Digital scholarship blog

114 posts categorized "Humanities"

14 September 2023

What's the future of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage?

The short version: crowdsourcing in cultural heritage is an exciting field, rich in opportunities for collaborative, interdisciplinary research and practice. It includes online volunteering, citizen science, citizen history, digital public participation, community co-production, and, increasingly, human computation and other systems that will change how participants relate to digital cultural heritage. New technologies like image labelling, text transcription and natural language processing, plus trends in organisations and societies at large mean constantly changing challenges (and potential). Our white paper is an attempt to make recommendations for funders, organisations and practitioners in the near and distant future. You can let us know what we got right, and what we could improve by commenting on Recommendations, Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of Crowdsourcing in Cultural Heritage: a White Paper.

The longer version: The Collective Wisdom project was funded by an AHRC networking grant to bring experts from the UK and the US together to document the state of the art in designing, managing and integrating crowdsourcing activities, and to look ahead to future challenges and unresolved issues that could be addressed by larger, longer-term collaboration on methods for digitally-enabled participation.

Our open access Collective Wisdom Handbook: perspectives on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage is the first outcome of the project, our expert workshops were a second.

Mia (me) and Sam Blickhan launched our White Paper for comment on pubpub at the Digital Humanities 2023 conference in Graz, Austria, in July this year, with Meghan Ferriter attending remotely. Our short paper abstract and DH2023 slides are online at Zenodo

So - what's the future of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage? Head on over to Recommendations, Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of Crowdsourcing in Cultural Heritage: a White Paper and let us know what you think! You've got until the end of September…

You can also read our earlier post on 'community review' for a sense of the feedback we're after - in short, what resonates, what needs tweaking, what examples could we include?

To whet your appetite, here's a preview of our five recommendations. (To find out why we make those recommendations, you'll have to read the White Paper):

  • Infrastructure: Platforms need sustainability. Funding should not always be tied to novelty, but should also support the maintenance, uptake and reuse of well-used tools.
  • Evidencing and Evaluation: Help create an evaluation toolkit for cultural heritage crowdsourcing projects; provide ‘recipes’ for measuring different kinds of success. Shift thinking about value from output/scale/product to include impact on participants' and community well-being.
  • Skills and Competencies: Help create a self-guided skills inventory assessment resource, tool, or worksheet to support skills assessment, and develop workshops to support their integrity and adoption.
  • Communities of Practice: Fund informal meetups, low-cost conferences, peer review panels, and other opportunities for creating and extending community. They should have an international reach, e.g. beyond the UK-US limitations of the initial Collective Wisdom project funding.
  • Incorporating Emergent Technologies and Methods: Fund educational resources and workshops to help the field understand opportunities, and anticipate the consequences of proposed technologies.

What have we missed? Which points do you want to boost? (For example, we discovered how many of our points apply to digital scholarship projects in general). You can '+1' on points that resonate with you, suggest changes to wording, ask questions, provide examples and references, or (constructively, please) challenge our arguments. Our funding only supported participants from the UK and US, so we're very keen to hear from folk from the rest of the world.

04 September 2023

ICDAR 2023 Conference Impressions

This blog post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She's on Mastodon as @[email protected].

 

Last week I came back from my very first ICDAR conference, inspired and energised for things to come! The International Conference on Document Analysis and Recognition (ICDAR) is the main international event for scientists and practitioners involved in document analysis and recognition. Its 17th edition was held in San José, California, 21-26 August 2023.

ICDAR 2023 featured a three-day conference, including several competitions to challenge the field, as well as post-conference workshops and tutorials. All conference papers were made available as conference proceedings with Springer. 155 submissions were selected for inclusion into the scientific programme of ICDAR 2023, out of which 55 were delivered as oral presentations, and 100 as posters. The conference also teamed up with the International Journal of Document Analysis and Recognition (IJDAR) for a special journal track. 13 papers were accepted and published in a special issue entitled “Advanced Topics of Document Analysis and Recognition,” and were included as oral presentations in the conference programme. Do have a look at the programme booklet for more information!

ICDAR 2023 Logo
ICDAR 2023 Logo

Each conference day included a thought-provoking keynote talk. The first one, by Marti Hearst, Professor and Interim Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information, was entitled “A First Look at LLMs Applied to Scientific Documents.” I learned about three platforms using Natural Language Processing (NLP) methods on PDF documents: ScholarPhi, Paper Plain, and SCIM. These projects help people read academic scientific publications, for example by enabling definitions for mathematical notations, or generating glossary for nonce words (e.g. acronyms, symbols, jargon terms); make medical research more accessible by enabling simplified summaries and Q&A; and classifying key passages in papers to enable quick and intelligent paper skimming.

The second keynote talk, “Enabling the Document Experiences of the Future,” was by Vlad Morariu, Senior Research Scientist at Adobe Research. Vlad addressed the need for human-document interaction, and took us through some future document experiences: PDF re-flows for mobile devices, documents read themselves, and conversational functionalities such as asking questions and receiving answers. Enabling this type of ultra-responsive documents is reliant on methods such as structural element detection, page layout understanding, and semantic connections.

The third and final keynote talk was by Seiichi Uchida, Distinguished Professor and Senior Vice President, Kyushu University, Japan. In his talk, “What Are Letters?,” Seiichi took us through the four main functions of letters and text: message (transmission of verbalised info), label (disambiguation of objects and environments), design (give a nonverbal info, such as impression), and code (readability under various noises and deformations). He provoked us to contemplate how our lives were affected by texts around us, and how could we analyse the correlation between our behaviour and the texts that we read.

Prof Seiichi Uchida giving his keynote talk on “What Are Letters?”
Prof Seiichi Uchida giving his keynote talk on “What Are Letters?”

When it came to papers submitted for review by the conference committee, the most prominent topic represented in those submissions was handwriting recognition, with a growing number of papers specifically tackling historical documents. Other submission topics included Graphics Recognition, Natural Language Processing for Documents (D-NLP), Applications (including for medical, legal, and business documents), and other types of Document Analysis and Recognition topics (DAR).

Screenshot of a slide showing the main submission topics for ICDAR 2023
Screenshot of a slide showing the main submission topics for ICDAR 2023

Some of the papers that I attended tackled Named Entity Recognition (NER) evaluation methods and genealogical information extraction; papers dealing with Document Understanding, e.g. identifying the internal structure of documents, and understanding the relations between different entities; papers on Text and Document Recognition, such as looking into a model for multilingual OCR; and papers looking into Graphics, especially the recognition of table structure and content, as well as extracting data from structure diagrammes, for example in financial documents, or flowchart recognition. Papers on Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) dealt with methods for Writer Retrieval, i.e. identifying documents likely written by specific authors, the creation of generic models, text line detection, and more.

The conference included two poster sessions, featuring an incredibly rich array of poster presentations, as well as doctoral consortia. One of my favourite posters was presented by Mirjam Cuper, Data Scientist at the National Library of the Netherlands (KB), entitled “Unraveling confidence: examining confidence scores as proxy for OCR quality.” Together with colleagues Corine van Dongen and Tineke Koster, she looked into confidence scores provided by OCR engines, which indicate the level of certainty in which a word or character were accurately recognised. However, other factors are at play when measuring OCR quality – you can watch a ‘teaser’ video for this poster.

Conference participants at one of the poster sessions
Conference participants at one of the poster sessions

As mentioned, the conference was followed by three days of tutorials and workshops. I enjoyed the tutorial on Computational Analysis of Historical Documents, co-led by Dr Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello (University of Bale, Switzerland) and Dr Hussein Adnan Mohammed (University of Hamburg, Germany). Presentations focused on the unique challenges, difficulties, and opportunities inherent to working with different types of historical documents. The distinct difficulties posed by historical handwritten manuscripts and ancient artifacts necessitate an interdisciplinary strategy and the utilisation of state-of-the-art technologies – and this fusion leads to the emergence of exciting and novel advancements in this area. The presentations were interwoven with great questions and a rich discussion, indicative of the audience’s enthusiasm. This tutorial was appropriately followed by a workshop dedicated to Computational Palaeography (IWCP).

I especially looked forward to the next day’s workshop, which was the 7th edition of Historical Document Imaging and Processing (HIP’23). It was all about making documents accessible in digital libraries, looking at methods addressing OCR/HTR of historical documents, information extraction, writer identification, script transliteration, virtual reconstruction, and so much more. This day-long workshop featured papers in four sessions: HTR and Multi-Modal Methods, Classics, Segmentation & Layout Analysis, and Language Technologies & Classification. One of my favourite presentations was by Prof Apostolos Antonacopoulos, talking about his work with Christian Clausner and Stefan Pletschacher on “NAME – A Rich XML Format for Named Entity and Relation Tagging.” Their NAME XML tackles the need to represent named entities in rich and complex scenarios. Tags could be overlapping and nested, character-precise, multi-part, and possibly with non-consecutive words or tokens. This flexible and extensible format addresses the relationships between entities, makes them interoperable, usable alongside other information (images and other formats), and possible to validate.

Prof Apostolos Antonacopoulos talking about “NAME – A Rich XML Format for Named Entity and Relation Tagging”
Prof Apostolos Antonacopoulos talking about “NAME – A Rich XML Format for Named Entity and Relation Tagging”

I’ve greatly enjoyed the conference and its wonderful community, meeting old colleagues and making new friends. Until next time!

 

28 October 2022

Learn more about Living with Machines at events this winter

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

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

Museum Late: Living with Machines, Thursday 24 November, 2022

6 - 10pm Leeds City Museum • £5, booking essential https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/19101

The first ever Museum Late at Leeds City Museum! Come along to experience the museum after hours with music, pub quiz, weaving, informal workshops, chats with curators, and a quiz. Local food and drinks in the main hall.

Full programme: https://museumsandgalleries.leeds.gov.uk/events/leeds-city-museum/museum-late-living-with-machines/

Tickets: https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/19101

Study Day: Living with Machines, Friday December 2, 2022

10:00 am - 4:00 pm Online • Free but booking essential: https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/18775

A unique opportunity to hear experts in the field illuminate key themes from the exhibition and learn how exhibition co-curators found stories and objects to represent research work in AI and digital history. This study day is online via Zoom so that you can attend from anywhere.

Full programme: https://museumsandgalleries.leeds.gov.uk/events/leeds-city-museum/living-with-machines-study-day/

Tickets: https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/18775

Living with Machines Wikithon, Saturday January 7, 2023

1 – 4:30pm Leeds City Museum • Free but booking essential: https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/19104

Ever wanted to try editing Wikipedia, but haven't known where to start? Join us for a session with our brilliant Wikipedian-in-residence to help improve Wikipedia’s coverage of local lives and topics at an editathon themed around our exhibition. 

Everyone is welcome. You won’t require any previous Wiki experience but please bring your own laptop for this event. Find out more, including how you can prepare, in my blog post on the Living with Machines site, Help fill gaps in Wikipedia: our Leeds editathon.

The exhibition closes the next day, so it really is your last chance to see it!

Full programme: https://museumsandgalleries.leeds.gov.uk/events/leeds-city-museum/living-with-machines-wikithon-exploring-the-margins/

Tickets: https://my.leedstickethub.co.uk/19104

If you just want to try out something more hands on with textiles inspired by the exhibition, there's also a Peg Loom Weaving Workshop, and not one but two Christmas Wreath Workshops.

You can find out more about our exhibition on the Living with Machines website.

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20 September 2022

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

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

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

AI evening panels and workshop, September 2022

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

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

The role of AI in Creative and Cultural Industries

Thu, Sep 22, 17:30 – 19:45 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

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

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

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

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

 

Workshop: Developing ethical and fair AI for society and business

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

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

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

 

Panel: Developing ethical and fair AI for society and business

Thu, Sep 29, 17:30 – 19:45 BST

Leeds City Museum • Free but booking required

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

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

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

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

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20 April 2022

Importing images into Zooniverse with a IIIF manifest: introducing an experimental feature

Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge shares news from a collaboration between the British Library and Zooniverse that means you can more easily create crowdsourcing projects with cultural heritage collections. There's a related blog post on Zooniverse, Fun with IIIF.

IIIF manifests - text files that tell software how to display images, sound or video files alongside metadata and other information about them - might not sound exciting, but by linking to them, you can view and annotate collections from around the world. The IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) standard makes images (or audio, video or 3D files) more re-usable - they can be displayed on another site alongside the original metadata and information provided by the source institution. If an institution updates a manifest - perhaps adding information from updated cataloguing or crowdsourcing - any sites that display that image automatically gets the updated metadata.

Playbill showing the title after other large text
Playbill showing the title after other large text

We've posted before about how we used IIIF manifests as the basis for our In the Spotlight crowdsourced tasks on LibCrowds.com. Playbills are great candidates for crowdsourcing because they are hard to transcribe automatically, and the layout and information present varies a lot. Using IIIF meant that we could access images of playbills directly from the British Library servers without needing server space and extra processing to make local copies. You didn't need technical knowledge to copy a manifest address and add a new volume of playbills to In the Spotlight. This worked well for a couple of years, but over time we'd found it difficult to maintain bespoke software for LibCrowds.

When we started looking for alternatives, the Zooniverse platform was an obvious option. Zooniverse hosts dozens of historical or cultural heritage projects, and hundreds of citizen science projects. It has millions of volunteers, and a 'project builder' that means anyone can create a crowdsourcing project - for free! We'd already started using Zooniverse for other Library crowdsourcing projects such as Living with Machines, which showed us how powerful the platform can be for reaching potential volunteers. 

But that experience also showed us how complicated the process of getting images and metadata onto Zooniverse could be. Using Zooniverse for volumes of playbills for In the Spotlight would require some specialist knowledge. We'd need to download images from our servers, resize them, generate a 'manifest' list of images and metadata, then upload it all to Zooniverse; and repeat that for each of the dozens of volumes of digitised playbills.

Fast forward to summer 2021, when we had the opportunity to put a small amount of funding into some development work by Zooniverse. I'd already collaborated with Sam Blickhan at Zooniverse on the Collective Wisdom project, so it was easy to drop her a line and ask if they had any plans or interest in supporting IIIF. It turns out they had, but hadn't had the resources or an interested organisation necessary before.

We came up with a brief outline of what the work needed to do, taking the ability to recreate some of the functionality of In the Spotlight on Zooniverse as a goal. Therefore, 'the ability to add subject sets via IIIF manifest links' was key. ('Subject set' is Zooniverse-speak for 'set of images or other media' that are the basis of crowdsourcing tasks.) And of course we wanted the ability to set up some crowdsourcing tasks with those items… The Zooniverse developer, Jim O'Donnell, shared his work in progress on GitHub, and I was very easily able to set up a test project and ask people to help create sample data for further testing. 

If you have a Zooniverse project and a IIIF address to hand, you can try out the import for yourself: add 'subject-sets/iiif?env=production' to your project builder URL. e.g. if your project is number #xxx then the URL to access the IIIF manifest import would be https://www.zooniverse.org/lab/xxx/subject-sets/iiif?env=production

Paste a manifest URL into the box. The platform parses the file to present a list of metadata fields, which you can flag as hidden or visible in the subject viewer (public task interface). When you're happy, you can click a button to upload the manifest as a new subject set (like a folder of items), and your images are imported. (Don't worry if it says '0 subjects).

 

Screenshot of manifest import screen
Screenshot of manifest import screen

You can try out our live task and help create real data for testing ingest processes at ​​https://frontend.preview.zooniverse.org/projects/bldigital/in-the-spotlight/classify

This is a very brief introduction, with more to come on managing data exports and IIIF annotations once you've set up, tested and launched a crowdsourced workflow (task). We'd love to hear from you - how might this be useful? What issues do you foresee? How might you want to expand or build on this functionality? Email [email protected] or tweet @mia_out @LibCrowds. You can also comment on GitHub https://github.com/zooniverse/Panoptes-Front-End/pull/6095 or https://github.com/zooniverse/iiif-annotations

Digital work in libraries is always collaborative, so I'd like to thank British Library colleagues in Finance, Procurement, Technology, Collection Metadata Services and various Collections departments; the Zooniverse volunteers who helped test our first task and of course the Zooniverse team, especially Sam, Jim and Chris for their work on this.

 

18 March 2022

Looking back at LibCrowds: surveying our participants

'In the Spotlight' is a crowdsourcing project from the British Library that aims to make digitised historical playbills more discoverable, while also encouraging people to closely engage with this otherwise less accessible collection. Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge writes...

If you follow our @LibCrowds account on twitter, you might have noticed that we've been working on refreshed versions of our In the Spotlight tasks on Zooniverse. That's part of a small project to enable the use of IIIF manifests on Zooniverse - in everyday language, it means that many, many more digitised items can form the basis of crowdsourcing tasks in the Zooniverse Project Builder, and In the Spotlight is the first project to use this new feature. Along with colleagues in Printed Heritage and BL Labs, I've been looking at our original Pybossa-based LibCrowds site to plan a 'graceful ending' for first phase of the project on LibCrowds.com.

As part of our work documenting and archiving the original LibCrowds site, I'm delighted to share summary results from a 2018 survey of In the Spotlight participants, now published on the British library's Research Repository: https://doi.org/10.23636/w4ee-yc34. Our thanks go to Susan Knight, Customer Insight Coordinator, for her help with the survey.

The survey was designed to help us understand who In the Spotlight participants were, and to help us prioritise work on the project. The 22 question survey was based on earlier surveys run by the Galaxy Zoo and Art UK Tagger projects, to allow comparison with other crowdsourcing projects, and to contribute to our understanding of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage more broadly. It was open to anyone who had contributed to the British Library's In the Spotlight project for historical playbills. The survey was distributed to LibCrowds newsletter subscribers, on the LibCrowds community forum and on social media.

Some headline findings from our survey include:

  • Respondents were most likely to be a woman with a Masters degree, in full-time employment, in London or Southeast UK, who contributes in a break between other tasks or 'whenever they have spare time'.
  • 76% of respondents were motivated by contributing to historical or performance research

Responses to the question 'What was it about this project which caused you to spend more time than intended on it?':

  • Easy to do
  • It's so entertaining
  • Every time an entry is completed you are presented with another item which is interesting and
  • illuminating which provides a continuous temptation regarding what you might discover next
  • simplicity
  • A bit of competitiveness about the top ten contributors but also about contributing something useful
  • I just got carried away with the fun
  • It's so easy to complete
  • Easy to want to do just a few more
  • Addiction
  • Felt I could get through more tasks
  • Just getting engrossed
  • It can be a bit addictive!
  • It's so easy to do that it's very easy to get carried away.
  • interested in the [material]

The summary report contains more rich detail, so go check it out!

 

Crowdsourcing projects from the British Library. 2,969 Volunteers. 265,648 Contributions. 175 Projects
Detail of the front page of libcrowds.com; Crowdsourcing projects from the British Library. 2,969 Volunteers. 265,648 Contributions. 175 Projects

14 March 2022

The Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project: the collaborative work between the Heritage Made Digital team and the International Dunhuang Project team

Digitisation has become one of the key tasks for the curatorial roles within the British Library. This is supported by two main pillars: the accessibility of the collection items to everybody around the world and the preservation of unique and sometimes, very fragile, items. Digitisation involves many different teams and workflow stages including retrieval, conservation, curatorial management, copyright assessment, imaging, workflow management, quality control, and the final publication to online platforms.

The Heritage Made Digital (HMD) team works across the Library to assist with digitisation projects. An excellent example of the collaborative nature of the relationship between the HMD and International Dunhuang Project (IDP) teams is the quality control (QC) of the Lotus Sutra Project’s digital files. It is crucial that images meet the quality standards of the digital process. As a Digitisation Officer in HMD, I am in charge of QC for the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project, which is currently conserving and digitising nearly 800 Chinese Lotus Sutra manuscripts to make them freely available on the IDP website. The manuscripts were acquired by Sir Aurel Stein after they were discovered  in a hidden cave in Dunhuang, China in 1900. They are thought to have been sealed there at the beginning of the 11th century. They are now part of the Stein Collection at the British Library and, together with the international partners of the IDP, we are working to make them available digitally.

The majority of the Lotus Sutra manuscripts are scrolls and, after they have been treated by our dedicated Digitisation Conservators, our expert Senior Imaging Technician Isabelle does an outstanding job of imaging the fragile manuscripts. My job is then to prepare the images for publication online. This includes checking that they have the correct technical metadata such as image resolution and colour profile, are an accurate visual representation of the physical object and that the text can be clearly read and interpreted by researchers. After nearly 1000 years in a cave, it would be a shame to make the manuscripts accessible to the public for the first time only to be obscured by a blurry image or a wayward piece of fluff!

With the scrolls measuring up to 13 metres long, most are too long to be imaged in one go. They are instead shot in individual panels, which our Senior Imaging Technicians digitally “stitch” together to form one big image. This gives online viewers a sense of the physical scroll as a whole, in a way that would not be possible in real life for those scrolls that are more than two panels in length unless you have a really big table and a lot of specially trained people to help you roll it out. 

Photo showing the three individual panels of Or.8210S/1530R with breaks in between
Or.8210/S.1530: individual panels
Photo showing the three panels of Or.8210S/1530R as one continuous image
Or.8210/S.1530: stitched image

 

This post-processing can create issues, however. Sometimes an error in the stitching process can cause a scroll to appear warped or wonky. In the stitched image for Or.8210/S.6711, the ruled lines across the top of the scroll appeared wavy and misaligned. But when I compared this with the images of the individual panels, I could see that the lines on the scroll itself were straight and unbroken. It is important that the digital images faithfully represent the physical object as far as possible; we don’t want anyone thinking these flaws are in the physical item and writing a research paper about ‘Wonky lines on Buddhist Lotus Sutra scrolls in the British Library’. Therefore, I asked the Senior Imaging Technician to restitch the images together: no more wonky lines. However, we accept that the stitched images cannot be completely accurate digital surrogates, as they are created by the Imaging Technician to represent the item as it would be seen if it were to be unrolled fully.

 

Or.8210/S.6711: distortion from stitching. The ruled line across the top of the scroll is bowed and misaligned
Or.8210/S.6711: distortion from stitching. The ruled line across the top of the scroll is bowed and misaligned

 

Similarly, our Senior Imaging Technician applies ‘digital black’ to make the image background a uniform colour. This is to hide any dust or uneven background and ensure the object is clear. If this is accidentally overused, it can make it appear that a chunk has been cut out of the scroll. Luckily this is easy to spot and correct, since we retain the unedited TIFFs and RAW files to work from.

 

Or.8210/S.3661, panel 8: overuse of digital black when filling in tear in scroll. It appears to have a large black line down the centre of the image.
Or.8210/S.3661, panel 8: overuse of digital black when filling in tear in scroll

 

Sometimes the scrolls are wonky, or dirty or incomplete. They are hundreds of years old, and this is where it can become tricky to work out whether there is an issue with the images or the scroll itself. The stains, tears and dirt shown in the images below are part of the scrolls and their material history. They give clues to how the manuscripts were made, stored, and used. This is all of interest to researchers and we want to make sure to preserve and display these features in the digital versions. The best part of my job is finding interesting things like this. The fourth image below shows a fossilised insect covering the text of the scroll!

 

Black stains: Or.8210/S.2814, panel 9
Black stains: Or.8210/S.2814, panel 9
Torn and fragmentary panel: Or.8210/S.1669, panel 1
Torn and fragmentary panel: Or.8210/S.1669, panel 1
Insect droppings obscuring the text: Or.8210/S.2043, panel 1
Insect droppings obscuring the text: Or.8210/S.2043, panel 1
Fossilised insect covering text: Or.8210/S.6457, panel 5
Fossilised insect covering text: Or.8210/S.6457, panel 5

 

We want to minimise the handling of the scrolls as much as possible, so we will only reshoot an image if it is absolutely necessary. For example, I would ask a Senior Imaging Technician to reshoot an image if debris is covering the text and makes it unreadable - but only after inspecting the scroll to ensure it can be safely removed and is not stuck to the surface. However, if some debris such as a small piece of fluff, paper or hair, appears on the scroll’s surface but is not obscuring any text, then I would not ask for a reshoot. If it does not affect the readability of the text, or any potential future OCR (Optical Character Recognition) or handwriting analysis, it is not worth the risk of damage that could be caused by extra handling. 

Reshoot: Or.8210/S.6501: debris over text  /  No reshoot: Or.8210/S.4599: debris not covering text.
Reshoot: Or.8210/S.6501: debris over text  /  No reshoot: Or.8210/S.4599: debris not covering text.

 

These are a few examples of the things to which the HMD Digitisation Officers pay close attention during QC. Only through this careful process, can we ensure that the digital images accurately reflect the physicality of the scrolls and represent their original features. By developing a QC process that applies the best techniques and procedures, working to defined standards and guidelines, we succeed in making these incredible items accessible to the world.

Read more about Lotus Sutra Project here: IDP Blog

IDP website: IDP.BL.UK

And IDP twitter: @IDP_UK

Dr Francisco Perez-Garcia

Digitisation Officer, Heritage Made Digital: Asian and African Collections

Follow us @BL_MadeDigital

23 December 2021

Three crowdsourcing opportunities with the British Library

Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge writes, In case you need a break from whatever combination of weather, people and news is around you, here are some ways you can entertain yourself (or the kids!) while helping make collections of the British Library more findable, or help researchers understand our past. You might even learn something or make new discoveries along the way!

Your help needed: Living with Machines

Mia Ridge writes: Living with Machines is a collaboration between the British Library and the Alan Turing Institute with partner universities. Help us understand the 'machine age' through the eyes of ordinary people who lived through it. Our refreshed task builds on our previous work, and includes fresh newspaper titles, such as the Cotton Factory Times.

What did the Victorians think a 'machine' was - and did it matter where you lived, or if you were a worker or a factory owner? Help us find out: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/bldigital/living-with-machines

Your contributions will not only help researchers - they'll also go on display in our exhibition

Image of a Cotton Factory Times masthead
You can read articles from Manchester's Cotton Factory Times in our crowdsourced task

 

Your help needed: Agents of Enslavement? Colonial newspapers in the Caribbean and hidden genealogies of the enslaved

Launched in July this year, Agents of Enslavement? is a research project which explores the ways in which colonial newspapers in the Caribbean facilitated and challenged the practice of slavery. One goal is to create a database of enslaved people identified within these newspapers. This benefits people researching their family history as well as those who simply want to understand more about the lives of enslaved people and their acts of resistance.

Project Investigator Graham Jevon has posted some insights into how he processes the results to the project forum, which is full of fascinating discussion. Join in as you take part: ​​https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/gjevon/agents-of-enslavement

Your help needed: Georeferencer

Dr. Gethin Rees writes: The community have now georeferenced 93% of 1277 maps that were added from our War Office Archive back in July (as mentioned in our previous newsletter).  

Some of the remaining maps are quite tricky to georeference and so if there is a perplexing map that you would like some guidance with do get in contact with myself and our curator for modern mapping  by emailing [email protected] and we will try to help. Please do look forward to some exciting news maps being released on the platform in 2022!

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