THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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38 posts categorized "Games"

06 February 2019

Interactive Fiction in the UK

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Nick Montfort suggests interactive fiction stories are ‘computer programs that display text, accept textual responses and then display additional text in reaction [to those responses]’.[1] Since there’s no agreed definition of interactive fiction (IF), Montfort’s is as good a starting point as any. ‘Textual responses’ might include typing, clicking on a link or selecting a choice from a menu, and it’s these differing textual responses which assist in further identifying and categorising interactive fiction. However, it’s also worth remembering that interactive fiction is constantly evolving, with new types emerging all the time, and Montfort’s definition is almost fifteen years old. Therefore, any work which makes significant use of text that the reader might adjust or affect in some way may be considered interactive fiction.

As one strand of the Emerging Formats project, the British Library is currently investigating UK Interactive Fiction (who is creating it, what kinds of work they’re creating, and what tools are being used) – in order to determine what the collecting priorities might be. The focus is on UK works specifically because this aligns with the Library’s collecting priorities with regard to born-digital works, arising out of legal deposit regulations.

The Interactive Fiction Competition identifies three broad types of IF: parser-based, Choose Your Own Adventure and hypertext. Parser-based works are sometimes referred to as ‘text adventures’. These involve typing commands in order to interact with the textual world and usually include puzzle solving. Choose Your Own Adventure (or CYOA) stories are more like the Fighting Fantasy game book series, or the recent Black Mirror episode ‘Bandersnatch’, providing readers with a series of choices which create a branching narrative. Hypertexts are linked passages of text much like a website, but the clickable links may provide choices or ways of exploring the world of the text. In these latter two types the reader’s role is less likely to involve solving puzzles and more likely to centre on exploration, interacting with characters or simply choosing how the story turns out. (Although, of course, these elements may be present in parser games too).

Detectiveland_ingame
Detectiveland by Robin Johnson, 2016 Winner of IFComp

As part of my Innovation Placement, I’ve explored 97 works by 62 creators so far. Of these, 39 are parser-based, 27 are hypertexts, and 8 are choice-based, with the remainder being other formats such as multimedia (for example, Lucy English’s collection of video poems, The Book of Hours), websites (such as Krishan Coupland’s Hotel), or bespoke or hybrid systems developed by the creator (a particularly good example of this is Robin Johnson’s Zeppelin Adventure, made with his homegrown Versificator engine which creates IF that is somewhere between parser-based and choice-based). I also came across a few formats not neatly described by the types outlined above, such as collaborative wiki-based interactive fiction. However these works (like many interactive fiction works) often contain no identifying information regarding the creator and therefore it’s very difficult to determine if they are UK created. In these instances I have tended to assume that if the creator prefers to remain entirely anonymous, the likelihood is they would also prefer not to have their work archived, and so these particular texts won’t form part of the collection.

There are plenty of works which do have an identifiable UK-based author, though. These cover a wide range of genres including comedy, horror, crime, romance, historical fiction, drama, ‘slice of life’ and mystery, although science fiction and fantasy are particularly well represented (around 26 of the works might be considered fantasy, while around 17 could be categorised as science fiction).

Of the parser-based games, so far Inform stands out as the most popular tool. This is perhaps unsurprising since Inform was created by British IF author and programmer, Graham Nelson in the mid-nineties, making it one of the longest running tools for interactive fiction creation. This means it has a robust community around it, a good collection of existing works to draw inspiration from and a large number of tutorials and discussion forums to aid new creators. Popular IF writer Emily Short uses Inform to produce many of her works, including the critically acclaimed Galatea, a retelling of the Pygmallion myth in which the reader-player attempts to converse with a living statue which is able to respond in myriad ways. However, there are also works made with Quest, such as Luke A. Jones’ Drumsticks a puzzle story about reuniting a band for one last gig.    

The majority of the hypertext games are created with Twine, although usage of the tool’s full range of features varies wildly. For example, Ed Sibley’s ghost story Dead Man’s Fiesta incorporates a host of images, coloured backgrounds and dynamic text, while Bethany Nolan’s crime caper Let’s Rob a Bank adopts Twine’s default layout, relying only on branching choices and variables to tell her story. A further Twine highlight is Raik by Harry Giles, a poetic fantasy story written in English with a Scots translation. (Sort of. To say more would be to spoil it!)

While the CYOA category is somewhat smaller, there are still several tools and approaches in use. Most popular is Inkle Studio’s Ink, used to create a variety of stories including Eleanor Hingley’s Unreal Estate, in which the reader-player roleplays as an estate agent attempting to sell properties to a variety of supernatural clients. The house-buying creatures are randomised and so several replays are required in order to meet them all.

The oldest work so far is paradoxically also one of the newest. The Beast of Torrack Moor by Linda Doughty (née Wright), originally written in 1988 for the ZX Spectrum was lovingly recreated for the web in 2018 by Chris Ainsley (with the original author’s permission) using his Adventuron engine. Despite what its name might suggest, this is more of a quintessentially English mystery than a blood-curdling horror.

As this brief overview indicates, UK IF creators employ a wide array of tools, styles, genres and topics, and even within the same tools and genres, there’s a huge amount of experimentation and variation. I hope to uncover yet more in the coming weeks and months, as well as finding ways to preserve them for future reader-players. If you are a UK-based creator of web-based interactive fiction, please do not hesitate to get in touch, or alternatively, feel free to nominate your work for inclusion via the UK Web Archive.

This post is by the Library's Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction Lynda Clark, on twitter as @Notagoth. You can find out more about the Library's Emerging Formats project here.

[1] Nick Montfort, Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, 6th edn (Massachusetts, USA: MIT Press, 2005), p.vii.

25 January 2019

BL Labs 2018 Artistic Award Winner: 'Another Intelligence Sings'

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This guest blog is by the winners of the BL Labs Artistic Award for 2018, Robert Walker, Rose Leahy and Amanda Baum, for 'Another Intelligence Sings'.AI Sings 1

When the natural world is recorded, it is quantised for the human ear, to wavelengths within our perception and timeframes within our conception. Yet the machine learning algorithm sits outside the human sensorium, outside the human lifespan. An algorithm is agnostic to the source, the intention and the timescale of data. By feeding it audio samples of lava and larvae, geological tensions and fleeting courtship, the seismic and the somatic, the many voices of life are woven into a song no one lifespan or life form could sing.

Another Intelligence Sings ( AI Sings ) is an immersive audio-tactile installation inviting you to experience the sounds of our biological world as recounted through an AI. Through the application of neural networks to field recordings from the British Library sound archive a nonhuman reading of the data emerges. Presenting an alternative composition of Earth’s songs, AI Sings explores an expanded view of what might be perceived as intelligent.

The breadth of the British Library Wildlife and Environmental Sounds archive enabled us to take a cross section of the natural world from primordial physical phenomena to the great beasts of the savannas to the songbirds of the British countryside. The final soundscape is created from using two different neural networks, Wavenet and Nsynth. We trained Wavenet, Google’s most advanced human speech synthesis neural network, on many hours of field recordings, including those from the British Library archives.

Nsynth is an augmented version of Wavenet that was built and trained by Magenta, Google AI’s creative lab. Nsynth creates sounds that are not a simple crossfade or blend but something genuinely new based on the perceived formal musical qualities of the two source sounds. This was used to create mixtures between specific audio samples, for example, sea lion meets mosquito, leopard meets horse, and mealworm meets ocean.

Click here to play a 4 minute clip of the sound from the installation.

AI Sings 2
Through this use of the technology, AI Sings reorients the algorithm’s focus, away from the human expression of individual thought and towards an amalgam of geological and biological processes. The experience aims to enable humans to meditate on the myriad intelligences around and beyond us and expand our view of what might be perceived as intelligent. This feeds into our ongoing body of shared work, which raises questions about the use of artificial intelligence in society. Previously, we have used a neural network to find linguistic patterns not perceivable to human reading to mediate our collectively written piece Weaving Worlds (2016). In AI Sings we continue this thread of asking which perspectives an AI can bring that human perception cannot.

AI Sings 3

AI Sings takes digital archive content and makes it into a tactile, sensuous, and playful experience. By making the archive material an experiential encounter, we were able to encourage listeners to enter into a world where they could be immersed and engaged in the data. Soft, tactile materials such as hair and foam invited people to enter into and interact with the work. In particular, we found that the playful nature of the materials in the piece meant that children were keen to experience the work, and listen to the soundscape, thereby extending the audience of the archive material to one it may not usually reach.

By addressing the need for experiential, visceral and poetic encounters with AI, Another Intelligence Sings goes beyond the conceptual and engages people in the technology which is so rapidly transforming society. We hope this work shows how the creative application of AI opens up new possibilities in the field of archivology, from being a tool of categorisation to becoming a means of expanding the cultural role of the library in the future.

The piece premiered at the V&A Digital Design Weekend 2018 on 22nd of September as part of London Design Festival, where it was exhibited to over 22,000 visitors. Following the weekend we were invited by Open Cell, London’s newly opened bioart- and biodesign studio and exhibition space, to be showcased on their site.

More about the project can be found on our websites:

www.baumleahy.com + www.irr.co + www.amandabaum.com + www.roseleahy.com

Watch the AI Sings team receiving their award and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 8.18):

 

Find out more about Digital Scholarship and BL Labs. If you have a project which uses British Library digital content in innovative and interesting ways, consider applying for an award this year! The 2019 BL Labs Symposium will take place on Monday 11 November at the British Library.

24 January 2019

Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction in the Emerging Formats Project

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There’s an episode of book shop-based comedy, Black Books, in which Fran, played by Tamsin Greig, starts a new job. She has no idea what her role actually consists of, and yet, somehow, she becomes good at it and delivers a rousing presentation, all while never fully understanding what she has done. Every new research project feels somewhat like this. There are usually continuities from previous projects, but because this one is new there will inevitably be new things you don’t know and how do you find out what you don’t know if you don’t know it?

Fortunately, thanks to the Library’s excellent Web Archiving, Contemporary British and Digital Scholarship teams, I’ve managed to fill in most of those blanks pretty quickly. My name’s Lynda Clark and I’m currently undertaking an AHRC/M3C Innovation Placement embarking on a six-month research project called ‘Emerging Formats: Discovering and Collecting Contemporary British Interactive Fiction’. My primary goals are to get a sense of the ‘shape’ of contemporary British web-based interactive fiction – the kinds of tools British creators are using and the works they are making with them; and to explore how those works might be preserved for future readers and researchers.

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Boxes created at a British Library hosted emerging formats project workshop

I’m a maker of interactive fiction myself and have produced a variety of works, often silly (almost always silly, in fact) but sometimes more serious, the most substantial of which was my interactive novella Writers Are Not Strangers, produced as part of my recently submitted creative-critical PhD thesis. Even amongst my own modest back catalogue there is a fair amount of variation in styles, interfaces and tools used, some of which I know will likely scupper the webcrawlers commonly used to archive web-based digital work. Six months isn’t long to find a solution to this challenge, but I’m hoping I can at the very least start to create a record of works to preserve and at least categorically determine what doesn’t work to enable future researchers to move towards what does.

This is where you come in. If you’re a UK-based creator of web-based interactive fiction, please nominate your work for inclusion in the UK Web Archive, where it could (technology permitting) be included in a collection. This will mean the system takes regular ‘snapshots’ of the nominated website and stores them forever! You can make your nominations via the UKWA’s site or by contacting me.

This post is by the Library's Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction Lynda Clark, on twitter as @Notagoth. You can find out more about the Library's Emerging Formats project here.

15 January 2019

The BL Labs Symposium, 2018

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On Monday 12th November, 2018, the British Library hosted the sixth annual BL Labs Symposium, celebrating all things digital at the BL. This was our biggest ever symposium with the conference centre at full capacity - proof, if any were needed, of the importance of using British Library digital collections and technologies for innovative projects in the heritage sector.

The delegates were welcomed by our Chief Executive, Roly Keating, and there followed a brilliant keynote by Daniel Pett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. In his talk, Dan reflected on his 3D modelling projects at the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam, and talked about the importance of experimenting with, re-imagining, and re-mixing cultural heritage digital collections in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs).

This year’s symposium had quite a focus on 3D, with a series of fascinating talks and demonstrations throughout the day by visual artists, digital curators, and pioneers of 3D photogrammetry and data visualisation technologies. The full programme is still viewable on the Eventbrite page, and videos and slides of the presentations will be uploaded in due course.

Composite bl labs 2018 awardees

Each year, BL Labs recognises excellent work that has used the Library's digital content in five categories. The 2018 winners, runners up and honourable mentions were announced at the symposium and presented with their awards throughout the day. This year’s Award recipients were:

Research Award:

Winner: The Delius Catalogue of Works by Joanna Bullivant, Daniel Grimley, David Lewis and Kevin Page at the University of Oxford

Honourable Mention: Doctoral theses as alternative forms of knowledge: Surfacing ‘Southern’ perspectives on student engagement with internationalisation by Catherine Montgomery and a team of researchers at the University of Bath

Honourable Mention: HerStories: Sites of Suffragette Protest and Sabotage by Krista Cowman at the University of Lincoln and Rachel Williams, Tamsin Silvey, Ben Ellwood and Rosie Ryder of Historic England

Artistic Award:

Winner: Another Intelligence Sings by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker

Runner Up: Nomad by independent researcher Abira Hussein, and Sophie Dixon and Edward Silverton of Mnemoscene

Teaching & Learning Award:

Winner: Pocket Miscellanies by Jonah Coman

Runner Up: Pocahontas and After by Michael Walling, Lucy Dunkerley and John Cobb of Border Crossings

Commercial Award:

Winner: The Library Collection: Fashion Presentation at London Fashion Week, SS19 by Nabil Nayal in association with Colette Taylor of Vega Associates

Runner Up: The Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher by David Zvi Kalman, Print-O-Craft Press

Staff Award:

Winner: The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200 by Tuija Ainonen, Clarck Drieshen, Cristian Ispir, Alison Ray and Kate Thomas

Runner Up: The Digital Documents Harvesting and Processing Tool by Andrew Jackson, Sally Halper, Jennie Grimshaw and Nicola Bingham

The judging process is always a difficult one as there is such diversity in the kinds of projects that are up for consideration! So we wanted to also thank all the other entrants for their high quality submissions, and to encourage anyone out there who might be considering applying for a 2019 award!

We will be posting guest blogs by the award recipients over the coming months, so tune in to read more about their projects.

And finally, save the date for this year's symposium, which will be held at the British Library on Monday 11th November, 2019.

02 November 2018

Digital Conversation: History and Games

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It is very nearly International Games Week; this is an initiative run by volunteers from around the world to reconnect communities through their libraries around the educational, recreational, and social value of all types of games. Here at the British Library we are excited to be hosting the narrative games convention AdventureX on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th November, and to get the party started on Thursday 8th November we are delighted to run, in partnership with The National Archives and Wellcome, a Digital Conversation event on the topic of History and Games.

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Our star Digital Conversation panel features:
  • Toni Brasting, Creative Partnerships Manager at Wellcome Trust, who collaborates with games studios, designers and scientific researchers to create games that inspire conversations about health.
  • Andrew Burn, Professor of Media Education at the UCL Institute of Education, who will launch MissionMaker Beowulf, a digital platform which empowers students to make 3-D adventure games.

A video showing the process of making a game in Missionmaker Beowulf, followed by a video capture of the game
  • James Delaney founder and Managing Director of BlockWorks, who built Minecraft maps for Great Fire 1666 at the Museum of London, to mark the 350th anniversary of London's Great Fire. Furthermore, this summer they teamed up with English Heritage on a castle building project.

Kenilworth Castle in Minecraft

Trailer of Winter Hall by Lost Forest Games

  • Nick Webber, Associate Professor at Birmingham City University, whose research explores the impact of virtual worlds and online games on the practice of history.
  • Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator for Contemporary British Collections at the British Library, who has collaborated on multiple games initiatives.

The Digital Conversation event takes place in The Knowledge Centre at the British Library on Thursday 8th November, 18.30- 20.30; for more details including booking, visit: https://www.bl.uk/events/digital-conversation-history-and-games. Hope to see you there.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom

13 July 2018

Get Involved in the Gothic Novel Jam

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On the previous Friday the 13th in April, I blogged about the Gaming the Gothic conference, at the University of Sheffield and also shared news that the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team is collaborating on a Gothic Novel Jam with online reading group Read Watch Play during July. Well we are now almost two weeks into the jam and it is great to see people working on their entries by following #GothNovJam and checking the itch.io submission feed.

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tweet by @CinereusDarrow

If you would like to make an entry for the jam, you still have 19 days left to create something amazing! As the deadline for uploading submissions to the site is the end of 31st July 2018.

As a reminder, it’s an online creative challenge with a gothic novel theme and it’s open to anyone around the world to participate in. Participants are encouraged to create a whole variety of works on their own or as part of a team. Even though the theme is the gothic novel, you don’t have to limit yourselves to a written submission. Writers, musicians, game makers, artists, crafters, makers of all ages and abilities have signed up from around the world and we are anticipating contributions in all of these areas. Furthermore, submissions don’t have to be limited to these forms. Let your imagination go wild. If you want to bake a cake that looks like a Hound of the Baskerville – go for it! Or you want to make an origami Frankenstein – go for it! Or maybe even a knitted map of Transylvania – go for it! Contribute in whatever way you want to. All we ask is that you have something that you can upload to the official host page at itch.io. Digital works can be uploaded and for physical objects, such as a cake, you could take a photo or video and upload this to the site instead. You’ll retain the copyright of anything you upload. If you haven’t signed up yet, don’t worry you can sign up until the last day.

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Tweet by @HazelRaah about an entry made with twine

As we mentioned, the main theme is the gothic novel, but there is also a sub-theme “The monster within”, which was selected from a shortlist of themes suggested and voted on by the jam participants.

We would love participants to use images from the British Library Flickr account as inspiration for submissions. They’re freely available for anyone to use and the following albums may be particularly inspiring:

Ghosts and Ghoulish scenes

Architecture

Castles

Children's Book illustrations

However, don't feel limited to using just those images, the full list of albums can be found here. There are also the Off the Map Gothic Collections of images on Wikimedia Commons and sounds on SoundCloud, which you are free to use. If you want to learn more about the gothic genre and it's authors, check out this hugely informative section of the Discovering Literature website.

If all this talk of jams has whetted your appetite for writing interactive fiction, then you may be interested in attending the Infinite Journeys: Interactive Fiction Summer School booking details are here.  It runs for five days, beginning Monday 23 July and ending on Friday 27 July. 

Also later in the year, on 10-11 November, we are delighted to be hosting the popular Narrative Games Convention AdventureX for International Games Week in Libraries. They currently have a call, which invites people to apply to speak, demo their narrative games, or volunteer. So if you have made an epic #GothNovJam narrative game, then do consider applying to showcase it at AdventureX. Good luck!

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom) and Gary Green (@ggnewed) from Surrey Libraries.

01 June 2018

Interactive Fiction Summer School and Settle Stories

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As a PhD student, I’m privileged to spend three years of my life investigating a subject I find fascinating, but one of the absolute highlights of the first year of my study was the week I spent attending the Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library last July. My research explores how mobile phones are changing storytelling, so interactive fiction was a subject I was keen to find out more about – and how better to do so than by learning from the experts how to write my own?

It was an excellent course, as we learned not only about the mechanics of writing stories where the reader plays a part in deciding what happens – how to make your reader’s choices both engaging and manageable, for instance – but also about storytelling more generally: how to generate momentum and make your ending both surprising and inevitable. Over the course of the week, we each wrote our own interactive stories, drawing on what we learned from our tutors and getting to grips with the mechanics of the form: my own story ended up unexpectedly drawing upon my experiences teaching in Japan.

One of the week’s many highpoints was a session on the use of conflict in interactive fiction, run by Rob Sherman, who shared a thought-provoking work he’d created for the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, about a woman struggling to keep her family safe and happy in a world of rising costs, lowering wages, and disappearing support. This year, Rob is leading the British Library's summer school, curating sessions from a range of experts including the poet and interactive writer Abigail Parry (last year’s excellent course leader), Gavin Inglis, and Hannah Powell-Smith.

The summer school had other benefits too: including spending time with fascinating and creative people interested in the storytelling possibilities of interactive fiction, sharing ideas, and collaborating: I remember one particularly memorable session working with two of my fellow students on a story about a performance artist who decides to enact that old myth about frogs in boiling water herself, and ends up in boiled to death in an underground swimming pool as part of an installation about the damage we’re doing to the environment.

The summer school attracted a wide range of people, from young would-be writers, to academics and storytelling professionals. One of my fellow students was Sita Brand, director of Settle Stories, whose annual festival of storytelling takes place in the picturesque Yorkshire market town of Settle. Sita invited me to speak at this year’s Festival, and so I found myself this April talking to an audience about my research into how mobile phones are influencing storytelling and being interviewed by Dave Driver for Dry Stone Radio. (You can hear the interview here – from 1:34 on.)

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Telephone box at Settle Stories, where attendees pick up the phone handset and dial for a story

If I've whetted your appetite and you are interested in attending this summer's Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library, which is on the theme of Infinite Journeys, booking details are here.  It runs for five days, beginning Monday 23 July and ending on Friday 27 July. Also, if you are interested in my research on fiction being written for smartphones, then I'm giving a Feed the Mind talk on Mobile Stories: New Kinds of Fiction? on Monday 11 June, 12:30-13:30, booking details here.

This a guest post is by Alastair Horne, you can follow him on twitter as @pressfuturist, and also on Instagram.

11 May 2018

Digital Conversations @BL: Empowering Technologies

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As part of our Digital Conversations series, we invite you to join us for an evening discussing how Indigenous communities are using new technologies to preserve and promote their culture; this takes place on Tuesday 22 May, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre, to book a ticket go here.

Various topics and examples of how digital platforms are used by communities across the world will be covered. Including crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, apps, Etsy, videogames and social media.  Chaired by Niamh Moore our panel includes the following speakers:

 

 

  • Gloria O’Neill, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cook Inlet Tribal Council and Upper One Games, the first indigenous-owned video game developer and publisher in the United States, is here in person to discuss BAFTA winning game Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa), which shares Alaska Native culture and values with the world at large

 

  • Felicity Wright who has over twenty years experience in working with non-profit Aboriginal-owned social enterprises. Currently she works for Injalak Arts in Gunbalanya, Australia, who sell their art and craft work to global audiences from their Etsy store. This will be a recorded presentation introduced by Jo Pilcher, University of Brighton, whose PhD research is about Aboriginal Australian textile production in the Northern Terrority

 

  • Michael Wynne, Digital Applications Librarian, will give an overview of Mukurtu, a free, mobile, and open source content management system platform, which is built with indigenous communities

We are looking forward to a fascinating and lively discussion, so please prepare your questions for the panel! If you can't attend in person, please follow #BLdigital for the twitter stream during the event.

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Game play scene from Never Alone featuring the owl man

This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. It will include a combination of in-person, Skype and pre-recorded presentations. This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.