Digital scholarship blog

223 posts categorized "Collaborations"

28 April 2021

1Lib1Ref​ Wikidata Online Office Hours

We blogged recently about IFLA’s Wikidata and Wikibase Working Group's preparations for the next #1Lib1Ref campaign, which runs from 15th May to 5th June 2021. The Wikidata project page for this work is here, which includes resources, such as this Zine about Wikidata.

Star with an owl in the centre
Barnstar for partcipation in the 1lib1ref 2021 campaign, created for Polish Wikipedia, featuring the Owl of Athena symbol. If you don't know what a barnstar is, there is an explanation here.

There is a recording of the Train-The-Trainers workshop run by Meg Wacha, which took place on Wednesday 21st April, now available to watch on YouTube and the slidedeck from this session is here. Meg's presentation gave a great overview on how librarians can run events in their libraries to contribute to Wikidata during the #1Lib1Ref campaign period. Useful urls mentioned in this session, include:

As a follow on from the Train-The-Trainers workshop, the IFLA group are hosting a series of five upcoming Wikidata in #1Lib1Ref online office hours, these have been scheduled for different times in the day, to support participation from all parts of the world. These sessions aim to provide librarians with opportunities to discuss Wikidata work with international colleagues. See below for details of dates and times:

  • Wednesday 5th May at 15:00 BST, 16:00 CEST/The Hague, 14:00 UTC
  • Tuesday 11th May at 23:00 BST, 00:00 CEST /The Hague, 22:00 UTC 
  • Wednesday 19th May at 15:00 BST, 16:00 CEST/ The Hague, 14:00 UTC 
  • Wednesday 26th May at 07:00 BST, 08:00 CEST/The Hague, 06:00 UTC
  • Tuesday 1st June at 23:00 BST, 00:00 CEST/The Hague, 22:00 UTC

To book to attend these #1Lib1Ref online office hours, please fill in this online form and you will be sent the Zoom link. If you have any questions about them, please contact Camille Francoise ( 

We also want to give a shout out to the LD4 Wikidata Affinity Group, who hold bi-weekly Affinity Group Calls, Wikidata Working Hours, Wikibase and WBStack Working Hours throughout the year. Finally, being librarians, we recommend checking out this Bibliography of Wikidata, a continuously updated list of books, academic conference presentations, peer-reviewed papers and other types of academic writing, which focus on Wikidata as their subject.

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian) & Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom). They will both be at the #1Lib1Ref online office hour on Wednesday 5th May.

20 April 2021

A Novel Approach To Novels That Shaped Our World!

It is wonderful to be collaborating with Leeds Libraries on their online Games Jam this month, which is encouraging people to create playful interactive adaptations of books in the BBC’s Novels that Shaped Our World list.

An open book with the pages coming to life with a dragon, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and Discworld
Eye-catching artwork for the Games Jam created by Amy Evans (@tiger_tea)

In my experience game jams are a brilliant way of bringing historic and literary digital library and archive collections to life in a completely new way. I’ve ran a few at the British Library and I’m always keen to share what I’ve learned with other libraries, including contributing to Living Knowledge Network skills sharing events, such as one we held on the topic of games and playfulness in libraries, in November 2017 at Leeds Central Library, you can read more about this here.

3 people sitting at a table doing a games activity
@_jerryjenkins @ggnewed & @ella_snell doing a puzzle escape game in a box by @lizcable at a #LivingKnowledgeNetwork skills day (image © Stella Wisdom)

There are endless possibilities for adapting works of literature into games and interactive experiences. Earlier this year I attended an Oxford/London IF meetup group online event, where Emily Short gave a fascinating talk about the storylet game design process for creating Orwell’s Animal Farm an indie adventure game, which is based on George Orwell’s novel, where all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. There is a review of this game here.

Leeds Libraries have programmed a range of online events to inspire creativity, as part of their games jam. Last week I attended a thought provoking workshop led by Liz Cable on how to create literary escape rooms. It made me think of a very atmospheric Dracula inspired escape room called Carfax, situated in a sandstone cave system, which I had visited in Nottingham a few years ago. During the covid-19 pandemic Cave Escape have reworked this game into an online escape experience called Carfax - The Hunter, so anyone can play a version of this game from home.

Liz has a wealth of knowledge about all types of game making tools, apps and platforms, which she generously shares. I first met her at the MIX conference at Bath Spa University back in 2015, where she took me and a few other conference delegates to an escape room in Bath. This was the first time I had been to one; so it was Liz who opened my eyes to a new world of escape game experiences! 

There are still more excellent Leeds Libraries Games Jam online events coming up this week:

All these events can be booked from Leeds Libraries Eventbrite page and if you want to watch recordings of previous events, check out their Novels That Shaped Our World YouTube playlist.

The Novels that Shaped Our World jam itself is taking place over Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th April. Thanks to Libraries Connected and Arts Council England there is a £150 prize for the winner and two £50 prizes for the runners up. More information can be found here.

If you are considering taking part, but are unsure where to start, then you may also be interested in reading this Writing Tools for Interactive Fiction blog post by my colleague Giulia Carla Rossi, which describes a number of free online tools that don’t require any previous programming knowledge. I also recommend joining the jam's Facebook group, where participants can talk to each other and ask questions. Good luck if you make and submit a game, I’m looking forward to reading and playing the entries.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom)

29 March 2021

British Library x British Fashion Council Student Fashion Awards

The British Library and the British Fashion Council held a Virtual Awards Ceremony on 22nd March to celebrate the results of the 2021 research inspired fashion design competition, part of an innovative collaboration between the British Library and the British Fashion Council. The event showcased examples of what has inspired a new generation of fashion designers who have explored the richness and potential of the Library’s extensive digital collections for a design project based on themes of ‘Identity’ or ‘Disruption’.

Earlier in the day a winner was selected by a panel of judges comprised of respected industry individuals including Anna Orsini, Strategic Consultant, British Fashion Council; Dal Chodha, Editor of non-seasonal publication Archivist, Writer & Consultant; Halina Edwards, Researcher, Lead Designer at The Black Curriculum and by the Library’s Daniel Lowe - Curator Arabic Collections. Nabil El Nayal, Designer and Course Leader MA Fashion Design Technology Womenswear, London College of Fashion undertook an advisory role for the judging day and the panel was chaired by Judith Rosser-Davies, Head of Government Relations & Education, Chair Colleges Council, British Fashion Council.  

In addition to the Judges' Award, an additional award - the Public Award was voted for by the online audience at the Awards event.


The Judges' Award

The winner of the Judges Award was Adela Babinska, MA Womenswear Student at the London College of Fashion. Her submission ‘NOT’ reflected on the absence of knowledge and on the need for persisting curiosity in our challenging times.

Model wearing Adela Babinska's design, a clear dress with red accents.
Winning entry by Adela Babinska

Adela arrived in London during lockdown from Slovakia as an international student and found herself in a strange new reality of being a London student in Covid times – studying online, meeting her colleagues and tutors online, and responding to our fashion competition without ever visiting the Library. Just as many other students, she discovered that the access to online resources, including at the British Library, is limited and, also, that she cannot complete the Library’s registration process during the lockdown. Normally in her research Adela would search for the answers, but in the absence of being able to visit the Library and with only limited access to online content, she found herself in a disruptive position, so she decided to explore how she could benefit from this.

In her submission, Adela referenced the same emotion that she felt after reading Waiting for Godot – which prompts many questions, but does not provide the answers. Rather than search for the answers she reflected that she needed to search for the questions and decided to generate as many queries as possible about the Library and to use these to guide her designs, including the intangibility of the Library during lockdown. Her research for this project led her to see that the mere act of not knowing can also be powerful.

Her thinking and questioning included a conceptualisation of the icon image on the Customer Services section of the BL website in relation to impersonality and distance. She also reflected on what accessing the BL Sound archives could bring to her research and referenced a recording of the foyer of the Library in which she could hear voices which made the Library seem more real to her.

As well as producing a fantastic fashion presentation, Adela’s experience and search for the Library amidst the current disruptions provides both a challenging and inspirational view of the Library from a student perspective.


The Public Award

The winner of the Public Award is Chiara Lamon, Fashion and Textile Student from Gray’s School of Art, based at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, with her submission ‘Morphe’.

A series of nine sketches showing Chiara Lamon's designs in black, gold and bronze.
Designs from the public award winner Chiara Lamon


Chiara analysed the idea of a malleable and dynamic identity through a study of body movement.  Her research approach focused on disrupting common ideas of the stillness and singularity of our identity. Using the Library’s online collections, she explored visual imagery, blogs, thematic pages books and ideas which she considered had a high impact on the quality and depth of her research. This experience helped Chiara reflect on how she now conducts research - researching opposites, making mistakes and looking for the unexpected, letting the research lead her rather than trying to control it.

Chiara’s research involved exploring the catalogues on futurism and cubism and discovering connection and metaphors in unexpected ways, such as from images of geological strata from the Library’s Flickr collection to represent layers of the self, building on the concept of the body multiple.

Engaging with practice led research Chiara was able to explore ideas from a digital and physical development for a more sustainable practice. Images that Chiara used from the Library’s digital collections included the work of photographer Ethienne Jules, images from geology and dance and a comparison of a multiple collar garment from Viktor and Rolf’s Autumn /Winter 2003 collection paired with an early portrait of a man in a collared shirt.

Chiara turned images from BL collections and abstracted forms into shapes to apply to the body as an experience for a multifaceted and morphing representation of the self and our dynamic nature.


The Finalists

Eight finalists were shortlisted from a strong field of 111 submissions for this year’s competition.

The six other finalists were:

Jordan Fergusson, Manchester Metropolitan University

Jordan's submission ‘The Tearlachs’, is based on a theme of disrupting the codes of highland dress and exploring gender. Jordan reflected on Jacobite poetry and song using multiple images, manuscripts and letters from the BL Collection and extracts from a Jacobite Songbook from 1863. The depictions in this book gave Jordan a strong sense of the character of a Tearlach (instigator).  Jordan presents the Tearlachs as gender non-conforming trailblazers of the highlands, embodying the Jacobite cause and romanticism of Scottish History. In designing his collection, Jordan used himself as a blank canvas to build up inspiration transferring it to 2D then back to 3D. His research led to Jordan to design a ‘warped tartan’ as his own interpretation of a’Tearlach Tartan’, inspired by graph-like images of the Aurora Borealis from the BL Collection.

Maria Fernanda Nava Melgar, Royal College of Art

Maria’s submission ‘The Invisibles’ explored identity through fundamental questions such as to what are we made of, how we are perceived and how are we are listened to. Her work took inspiration from chiaroscuro scientific paintings from the 18th Century, medical journals and distorted sound recordings (Touch Radio) from the BL Collection.  Images of decay and cells were used to inform the design of her collection. Maria reflected on the relationship between light, space and sound and the human body and how the body is information made out of layers that are constantly being pressed and crushed against each other whist working together inside a system.

Emma Fraser, Gray’s School of Art, (Robert Gordon University Aberdeen)

Emma’s submission ‘Repair Yourself’ was based on a following a powerful, moving journey as a survivor of sexual assault and her message to other survivors that they are not alone. Emma used visual metaphors to explore the idea of trauma and recovery initially starting with the concept of damage and repair, reflected through her textile work and then through ideas of comfort and exposure. Another aspect of her work was exploring the over-sexualising of women and the idea of femininity by researching the BL archives.  Her submission included images from the Library’s s Flickr Collection -Women of the World. Emma intended her work as a representation of the courage and strength that it takes to go on such a journey of recovery, confirming that it was ‘not about the attackers, but about the survivors’.

Kelsey Ann Kasom, Royal College of Art        

Kelsey’s submission ‘Identity’ is based on the concept of the left side of her brain being her inner child the ‘past’ and right side of her brain being her creative genius – the ‘present’. Using research and images form the BL Collection her work focused on what can be created from harmonising these two aspects. Kelsey explored abstract feelings and surreal thought working to make sense of them three dimensionally ‘as an extension of the soul outside the body’. Kelsey experimented with the technical aspects of working with organza creating shapes for the body

Louise Korner, London College of Fashion

Louise’s submission ‘The Becoming’ focused on the theme of disruption as a design approach using a destructive force such as fire, (by watching objects burning), to lead to a greater understanding of fire as a transformative process and also to highlight current issues surrounding the fashion industry.  Using images and art work from the 18th century from BL Collections, including an image of a forest fire, Louise reflected on what is left after the disruption of the landscape and what is regenerated after the fire. Louise used a disruptive approach to her research of the BL catalogues by mis - spelling words and entering words backwards in order ‘to stumble across an interesting recording or sound or art work.’ Her research led to her designing a ‘hidden garment withing a garment’ that the wearer decides when to reveal and garments that are sustainable that can be returned to the designer for repurposing.

Cameron Lyall, Gray’s School of Art, (Robert Gordon University Aberdeen)

Cameron’s submission ‘No Place’ is inspired by a theme of identity. It tells a story of the ‘pilgrim of no place’ and their journey, both physically and mentally to understand their own identity. This journey involves the pilgrim reflecting on history and what they have learnt and applying this to ‘a future forward-thinking attitude.’ Cameron’s concept was in response to his own journey in 2020.  His work included images from ancient philosophies, celestial esoterica and astrology from the BL Collection. For his designs, Cameron dissembled and reconstructed garments, some of which took on ‘symbiotic shapes reminiscent of beetles’ purposing and rebranding these garments into new concepts.

For any further information, email

24 March 2021

Welcome to the British Library’s new Wikimedian in Residence

Hello, I’m Dr Lucy Hinnie and I’ve just joined the Digital Scholarship team as the new Wikimedian-in-Residence, in conjunction with Wikimedia UK and the Eccles Centre. My role is to work with the Library to develop and support colleagues with projects using Wikidata, Wikibase and Wikisource.

Bringing underrepresented people and marginalised communities to the fore is a huge part of this remit, and I am looking to be as innovative in our partnerships as we can be, with a view to furthering the movement towards decolonisation. I’m going to be working with curators and members of staff throughout the Library to identify and progress opportunities to accelerate this work.

I have recently returned from a two-year stay in Canada, where I lived and worked on Treaty Six territory and the homeland of the Métis. Working and living in Saskatchewan was a hugely formative experience for me, and highlighted the absolute necessity of forward-thinking, reconciliatory work in decolonisation.

Picture of two black bear sculptures in the snow at Wanuskewin Heritage Park
Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon, December 2020

2020 was my year of immersion in Wikimedia – I participated in a number of events, including outreach work by Dr Erin O’Neil at the University of Alberta, Women in Red edit-a-thons with Ewan McAndrew at the University of Edinburgh and the Unfinished Business edit-a-thon run by Leeds Libraries and the British Library. In December 2020 I coordinated and ran my own Wikithon in conjunction with the National Library of Scotland, as part of my postdoctoral project ‘Digitising the Bannatyne MS’.

Page from the Bannatyne Manuscript, stating 'heir begynnys ane ballat buik [writtin] in the yeir of god 1568'
Front page of the Bannatyne MS, National Library of Scotland, Adv MS 1.1.6. (CC BY 4.0)

Since coming into post at the start of this March I have worked hard to make connections with organisations such as IFLA, Code the City and Art+Feminism. I’ve also been creating introductory materials to engage audiences with Wikidata, and thinking about how best to utilise the coming months.

Andrew Gray took up post as the first British Library Wikipedian in Residence nearly ten years ago, you can read more about this earlier residency here and here. Much has changed since then, but reflection on the legacy of Wikimedia activity is a crucial part of ensuring that the work we do is useful, engaging, vibrant and important. I want to use creative thinking to produce output that opens up BL digital collections in relevant, culturally sensitive and engaging ways.

I am excited to get started! I’ll be blogging here regularly about my residency, so please do subscribe to this blog to follow my progress.

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

19 March 2021

The game was ne'er so fair

The works and worlds created by Shakespeare have an enduring appeal, his writing emotionally resonates with audiences today, despite being written over four hundred year's ago. This week is Shakespeare Week, and today is also the first day of the London Games Festival, so a perfect time to reflect on some interactive digital adaptations of the bard's plays. 

Back in 2016 here in the British Library we ran a Shakespeare themed Off the Map competition, which set students a task of creating video games and virtual interactive environments using digitised British Library items, including maps, views, texts, book illustrations and recorded sounds as creative inspiration. The first place winning entry by Team Quattro from De Montfort University in Leicester, created an adaptation of The Tempest, you can see a flythrough video clip of their stunning work here.

In this competition, Tom Battey who was then a student at the London College of Communication was awarded second place with a game called Midsummer based on the characters in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream and which used digitised engravings from John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery. This is a clever work, set in a magical woodland, where trees and bushes generate as the player wanders through the game. The player has the power to enchant and disenchant characters they meet to fall in love with each other, or not! The dialogue between these characters then changes depending on whether they are lovestruck, you can watch a demo of this game here.

cake decorated with image from opening screen of MissionMaker Macbeth
Cake from MissionMaker Macbeth launch event at the British Library in 2019

Another digital Shakespeare project, which the Library has been involved in, is MissionMaker Macbeth, a game-authoring tool, developed by the MAGiCAL team, from D.A.R.E. enterprise at the UCL Knowledge Lab, which was launched at the British Library for the London Games Festival in 2019. Built using Unity, this software incorporates characters, landscapes, objects and even cauldron ingredients for children to make digital games based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For anyone wanting to read more about this project, Andrew Burn has written a book Literature, Videogames and Learning, which is due to be published on 20th July 2021.

If virtual woodland walks are your thing, although not Shakespeare related, you may want to explore Faint Signals, by Invisible Flock, this is an interactive website, where you can wander through the woodland as it changes through all four seasons, and evolves from day to night. Also, if you are reading this in time, you may be able to catch a live online performance of Dream, by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This Midsummer Night’s Dream inspired 50-minute online event is set in a virtual midsummer forest, which offers participants a unique opportunity to directly influence the live performance, read more about this here.

For literature loving games makers, you may want to take part in Leeds Libraries upcoming online Novels That Shaped Our World Games Jam, which is running on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th April 2021. This jam invites people to create games inspired by the BBC’s 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. They have planned an inspiring programme of online events connected to this jam, tickets will be available from Monday 22nd March 2021 from their Eventbrite page:

Leeds Libraries events games jam programme
Leeds Libraries games jam events programme

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom)

19 February 2021

AURA Research Network Second Workshop Write-up

Keen followers of this blog may remember a post from last December, which shared details of a virtual workshop about AI and Archives: Current Challenges and Prospects of Digital and Born-digital archives. This topic was one of three workshop themes identified by the Archives in the UK/Republic of Ireland & AI (AURA) network, which is a forum promoting discussions on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be applied to cultural heritage archives, and to explore issues with providing access to born digital and hybrid digital/physical collections.

The first AURA workshop on Open Data versus Privacy organised by Annalina Caputo from Dublin City University, took place on 16-17 November 2020. Rachel MacGregor provides a great write-up of this event here.

Here at the British Library, we teamed up with our friends at The National Archives to curate the second AURA workshop exploring the current challenges and prospects of born-digital archives, this took place online on 28-29 January 2021. The first day of the workshop held on 28 January was organised by The National Archives, you can read more about this day here, and the following day, 29 January, was organised by the BL, videos and slides for this can be found on the AURA blog and I've included them in this post.


The format for both days of the second AURA workshop comprised of four short presentations, two interactive breakout room sessions and a wider round-table discussion. The aim being that the event would generate dialogue around key challenges that professionals across all sectors are grappling with, with a view to identifying possible solutions.

The first day covered issues of access both from infrastructural and user’s perspectives, plus the ethical implications of the use of AI and advanced computational approaches to archival practices and research. The second day discussed challenges of access to email archives, and also issues relating to web archives and emerging format collections, including web-based interactive narratives. A round-up of  the second day is below, including recorded videos of the presentations for anyone unable to attend on the day.

Kicking off day two, a warm welcome to the workshop attendees was given by Rachel Foss, Head of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library, Larry Stapleton, Senior academic and international consultant from the Waterford Institute of Technology and Mathieu d’ Aquin, Professor of Informatics at the National University of Ireland Galway.

The morning session on Email Archives: challenges of access and collaborative initiatives was chaired by David Kirsch, Associate Professor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. This featured two presentations:

The first of these was  about Working with ePADD: processes, challenges and collaborative solutions in working with email archives, by Callum McKean, Curator for Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives, British Library and Jessica Smith, Creative Arts Archivist, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. Their slides can be viewed here and here. Apologies that the recording of Callum's talk is clipped, this was due to connectivity issues on the day.

The second presentation was Finding Light in Dark Archives: Using AI to connect context and content in email collections by Stephanie Decker, Professor of History and Strategy, University of Bristol and Santhilata Venkata, Digital Preservation Specialist & Researcher at The National Archives in the UK.

After their talks, the speakers proposed questions and challenges that attendees could discuss in smaller break-out rooms. Questions given by speakers of the morning session were:

  1. Are there any other appraisal or collaborative considerations that might improve our practices and offer ways forward?
  2. What do we lose by emphasizing usability for researchers?
  3. Should we start with how researchers want to use email archives now and in the future, rather than just on preservation?
  4. Potentialities of email archives as organizational, not just individual?

These questions led to discussions about, file formats, collection sizes, metadata standards and ways to interpret large data sets. There was interest in how email archives might allow researchers to reconstruct corporate archives, e.g. understand social dynamics of the office and understand decision making processes. It was felt that there is a need to understand the extent to which email represents organisation-level context. More questions were raised including:

  • To what extent is it part of the organisational records and how should it be treated?
  • How do you manage the relationship between constant organisational functions and structure (a CEO) and changing individuals?
  • Who will be looking at organisational email in the future and how?

It was mentioned that there is a need to distinguish between email as data and email as an artifact, as the use-cases and preservation needs may be markedly different.

Duties of care that exist between depositors, tool designers, archivists and researchers was discussed and a question was asked about how we balance these?

  • Managing human burden
  • Differing levels of embargo
  • Institutional frameworks

There was discussion of the research potential for comparing email and social media collections, e.g. tweet archives and also the difficulties researchers face in getting access to data sets. The monetary value of email archives was also raised and it was mentioned that perceived value, hasn’t been translated into monetary value.

Researcher needs and metadata was another topic brought up by attendees, it was suggested that the information about collections in online catalogues needs to be descriptive enough for researchers to decide if they wish to visit an institution, to view digital collections on a dedicated terminal. It was also suggested that archives and libraries need to make access restrictions, and the reasoning for these, very clear to users. This would help to manage expectations, so that researchers will know when to visit on-site because remote access is not possible. It was mentioned that it is challenging to identify use cases, but it was noted that without deeper understanding of researcher needs, it can be hard to make decisions about access provision.

It was acknowledged that the demands on human-processing are still high for born digital archives, and the relationship between tools and professionals still emergent. So there was a question about whether researchers could be involved in collaborations more, and to what extent will there be an onus on their responsibilities and liabilities in relation to usage of born digital archives?

Lots of food for thought before the break for lunch!

The afternoon session chaired by Nicole Basaraba, Postdoctoral Researcher, Studio Europa, Maastricht University, discussed Emerging Formats, Interactive Narratives and Socio-Cultural Questions in AI.

The first afternoon presentation Collecting Emerging Formats: Capturing Interactive Narratives in the UK Web Archive was given by Lynda Clark, Post-doctoral research fellow in Narrative and Play at InGAME: Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise, University of Dundee, and Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications, British Library. Their slides can be viewed here.  

The second afternoon session was Women Reclaiming AI: a collectively designed AI Voice Assistant by Coral Manton, Lecturer in Creative Computing, Bath Spa University, her slides can be seen here.

Following the same format as in the morning, after these presentations, the speakers proposed questions and challenges that attendees could discuss in smaller break-out rooms. Questions given by speakers of the afternoon session were:

  1. Should we be collecting examples of AIs, as well as using AI to preserve collections? What are the Implications of this
  2. How do we get more people to feel that they can ask questions about AI?
  3. How do we use AI to think about the complexity of what identity is and how do we engineer it so that technologies work for the benefit of everyone?

There was a general consensus, which acknowledged that AI is becoming a significant and pervasive part of our life. However it was felt that there are many aspects we don't fully understand. In the breakout groups workshop participants raised more questions, including:

  • Where would AI-based items sit in collections?
  • Why do we want it?
  • How to collect?
  • What do we want to collect? User interactions? The underlying technology? Many are patented technologies owned by corporations, so this makes it challenging. 
  • What would make AI more accessible?
  • Some research outputs may be AI-based - do we need to collect all the code, or just the end experience produced? If the latter, could this be similar to documenting evidence e.g. video/sound recordings or transcripts.
  • Could or should we use AI to collect? Who’s behind the AI? Who gets to decide what to archive and how? Who’s responsible for mistakes/misrepresentations made by the AI?

There was debate about how to define AI in terms of a publication/collection item, it was felt that an understanding of this would help to decide what archives and libraries should be collecting, and understand what is not being collected currently. It was mentioned that a need for user input is a critical factor in answering questions like this. A number of challenges of collecting using AI were raised in the group discussions, including:

  • Lack of standardisation in formats and metadata
  • Questions of authorship and copyright
  • Ethical considerations
  • Engagement with creators/developers

It was suggested that full scale automation is not completely desirable and some kind of human element is required for specialist collections. However, AI might be useful for speeding up manual human work.

There was discussion of problems of bias in data, that existing prejudices are baked into datasets and algorithms. This led to more questions about:

  • Is there is a role for curators in defining and designing unbiased and more representative data sets to more fairly reflect society?
  • Should archives collect training data, to understand underlying biases?
  • Who is the author of AI created text and dialogue? Who is the legally responsible person/orgnisation?
  • What opportunities are there for libraries and archives to teach people about digital safety through understanding datasets and how they are used?

Participants also questioned:

  • Why do we humanise AI?
  • Why do we give AI a gender?
  • Is society ready for a genderless AI?
  • Could the next progress in AI be a combination of human/AI? A biological advancement? Human with AI “components” - would that make us think of AIs as fallible?

With so many questions and a lack of answers, it was felt that fiction may also help us to better understand some of these issues, and Rachel Foss ended the roundtable discussion by saying that she is looking forward to reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel Klara and the Sun, about an artificial being called Klara who longs to find a human owner, which is due to be published next month by Faber.

Thanks to everyone who spoke at and participated in this AURA workshop, to make it a lively and productive event. Extra special thanks to Deirdre Sullivan for helping to run the online event smoothly. Looking ahead, the third workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Archives: What comes next? is being organised by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the AURA project team, and is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 16 March 2021. Please do join the AURA mailing list and follow #AURA_network on social media to be part of the network's ongoing discussions.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom)

29 January 2021

Hacking the BL from home

BL/QFP Project and BL BAME Network Hack Day: 13th January, 2021

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

We may be unable to visit the British Library in person, or see our colleagues except for on our computer screens, but on Wednesday 13th January we proved that lockdown is no barrier to a Hack Day. For the first time our Hack Day was opened up to British Library staff from outside the BL/QFP Project, as we invited members of the BL BAME Network to join us. It was exciting to have a wide variety of people with different roles and Hack Day experience, which was reflected in the diverse ideas and results displayed on the day. There was no particular subject or theme for this Hack Day. The only objectives were to try or learn something new, meet some people from around the Library and have a bit of fun along the way.

It felt slightly weird holding our Hack Day online via Microsoft Teams, rather than gathered in the BL/QFP Project’s office on the 6th floor of the Library. However, with various types of technology and online platforms, including the Teams breakout function and a shared Google doc, we still managed to work collaboratively whilst working from home. Throughout the Teams rooms, it was great to see and hear amazing ideas, helpful team work, interesting discussions, valuable sharing of skills and knowledge, and laughter.

We hope you enjoy reading about our hacks as much as we enjoyed the process of making them together.


Exquisite Corpses

Contributors: Morgane Lirette (Conservator (Books), Conservation), Tan Wang-Ward (Project Manager, Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation), Matthew Lee (Imaging Support Technician, BL/QFP Project), Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager, BL/QFP Project), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL/QFP Project)

Our project for this Hack Day collaboration was centered on the idea of the Exquisite Corpse – a fun and creative game popularised by the Surrealists as a tool to create bizarre and wonderful compositions.

The result was a cross collaborative effort, involving staff from the International Dunhuang Project, Conservation and the BL/QFP Project, that created a series of visual collages using material from the Library's digital collections, Flickr and Instagram accounts as well as the Qatar Digital Library (QDL). We created five exquisite corpses in total.

The biggest takeaway from the day was how easy, fun and creative this process was in facilitating cross library networking and collaboration but also as a tool for invention and exploration of the Library’s diverse collections.


Exquisite Corpse image created by collaging material from different images together.
Figure 1: Exquisite Corpse 1: Head part 1 (QDL), Head part 2 (QDL), Head part 3 (QDL), Head part 4 (QDL) Head part 5 (QDL), torso (Flickr), legs (Flickr), feet (Instagram)


Exquisite Corpse image 2 - collage
Figure 2: Exquisite Corpse 2: Head (Flickr), torso (BL Catalogue), legs (Instagram), feet (QDL)


Exquisite Corpse image 3 - collage
Figure 3: Exquisite Corpse 3: Head (BL Catalogue), torso (Flickr), legs (BL Catalogue), feet (BL Catalogue)


Exquisite Corpse image 4 - collage
Figure 4: Exquisite Corpse 4: Head (Flickr), torso (Instagram), legs (QDL), foot 1 (Flickr), foot 2 (Flickr)


Exquisite Corpse image 5 - collage
Figure 5: Exquisite Corpse 5: Head (BL Catalogue), torso (QDL), arm (QDL), legs (Flickr), foot 1 (BL Catalogue), foot 2 (BL Catalogue)


OCR Text Analysis

Contributors: David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project) & Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL/QFP Project)

This hack aimed to extend work undertaken as part of the Addressing Problematic Terms Project to explore the BL/QFP’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) data.

Inspiration for the Hack was drawn from Olivia Vane’s excellent OCR visualisation tool, Steptext. OCR is an automated process employed during the BL/QFP’s digitisation process that ‘reads’ the images captured and turns them into searchable text.

Initially the team came up with a list of terms to search the OCR text for. Then we wrote a Python script to search the OCR files for each term, and output three graphs, built using Bokeh.

Graph displays the number of matches for the term against the year the archive material was created.
Figure 6: This graph displays the number of matches for the term against the year the archive material was created. Click on the image to open an interactive version in a new window.


Using the year with the most occurrences of the term, bar chart displays break down of the frequency per shelfmark.
Figure 7: Using the year with the most occurrences of the term, this bar chart  displays the break down the frequency per shelfmark. Click on the image to open an interactive version in a new window.


Using the shelfmark with the most matches, this graph displays how often the term occurs in each image capture. Using Bokeh’s inbuilt Hover tool, the graph displays a snippet of the term in context with the rest of the OCR data.
Figure 8: Using the shelfmark with the most matches, this graph displays how often the term occurs in each image capture. Using Bokeh’s inbuilt Hover tool, the graph displays a snippet of the term in context with the rest of the OCR data. Click on the image to open an interactive version in a new window.


The results show how it is possible both to identify where specific terms are used in the records and to analyse how they are used over time. This will be of great help as we seek to take the project to the next stage.


OCR Exquisite Corpses

Contributor: Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL/QFP Project)

Taking inspiration from the Exquisite Corpse Hack project, the code for the OCR text analysis was re-factored to produce OCR Exquisite Corpses. Here is the process:

  1. Taking an initial search term, a shelfmark was picked at random and the term was searched for, this process was repeated until a match was found.
  2. Once a match was made the subsequent four words were selected, completing the first sentence of an exquisite corpse.
  3. The final word of the sentence was then used to begin the process again, creating a link between the two sentences.
  4. This was repeated four times to create surreal nonsense poem.
  5. Finally, using Google Translate’s text to speech service, an mp3 file was created for each poem.

The Hack team nominated some everyday words to generate OCR Exquisite Corpses. Here are some highlights:

  • BREAD and wine: he THEN he in his, POSSESSION of the enemy's ENTRENCHED camp at Brasjoon, ABOUT 80 per cent

Bread OCR Exquisite Corpse

  • BLUE and gold lackered, WORK fur r North & THE 15th November, 1933, WITH ENCLOSURES FOREIGN: Immediate

Blue OCR Exquisite Corpse

  • MUTINY had been prevented BY wandering tribes, small TRIBUTARY to Persia; AND has the honour TO deal with the

Mutiny OCR Exquisite Corpse


Investigating Instances of Arabic Verb Form X in the BLQFP Translation Memory

Contributor: Mariam Aboelezz

I investigated uses of Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿala) in the BLQFP Translation Memory using our translation software, memoQ. I chose this verb form because it conveys the meaning of seeking or acquiring something for oneself, possibly by force, and could therefore elicit unconscious bias in our translations. I identified 55 unique verbs that take this form, six of which were potentially problematic. A closer look at the most frequent verb (istawlá; to take forcefully or wrongfully) suggests that some unconscious bias may have travelled from the primary sources to the catalogue descriptions or been introduced during translation. The results provide a prompt for further discussions about problematic language among translators and cataloguers.

Search results from the BLQFP Translation Memory in memoQ for Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿala)
Figure 9: Search results from the BLQFP Translation Memory in memoQ for Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿala)


Bar chart displaying the 55 unique verbs identified and their frequency.
Figure 10: Bar chart displaying the 55 unique verbs identified and their frequency.


Bar chart displaying the six potentially problematic verbs.
Figure 11: Bar chart displaying the six potentially problematic verbs.


Birds of the QDL team

Contributors: Anne Courtney (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project), Sara Hale (Digitisation Officer, Heritage Made Digital/Asian and African Collections), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project), Annie Ward (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL/QFP Project)

The Birds of the QDL team set out to explore how birds appear in the digital records. Sara and Annie used manuscript paintings of bird species as inspiration, creating an animated GIF of a hoopoe and data visualisations of the search results for different birds. Anne tracked bird sightings in one of the IOR ship’s logs by combining quotes from the log with sound recordings and images to help bring the record to life. Francis investigated the Socotra cormorant, British guano extraction and the resistance of the islanders. We enjoyed experimenting with different formats to highlight some of the regional birds and the contexts in which they appear.

Animated gif using an image of a hoopoe bird. Image from: Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator [‎397r] (812/958), British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library and quote from: ''IRAQ AND THE PERSIAN GULF' [‎144v] (293/862), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/64, in Qatar Digital Library
Animated gif using an image of a hoopoe bird. Image from: Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator [‎397r] (812/958), British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library <> and quote from: ''IRAQ AND THE PERSIAN GULF' [‎144v] (293/862), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/64, in Qatar Digital Library <>


Bar chart displaying the number of search results by bird name on the Qatar Digital Library and decorated with bird images from a manuscript (Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator, British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library.
Bar chart displaying the number of search results by bird name on the Qatar Digital Library and decorated with bird images from a manuscript (Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator, British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library <>).


Image of the ocean with text reading: “This day we see no birds”. Image from: ‘Sea Song and River Rhyme from Chaucer to Tennyson’ (1887), ed. E D Adams and quote from: Blenheim : Journal [‎16v] (38/209), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MAR/B/697A, in Qatar Digital Library
Figure 14: Image of the ocean with text reading: “This day we see no birds”. Image from: ‘Sea Song and River Rhyme from Chaucer to Tennyson’ (1887), ed. E D Adams and quote from: Blenheim : Journal [‎16v] (38/209), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MAR/B/697A, in Qatar Digital Library <>


Map of the island of Socotra from: ‘A Trigonometrical Survey of Socotra by Lieut.ts S.B. Haines and I.R. Wellsted assisted by Lieut. I.P. Sanders and Rennie Cruttenden & Fleming Mids.n, Indian Navy. Engraved by R. Bateman, 72 Long Acre’ [‎8r] (1/2), British Library: Map Collections, IOR/X/3630/13, in Qatar Digital Library
Figure 15: Map of the island of Socotra from: ‘A Trigonometrical Survey of Socotra by Lieut.ts S.B. Haines and I.R. Wellsted assisted by Lieut. I.P. Sanders and Rennie Cruttenden & Fleming Mids.n, Indian Navy. Engraved by R. Bateman, 72 Long Acre’ [‎8r] (1/2), British Library: Map Collections, IOR/X/3630/13, in Qatar Digital Library <>


Story-Mapping: The Shater’s Journey

Contributors: Jenny Norton-Wright (Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, BL/QFP Project) & Ula Zeir (Content Specialist, Arabic Language, BL/QFP Project)

Our Hack project aimed to create an interactive map tracing the footsteps of a shater [shāṭir, foot-courier] who made a 700-mile return journey between Gombroon and Shiraz in 1761 bearing an important letter, as recounted in one of the Gombroon Diaries (IOR/G/29/13).

First, we collected background information on the journey and on the term shater, and transcribed the relevant diary entries. We then used the Esri ArcGIS StoryMap Tour platform to visualise and map the events. The Tour function integrates text boxes, captions, and associated images with a background map tracking the points of the journey, and supports hyperlinking to the IOR materials on the QDL.

Image from the start of the story map introducing the Shater journey.
Figure 16: Image from the start of the story map introducing the Shater journey.


Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey.
Figure 17: Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey.


Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey: a reply is received.
Figure 18: Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey: a reply is received.


For more information about the Gombroon Diaries:

Diary and Consultations of Mr Alexander Douglas, Agent of the East India Company at Gombroon [Bandar-e ʻAbbās] in the Persian Gulf, commencing 2 October 1760 and ending 30 December 1761, British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/G/29/13, in Qatar Digital Library <>


British Library mosaic

Contributor: Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL/QFP Project)

This project involved learning how to create mosaics using images from the Library and QDL collections. This was inspired by a presentation by Pardaad Chamsaz (Curator Germanic Collections, BL European Studies) about the Decolonising the BL working group of the BL BAME Network. He said that we should remember that the Library is made up of many different people. I decided to try using Mosaically to use multiple images to create an image of the British Library, to show that it takes many parts to make a whole. This also highlights the Library’s vast collections. I then repeated this with images from the QDL to show an image of the QDL homepage.

Mosaic of the British Library using images from the British Library Flickr account
Figure 19: Mosaic of the British Library using images from the British Library Flickr account.


Mosaic of the Qatar Digital Library homepage using images from the Qatar Digital Library
Figure 20: Mosaic of the Qatar Digital Library homepage using images from the Qatar Digital Library (


You can also read about the previous Hack Days in the blog posts below:

27 January 2021

Identify yourself!

On Friday, 22 January, the Digital Scholarship Team at the British Library held their first 21st Century Curatorship talk of 2021; Identify Yourself: (Almost) everything you ever wanted to know about persistent identifiers but were afraid to ask.

This series of professional development talks and seminars is part of Digital Scholarship Staff Training Programme. They are open to all British Library staff, providing a forum for them to keep up with new developments and emerging technologies in scholarship, libraries and cultural heritage. Usually 21st Century Curatorship talks are given by external guests, but this one involved six speakers from around the Library who work with persistent identifiers (PIDs) in various ways. This talk was also scheduled to coincide with PIDapalooza, the annual festival of persistent identifiers which is taking place over 24 hours this week.

There were many speakers for a one-hour talk but everyone gave a whistle-stop tour around their particular area. Frances Madden began with an introduction to PIDs generally and then gave an overview of a couple of PID-related projects; the Library is a partner in or leading including FREYA and PIDs as IRO Infrastructure. (Side note, PIDs as IRO Infrastructure will feature at PIDapalooza, on Thursday at 09:30 UTC). Frances also explained that you can have persistent identifiers for many types of entities, including articles, datasets, people and organisations. These can all be connected together through the persistent identifier metadata. PIDs are so important because they are reliably unique and persistent over time, important in a library!

Next up Erin Burnand and Emma Rogoz gave an overview of ISNI. The International Standard Name Identifier is an ISO standard used to identify the public identities of parties, persons and organisations associated with creative works. Each ISNI is a sixteen digit string and is accessible by a persistent URI[isni]. Erin gave an overview of the extensive quality assurance processes ISNI use to ensure very high quality metadata and the work they do with other organisations to provide training and support, as well as consultation with OCLC and ISNI committees and interest groups. ISNI’s use has expanded since its launch in 2010 and now serves various communities: Youtube and Spotify are both registration agencies for the music industry.

Emma described the ways in which the Library is working to embed ISNI into its cataloguing workflows by adding them into the LC/NACO file, which is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the PCC Network. There is also ongoing work to embed them in legacy bibliographic data through matching algorithms and process. Through the UK Publishers Interest Group, they are working to match authors in publishers’ databases with ISNI and integrate them into their data, which publishers share with the Library. This work has been very successful with high match rates. The Library is also working on a portal so that end users can add information to their own records or request a record be created. Because of the high quality of metadata in the ISNI database, end users will not able to change or delete any information without liaising directly with the ISNI team.

A screenshot demonstrating the ISNI Portal that the BL is working on, as described above
Figure 1: A screenshot of the ISNI portal

Jez Cope described how digital object identifiers work and the role the Library has in assigning them. A DOI is a digital identifier for an object rather than an identifier for a digital object. DOIs are generally assigned to digital objects such as journal articles and datasets but they have been used to identify Roman coins and other physical items too. DOIs are designed primarily to identify objects for the purposes of citation. Jez went onto explain that DOIs are assigned by registration agencies which have members. Unlike ISNI, the metadata control is not centralised and is overseen by the members. The British Library leads a UK consortium of 100+ DataCite members. Jez also mentioned that the machine readability of a DOI and the metadata associated with it can be integrated into the PID Graph, developed in the FREYA project. This allows you to use PID metadata to answer complex queries and understand relationships which are at a two steps away from each other, e.g. which British Library authors have received funding from a particular funding agency. Of course all this information depends on the information being present in the metadata.

Example PID Graphs
Figure 2: Example PID Graphs

Finally we heard from two projects at different stages of completion which are using DOI metadata within the Library. Simon Moffatt described how the Library is using DOIs from journal articles to improve the links from records which have been acquired through different routes. This new service, known as BLDOI, improves the experience of end users using the catalogue but also has the potential to be rolled out to other libraries and users. The solution of a lookup table comparing ARKs (the Library’s internal identifier and DOIs) which is exposed via an API which feeds into the catalogue.

A screenshot of the new search results, displayed on Reading Room PCs, explaining how the new look-up service works.
Figure 3: A screenshot of the new search results, displayed on Reading Room PCs, explaining how the new look-up service works.

Sharon Johnson closed the session by describing a project in its early stages of using Crossref DOI metadata for journal articles to identify where the Library is missing articles which it should have collected via Legal Deposit legislation. This could apply where the Library is missing articles from issues of journals it already collects but also journals which it should collect but does not at this point.

Miraculously, this jam-packed session was completed within an hour and there was even some time for questions at the end. The aim of the session was to provide an overview of the services the Library has related to identifiers and to illustrate their breadth and diversity as well as the number of different teams involved in it. The fact that we had so many speakers and teams represented illustrates this. Hopefully we will be able to hold more detailed sessions on individual topics in the future.

This post is by Frances Madden (@maddenfc), Research Associate (PIDs as IRO Infrastructure) about a recent seminar for British Library staff.

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