Digital scholarship blog

266 posts categorized "Digital scholarship"

16 January 2023

Join us at the National Museum of Scotland for the Repository Training Programme for Cultural Heritage Professionals

First of five training events will kick off with an in-person session at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on Tuesday 31 January.

The British Library’s Repository Training Programme for cultural heritage professionals is funded as part of AHRC’s iDAH programme to support cultural heritage organisations in establishing or expanding open scholarship activities and sharing their outputs through research repositories. You can read more about the development of this training programme in this blog post.

What will you learn?

This one-day training session is designed as a starting point to a broader set of knowledge that will help you to:

  • Understand research landscape in cultural heritage organizations, benefits of openness for heritage research, basic concepts of open principles and influencing decision makers.
  • Lay foundation for repository services including stakeholder engagement, policy development, technical overview and project planning.
  • Adopt common principles and frameworks, technical standards and requirements in establishing repository services in a cultural heritage organisation.
  • Explore basics of scholarly communications ecosystem in the context of cultural heritage practices.

Who is this training for?

This programme is intended for those who are working in GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums), specifically a cultural heritage institution or a collection-holding organisation in roles where they are involved in managing digital collections, supporting research lifecycle from funding to dissemination, providing research infrastructure and developing policies. However, anyone interested in the given topics are welcome to attend.

Prerequisites

No previous knowledge of topics is required. However, an understanding of open access will maximise the benefit of the taught content for attendees. We will provide pre-readings for the basics prior to the event.

Training outline

Trainers will cover topics of following four modules through a mixture of regular presentations, recorded/online content, engaging activities, breakout sessions and self-directed learning materials.

Module 1 Opening up heritage research
This module covers the topics of understanding research landscape in GLAM organizations, benefits of openness for heritage research, basic concepts of open principles and influencing decision makers.

Module 2 Getting started with heritage GLAM repositories
This module covers the topics of stakeholder engagement, policy development, project planning and technical overview of research repositories

Module 3: Realising and expanding the benefits
This module covers the topics of adopting common principles and frameworks, compliance with publisher policies, types of research objects and outputs in cultural heritage, rights management, technical requirements, and engagement with researchers, usage and reporting.

Module 4: Exploring the scholarly communications system
This module provides an overview on the topics of scholarly publishing, research data management, persistent identifiers, rights management and copyright, responsible research, and digital preservation accompanied with a breakout activity to discuss challenges and prioritize topics for an online follow up session.

Duration and programme

This is a one-day programme takes place from 10:30 to 15:30 GMT with a lunch break for an hour. A detailed programme will be provided to the attendees prior to the event.

10:30 – 12:30 Module 1 and 2 with 10 min. break

12:30 – 13:30 Lunch break

13:30 – 15:30 Module 3 and 4 with 10 min. break

Members of Research Infrastructure Services Team at the British Library will be delivering the training programme. The team has over ten years of broad experience and extensive knowledge in supporting open scholarship across the sector and with international partners. They also provide a Shared Research Repository Service for the cultural heritage organisations.    

Book your place

In-person sessions are planned for a maximum of 35 people per event and registrants from cultural heritage institutions will be prioritised. Registration for the event is free. Please fill this form to book your place by 25 January. Confirmation and event details will be sent to the registered email address.

Further face-to-face sessions will be held before July 2023 in York and Wales. We will be providing more information about upcoming events in the coming months. 

Please contact openaccess@bl.uk if you have any question or comments about this training programme.

13 January 2023

Digital Storytelling in 2023: A New Year of New Media

Here in Digital Scholarship we are looking forward to the Library’s upcoming exhibitions in 2023, including Digital Storytelling (2 June – 15 October 2023), which we are curating with colleagues in Contemporary British Collections and Digital Preservation. This display will explore the ways technology provides opportunities to transform and enhance the way writers write and readers engage. Drawing on the Library’s collection of contemporary digital publications and emerging formats to highlight the work of innovative and experimental writers. It will feature interactive works that invite and respond to user input, reading experiences influenced by data feeds, and immersive story worlds created using multiple platforms and audience participation.

A number of the selected works for this exhibition have been previous shortlisted and winning entries of the New Media Writing Prize (NMWP). An annual international award, which celebrates exciting and inventive born digital stories and poetry that integrate a variety of formats, platforms, and media. In recent years the Library has been working with the prize organisers to collect and preserve entries in the UK Web Archive (UKWA) New Media Writing Prize collection, which is the topic of this recently published Electronic British Library Journal article:

G.C. Rossi, T. Pyke, J. Pope, R.L. Skains and S. Wisdom, ‘The New Media Writing Prize Special Collection’, Electronic British Library Journal (2022), art. 8, pp. 1-19, https://doi.org/10.23636/kw7j-0274

New Media Writing Prize logo of a lightbulb with a smartphone, a pot of pens, a pair of headphones and a microphone inside the outline of the bulb

The NMWP UKWA collection is an ongoing initiative with works added from each year’s prize. To hear more about the 2022 shortlist entries, Library curators will be virtually attending the upcoming Awards Evening on Wednesday 18 January 2023. This online event is free and open to all, if you would like to attend please book a place here. Writer Deena Larsen will give a keynote lecture and winners will be announced for the 2022 Chris Meade Memorial Main Prize, the FIPP Digital Journalism Prize, the Writing Magazine Student Prize and the Wonderbox Opening Up (People's Choice) Prize, which celebrates all eligible entries submitted to the Main and Student Prizes. Opening Up does not affect the shortlist/winners in the other categories, but provides an opportunity for a public vote for a favourite; you can browse entries and vote for your favourite here, the deadline is 11:59pm GMT on Sunday 15 January 2023.  NMWP organisers are also holding a virtual two day Digital Literature for Social Good Unconference on 17-18 January 2023.

Image of the MIX 2023 conference partner organisation logos, these are Bath Spa University's Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries, The Writing Platform, British Library and MyWorld

Looking ahead to summer, we are collaborating with Bath Spa University to host the MIX 2023 Storytelling in Immersive Media conference at the Library on Friday 7 July 2023. This event will provide an opportunity for scholars and practitioners to share current research and practice in the rapidly developing field of storytelling in immersive environments.

MIX 2023 themes include storytelling with AI, interactive and locative works, digital and film poetry, narrative games, digital preservation, archiving, and enhanced curation. The call for presentations and papers is open until Monday 13 February 2023. Proposals are invited for 15 minute papers or presentations and 6 minute lightning talks from technologists, artists, creative writers and poets working in the digital realm, as well as academic researchers and independent scholars, submissions focused on teaching and pedagogy are also welcome. After the conference there will be an opportunity to publish papers on The Writing Platform, an online magazine for sharing knowledge and expertise around digital innovation in publishing and storytelling. If you have any questions about the MIX 2023 conference please email MIX@bathspa.ac.uk for more information. 

30 November 2022

Skills and Training Needs to Open Heritage Research Through Repositories: Scoping report and Repository Training Programme for cultural heritage professionals

Do you think the repository landscape is mature enough in the heritage sector? Are the policies, infrastructure and skills in place to open up heritage research through digital repositories? Our brief analysis shows that research activity in GLAMs needs better acknowledgement, established digital repositories for dissemination of outputs and empowered staff to make use of repository services. At the British Library, we published a report called Scoping Skills and Developing Training Programme for Managing Repository Services in Cultural Heritage Organisations. We looked at the roles and people involved in the research workflow in GLAMs, and their skills needs to share heritage research openly through digital repositories in order to develop a training program for cultural heritage professionals.

 

Making heritage research openly available

Making research openly available to everyone increases the reach and impact of the work, driving increased value for money in research investment, and helps to make research reusable for everyone. ‘Open’ in this context is not only about making research freely accessible but also about ensuring the research is shared with rich metadata, licensed for reuse, including persistent identifiers, and is discoverable. Communicating research in GLAM contexts goes beyond journal articles. Digital scholarship, practice-based and computational research approaches generate a wide range of complex objects that need to be shared, reused to inform practice, policy and future research, and cannot necessarily be assessed with common metrics and rankings of academia.

The array of research activity in GLAMs needs to be addressed in the context of research repositories. If you look at OpenDOAR and Re3data, the global directories of open repositories, the number of repositories in the cultural heritage sector is still small compared to academic institutions. There is an increasing need to establish repositories for heritage research and to empower cultural heritage professionals to make use of repository services. Staff who are involved in supporting research activities, managing digital collections, and providing research infrastructure in GLAM organisations must be supported with capacity development programmes to establish open scholarship activities and share their research outputs through research repositories.

 

Who is involved in the research activities and repository services?

This question is important considering that staff may not be explicitly research-active, yet research is regularly conducted in addition to day-to-day jobs in GLAMs. In addition, organisations are not primarily driven by a research agenda in the heritage sector. The study we undertook as part of an AHRC funded repository infrastructure project showed us that cultural heritage professionals are challenged by the invisibility of forms of research conducted in their day-to-day jobs as well as lack of dedicated time and staff to work around open scholarship.

In order to bring clarity to the personas involved in research activities and link them to competencies and training needs later on for the purpose of this work, we defined five profiles that carry out and contribute to research in cultural heritage organisations. These five profiles illustrate the researcher as a core player, alongside four other profiles involved in making research happen, and ensuring it can be published, shared, communicated and preserved.

 

A 5 column chart showing 'researchers', 'curators and content creators', 'infomediaries', 'infrastructure architects', and 'policy makers' as the key personas identified.
Figure 1. Profiles identified in the cultural heritage institutions to conduct, facilitate, and support research workflow.

 

 

Consultation on training needs for repository services

We explored the skill gaps and training needs of GLAM professionals from curation to rights management, and open scholarship to management of repository services. In addition to scanning the training landscape for competency frameworks, existing programmes and resources, we conducted interviews to explore training requirements relevant to repository services. Finally, we validated initial findings in a consultative workshop with cultural heritage professionals, to hear their experience and get input to a competency framework and training curriculum.

Interviews highlighted that there is a lack of knowledge and support in cultural heritage organisations, where institutional support and training is not guaranteed for research communication or open scholarship. In terms of types of research activities, the workshop brought interesting discussions about what constitutes ‘research’ in the cultural heritage context and what makes it different to research in a university context. The event underlined the fact that cultural heritage staff profiles for producing, supporting, and communicating the research are different to the higher education landscape at many levels.

 

Discussion board showing virtual post its stuck to a canvas with a river in the background, identifying three key areas: 'What skills and knowledge do we already have?', 'What training elements are required?', and 'What skills and knowledge do we need?' (with the second question acting as a metaphorical bridge over the river).
Figure 2: Discussion board from the Skills and Training Breakout Session in virtual Consultative Workshop held on 28/04/2022.

 

The interviews and the consultative workshop highlighted that the ways of research conducted and communicated in the cultural heritage sector (as opposed to academia) should be taken into account in identifying skills needed and developing training programmes in the areas of open scholarship.

 

Competency framework and curriculum for repository training programme

There is a wealth of information, valuable project outputs, and a number of good analytical works available to identify gaps and gain new skills, particularly in the areas of open science, scholarly communications and research data management. However, adjusting and adopting these works to the context of cultural heritage organisations and relevant professionals will increase their relevance and uptake. Derived from our desk research and workshop analysis, we developed a competency framework that sets out the knowledge and skills required to support open scholarship for the personas present in GLAM organisations. Topic clusters used in the framework are as follows:

  1. Repository Service management
  2. Curation & data stewardship
  3. Metadata management
  4. Preservation
  5. Scholarly publishing
  6. Assessment and impact
  7. Advocacy and communication
  8. Capacity development

The proposed curriculum was designed by considering the pathways to develop, accelerate and manage a repository service. It contains only the areas that we identify as a priority to deliver the most value to cultural heritage organisations. Five teaching modules are considered in this preliminary work: 

  1. Opening up heritage research
  2. Getting started with GLAM repositories
  3. Realising and expanding the benefits
  4. Exploring the scholarly communications ecosystem
  5. Topics for future development

A complete version of the competency framework and the curriculum can be found in the report and is also available as a Google spreadsheet. They will drive increased uptake and use of repositories across AHRC’s investments, increasing value for money from both research funding and infrastructure funding.

 

What is next?

From January to July2023, we, at the British Library, will prepare a core set of materials based on this curriculum and deliver training events in a combination of online and in-person workshops. Training events are being planned to take place in Scotland, North England, Wales in person in addition to several online sessions. Both the framework and the training curriculum will be refined as we receive feedback and input from the participants of these events throughout next year. Event details will be announced in collaboration with host institutions in this blog as well as on our social media channels. Watch this space for more information.

If you have any feedback or questions, please contact us at openaccess@bl.uk.

29 November 2022

My AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship: Four months on

In August 2022 I started work on a project to investigate the legacies of curatorial voice in the descriptions of incunabula collections at the British Library and their future reuse. My research is funded by the collaborative AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship Scheme for academic and research libraries which launched in 2021. As part of the first cohort of ten Fellows I embraced this opportunity to engage in practitioner research that benefits my institution and the wider sector, and to promote the role of library professionals as important research partners.

The overall aim of my Fellowship is to demonstrate new ways of working with digitised catalogues that would also improve the discoverability and usability of the collections they describe. The focus of my research is the Catalogue of books printed in the 15th century now at the British Museum (or BMC) published between 1908 and 2007 which describes over 12,700 volumes from the British Library incunabula collection. By using computational approaches and tools with the data derived from the catalogue I will gain new insights into and interpretations of this valuable resource and enable its reuse in contemporary online resources. 

Titlepage to volume 2 of the Catalogue of books printed in the fifteenth century now in the British Museum, part 2, Germany, Eltvil-Trier
BMC volume 2 titlepage


This research idea was inspired by a recent collaboration with Dr James Baker, who is also my mentor for this Fellowship, and was further developed in conversations with Dr Karen Limper-Herz, Lead Curator for Incunabula, Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections, and Alan Danskin, Collections Metadata Standards Manager, who support my research at the Library.

My Fellowship runs until July 2023 with Fridays being my main research days. I began by studying the history of the catalogue, its arrangement and the structure of the item descriptions and their relationship with different online resources. Overall, the main focus of this first phase has been on generating the text data required for the computational analysis and investigations into curatorial and cataloguing practice. This work involved new digitisation of the catalogue and a lot of experimentation using the Transkribus AI-empowered platform that proved best-suited for improving the layout and text recognition for the digitised images. During the last two months I have hugely benefited from the expertise of my colleague Tom Derrick, as we worked together on creating the training data and building structure models for the incunabula catalogue images.

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue with separate regions drawn around columns 1 and 2, and the text baselines highlighted in purple
Layout recognition output for pages with only two columns, including text baselines, viewed on Transkribus Lite

 

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue alongside the text lines
Text recognition output after applying the model trained with annotations for 2 columns on the page, viewed on Transkribus Lite

 

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue with separate regions drawn around 4 columns of text separated by a single text block
Layout recognition output for pages with mixed layout of single text block and text in columns, viewed on Transkribus Lite

Whilst the data preparation phase has taken longer than I had planned due to the varied layout of the catalogue, this has been an important part of the process as the project outcomes are dependent on using the best quality text data for the incunabula descriptions. The next phase of the research will involve the segmentation of the records and extraction of relevant information to use with a range of computational tools. I will report on the progress with this work and the next steps early next year. Watch this space and do get in touch if you would like to learn more about my research.

This blogpost is by Dr Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator for Digitisation, British Library. She is on Twitter @RossiAtanassova  and Mastodon @ratanass@glammr.us

10 November 2022

'Expanding Voices, Expanding Access: Social and Community Centered Metadata'

Digital Curator Mia Ridge writes...Following a twitter conversation with Jessica BrodeFrank and Isabel Brador in mid-2021, I collaborated with them and Bri Watson on two conference panels. Our first was ' Expanding and Enriching Metadata through Engagement with Communities' for the Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in October 2021:

'This panel discusses how cultural institutions are engaging various communities to co-create academic research and/or object metadata in order to increase representation and access to collections; highlighting how this is done in different ways to engage specific audiences and goals, i.e. graduate student assistantships, museum interactive experiences, crowdsourcing, and professional action groups'.

Earlier this year we got together again to record a panel for the National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference held in May 2022.

'As social justice movements challenge power structures, the ways in which public historians and cultural institutions create expert knowledge are also under scrutiny. Instead of using traditional top-down approaches to cataloguing, public historians and cultural institutions should be actively co-creating object metadata and research with the public. Discussion centers on how public involvement enriches the narratives we share, building transparency and trust within organizations and the surrounding communities. We hope to present various ways in which institutions are beginning this work and focus on a variety of audiences from graduate students and emerging professionals, to online citizen science communities and onsite museum audiences'.

Panelists:

"Collaboration and Citizen Science Approaches to Enriching Access to Scientific Collections," Jessica BrodeFrank, Adler Planetarium and University of London

"creating names together: homosaurus international thesaurus & the trans metadata collective," B.M. Watson, University of British Columbia iSchool; Homosaurus; Trans Metadata Collective

"Embedding Crowdsourcing in a Collaborative Data Science Project", Mia Ridge, British Library

Isabel Brador Sanz, Wolfsonian-FIU

We're sharing the video we pre-recorded for the NCPH conference so that we can include more people in the discussion: Expanding Voices, Expanding Access: Social and Community Centered Metadata.

 



20 September 2022

Learn more about what AI means for us at Living with Machines events this autumn

Digital Curator, and Living with Machines Co-Investigator Dr Mia Ridge writes…

The Living with Machines research project is a collaboration between the British Library, The Alan Turing Institute and various partner universities. Our free exhibition at Leeds City Museum, Living with Machines: Human stories from the industrial age, opened at the end of July. Read on for information about adult events around the exhibition…

AI evening panels and workshop, September 2022

We’ve put together some great panels with expert speakers guaranteed to get you thinking about the impact of AI with their thought-provoking examples and questions. You'll have a chance to ask your own questions in the Q&A, and to mingle with other attendees over drinks.

We’ve also collaborated with AI Tech North to offer an exclusive workshop looking at the practical aspects of ethics in AI. If you’re using or considering AI-based services or tools, this might be for you. Our events are also part of the jam-packed programme of the Leeds Digital Festival #LeedsDigi22, where we’re in great company.

The role of AI in Creative and Cultural Industries

Thu, Sep 22, 17:30 – 19:45 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-role-of-ai-in-creative-and-cultural-industries-tickets-395003043737

How will AI change what we wear, the TV and films we watch, what we read? 

Join our fabulous Chair Zillah Watson (independent consultant, ex-BBC) and panellists Rebecca O’Higgins (Founder KI-AH-NA), Laura Ellis (Head of Technology Forecasting, BBC) and Maja Maricevic, (Head of Higher Education and Science, British Library) for an evening that'll help you understand the future of these industries for audiences and professionals alike. 

Maja's written a blog post on The role of AI in creative and cultural industries with more background on this event.

 

Workshop: Developing ethical and fair AI for society and business

Thu, Sep 29, 13:30 - 17:00 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/workshop-developing-ethical-and-fair-ai-for-society-and-business-tickets-400345623537

 

Panel: Developing ethical and fair AI for society and business

Thu, Sep 29, 17:30 – 19:45 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/panel-developing-ethical-and-fair-ai-for-society-and-business-tickets-395020706567

AI is coming, so how do we live and work with it? What can we all do to develop ethical approaches to AI to help ensure a more equal and just society? 

Our expert Chair, Timandra Harkness, and panellists Sherin Mathew (Founder & CEO of AI Tech UK), Robbie Stamp (author and CEO at Bioss International), Keely Crockett (Professor in Computational Intelligence, Manchester Metropolitan University) and Andrew Dyson (Global Co-Chair of DLA Piper’s Data Protection, Privacy and Security Group) will present a range of perspectives on this important topic.

If you missed our autumn events, we also have a study day and Wikipedia editathon this winter. You can find out more about our exhibition on the Living with Machines website.

Lwm800x400

16 August 2022

#WikiLibCon22: An International Experience

It was with a little bit of apprehension that I made my way to Ireland, in late July. After two years of limited travel, and international restrictions, it felt strange to be standing in line at an airport, passport in hand, on my way to an in-person conference. Mixed in with the nervousness, however, was excitement. I was on my way to the first ever Wikimedia + Libraries Convention, hosted at Maynooth University. I’m happy to report that it was a fantastic event and worth every minute of travel nerves.

Logo for Wikimedia and Libraries Convention.
Logo for Wikimedia and Libraries Convention. Image credit: Bridges2Information, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of hard work and inspiration had gone into making this event happen: with just three months to prepare, the organising committee outdid themselves at every turn. Laurie Bridges (Oregon State), Dr Rebecca O’Neill (Wikimedia Community Ireland), Dr Núria Ferran Ferrer (University of Barcelona) and Wikimedian of the Year 2022, Dr Nkem Osuigwe, arranged a weekend packed with fascinating talks, wonderful networking opportunities, and even some traditional Irish dancing. (Thankfully, the participants were observing this part!)

For me, the highlight of the weekend was meeting such a broad community of Wikimedians and library specialists. Having started my post remotely, the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world, in person, felt too good to be true, but as this photo demonstrates, it really did happen.

Group photo of participants at WikiLibCon22, outside St Patrick's College, Maynooth.
Participants in front of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth by B20180, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I did a lot of tweeting over the weekend, trying to capture these excellent presentations. You can catch a lot of impressions and fun memories of the weekend over on Twitter using the #WikiLibCon22 hashtag.

There were many highlights over the course of the two days. The keynote presentation by Dr Nkem Osuigwe was outstanding. She spoke about ‘Wikimedia Through The Prism Of Critical Librarianship’. I could not possibly do justice to the depth of thought in this excellent piece, but certain observations and quotes stood out. Nkem described critical librarianship as 'seek[ing] to find out who is misrepresented, underrepresented or not even seen at all, [a system which] seeks to uphold the human rights of user communities; to find out inequities within the system'. This is a very powerful statement which really ties in with the Wikimedia aim of knowledge equity and global knowledge. As Nkem pointed out, we have over 6000 living languages, and between 1000 and 2000 in Africa alone. Wikipedia is now extant in over 300 languages, but this is a small percentage of the world at large.

Many things in Nkem’s presentation have stuck with me, and the proverb “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” is one of the strongest. It was a true privilege to hear Nkem speak, and to meet so many wonderful people from the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA).

Image of Nkem Osuigwe presenting at WikiLibCon
Dr Nkem Osuigwe, B20180, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Participants came from all over the world, and from all different areas of Wikipedia. Viral hit Annie Rauwerda, of the famous @depthsofwiki account, was there to talk about her work in outreach and exploring the engagement potential of social media, while public librarian and author Amber Morrell spoke about her experience using TikTok @storytimeamber to educate and entertain. Unfortunately, I could not attend all of these papers in person, as I was presenting with Satdeep Gill (Wikimedia Foundation) on the work that the British Library and Two Centuries of Indian Print have done on Wikisource and Bengali books.

Other standout talks included Felix Nartey of the Wikimedia Foundation giving the second day keynote on ‘Wikimedia and Libraries: Working Together To Build The Infrastructure For Free Knowledge’. I attended an excellent workshop on importing bibliographic data to Wikidata, run by Dr Ursula Oberst (Leiden), and an insightful reflective talk by Liam Wyatt (Wikimedia Foundation) and Alice Kibombo (Wikimedia Community User Group Uganda) on ‘Libraries and Wikimedia: Where Have We Come From and Where Are We Going?’. I wanted to say particular thanks to Alice, who chaired our panel on Wikimedians in Residence. I was really pleased to talk alongside Rachel Helps (Brigham Young) and Kim Gile (Kansas City Public Library), sharing our experiences of Residencies and the role of a Resident. In her presentation with Liam, Alice asked a crucial question of all participants: 'Are we equipped to lead the change we'd like to see?' That has stuck with me. I feel strongly that after an event like #WikiLibCon22, we are certainly on the right path.

NB: You can see some of the presentations on Commons, as well as images from the event.

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

05 August 2022

Burmese Script Conversion using Aksharamukha

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

 

Curious about Myanmar (Burma)? Did you know that the British Library has a large collection of Burmese materials, including manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, early printed books, newspapers, periodicals, as well as current material?

You can search our main online catalogue Explore the British Library for printed material, or the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue for manuscripts. But, to increase chances of discovering printed resources, you will need to search the Explore catalogue by typing in the transliteration of the Burmese title and/or author using the Library of Congress romanisation rules. This means that searching for an item using the original Burmese script, or using what you would intuitively consider to be the romanised version of Burmese script, is not going to get you very far (not yet, anyway).

Excerpt from the Library of Congress romanisation scheme
Excerpt from the Library of Congress romanisation scheme

 

The reason for this is that this is how we catalogue Burmese collection items at the Library, following a policy to transliterate Burmese using the Library of Congress (LoC) rules. In theory, the benefit of this system specifically for Burmese is that it enables a two-way transliteration, i.e. the romanisation could be precisely reversed to give the Burmese script. However, a major issue arises from this romanisation system: romanised versions of Burmese script are so far removed from their phonetic renderings, that most Burmese speakers are completely unable to recognise any Burmese words.

With the LoC scheme being unintuitive for Burmese speakers, not reflecting the spoken language, British Library catalogue records for Burmese printed materials end up virtually inaccessible to users. And we’re not alone with this problem – other libraries worldwide holding Burmese collections and using the LoC romanisation scheme, face the same issues.

The Buddha at Vesali in a Burmese manuscript, from the Henry Burney collection. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 1
The Buddha at Vesali in a Burmese manuscript, from the Henry Burney collection. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 1

 

One useful solution to this could be to find or develop a tool that converts the LoC romanisation output into Burmese script, and vice versa – similar to how you would use Google Translate. Maria Kekki, our Curator for Burmese collections, have discovered the online tool Aksharamukha, which aims to facilitate conversion between various scripts – also referred to as transliteration (transliteration into Roman alphabet is particularly referred to as romanisation). It supports 120 scripts and 21 romanisation methods, and luckily, Burmese is one of them.

Aksharamukha: Script Converter screenshot
Aksharamukha: Script Converter screenshot

 

Using Aksharamukha has already been of great help to Maria. Instead of painstakingly converting Burmese script manually into its romanised version, she could now copy-paste the conversion and make any necessary adjustments. She also noticed making fewer errors this way! However, it was missing one important thing – the ability to directly transliterate Burmese script specifically using the LoC romanisation system.

Such functionality would not only save our curatorial and acquisitions staff a significant amount of time – but also help any other libraries holding Burmese collections and following the LoC guidelines. This would also allow Burmese speakers to find material in the library catalogue much more easily – readers will also use this platform to find items in our collection, as well as other collections around the world.

To this end, Maria got in touch with the developer of Aksharamukha, Vinodh Rajan – a computer scientist who is also an expert in writing systems, languages and digital humanities. Vinodh was happy to implement two things: (1) add the LoC romanisation scheme as one of the transliteration options, and (2) add spaces in between words (when it comes to spacing, according to the LoC romanisation system, there are different rules for words of Pali and English origin, which are written together).

Vinodh demonstrating the new Aksharamukha functionality, June 2022
Vinodh demonstrating the new Aksharamukha functionality, June 2022

 

Last month (July 2022) Vinodh implemented the new system, and what we can say, the result is just fantastic! Readers are now able to copy-paste transliterated text into the Library’s catalogue search box, to see if we hold items of interest. It is also a significant improvement for cataloguing and acquisition processes, being able to create acquisitions records and minimal records. As a next step, we will look into updating all of our Burmese catalogue records to include Burmese script (alongside transliteration), and consider a similar course of action for other South or Southeast Asian scripts.

I should mention that as a bonus, Aksharamukha’s codebase is fully open source, is available on GitHub and is well documented. If you have feedback or notice any bugs, please feel free to raise an issue on GitHub. Thank you, Vinodh, for making this happen!

 

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