THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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182 posts categorized "Experiments"

05 May 2021

Games in the Library and Games in the Woods

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Congratulations to the winner, runners up and everyone who made a game last month for Leeds Libraries Games Jam on Novels That Shaped Our World, which invited jammers to create playful interactive adaptations of books in the BBC’s Novels that Shaped Our World list. To accompany this jam, they programmed a fantastic series of events, which if you missed seeing live, or want to re-watch, can be found in this YouTube playlist.

I absolutely love the premise of the winning submission Frankenstein's Double Wedding, Or, The Modern P…romeo…ethius by WretchedBees (Will Binns). You need a deck of cards to play this solo or cooperative game. Playing as Dr. Frankenstein, with the help of both your monster and betrothed, the game’s aim is to organise a double wedding, arranging catering, a florist, a venue and inviting wedding guests. Not forgetting, that you also need to create a spouse for your monster, before you can both get wed.

A silhoutte profile of a face looking to the left with a bolt of lightning in the face. There are also brains in lightbulbs and the spade, club, diamond and heart symbols from playing cards
Frankenstein's Double Wedding, Or, The Modern P…romeo…ethius by WretchedBees

Well deserved recognition also goes to the two runners up, these are The Open Wizarding Challenge by Suzini56, where to win, players navigate rooms and corridors of their wizarding school, dodging moving staircases and obstacles, aiming to be the first to reach the exit with their bag of collected items, picked up on the way. Also, Fortune of War: A game of Napoleonic era Naval Life by webcowgirl, which is based on Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander books. Writing about her submission she says “this game tries to capture the flavor of the books, with its humor and humanity. Winning isn't just about money, it is ultimately also about pride, honor, and dignity.” Something we would all do well to remember.

A boardgame on a table with a paper ship at the centre of the board, and pot plants behind it
Fortune of War: A game of Napoleonic era Naval Life by webcowgirl

Other #NTSOWgamesjam submissions re-worked Pride and Prejudice, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener. You can check these out on the jam’s itch.io entries page. Being a Sandman graphic novels fan, I enjoyed looking at Of You by DarrenLEdwards, which has been structured so this tabletop roleplaying game could also be based on many other fantastical worlds such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Neverending Story, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials etc.

If exploring fantasy worlds and playing games has inspired you to want to make a game, or if you are a seasoned game maker, then you may want to take part in our Games In the Woods jam this month, which I am running with Ash Green, Marion Tessier from Story Circles and Kingston Upon Thames Libraries, and Cheryl Tipp. This is an online tree themed game jam for all ages, which will run throughout the duration of the Urban Tree Festival. There will be an online launch event on Saturday 15th May with inspiring examples of interactive digital experiences featuring trees and a virtual “show & tell” event on Sunday 23rd May for jammers to celebrate their creations.

Before and during the Urban Tree Festival, game jammers can meet and chat with organisers and each other on our Discord Server: https://discord.gg/qWXH8NcjHE, so please join and say hello on there and use #gamesinthewoods on social media to share images and details of your work in progress.

A wood with a deer standing to the left and a fox standing on the right
Games in the Woods game jam

You are welcome to join alone or in a team to create digital and analogue games, interactive fiction, web comics, board games, escape games, card games – anything you want! The only constraints are time, the theme and your imagination. We especially encourage creative re-use of images from the British Library’s Flickr collection of digitised 19th century books, do check out these online Flora and Fauna galleries. There is also a fantastic curated selection of wildlife and environmental sound recordings picked by my colleague Cheryl Tipp, which you can use in your creations. These are available via this SoundCloud playlist.

Portrait photographs of Sue Thomas, Irini Papadimitriou and Cheryl Tipp
Sue Thomas, Irini Papadimitriou and Cheryl Tipp

Cheryl is also speaking at a free Digital Nature online event next Monday, 10th May, 19:30 - 20:30. Chaired by Irini Papadimitriou, Creative Director at Future Everything, this event also features Ben Eaton from Invisible Flock (read more about their woodland work Faint Signals here), and author of books on nature and technology Sue Thomas. This is part of the British Library’s springtime season of events The Natural Word, which explores nature writing and reflects on our need to reimagine our relationship with the environment. Hope to see you there.

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

20 April 2021

A Novel Approach To Novels That Shaped Our World!

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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) https://www.tiger-tea.co.uk/

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)

24 March 2021

Welcome to the British Library’s new Wikimedian in Residence

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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

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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.eventbrite.com.

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

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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.

AURA

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)

11 February 2021

Investigating Instances of Arabic Verb Form X in the BL/QFP Translation Memory

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The Arabic language has a root+pattern morphology where words are formed by casting a (usually 3-letter) root into a morphological template of affixed letters in the beginning, middle and/or end of the word. While most of the meaning comes from the root, the template itself adds a layer of meaning. For our latest Hack Day, I investigated uses of Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿal) in the BL/QFP Translation Memory.

I chose this verb form because it conveys the meaning of seeking or acquiring something for oneself, possibly by force. It is a transitive verb form where the subject may be imposing something on the object and can therefore convey subtle power dynamics. For example, it is the form used to translate words such as ‘colonise’ (yastaʿmir) and ‘enslave’ (yastaʿbid). I wanted to get a sense of whether this form could reflect unconscious biases in our translations – an extension of our work in the BLQFP team to address problematic language in cataloguing and translation.

The other reason I chose this verb form is that it is achieved by affixing three consonants to the beginning of the word, which made it possible to search for in our Translation Memory (TM). The TM is a bilingual corpus, stretching back to 2014, of the catalogue descriptions we translate for the digitised India Office Records and Arabic scientific manuscripts on the QDL. We access the TM through our translation management system (memoQ), which offers some basic search functionalities. This includes a ‘wild card’ option where the results list all the words that begin with the three Form X consonants under investigation (است* and يست*).

Snippet of results in memoQ using the wildcard search function
Figure 1: Snippet of results in memoQ using the wildcard search function.

 

My initial search using these two 3-letter combinations returned 2,140 results. I noticed that there were some recurring false positives such as certain place names and the Arabic calque of ‘strategy’ (istrātījiyyah). The most recurring false positive (699 counts), however, was the Arabic verb for ‘receive’ (istalam) – which is unsurprising given frequent references to correspondences being sent and received in catalogue descriptions of IOR files. What makes this verb a false positive is that the ‘s’ is in fact a root consonant, and therefore the verb actually belongs to Form VIII (iftaʿal). 

After eliminating these false positives, I ended up with 1349 matches. From these, I was able to identify 55 unique verbs used in relation to IOR files. I then conducted a more targeted search of three cases of each verb: the perfective (past) istafʿal, the imperfective (present) yastafʿil, and the verbal noun (istifʿāl). I used the wild card function again to capture variations of these cases with suffixes attached (e.g. pronoun or plural suffixes). Although these would have been useful too, I did not look for the active (mustafʿil) and passive (mustafʿal) participles because the single short vowel that differentiates them is rarely represented in Arabic writing. Close scrutiny of the context of each result would have been needed in order to assign them correctly, and I did not have enough time for that in a single day.

List of the Form X verbs found in the TM and their frequency (excluding six verbs that only occur once)
Figure 2: List of the Form X verbs found in the TM and their frequency (excluding six verbs that only occur once)

 

I made a note of the original English term(s) that the Form X verb was used to translate. I then identified seven potentially problematic verbs that required further investigation. These six verbs typically convey an action that is being either forcefully or wrongfully imposed.

Seven potentially problematic verbs that take Form X in the TM
Figure 3: Seven potentially problematic verbs that take Form X in the TM

 

My next step was to investigate the use of these verbs in context more closely. I looked at the most frequent of these verbs (istawlá/yastawlī/istīlaʾ) in our TM, first using the source + target view, and then the three-column concordance view of the target text. The first view allowed me to scrutinise how we have been employing this verb vis-à-vis the original term used in the English catalogue description. It struck me that, in some cases, more neutral verbs such as ‘take’ and ‘take possession of’ were used on the English side; meaning that bias was introduced during translation.

Source + target view of concordance results for the verb istawlá
Figure 4: Source + target view of concordance results for the verb istawlá

 

The second view makes it possible to see the text immediately preceding and succeeding the verb, typically displaying the assigned subject and object of the verb. It therefore shows who is doing what to whom more clearly, even though the script direction goes a bit awry for Arabic. Here, I noticed that the subjects were disproportionately non-British: it is overwhelmingly native rulers and populations, ‘pirates’, and rival countries who were doing the forceful or wrongful taking in the results. This may indicate an unconscious bias that has travelled from the primary sources to the catalogue descriptions and is something that requires further investigation.

Three-column view of concordance results for the verb istawlá
Figure 5: Three-column view of concordance results for the verb istawlá

 

My hack day investigation was conducted in the spirit of continuous reflection on and improvement of our translation process. Using a verb form rather than specific words as a starting point provided an aggregate view of our practices, which is useful in trying to tease out how the descriptions on the QDL may collectively convey an overall stance or attitude. My investigation also demonstrates the value of our TM, not only for facilitating and maintaining consistency in translation, but as a research tool with countless possibilities. My findings from the hack day are naturally rough-and-ready, but they provide the seed for further conversations about problematic language and unconscious bias among translators and cataloguers.

This is a guest post by linguist and translator Dr Mariam Aboelezz (@MariamAboelezz), Translation Support Officer, BL/QFP Project

29 January 2021

Hacking the BL from home

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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 <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100069559270.0x00000d> 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 <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100037366479.0x00005e>

 

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 <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100035587342.0x000001>).

 

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 <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100085281813.0x000027>

 

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 Mess.rs 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 Mess.rs 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 <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100023868004.0x000010>

 

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 <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100000001251.0x00036a>

 

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 (https://www.qdl.qa/en).

 

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

19 January 2021

The New Media Writing Prize collection is now available in the UK Web Archive

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For the past four years, the British Library has been researching, collecting and documenting complex digital publications produced in the UK. Born in response to the 2013 UK Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations, the Emerging Formats project looked at different examples of digital writing, analysed how these can be best preserved and given access to within the specific requirements of a library environment. As part of this work, we hosted a Postdoctoral Innovation Placement researcher, Lynda Clark, who helped us build an Interactive Narratives collection hosted in the UK Web Archive.

Building on from what we learned from Lynda’s work, we created a new collection of emerging media: The New Media Writing Prize collection. The New Media Writing Prize was founded in 2010 and over the past decade has attracted a diverse and innovative range of works from all over the world. Its aim is to showcase and celebrate new and often experimental forms of digital storytelling, crossing formats and genres.

The New Media Writing Prize logo comprising an N with a gamecontroller, M with a microphone, W with headphones and P with a pot of pens
The New Media Writing Prize logo

The collection features shortlisted and winning entries for different categories awarded through the years (main prize, student prize, journalism prize and DOT award), from 2010 to the present. There are over 100 works in the collection, written in a variety of formats: from web-based interactive fiction, to apps and augmented reality table top installations. This exciting variety is also a preservation challenge: some of the online works have already disappeared, or can only be captured partially with our web archiving tools, as they include live data or physical elements. For instances when archiving the work itself wasn’t possible, we tried capturing the documentation around the publication instead, archiving press reviews, blog posts and author’s websites.

While the collection is available online, most of its entries are only accessible on Library premises because of copyright restrictions. A few, however, can also be accessed remotely: for example, Serge Bouchardon’s Loss of Grasp, J.R. Carpenter’s City Fish, Alan Bigelow’s Life of Fly and Amira Hanafi’s What I Am Wearing.

Thumbnail images of six works, which are in the 2020 New Media Writing Prize shortlist
The 2020 New Media Writing Prize shortlist

The work on the collection is far from over: next steps include investigating how to best preserve and present Flash works, accurately describing and linking works in the catalogue and keeping the collection up-to-date. The 2020 shortlist has just been announced for both the main prize and the digital journalism award, so these new entries will soon be added to the collection. You can read the latest news about the New Media Writing Prize on their Twitter or Facebook channels – keep your eyes peeled for the 2020 winners announcement on the 20th January!

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari.