Digital scholarship blog

190 posts categorized "Experiments"

29 September 2021

Sailing Away To A Distant Land - Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs - final post

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, former Manager of British Library Labs or "BL Labs" for short

[estimated reading time of around 15 minutes]

This is is my last day working as manager of BL Labs, and also my final posting on the Digital Scholarship blog. I thought I would take this chance to reflect on my journey of almost 9 years in helping to set up, maintain and enabling BL Labs to become a permanent fixture at the British Library (BL).

BL Labs was the first digital Lab in a national library, anywhere in the world, that gets people to experiment with its cultural heritage digital collections and data. There are now several Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum Labs or 'GLAM Labs' for short around the world, with an active community which I helped build, from 2018.

I am really proud I was there from the beginning to implement the original proposal which was written by several colleagues, but especially Adam Farquhar, former head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library (BL). The project was at first generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation through four rounds of funding as well as support from the BL. In April 2021, the project became a permanently funded fixture, helped very much by my new manager Maja Maricevic, Head of Higher Education and Science.

The great news is that BL Labs is going to stay after I have left. The position of leading the Lab will soon be advertised. Hopefully, someone will get a chance to work with my helpful and supportive colleague Technical Lead of Labs, Dr Filipe Bento, bright, talented and very hard working Maja and other great colleagues in Digital Research and wider at the BL.

The beginnings, the BL and me!

I met Adam Farquhar and Aly Conteh (Former Head of Digital Research at the BL) in December 2012. They must have liked something about me because I started working on the project in January 2013, though I officially started in March 2013 to launch BL Labs.

I must admit, I had always felt a bit intimidated by the BL. My first visit was in the early 1980s before the St Pancras site was opened (in 1997) as a Psychology student. I remember coming up from Wolverhampton on the train to get a research paper about "Serotonin Pathways in Rats when sleeping" by Lidov, feeling nervous and excited at the same time. It felt like a place for 'really intelligent educated people' and for those who were one for the intellectual elites in society. It also felt for me a bit like it represented the British empire and its troubled history of colonialism, especially some of the collections which made me feel uncomfortable as to why they were there in the first place.

I remember thinking that the BL probably wasn't a place for some like me, a child of Indian Punjabi immigrants from humble beginnings who came to England in the 1960s. Actually, I felt like an imposter and not worthy of being there.

Nearly 9 years later, I can say I learned to respect and even cherish what was inside it, especially the incredible collections, though I also became more confident about expressing stronger views about the decolonisation of some of these.  I became very fond of some of the people who work or use it, there are some really good kind-hearted souls at the BL. However, I never completely lost that 'imposter and being an outsider' feeling.

What I remember at that time, going for my interview, was having this thought, what will happen if I got the position and 'What would be the one thing I would try and change?'. It came easily to me, namely that I would try and get more new people through the doors literally or virtually by connecting them to the BL's collections (especially the digital). New people like me, who may have never set foot, or had been motivated to step into the building before. This has been one of the most important reasons for me to get up in the morning and go to work at BL Labs.

So what have been my highlights? Let's have a very quick pass through!

BL Labs Launch and Advisory Board

I launched BL Labs in March 2013, one week after I had started. It was at the launch event organised by my wonderfully supportive and innovative colleague, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom. I distinctly remember in the afternoon session (which I did alone), I had to present my 'ideas' of how I might launch the first BL Labs competition where we would be trying to get pioneering researchers to work with the BL's digital collections.

God it was a tough crowd! They asked pretty difficult questions, questions I myself was asking too which I still didn't know the answer too either.

I remember Professors Tim Hitchcock (now at Sussex University and who eventually sat (and is still sitting) on the BL Labs Advisory Board) and Laurel Brake (now Professor Emerita of Literature and Print Culture, Birkbeck, University of London) being in the audience together with staff from the Royal Library of Netherlands, who 6 months later launched their own brilliant KB Lab. Subsequently, I became good colleagues with Lotte Wilms who led their Lab for many years and is now Head of Research support at Tilburg University.

My first gut feeling overall after the event was, this is going to be hard work. This feeling and reality remained a constant throughout my time at BL Labs.

In early May 2013, we launched the competition, which was a really quick and stressful turnaround as I had only officially started in mid March (one and a half months). I remember worrying as to whether anyone would even enter!  All the final entries were pretty much submitted a few minutes before the deadline. I remember being alone that evening on deadline day near to midnight waiting by my laptop, thinking what happens if no one enters, it's going to be disaster and I will lose my job. Luckily that didn't happen, in the end, we received 26 entries.

I am a firm believer that we can help make our own luck, but sometimes luck can be quite random! Perhaps BL Labs had a bit of both!

After that, I never really looked back! BL Labs developed its own kind of pattern and momentum each year:

  • hunting around the BL for digital collections to make into datasets and make available
  • helping to make more digital collections openly licensed
  • having hundreds of conversations with people interested in connecting with the BL's digital collections in the BL and outside
  • working with some people more intensively to carry out experiments
  • developing ideas further into prototype projects
  • telling the world of successes and failures in person, meetings, events and social media
  • launching a competition and awards in April or May
  • roadshows before and after with invitations to speak at events around the world
  • the summer working with competition winners
  • late October/November the international symposium showcased things from the year
  • working on special projects
  • repeat!

The winners were announced in July 2013, and then we worked with them on their entries showcasing them at our annual BL Labs Symposium in November, around 4 months later.

'Nothing interesting happens in the office' - Roadshows, Presentations, Workshops and Symposia!

One of the highlights of BL Labs was to go out to universities and other places to explain what the BL is and what BL Labs does.  This ended up with me pretty much seeing the world (North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and giving virtual talks in South America and Africa).

My greatest challenge in BL Labs was always to get people to truly and passionately 'connect' with the BL's digital collections and data in order to come up with cool ideas of what to actually do with them. What I learned from my very first trip was that telling people what you have is great, they definitely need to know what you have! However, once you do that, the hard work really begins as you often need to guide and inspire many of them, help and support them to use the collections creatively and meaningfully. It was also important to understand the back story of the digital collection and learn about the institutional culture of the BL if people also wanted to work with BL colleagues.  For me and the researchers involved, inspirational engagement with digital collections required a lot of intellectual effort and emotional intelligence. Often this means asking the uncomfortable questions about research such as 'Why are we doing this?', 'What is the benefit to society in doing this?', 'Who cares?', 'How can computation help?' and 'Why is it necessary to even use computation?'.

Making those connections between people and data does feel like magic when it really works. It's incredibly exciting, suddenly everyone has goose bumps and is energised. This feeling, I will take away with me, it's the essence of my work at BL Labs!

A full list of over 200 presentations, roadshows, events and 9 annual symposia can be found here.

Competitions, Awards and Projects

Another significant way BL Labs has tried to connect people with data has been through Competitions (tell us what you would like to do, and we will choose an idea and work collaboratively with you on it to make it a reality), Awards (show us what you have already done) and Projects (collaborative working).

At the last count, we have supported and / or highlighted over 450 projects in research, artistic, entrepreneurial, educational, community based, activist and public categories most through competitions, awards and project collaborations.

We also set up awards for British Library Staff which has been a wonderful way to highlight the fantastic work our staff do with digital collections and give them the recognition they deserve. I have noticed over the years that the number of staff who have been working on digital projects has increased significantly. Sometimes this was with the help of BL Labs but often because of the significant Digital Scholarship Training Programme, run by my Digital Curator colleagues in Digital Research for staff to understand that the BL isn't just about physical things but digital items too.

Browse through our project archive to get inspiration of the various projects BL Labs has been involved in or highlighted.

Putting the digital collections 'where the light is' - British Library platforms and others

When I started at BL Labs it was clear that we needed to make a fundamental decision about how we saw digital collections. Quite early on, we decided we should treat collections as data to harness the power of computational tools to work with each collection, especially for research purposes. Each collection should have a unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI) so researchers can cite them in publications.  Any new datasets generated from them will also have DOIs, allowing us to understand the ecosystem through DOIs of what happens to data when you get it out there for people to use.

In 2014, https://data.bl.uk was born and today, all our 153 datasets (as of 29/09/2021) are available through the British Library's research repository.

However, BL Labs has not stopped there! We always believed that it's important to put our digital collections where others are likely to discover them (we can't assume that researchers will want to come to BL platforms), 'where the light is' so to speak.  We were very open and able to put them on other platforms such as Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, not forgetting that we still needed to do the hard work to connect data to people after they have discovered them, if they needed that support.

Our greatest success by far was placing 1 million largely undescribed images that were digitally snipped from 65,000 digitised public domain books from the 19th Century on Flickr Commons in 2013. The number of images on the platform have grown since then by another 50 to 60 thousand from collections elsewhere in the BL. There has been significant interaction from the public to generate crowdsourced tags to help to make it easier to find the specific images. The number of views we have had have reached over a staggering 2 billion over this time. There have also been an incredible array of projects which have used the images, from artistic use to using machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify them. It's my favourite collection, probably because there are no restrictions in using it.

Read the most popular blog post the BL has ever published by my former BL Labs colleague, the brilliant and inspirational Ben O'Steen, a million first steps and the 'Mechanical Curator' which describes how we told the world why and how we had put 1 million images online for anyone to use freely.

It is wonderful to know that George Oates, the founder of Flickr Commons and still a BL Labs Advisory Board member, has been involved in the creation of the Flickr Foundation which was announced a few days ago! Long live Flickr Commons! We loved it because it also offered a computational way to access the collections, critical for powerful and efficient computational experiments, through its Application Programming Interface (API).

More recently, we have experimented with browser based programming / computational environments - Jupyter Notebooks. We are huge fans of Tim Sherrat who was a pioneer and brilliant advocate of OPEN GLAM in using them, especially through his GLAM Workbench. He is a one person Lab in his own right, and it was an honour to recognise his monumental efforts by giving him the BL Labs Research Award 2020 last year. You can also explore the fantastic work of Gustavo Candela and colleagues on Jupyter Notebooks and the ones my colleageue Filipe Bento created.

Art Exhibitions, Creativity and Education

I am extremely proud to have been involved in enabling two major art exhibitions to happen at the BL, namely:

Crossroads of Curiosity by David Normal

Imaginary Cities by Michael Takeo Magruder

I loved working with artists, its my passion! They are so creative and often not restricted by academic thinking, see the work of Mario Klingemann for example! You can browse through our archives for various artistic projects that used the BL's digital collections, it's inspiring.

I was also involved in the first British Library Fashion Student Competition won by Alanna Hilton, held at the BL which used the BL's Flickr Commons collection as inspiration for the students to design new fashion ranges. It was organised by my colleague Maja Maricevic, the British Fashion Colleges Council and Teatum Jones who were great fun to work with. I am really pleased to say that Maja has gone on from strength to strength working with the fashion industry and continues to run the competition to this day.

We also had some interesting projects working with younger people, such as Vittoria's world of stories and the fantastic work of Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller at the Australian National University. This is something I am very much interested in exploring further in the future, especially around ideas of computational thinking and have been trying out a few things.

GLAM Labs community and Booksprint

I am really proud of helping to create the international GLAM Labs community with over 250 members, established in 2018 and still active today. I affectionately call them the GLAM Labbers, and I often ask people to explore their inner 'Labber' when I give presentations. What is a Labber? It's the experimental and playful part of us we all had as children and unfortunately many have lost when becoming an adult. It's the ability to be fearless, having the audacity and perhaps even naivety to try crazy things even if they are likely to fail! Unfortunately society values success more than it does failure. In my opinion, we need to recognise, respect and revere those that have the courage to try but failed. That courage to experiment should be honoured and embraced and should become the bedrock of our educational systems from the very outset.

Two years ago, many of us Labbers 'ate our own dog food' or 'practised what we preached' when me and 15 other colleagues came together for 5 days to produce a book through a booksprint, probably the most rewarding professional experience of my life. The book is about how to set up, maintain, sustain and even close a GLAM Lab and is called 'Open a GLAM Lab'. It is available as public domain content and I encourage you to read it.

Online drop-in goodbye - today!

I organised a 30 minute ‘online farewell drop-in’ on Wednesday 29 September 2021, 1330 BST (London), 1430 (Paris, Amsterdam), 2200 (Adelaide), 0830 (New York) on my very last day at the British Library. It was heart-warming that the session was 'maxed out' at one point with participants from all over the world. I honestly didn't expect over 100 colleagues to show up. I guess when you leave an organisation you get to find out who you actually made an impact on, who shows up, and who tells you, otherwise you may never know.

Those that know me well know that I would have much rather had a farewell do ‘in person’, over a pint and praying for the ‘chip god’ to deliver a huge portion of chips with salt/vinegar and tomato sauce’ magically and mysteriously to the table. The pub would have been Mc'Glynns (http://www.mcglynnsfreehouse.com/) near the British Library in London. I wonder who the chip god was?  I never found out ;)

The answer to who the chip god was is in text following this sentence on white on white text...you will be very shocked to know who it was!- s

Spoiler alert it was me after all, my alter ego

Farwell-bl-labs-290921Mahendra's online farewell to BL Labs, Wednesday 29 September, 1330 BST, 2021.
Left: Flowers and wine from the GLAM Labbers arrived in Tallinn, 20 mins before the meeting!
Right: Some of the participants of the online farewell

Leave a message of good will to see me off on my voyage!

It would be wonderful if you would like to leave me your good wishes, comments, memories, thoughts, scans of handwritten messages, pictures, photographs etc. on the following Google doc:

http://tiny.cc/mahendramahey

I will leave it open for a week or so after I have left. Reading positive sincere heartfelt messages from colleagues and collaborators over the years have already lifted my spirits. For me it provides evidence that you perhaps did actually make a difference to somone's life.  I will definitely be re-reading them during the cold dark Baltic nights in Tallinn.

I would love to hear from you and find out what you are doing, or if you prefer, you can email me, the details are at the end of this post.

BL Labs Sailor and Captain Signing Off!

It's been a blast and lots of fun! Of course there is a tinge of sadness in leaving! For me, it's also been intellectually and emotionally challenging as well as exhausting, with many ‘highs’ and a few ‘lows’ or choppy waters, some professional and others personal.

I have learned so much about myself and there are so many things I am really really proud of. There are other things of course I wish I had done better. Most of all, I learned to embrace failure, my best teacher!

I think I did meet my original wish of wanting to help to open up the BL to as many new people who perhaps would have never engaged in the Library before. That was either by using digital collections and data for cool projects and/or simply walking through the doors of the BL in London or Boston Spa and having a look around and being inspired to do something because of it.

I wish the person who takes over my position lots of success! My only piece of advice is if you care, you will be fine!

Anyhow, what a time this has been for us all on this planet? I have definitely struggled at times. I, like many others, have lost loved ones and thought deeply about life and it's true meaning. I have also managed to find the courage to know what’s important and act accordingly, even if that has been a bit terrifying and difficult at times. Leaving the BL for example was not an easy decision for me, and I wish perhaps things had turned out differently, but I know I am doing the right thing for me, my future and my loved ones. 

Though there have been a few dark times for me both professionally and personally, I hope you will be happy to know that I have also found peace and happiness too. I am in a really good place.

I would like to thank former alumni of BL Labs, Ben O'Steen - Technical Lead for BL Labs from 2013 to 2018, Hana Lewis (2016 - 2018) and Eleanor Cooper (2018-2019) both BL Labs Project Officers and many other people I worked through BL Labs and wider in the Library and outside it in my journey.

Where I am off to and what am I doing?

My professional plans are 'evolving', but one thing is certain, I will be moving country!

To Estonia to be precise!

I plan to live, settle down with my family and work there. I was never a fan of Brexit, and this way I get to stay a European.

I would like to finish with this final sweet video created by writer and filmaker Ling Low and her team in 2016, entitled 'Hey there Young Sailor' which they all made as volunteers for the Malaysian band, the 'Impatient Sisters'. It won the BL Labs Artistic Award in 2016. I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Ling over a lovely lunch in Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia, where I had also given a talk at the National Library about my work and looked for remanants of my grandfather who had settled there many years ago.

I wish all of you well, and if you are interested in keeping in touch with me, working with me or just saying hello, you can contact me via my personal email address: mr.mahendra.mahey@gmail.com or follow my progress on my personal website.

Happy journeys through this short life to all of you!

Mahendra Mahey, former BL Labs Manager / Captain / Sailor signing off!

12 August 2021

Dates to discuss Wikidata at Wikimania 2021

Wikimania is often the highlight of any Wikimedian’s calendar. Hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimania is a conference like no other. A large number of participants take part in the annual celebration of open knowledge and Wikimedia projects. Previous events have taken place in  Stockholm (2019), Cape Town (2018), Montreal (2017) and Italy (2016). Due to the ongoing global pandemic situation, this year's conference being held 13-17 August 2021 is taking place entirely online, something Wikimania is ideally suited for!

  Logo for Wikimania 2021, 4 squares, 1 with a drawing of 12 peoples faces as if they are in a videocall, the 2nd of 2 jigsaw puzzle pieces, the 3rd of paper confetti and the 4th square showing 2 people sitting at a table talking

In addition to more traditional conference sessions, Wikimania will be running an Unconference, a Community Village, and a community Hackathon. Communication is encouraged through a variety of channels including Telegram, IRC and Wiki talk pages.

Telegram machine
A photograph of an old telegraph key by Sandra Tan on Unsplash

Looking at the programme, so many interesting topics are on the table for presentation and discussion: from copyright reform, to innovation and community development, there’s a wide spectrum of material to interest all Wikimedians of every level. Handily, events are rated in terms of their suitability for beginners, to make things as welcoming as possible. There is a whole strand of presentations devoted to Wikidata, which you can view here.

I am very excited to be presenting remotely at this conference on behalf of the British Library. I will be introducing the work of Tom Derrick on the Bengali Books Wikisource Competition, and Dominic Kane (UCL) on the India Office Records project. We have shaped our panel to show what GLAM institutions can do to promote and effectively utilise Wiki platforms for public engagement with library and archive collections. Our panel will run on Sunday 15th of August at 8.15pm (7.15pm UTC).

Wikimania is free to attend online, 13-17 August 2021, registration is open until midnight on Thursday 12th August. We hope to see you there!

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

22 July 2021

Building the New Media Writing Prize Special Collection

The New Media Writing Prize is awarded annually to interactive works that use technology and digital tools in exciting and innovative ways. Organised by Bournemouth University, the prize is now in its 12th year and open for entries until 26th November 2021.

Banner saying "Innovative, Immersive, Interactive. The 2021 New Media Writing Prize is open for entries. Find out more.
The homepage banner on the New Media Writing Prize website

The British Library hosted a Digital Conversations event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the prize in 2019 and as part of our work on collecting and preserving emerging formats, last year we started building a special collection to archive all shortlisted and winning entries to the prize in the UK Web Archive. Thanks to Joan Francis for her valued support adding targets and metadata into the Annotation and Curation Tool, at the moment of writing, the collection stands at 226 websites, including not only all the works that were web-based and live at the moment of collection, but blog posts, press kits, online reviews and author’s websites as well. This kind of contextual information (like the data recorded on the ELMCIP Knowledge Base website) is especially valuable in those instances where the work itself couldn’t be captured, due to the limitations of web archiving tools, or the fact that it had already disappeared from the Internet. More information on how the collection was conceived and developed is available in the Collection Scoping Document on the British Library Research Repository.

In order to improve access to the collection and assure quality for the websites we captured, a PhD placement project started at the beginning of this June. Tegan Pyke, from Cardiff Metropolitan University, is working on the collection to identify best captures for each of these works and is also developing a creative response to the collection.

Tegan writes:

From the New Media Writing Prize shortlists, a total of 78 works have been captured, with each work averaging 13 instances to compare and contrast. Each instance represents a web crawl undertaken by the team from the Emerging Formats project.

Screen capture of UKWA search results
A screenshot showing the instances collected for Serge Bouchardon’s 2011 Main Prize winning piece, "Loss of Grasp".

One of the most difficult aspects of this work has been deciding what, exactly, constitutes an ‘acceptable’ capture. By nature digital works are highly complex—featuring audio, visual, and kinetic assets—and using bespoke platforms, formats, and code. These attributes are heightened by the speed at which technology changes; what was acceptable a decade ago may be entirely defunct today, as is the case with Adobe removing their Flash Player support.

After an initial overview of the collection, I came to the conclusion that a strict set of criteria wouldn’t be appropriate. Nor would the capture of all aspects of a work, as many—such as Amira Hanafi’s What I’m Wearing and J R Carpenter’s The Gathering Cloud—make use of external links or externally hosted image and video files. If these lie outside the UK Legal Deposit’s scope, capturing them in their entirety becomes more difficult and sometimes impossible.

Instead, I decided to focus on narrative, asking three questions as I approached each instance: 

  • Can viewers complete the narrative? 
  • Does the theme remain understandable?
  • Is the atmosphere (the overall mood of the piece) intact?

If an instance fulfils these questions, it’s acceptable, with the most complete of those captures being identified as suitable for display in the archive.

At this point, I’m half-way through comparing instances for the collection. Of the pieces captured, just less than half meet the criteria above. Out of these, most can be improved by additional crawls that capture the missing assets. Those that cannot be improved have, for the most part, been affected by software deprecation or EOL (end-of-life), where support has been completely removed.

I’m aiming to finish my review of the collection over the next couple of months, at which point I hope to provide further insight into the process. I’ve also started a collaboration with the BL's Wikimedian-in-Residence, Lucy Hinnie, to plan a Wikidata project related to the collection aiming to make use of contextual data points collected during its creation—I’m sure you’ll read about this work here soon!

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari and Tegan Pyke, a PhD student at Cardiff Metropolitan University currently undertaking a placement in Contemporary British Published Collections at the British Library.

09 July 2021

Subjects Wanted for Soothing Sounds Psychology Studies

Can you help University of Reading researchers with their studies examining the potential therapeutic effects of  looking at ‘soothing’ images and listening to natural sounds on mental health and wellbeing?

Sound recordings for this research have been provided by Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds, from the British Library Sound Archive.

One study focuses on young people; 13-17 year-olds are wanted for an easy online survey. Psychology Masters student Jasmiina Ryyanen from the University of Reading is asking young people to view and listen to 25 images and sounds, rating their moods before and after. Access the survey for 13-17 year-olds here: https://henley.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eKaQjEf2H3Vqw9U.

Poster with details of Soothing Sounds student study for young people

There is also an online survey managed by Emily Witten, which is aimed at adults, so if you are over 18 please participate in this study: https://henley.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cBa6tNtkN3fgkCO.  

Poster about Soothing Sounds student study for adults

Both surveys are completely randomised; some participants will be asked to look at images only, others to listen to sounds only, and the final group to look at images while listening to the sounds at the same time. These research projects have been fully approved by the University of Reading’s ethical standards board. If you have any questions about these surveys, please email Jasmiina Ryyanen (j.ryynanen(at)student.reading.ac.uk) and Emily Witten (e.i.c.witten(at)student.reading.ac.uk).

We hope you enjoy participating in these surveys and feel suitably soothed from the experience! 

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

18 June 2021

The VHS Tapes: Preserving Emerging Formats at the British Library

Researching how to collect, curate and preserve emerging formats is important work for us in the Library. Fortunately we aren't alone in our quest to understand how to manage born digital collections, we are active members of organisations such as the Digital Preservation Coalition and the Videogame Heritage Society, which are excellent networks and forums for us to share and learn from fellow GLAM professionals working in this area.

The Videogame Heritage Society (VHS) is a subject specialist network for digital game preservation, led by the National Videogame Museum (NVM), based in Sheffield. They provide advocacy, support and expertise on the preservation of digital games and digital game culture through a network of museums, heritage institutions, developers, publishers, private collectors and anyone with an interest in videogame history.

The VHS launch event on 21 February 2020 was one of the last physical events I attended before the first Covid-19 lockdown started. Due to the global pandemic, the NVM had to completely re-think how to deliver their programme of planned VHS events, and this has produced a new series of online events called VHS Tapes, which started in February 2021.

At these events, VHS lead Mikey, has been in conversation with members of the VHS community regarding the many issues surrounding digital game preservation, exhibition, and collection. Recordings of these can be found on the NVM's YouTube channel, in this playlist. They include conversations with the NVM's Conor ClarkeFoteini Aravani from the Museum of London and The Retro Hour Podcast. Not wanting to miss out on the fun! The British Library are invited speakers at an upcoming online VHS Tapes event on Tuesday 29 June 2021, 14:00-15:00, places are free, but please book here.

Lynda Clark, Giulia Carla Rossi and I will talk about the British Library’s research in collecting, curating and preserving emerging formats. Including eBook mobile apps, and web-based interactive works, such as those made with tools like Twine, which form the Interactive Narratives and New Media Writing Prize special collections in the UK Web Archive. We’ll discuss digital tools used to build these web archive collections, some of the content and themes of the interactive works collected, and the Library’s plans for the future. We hope to see you there!

A laptop screen showing the interface of the interactive writing tool Twine
An attendee working with the digital interactive writing tool Twine at a 2018 British Library Interactive Fiction Summer School course

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

14 June 2021

Adding Data to Wikidata is Efficient with QuickStatements

Once I was set up on Wikipedia (see Triangulating Bermuda, Detroit and William Wallace), I got started with Wikidata. Wikidata is the part of the Wikimedia universe which deals with structured data, like dates of birth, shelf marks and more.

Adding data to Wikidata is really simple: it just requires logging into Wikidata (or creating an account if you don’t already have one) and then pressing edit on any page. you want to edit.

Image of a Wikidata entry about Earth
Editing Wikidata

If the page doesn’t already exist, then creating it is also very simple: just select ‘create a new item’ from the menu on the left-hand side of the page.

When using Wikidata, there are some powerful tools which make adding data quicker and easier. One of these is Quick Statements. Unfortunately, using QuickStatements requires that you have made 50 edits on Wikidata before you make your first batch. Fortunately, it is rather quicker than Citation Hunt (for which, see Triangulating Bermuda, Detroit and William Wallace).

Image of Wikidata menu with 'Create a new item' highlighted
Creating a new item in Wikidata

I made those 50 edits very quickly, by setting up Wikidata item pages for each of the sample items from the India Office Records that we are working with (at the moment we are prioritising adding information about the records; further work will take place before any digitised items are uploaded to Wikimedia platforms). Basic information was added to each of the item pages.

Q107074264 (India Office List January 1885)

Q107074434 (India Office List July 1885)

Q107074463 (India Office List January 1886)

Q107074676 (India Office List July 1886)

Q107074754 (India Office List 1886 Supplement)

Q107074810 (1888-9 Report on the Administration of Bengal)

Q107074801 (1889-90 Report on the Administration of Bengal)

Once I had done this, it became clear that I needed to create more general pages, which could contain the DOIs that link back to the digitised records which are currently only accessible via batch download through the British Library research repository.

Q107134086 Page for administrative reports (V/10/60-1) in general.

Q107136752 Page for India lists (v/13/173-6) in general.

Image of the WikiProject page for the India Office Records
The WikiProject page for the India Office Records

The final preparatory step was to create a WikiProject page, which will facilitate collaboration on the project. This page contains links to all the pages involved in the project and will soon also contain useful resources such as templates for creating new pages as part of the project and queries for using the data.

After this, I began to experiment with Quick Statements, making heavy use of the useful guide to it available on Wikidata.

I decided to upload information on members of a particular regiment in Bengal, since this was information I could easily copy into a spreadsheet because the versions of the reports in the British Library research repository support Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Image of the original India Office List containing information on members of the 14th Infantry Regiment
Section of the original India Office List containing information on members of the 14th Infantry Regiment (IOR/V/6/175, page 258)

Finally, once I had done all of this, I met with the curators of the India Office Records for feedback and suggestions. It became clear from this that there was in fact some confusion about the exact identification of the regiment they were involved in. Fortunately, it turned out we had identified the correct regiment, but had we made a mistake, it would have just required a simple batch of the Quick Statement edits to quickly put right.

Image of a section of a spreadsheet of members of the 14th Infantry Regiment
Section of my spreadsheet of members of the 14th Infantry Regiment

All in all, I can recommend using Wikidata and I hope I have shown that I can be a useful tool, but also that it is easy to use. The next step for our Wikidata project will be to upload templates and case studies to help and support future volunteer editors to develop it further. We will also add resources to support research on the uploaded data.

Image of Quick Statements for adding gender to each of the pages for the officers
Screenshot of Quick Statements for adding gender to each of the pages for the officers

This is a guest post by UCL Digital Humanities MA student Dominic Kane.

11 June 2021

Libraries & Museums & Archives (Oh My!)

Folks interested in creative reuse of digitised sound recordings, may want to come along to the "Libraries & Museums & Archives (Oh My!)" online conference this Saturday (12th June 2021), organised by The Folklore Library & Archive. Where Cheryl Tipp, the British Library's Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds and I will give a talk on how the Library’s sound archive has been innovatively used to create atmospheric soundscapes both in the virtual landscapes of videogames, and for physical sites of archaeological interest, such as Creswell Crags Museum and Visitor Centre. Plus how the Wildlife and Environmental Sounds collection has been interpreted in other artistic projects, including visualisations by Andy Thomas, and some delightful needlework by textile artist Cat Frampton.

Folklore Library and Archive logo with an open book and a wax seal
The Folklore Library & Archive artwork by Rhi Wynter

In our presentation we'll mention entries in the Off the Map competition, such as Midsummer by Tom Battey. Submissions to the recent Games in the Woods game jam for the Urban Tree Festival, such as Noisy Wood by Ash Green.

Also the fantastic Faint Signals by Invisible Flock, an interactive virtual woodland sound experience, which has been featured recently by Europeana Pro in an article on Seven tips for digital storytelling with cultural heritage, and in this BBC Culture story about The sounds that make us calmer.

Screen image of Faint Signals abstract virtual woodland
Faint Signals by Invisible Flock

The conference will be held online via Zoom, with ticket money going towards the Folklore Library and Archive’s appeal to save the archive of the late folklorist Venetia Newall. Furthermore, all ticket holders will be able to access video replays of the talks after the event, go here for booking your place. There is a stellar line-up of speakers from other organisations, including:

  • Jim Peters, Collections manager (Dept of Prehistory and Europe) from the British Museum talking about his favourite objects from the collections.
  • Alexandra Stockdale-Haley from the National Science and Media Museum, talking about The Cottingley Fairy artefacts and their role in the modern day.
  • Librarians from Senate House Library giving a presentation on The Harry Price Library of Magical Literature.
  • Geraldine Beskin, owner of the Atlantis Bookshop talking about Ghosts of the Theatre.
  • Rachel Morris, co-founder of Metaphor Museum Designers, speaking about the role of the archive in Museums and how to interpret it.
  • Peter Hewitt, founder of the Folklore Museums Network talking about their work bringing museums together.
  • Clare Smith, Historical Collections Curator from the Metropolitan Police Museum giving a talk on The Crime Museum fact vs fiction, and other police artifacts.
  • Lucy Gibbon, Acting Senior Archivist from Orkney Library & Archive will round off the event with stories from the Orkney Archives.

 We hope to see you there! Do follow #folklorelibrary for twitter chat during the conference.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

17 May 2021

Making Games In The Woods With Twine

The Urban Tree Festival got off to an active start on Saturday, including launch events for our tree themed Wikipedia edit-thon and our Games in the Woods game jam. If editing Wikipedia to add and improve articles about trees sounds like your jam, please do join our Urban Tree Wikithon dashboard (passcode: vmqytwdr) if you haven't already, so your edits will count towards our stats for #wiktreepedia tracked activity. However, if making games and writing interactive stories is more up your tree-lined avenue, then read on.

Games In the Woods is an online jam running all this week, until midnight on Sunday 23rd May. 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! 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 fabulous curated selection of wildlife and environmental sound recordings picked by Cheryl Tipp, available via this SoundCloud playlist, which you can use in your creations. 

Two open pages of the Ludography, showing details of tree themed boardgames

At the jam's launch event, Ash Green gave a brilliant Bitsy tutorial (we blogged about Bitsy last week), and Marion Tessier shared our Games in the Woods Luography and tree themed BoardGameGeek Geeklist, as we appreciate not everyone may want to make games, but lots of people enjoy playing them. If you have a favourite game about trees, please do tell us.

We also provided an introduction to Twine, which is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories. Slides from the launch event can be found here and here.

screen image of the Twine homepage, a cork noticeboard with pinned notes on it

To get an idea of what you can do with Twine, we suggest reading some free tree themed interactive stories, which others have created using the tool. Both The Old Woman in the Wood and Through the Woods Demo are part of an itch.io collection of tree themed games on itch.io that we have curated to inspire Games in the Woods jam participants.

On Saturday we also watched this useful video; Making Interactive Fiction with Twine, by Matt Allen from Closed Forum, which explains:

  • Folder structures
  • Making passages and links
  • Hidden passage links
  • Background, fonts and font size
  • Style sheets
  • Adding images, music and video
  • Timed text and timed links
  • Variables and if else statements

If you are interested in trying out Twine to write an interactive story, then these online resources can help you to get started:

Cover image of The Twine grimoire 1, with an image of an open book

If you're new to using itch.io and participating in game jams, below is some advice about uploading and sharing your game. If you've created a game that is saved as a html file you can upload and allow people to play it on itch.io in their web browser, rather than getting people to download the file to play it. Both Bitsy and Twine, which we featured in the launch event save the games they produce as html files. To get the game to play in the browser tick the "This game will be played in the Browser" box underneath the filename you uploaded. If it's a game that can't be run in the browser leave the "This game will be played in the browser" box unticked.

When you upload a file and edit the game information page, it defaults to saving the page in draft. To publish it so everyone can see and play or download your game, select the "public" option under "visibility & access". To submit your game to the Games in the Woods game jam:

  • Upload your game
  • Then click on the Submit your project button
  • Then select your game from the drop-down list that appears
  • Click Submit

Good luck and have fun, we are looking forward to seeing, reading and playing your games.

This post is by Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom) with input from Ash Green (@ggnewed), Cheryl Tipp (@CherylTipp) and Marion Tessier from Kingston Libraries (@kinglibheritage).

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