digital Fiction Curios is a unique digital archive of early electronic literature designed in the style of a ‘curiosity shop’, by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston
  • Amira Hanafi is a writer and artist based in Cairo. Her work ‘A Dictionary of the Revolution’, an experiment in polyvocal storytelling, won the New Media Writing Prize in 2018. In 2014, she initiated conversations around keywords used to talk about the 2011 Egyptian uprising and its aftermath with nearly 200 people. The project was published as a website using data visualization to allow readers to navigate through 125 texts that are woven from transcription of this speech.
A Dictionary of the Revolution
A Dictionary of the Revolution, by Amira Hanafi
  • Kayt Lackie, winner of the 2018 NMWP Dot Award for The VESSEL Project in Northern Ontario, Canada. This is an alternate reality game set in a fictionalised version of Elliot Lake. A weekend-long festival where the town of Elliot Lake becomes the setting of a real-world ‘video game’ – where players, as themselves, solve puzzles/gather clues/overcome challenges while experiencing a story created and performed by community participants.
Vessel project
The Ephemera Box Storytelling Installation from the The Vessel Project
  • Christine Wilks, a digital writer, artist and developer of interactive narratives and playable media. Her digital fiction, 'Underbelly', won the very first New Media Writing Prize in 2010.  She is currently building her own platform for authoring and playing text-driven interactive digital narratives, which she is using to develop a psychological thriller for her practice-based PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University.
Underbelly-Spin the Wheel
Underbelly, by Christine Wilks

We would be delighted to see you there to join our conversation, Thursday 18 July, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre, please book a ticket from: https://www.bl.uk/events/digital-conversations-celebrating-ten-years-of-the-new-media-writing-prize.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

26 June 2019

BL Labs Awards 2019: enter before midday on Monday 9th September!

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The BL Labs Awards formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and data.

The closing date for entering the BL Labs Awards (2019) is 12:00 noon (BST) on Monday 9th September. Submit your entry, and help us spread the word to all interested parties over the next few months or so. This will ensure we have another year of fantastic digital-based projects highlighted by the Awards!

This year, BL Labs is commending work in four key areas:

  • Research - A project or activity that shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Commercial - An activity that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the Library's digital content.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour that inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Teaching / Learning - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.

After the submission deadline of noon BST on Monday 9th September 2019 for entering the BL Labs Awards has passed, the entries will be shortlisted. Selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Thursday 10th October 2019. 

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 to the runner up in each Awards category at the BL Labs Symposium on 11th November 2019 at the British Library, St Pancras, London.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up over the last four years has led to the production of a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. In 2018, the Awards commended work in four main categories – Research, Artistic, Commercial and Teaching & Learning:

2018-BL-Labs-Award-Winners
BL Labs Award Winners 2018
(Top left - Delius Catalogue of Works, Top right - Another Intelligence Sings, Bottom right - The British Library Fashion Collection and Bottom right - Pocket Miscellanies)
  • Research category Award (2018) winner: The Delius Catalogue of Works: the production of a comprehensive catalogue of works by the composer Delius, based on research using (and integrated with) the BL’s Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue by Joanna Bullivant, Daniel Grimley, David Lewis and Kevin Page from Oxford University’s Music department.
  • Artistic Award (2018) winner: Another Intelligence Sings (AI Sings): an interactive, immersive sound-art installation, which uses AI to transform environmental sound recordings from the BL’s sound archive by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker independent artists and experience designers.
  • Commercial Award (2018) winner: Fashion presentation for London Fashion Week by Nabil Nayal: the Library collection - a fashion collection inspired by digitised Elizabethan-era manuscripts from the BL, culminating in several fashion shows/events/commissions including one at the BL in London.
  • Teaching and Learning (2018) winner: Pocket Miscellanies: ten online pocket-book ‘zines’ featuring images taken from the BL digitised medieval manuscripts collection by Jonah Coman, PhD student at Glasgow School of Art.

For further information about BL Labs or our Awards, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of of British Library Labs.

25 June 2019

Imaginary Cities Exhibition at the British Library

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Michael-takeo-magruder-imaginary-cities-4

Until 14 July 2019

Entrance Hall Gallery, British Library

Our new art exhibition, Imaginary Cities, by British Library Labs artist in residence, Michael Takeo Magruder, has been drawing a steady stream of curious visitors since its opening on the 5th April 2019. Staged in the Entrance Hall Gallery, the show features four large technology-based art installations specially commissioned by the Library.

The works represent the artist's creative responses to a set of four nineteenth century city maps of London, Paris, New York and Chicago.

A-plan-of-london-and-its-environs-from-a-topographical-dictionary-of-england-1834
One of the digitised maps: 'A Plan of London and its Environs', drawn by R. Creighton, engraved by J. Walker. In 'A Topographical Dictionary of England ...' by Samuel Lewis, 1835

These four original digitised maps come from the British Library’s One Million Images from Scanned Books collection, which was made available on Flickr Commons in 2013. In the intervening six years, it has received over one billion views and sparked a wealth of creative responses, from the development of new artificial intelligence research, image tagging software and video games to educational initiatives, commercial products and artworks that have been exhibited all over the world.

From the 65,000 books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that were digitised, some 50,000 images of maps were identified and tagged by volunteers. Read more... Taking these maps as his initial inspiration, Michael then began to develop his ideas for this exhibition.

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Cabinet containing some of the map-rich 19th century books that were digitised at the BL

Imaginary Cities was borne out of Michael's collaboration with British Library Labs, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and British Library funded project that inspires and facilitates exciting and innovative uses of the Library’s digital collections and data. Michael has worked with BL Labs for several years as researcher and artist in residence, putting our digitised resources and the user-data associated with them to work in completely new ways.

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A detail taken from Michael Takeo Magruder's gilded artwork based on the 1872 map of Paris and the public's digital interactions with it

In creating the art installations on display, Michael has employed traditional techniques such as precious metal gilding and woodworking alongside cutting edge digital technologies to produce four very different artworks. He worked closely with the computer scientist, David Steele, who used the digitised maps and data representing the public's live interaction with them to transform the singular into an endless set of iterations.

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UV-active installation based on the 1874 map of Chicago and user interactions

Another of Michael's long-term collaborators, Drew Baker, took the static 2D plans and extruded them into 3D in a real-time virtual game environment – taking the map and creating a synthetic 'city' from it. The resulting artwork is housed in the small darkened room within the gallery space, with a large 2D screen and a VR headset... When you don the Oculus headset, what you see is a virtual reality cityscape based on New York City which is continuously regenerated to reflect the live visitor data associated with the historical map on Flickr Commons, such as page views, interactions and volunteer image tagging.

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Visitor using the Oculus headset to explore the 3D imaginary city based on the digitised map, 'Plan of the City of New York,' created in 1766-76

The exhibition has been reviewed in the press and by leading art magazines such as Studio International and Artlyst as well as featuring in Techworld's Culture Crossover series, which showcases 'examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture'.

We encourage you to come and enjoy the free exhibition over the final weeks of its run. If you haven't yet visited, or are unable to make it to the British Library in person, you can take a virtual tour around the exhibition here (video duration 4:36 minutes):

More videos about Imaginary Cities are available here:

  • A guided tour of the exhibition by Michael Takeo Magruder, 4 April 2019 (duration 30:32 minutes).
  • A conversation with the artist, Michael Takeo Magruder, and his collaborators, Drew Baker, David Steele and the manager of BL Labs, Mahendra Mahey. Chaired by Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, 5 April 2019 (duration 1 hour 15 minutes).
  • The opening night speeches by Prof Dame Carol Black and the artist Michael Takeo Magruder at the private view of Imaginary Cities, British Library, 4 April 2019 (duration 19:31 minutes).
  • Michael talking about his residency with BL Labs at the British Library, 19 October 2017 (duration 6 minutes).

For information on events associated with Imaginary Cities, see www.bl.uk/events/imaginary-cities.

Upcoming events include talks and exhibition tours as part of the Knowledge Quarter Conference on 26 June 2019 and the Imaginary Cities Book Launch on 10 July 2019 (at the British Library).

The Imaginary Cities exhibition is generously supported by The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

Posted by Eleanor Cooper on behalf of BL Labs.

10 June 2019

Collaborative Digital Scholarship in Action: A Case Study in Designing Impactful Student Learning Partnerships

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The Arts and Sciences (BASc) department at University College London has been at the forefront of pioneering a renascence of liberal arts and sciences degrees in the UK. As part of its Core modules offering, students select an interdisciplinary elective in Year 2 of their academic programme – from a range of modules specially designed for the department by University College London academics and researchers.

When creating my own module – Information Through the Ages (BASC0033) – as part of this elective set, I was keen to ensure that the student learning experience was both supported and developed in tandem with professional practices and standards, knowing that enabling students to progress their skills developed on the module beyond the module’s own assignments would aid them not only in their own unique academic degree programmes but also provide substantial evidence to future employers of their employability and skills base. Partnering with the British Library, therefore, in designing a data science and data curation project as part of the module’s core assignments, seemed to me to provide an excellent opportunity to enable both a research-based educative framework for students as well as a valuable chance for them to engage in a real-world collaboration, as providing students with external industry partners to collaborate with can contribute an important fillip to their motivation and the learning experience overall – by seeing their assessed work move beyond the confines of the academy to have an impact out in the wider world.

Through discussions with my British Library co-collaborators, Mahendra Mahey and Stella Wisdom, we alighted on the Microsoft Books/BL 19th Century collection dataset as providing excellent potential for student groups to work with for their data curation projects. With its 60,000 public domain volumes, associated metadata and 1 million+ extracted images, it presented as exciting, undiscovered territory across which our student groups might roam and rove, with the results of their work having the potential to benefit future British Library researchers.

Structuring the group project around wrangling a subset of this data: discovering, researching, cleaning and refining it, with the output from each group a curated version of the original dataset we therefore felt presented a number of significant benefits. Students were enabled to explore and develop technical skills such as data curation, software knowledge, archival research, report writing, project development and collaborative working practices, alongside experiencing a real world, digital scholarship learning experience – with the outcomes in turn supporting the British Library’s Digital Scholarship remit regards enabling innovative research based on the British Library digital collections.

Students observed that “working with the data did give me more practical insight to the field of work involved with digitisation work, and it was an enriching experience”, including how they “appreciated how involved and hands-on the projects were, as this is something that I particularly enjoy”. Data curation training was provided on site at the British Library, with the session focused on the use of OpenRefine, “a powerful tool for working with messy data: cleaning it; transforming it from one format into another; and extending it with web services and external data.”[1] Student feedback also told us that we could have provided further software training, and more guided dataset exploration/navigation resources, with groups keen to learn more nuanced data curation techniques – something we will aim to respond to in future iterations of the module – but overall, as one student succinctly noted, “I had no idea of the digitalization process and I learned a lot about data science. The training was very useful and I acquired new skills about data cleaning.”

Overall, we had five student groups wrangling the BL 19th Century collection, producing final data subsets in the following areas: Christian and Christian-related texts; Queens of Britain 1510-1946; female authors, 1800-1900 (here's a heatmap this student group produced of the spread of published titles by female authors in the 19th century); Shakespearean works, other author’s adaptations on those works, and any commentary on Shakespeare or his writing; and travel-related books.

In particular, it was excellent to see students fully engaging with the research process around their chosen data subset – exploring its cultural and institutional contexts, as well as navigating metadata/data schemas, requirements and standards.

For example, the Christian texts group considered the issue of different languages as part of their data subset of texts, following this up with textual content analysis to enable accurate record querying and selection. In their project report they noted that “[u]sing our dataset and visualisations as aids, we hope that researchers studying the Bible and Christianity can discover insights into the geographical and temporal spread of Christian-related texts. Furthermore, we hope that they can also glean new information regarding the people behind the translations of Bibles as well as those who wrote about Christianity.”

Similarly, the student group focused on travel-related texts discussed in their team project summary that “[t]he particular value of this curated dataset is that future researchers may be able to use it in the analysis of international points of view. In these works, many cities and nations are being written about from an outside perspective. This perspective is one that can be valuable in understanding historical relations and frames of reference between groups around the world: for instance, the work “Travels in France and Italy, in 1817 and 1818”, published in New York, likely provides an American perspective of Europe, while “Four Months in Persia, and a Visit to Trans-Caspia”, published in London, might detail an extended visit of a European in Persia, both revealing unique perspectives about different groups of people. A comparable work, that may have utilized or benefitted from such a collection, is Hahner’s (1998) “Women Through Women’s Eyes:Latin American Women in Nineteenth Century Travel Accounts.” In it, Hahner explores nineteenth century literature written to unearth the perspectives on Latin American women, specifically noting that the primarily European author’s writings should be understood in the context of their Eurocentric view, entrenched in “patriarchy” and “colonialism” (Hahner, 1998:21). Authors and researchers with a similar intent may use [our] curated British Library dataset comparably – that is, to locate such works.”

Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group

Over the ten weeks of the module, alongside their group data curation projects, students covered lecture topics as varied as Is a Star a Document?, "Truthiness" and Truth in a Post-Truth World, Organising Information: Classification, Taxonomies and Beyond!, and Information & Power; worked on an individual archival GIF project which drew on an institutional archival collection to create (and publish on social media) an animated GIF; and spent time in classroom discussions considering questions such as What happens when information is used for dis-informing or mis-informing purposes?; How do the technologies available to us in the 21st century potentially impact on the (data) collection process and its outputs and outcomes?; How might ideas about collections and collecting be transformed in a digital context?; What exactly do we mean by the concepts of Data and Information?; How we choose to classify or group something first requires we have a series of "rules" or instructions which determine the grouping process – but who decides on what the rules are and how might such decisions in fact influence our very understandings of the information the system is supposedly designed to facilitate access to? These dialogues were all situated within the context of both "traditional" collections systems and atypical sites of information storage and collection, with the module aiming to enable students to gain an in-depth knowledge, understanding and critical appreciation of the concept of information, from historical antecedents to digital scientific and cultural heritage forms, in the context of libraries, archives, galleries and museums (including alternative, atypical and emergent sources), and how technological, social, cultural and other changes fundamentally affect our concept of “information.”

“I think this module was particularly helpful in making me look at things in an interdisciplinary light”, one student observed in module evaluation feedback, with others going on to note that “I think the different formats of work we had to do was engaging and made the coursework much more interesting than just papers or just a project … the collaboration with the British Library deeply enriched the experience by providing a direct and visible outlet for any energies expended on the module. It made the material seem more applicable and the coursework more enjoyable … I loved that this module offered different ways of assessment. Having papers, projects, presentations, and creative multimedia work made this course engaging.”

Situating the module’s assessments within such contexts I hope encouraged students to understand the critical, interdisciplinary focus of the field of information studies, in particular the use of information in the context of empire-making and consolidation, and how histories of information, knowledge and power intersect. Combined with a collaborative, interdisciplinary curriculum design approach, which encouraged and supported students to gain technical abilities and navigate teamwork practices, we hope this module can point some useful ways forward in creating and developing engaging learning experiences, which have real world impact.

This blog post is by Sara Wingate-Gray (UCL Senior Teaching Fellow & BASC0033 module leader), Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager) and Stella Wisdom (BL Digital Curator for Contemporary British Collections).