Digital scholarship blog

85 posts categorized "Literature"

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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18 July 2022

UK Digital Comics: More of the same but different? [1]

This is a guest post by Linda Berube, an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student based at the British Library and City, University of London. If you would like to know more about Linda's research, please do email her at Linda.Berube@city.ac.uk.

When I last wrote a post for the Digital Scholarship blog in 2020 (Berube, 2020), I was a fairly new PhD student, fresh out of the starting blocks, taking on the challenge of UK digital comics research.  My research involves an analysis of the systems and processes of UK digital comics publishing as a means of understanding how digital technology has affected, maybe transformed them. For this work, I have the considerable support of supervisors Ian Cooke and Stella Wisdom (British Library) and Ernesto Priego and Stephann Makri (Human-Computer Interaction Design Centre, City, University of London).

Little did I, or the rest world for that matter, know the transformations to daily life brought on by pandemic that were to come. There was no less of an impact felt in the publishing sector, and certainly in comics publishing. Still, despite all the obstacles to meetings, people from traditional[2] large and small press publishers, media and video game companies publishing comics, as well as creators and self-publishers gave generously of their time to discuss comics with me. I am currently speaking with comics readers and observing their reading practices, again all via remote meetings. To all these people, this PhD student owes a debt of gratitude for their enthusiastic participation.

British Comics Publishing: It’s where we’re at

Digital technology has had a significant impact on British comics publishing, but not as pervasively as expected from initial prognostications by scholars and the comics press. Back in 2020, I observed:

  This particular point in time offers an excellent opportunity to consider the digital comics, and specifically UK, landscape. We seem to be past the initial enthusiasm for digital technologies when babies and bathwater were ejected with abandon (see McCloud 2000, for example), and probably still in the middle of a retrenchment, so to speak, of that enthusiasm (see Priego 2011 pp278-280, for example). (Berube, 2020).

But ‘retrenchment’ might be a strong word. According to my research findings to date, and in keeping with those of the broader publishing sector (Thompson, 2010; 2021), the comics publishing process has most definitely been ‘revolutionized’ by digital technology. All comics begin life as digital files until they are published in print. Even those creators who still draw by hand must convert their work to digital versions that can be sent to a publisher or uploaded to a website or publishing platform. And, while print comics have by no means been completely supplanted by digital comics (in fact a significant number of those interviewed voiced a preference for print), reading on digital devices-laptops, tablets, smartphones-has become popular enough for publishers to provide access through ebook and app technology. Even those publishers I interviewed who were most resistant to digital felt compelled ‘to dabble in digital comics’ (according to one small press publisher) by at least providing pdf versions on Gumroad or some other storefront. The restrictions on print distribution and sales through bookstores resulting from Covid lockdown compelled some of the publishers not only to provide more access to digital versions, but some went as far to sell digital-exclusive versions, in other words comics only offered digitally.

Everywhere you look, a comic

The visibility of digital comics across sectors including health, economics, education, literacy and even the hard sciences was immediately obvious from a mapping exercise of UK comics publishers, producers and platforms as well as through interviews. What this means is that comics-the creation and reading of them-are used to teach and to learn about multiple topics, including archiving (specifically UK Legal Deposit) (Figure 1) and Anthropology (specifically Smartphones and Smart Ageing) (Figure 2):

Cartoon drawing of two people surrounded by comics and zines
Figure 1: Panel from 'The Legal Deposit and You', by Olivia Hicks (British Library, 2018). Reproduced with permission from the British Library.

 

Cartoon drawing of two women sitting on a sofa looking at and discussing content on a smartphone
Figure 2: Haapio-Kirk, L., Murariu, G., and Hahn, A. (artist) (2022) 'Beyond Anthropomorphism Palestine', Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing (ASSA) Blog. Based on Maya de Vries and Laila Abed Rabho’s research in Al-Quds (East Jerusalem). Available at: https://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/assa/discoveries/beyond-anthropomorphism/ . Reproduced with permission.

Moreover, comics in their incarnation as graphic novels have grabbed literary prizes, for example Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on earth (Jonathan Cape, 2001) by Chris Ware won the Guardian First Book Award in 2001, and Sabrina (Granta, 2018) by Nick Drnaso was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018 (somewhat controversially, see Nally, 2018).

Just Like Reading a Book, But Not…

But by extending the definition of digital comics[3] to include graphic novels mostly produced as ebooks, the ‘same-ness” of reading in print became evident over the course of interviews with publishers and creators. Publishing a comic in pdf format, whether that be on a website, on a publishing platform, or as a book is just the easiest, most cost-effective way to do it:

  We’re print first in our digital workflow—Outside of graphic novels, with other types of books we occasionally have the opportunity to work with the digital version as a consideration at the outset, in which case the tagging/classes are a factored in at the beginning stages (a good example would be a recent straight -to-digital reflowable ebook). This is the exception though, and also does not apply to graphic novels, which are all print-led. (Interview with publisher, December 2020)

Traditional book publishers have not been the only ones taking up comics - gaming and media companies have acquired the rights to comics, comics brands previously published in print. For more and different sectors, comics increasingly have become an attractive option especially for their multimedia appeal. However, what they do with the comics is a mixture of the same, for instance being print-led as described in the above comment, and different, for example through conversion to digital interactive versions as well as providing apps with more functionality than the ebook format.

It's How You Read Them

Comics formatted especially for reading on apps, such as 2000 AD, ComiXology, and Marvel Unlimited, can be variable in the types of reading experiences they offer to readers. While some have retained the ‘multi-panel display’ experience of reading a print comic book, others have gone beyond the ‘reads like a book’ experience. ComiXology, a digital distribution platform for comics owned by Amazon, pioneered the “guided view” technology now used by the likes of Marvel and DC, where readers view one panel at a time. Some of the comics readers I have interviewed refer to this reading experience as ‘the cinematic experience’. Readers page through the comic one panel or scene at a time, yes, as if watching it on film or TV.

These reading technologies do tend to work better on a tablet than on a smartphone. The act of scrolling required to read webcomics on the WEBTOON app (and others, such as Tapas), designed to be read on smartphones, produces that same kind of ‘cinematic’ effect: readers of comics on both the ComiXology and Web Toon apps I have interviewed describe the exact same experience: the build-up of “anticipation”, “tension”,  “on the edge of my seat” as they page or scroll down to the next scene/panel. WEBTOON creators employ certain techniques in order to create that tension in the vertical format, for example the use of white space between panels: the more space, the more scrolling, the more “edge of the seat” experience. Major comics publishers have started creating ‘vertical’ (scrolling on phones) comics: Marvel launched its Infinity Comics to appeal to the smartphone webcomics reader.

So, it would seem that good old-fashioned comics pacing combined with publishing through apps designed for digital devices provide a different, but same reading experience:  a uniquely digital reading experience.

Same But Different: I’m still here

So, here I am, still a PhD student currently conducting research with comics readers, as part of my research and as part of a secondment with the BL supported by AHRC Additional Student Development funding. This additional funding has afforded me the opportunity to employ UX (user behaviour/experience) techniques with readers, primarily through conducting reading observation sessions and activities. I will be following up this blog with an update on this research as well as a call for participation into more reader research.

References 

Berube, L. (2020) ‘Not Just for Kids: UK Digital Comics, from creation to consumption’, British Library Digital Scholarship Blog”, 24 August 2020. Available at: https://blogs.bl.uk/digital-scholarship/2020/08/not-just-for-kids-uk-digital-comics-from-creation-to-consumption.html

Drnaso, N. (2018) Sabrina. London, England: Granta Books.

McCloud, Scott (2000) Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form.  New York, N.Y: Paradox Press. 

Nally, C. (2018) ‘Graphic Novels Are Novels: Why the Booker Prize Judges Were Right to Choose One for Its Longlist’, The Conversation, 26 July. Available at: https://theconversation.com/graphic-novels-are-novels-why-the-booker-prize-judges-were-right-to-choose-one-for-its-longlist-100562.

Priego, E. (2011) The Comic Book in the Age of Digital Reproduction. [Thesis] University College London. Available at: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.754575.v4, pp278-280.

Ware, C. (2001) Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on earth. London, England: Jonathan Cape.

Notes

[1] “More of the same but different”, a phrase used by a comics creator I interviewed in reference to what comics readers want to read.↩︎

[2] By ‘traditional’, I am referring to publishers who contract with comics creators to undertake the producing, publishing, distribution, selling of a comic, retaining rights for a certain period of time and paying the creator royalties. In my research, publishers who transacted business in this way included multinational and small press publishers. Self-publishing is where the creator owns all the rights and royalties, but also performs the production, publishing, distribution work, or pays for a third-party to do so. ↩︎

[3] For this research, digital comics include a diverse selection of what is produced electronically or online: webcomics, manga, applied comics, experimental comics, as well as graphic novels [ebooks].  I have omitted animation. ↩︎

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

08 March 2022

Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950

On International Women’s Day 2022 we are pleased to announce our upcoming online Wikithon event, Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950, which will take place on Monday 28th March, 10:00 – 13:30 BST. Working with one of the Library’s notable collections, the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays, we will be looking to increase the visibility and presence of Black women on Wikipedia, with a specific focus on twentieth century writers and performers of works in the collection, such as Una Marson and Pauline Henriques, alongside others who are as yet lesser-known than their male counterparts.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Plays are the largest single manuscript collection held by the Library. Between 1824 and 1968 all plays in the UK were submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for licensing. This period includes two important acts of Parliament related to theatre in the UK: the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 and the Theatres Act of 1843. You can watch Dr Alexander Lock, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library, discussing this collection with Giuliano Levato who runs the People of Theatre vlog in this video below.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Plays with British Library Curator Dr Alexander Lock on People of Theatre - The Vlog for Theatregoers

We are delighted to be collaborating with Professor Kate Dossett of the University of Leeds. Kate is currently working on ‘Black Cultural Archives & the Making of Black Histories: Archives of Surveillance and Black Transnational Theatre’, a project supported by an Independent Social Research Foundation Fellowship and a Fellowship from our very own Eccles Centre. Her work is crucial in shining light on the understudied area of Black theatre history in the first half of the twentieth century .

 A woman and a man sit behind a desk with an old-fashioned microphone that says ‘BBC’. The woman is on the left, holding a script, looking at the microphone. The man is also holding a script and looking away.(1)
Pauline Henriques and Sam Sevlon in 1952. Image: BBC UK Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Our wikithon is open to everyone: you can register for free here. We will be blogging in the run up to the event with details on how to prepare. We are thankful to be supported by the British Newspaper Archive and FindMyPast, who will provide registered participants access to their online resources for the day of the event. You can also access 1 million free newspaper pages at any time, as detailed in this blog post.  

We hope to consider a variety of questions, such as what a timeline of Black British theatre history looks like, who gets to decide the parameters, and how we can make women more visible in these studies? We will think about the traditions shaping Black British theatre and the collections that help us understand this field of study, such as the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays. This kind of hands-on historical research helps us to better represent marginalised voices in the present day. 

It will be the first of a series of three Wikithons exploring different elements of the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays. Throughout 2022 we will host another two Wikithons. Please follow this blog, our twitter @BL_DigiSchol and keep an eye on our Wiki Project Page for updates about these.

Art + Feminism Barnstar: a black and white image of a fist holding a paintbrush in front of a green star.
Art + Feminism Barnstar, by Ilotaha13, (CC BY-SA 4.0)

We are running this workshop as part of the Art + Feminism Wiki movement, with an aim to expand and amplify knowledge produced by and about Black women. As they state in their publicity materials:

Women make up only 19% of biographies on English Wikipedia, and women of colour even fewer. Wikipedia's gender trouble is well-documented: in a 2011 survey 2010 UNU-MERIT Survey, the Wikimedia Foundation found that less than 10% of its contributors identify as female; more recent research [such as the] 2013 Benjamin Mako Hill survey points to 16% globally and 22% in the US. The data relative to trans and non-binary editors is basically non-existent. That's a big problem. While the reasons for the gender gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity is not: gaps in participation create gaps in content.

We want to combat this imbalance directly. As a participant at this workshop, you will receive training on creating and editing Wikipedia articles to communicate the central role played by Black women in British theatre making between 1900 and 1950. You will also be invited to explore resources that can enable better citation justice for women of colour knowledge producers and greater awareness of archive collections documenting Black British histories. With expert support from Wikimedians and researchers alike, this is a great opportunity to improve Wikipedia for the better.

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Dr Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian) and Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom).

14 February 2022

PhD Placement on Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks through Correspondence

Every year the British Library host a range of PhD placement scheme projects. If you are interested in applying for one of these, the 2022 opportunities are advertised here. There are currently 15 projects available across Library departments, all starting from June 2022 onwards and ending before March 2023. If you would like to work with born digital collections, you may want to read last week’s Digital Scholarship blog post about two projects on enhanced curation, hybrid archives and emerging formats. However, if you are interested in Caribbean diasporic networks and want to experiment creating network analysis visualisations, then read on to find out more about the “Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks through correspondence (2022-ACQ-CDN)” project.

This is an exciting opportunity to be involved with the preliminary stages of a project to map the Caribbean Diasporic Network evident in the ‘Special Correspondence’ files of the Andrew Salkey Archive. This placement will be based in the Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives team at the British Library with support from Digital Scholarship colleagues. The successful candidate will be given access to a selection of correspondence files to create an item level dataset and explore the content of letters from the likes of Edward Kamau Brathwaite, C.L.R. James, and Samuel Selvon.

Photograph of Andrew Salkey
Photograph of Andrew Salkey, from the Andrew Salkey Archive, Deposit 10310. With kind permission of Jason Salkey.

The main outcome envisaged for this placement is to develop a dataset, using a sample of ten files, linking the data and mapping the correspondent’s names, location they were writing from, and dates of the correspondence in a spreadsheet. The placement student will also learn how to use the Gephi Open Graph Visualisation Platform to create a visual representation of this network, associating individuals with each other and mapping their movement across the world between the 1950s and 1990s.

Gephi is open-source software  for visualising and analysing networks, they provide a step-by-step guide to getting started, with the first step to upload a spreadsheet detailing your ‘nodes’ and ‘edges’. To show an example of how Gephi can be used, We've included an example below, which was created by previous British Library research placement student Sarah FitzGerald from the University of Sussex, using data from the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) to create a Gephi visualisation of all EAP applications received between 2004 and 2017.

Gephi network visualisation diagram
Network visualisation of EAP Applications created by Sarah FitzGerald

In this visualisation the size of each country relates to the number of applications it features in, as country of archive, country of applicant, or both.  The colours show related groups. Each line shows the direction and frequency of application. The line always travels in a clockwise direction from country of applicant to country of archive, the thicker the line the more applications. Where the country of applicant and country of archive are the same the line becomes a loop. If you want to read more about the other visualisations that Sarah created during her project, please check out these two blog posts:

We hope this new PhD placement will offer the successful candidate the opportunity to develop their specialist knowledge through access to the extensive correspondence series in the Andrew Salkey archive, and to undertake practical research in a curatorial context by improving the accessibility of linked metadata for this collection material. This project is a vital building block in improving the Library’s engagement with this material and exploring the ways it can be accessed by a wider audience.

If you want to apply, details are available on the British Library website at https://www.bl.uk/research-collaboration/doctoral-research/british-library-phd-placement-scheme. Applications for all 2022/23 PhD Placements close on Friday 25 February 2022, 5pm GMT. The application form and guidelines are available online here. Please address any queries to research.development@bl.uk

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom) and Eleanor Casson (@EleCasson), Curator in Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.

07 February 2022

New PhD Placements on Enhanced Curation: Hybrid Archives and Emerging Formats

The British Library is accepting applications for the new round of 2022 PhD Placement opportunities: there are 15 projects available across Library departments, all starting from June 2022 onwards and ending before March 2023. Two of the projects within the Contemporary British Collections department focus on Enhanced Curation as an approach to add to the research value of an archival object or digital publication.

Developing an enhanced curation framework for contemporary hybrid archives (2022-CB-HAC)” will outline a framework for Enhanced Curation in relation to contemporary hybrid archives. These archival collections are the record of the creative and professional lives of prominent individuals in UK society, containing both paper and digital material.  So far we have defined Enhanced Curation as the means by which the research value of these records can be enhanced through the creation, collection, and interrogation of the contextual information which surrounds them.

Luckily, we’re in a privileged position – most of our archive donors are living individuals who can illuminate their creative practice for us in real-time. Similarly, with forensic techniques, we’re capturing more data than ever before when we acquire an archive. The truly live questions are then – how can we use this position to best effect? What can we do with what we’re already collecting? What else should we be collecting? And how can we represent this data in engaging and enlightening new ways for the benefit of everyone, including our researchers and exhibition audiences?

Enhanced Curation, as we see it, is about bringing these dynamic collections to life for as many people as possible.  In approaching these questions, the chosen student will engage in a mixture of theoretical and practical work – first outlining the relevant debates and techniques in and around curation, archival science, museology and digital humanities, and then recommending a course of action for one particular hybrid personal archive. This is a collaborative exercise, though, and they will be provided with hands-on training for working with (and getting the most out of) this growing collection area by specialist curatorial staff at the Library.

Photograph of a floppy disk and its case
Floppy disk from the Will Self archive.

Collecting complex digital publications: Testing an enhanced curation method (2022-CB-EF)” focuses on the Library collection of emerging formats. Emerging formats are defined as born-digital publications whose structure, technical dependencies and highly interactive nature challenge our traditional collection methods. These publications include apps, such as the interactive adventure 80 Days, as well as digital interactive narratives, such as the examples collected in the UK Web Archive Interactive Narratives and New Media Writing Prize collections. Collection and preservation of these digital formats in their entirety might not always be possible: there are many challenges and implications in terms of technical capabilities, software and hardware dependencies, copyright restrictions and long-term solutions that are effective against technical obsolescence.

The collection and creation of contextual information is one approach to fill in the gaps and enhance curation for these digital publications. The placement student will helps us test a collection matrix for contextual information relating to emerging formats, which include – but is not limited to – webpages, interviews, reviews, blog posts and screenshots/screencast of usage of a work. These might be collected using a variety of methods (e.g. web archiving, direct transfer from the author, etc.) as well as created by the student themselves (e.g. interviews with the author, video recordings of usage, etc.) Through this placement, the student will have the opportunity to participate in a network of cultural heritage institutions concerned with the preservation of digital publications while helping develop one of the Library contemporary collections.

Photograph of a man looking at an iPad screen and reading an app
Interacting with the American Interior app on iPad.

Both PhD Placements are offered for 3 months full time, or part-time equivalent. They can be undertaken as hybrid placements (i.e. remotely, with some visits to the British Library building in London, St. Pancras), with the option of a fully remote placement for “Collecting complex digital publications: Testing an enhanced curation method”.

Applications for all 2022/23 PhD Placements close on Friday 25 February 2022, 5pm GMT. The application form and guidelines are available online here. Please address any queries to research.development@bl.uk

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari and Callum McKean, Digital Lead Curator, Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.

26 January 2022

Which Came First: The Author or the Text? Wikidata and the New Media Writing Prize

Congratulations to the 2021 New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) winners, which were announced at a Bournemouth University online event recently: Joannes Truyens and collaborators (Main Prize), Melody MOU (Student Award) and Daria Donina (FIPP Journalism Award 2021). The main prize winner ‘Neurocracy’ is an experimental dystopian narrative that takes place over 10 episodes, through Omnipedia, an imagined future version of Wikipedia in 2049. So this seemed like a very apt jumping off point for today’s blog post, which discusses a recent project where we added NMWP data to Wikidata.

Screen image of Omnipediaan imagined futuristic version of Wikipedia from Neurocracy by Joannes Truyens
Omnipedia, an imagined futuristic version of Wikipedia from Neurocracy by Joannes Truyens

Note: If you wish to read ‘Neurocracy’ and are prompted for a username and password, use NewMediaWritingPrize1 password N3wMediaWritingPrize!. You can learn more about the work in this article and listen to an interview with the author in this podcast episode.

Working With Wikidata

Dr Martin Poulter describes learning how to work with Wikidata as being like learning a language. When I first heard this description, I didn’t understand: how could something so reliant on raw data be anything like the intricacies of language learning?

It turns out, Martin was completely correct.

Imagine a stack of data as slips of paper. Each slip has an individual piece of data on it: an author’s name, a publication date, a format, a title. How do you start to string this data together so that it makes sense?

One of the beautiful things about Wikidata is that it is both machine and human readable. In order for it to work this way, and for us to upload it effectively, thinking about the relationships between these slips of paper is essential.

In 2021, I had an opportunity to see what Martin was talking about when he spoke about language, as I was asked to work with a set of data about NMWP shortlisted and winning works, which the British Library has collected in the UK Web Archive. You can read more about this special collection here and here

Image of blank post-it notes and a hand with a marker pen preparing to write on one.

About the New Media Writing Prize

The New Media Writing Prize was founded in 2010 to showcase exciting and inventive stories and poetry that integrate a variety of digital formats, platforms, and media. One of the driving forces in setting up and establishing the prize was Chris Meade, director of if:book uk, a ‘think and do tank’ for exploring digital and collaborative possibilities for writers and readers. He was the lead sponsor of the if:book UK New Media Writing Prize, and the Dot Award, which he created in honour of his mother, Dorothy, and he chaired every NMWP awards evening since 2010. Very sadly Chris passed away on 13th January 2022 and the recent 2021 awards event was dedicated to Chris and his family.

Recognising the significance of the NMWP, in recent years the British Library created the New Media Writing Prize Special Collection as part of its emerging formats work. With 11 years of metadata about a born digital collection, this was an ideal data set for me to work with in order to establish a methodology for working with Wikidata uploads in the Library.

Last year I was fortunate to collaborate with Tegan Pyke, a PhD placement student in the Contemporary British Publications Collections team, supervised by Guilia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications. Tegan's project examined the digital preservation challenges of complex digital objects, developing and testing a quality assurance process for examining works in the NMWP collection. If you want to read more about this project, a report is available here.  For the Wikidata work Tegan and Giulia provided two spreadsheets of data (or slips of paper!), and my aim was to upload linked data that covered the authors, their works, and the award itself - who had been shortlisted, who had won, and when.

Simple, right?

Getting Started

I thought so - until I began to structure my uploads. There were some key questions that needed to be answered about how these relationships would be built, and I needed to start somewhere. Should I upload the authors or the texts first? Should I go through the prize year by year, or be led by other information? And what about texts with multiple authors?

Suddenly it all felt a bit more intimidating!

I was fortunate to attend some Wikidata training run by Wikimedia UK late last year. Martin was our trainer, and one piece of advice he gave us was indispensable: if you’re not sure where to start, literally write it out with pencil and paper. What is the relationship you’re trying to show, in its simplest form? This is where language framing comes in especially useful: thinking about the basic sentence structures I’d learned in high school German became vital.

Image shows four simple sentences: Christine Wilks won NMWP in 2010. Christine Wilks wrote Underbelly. Underbelly won NMWP in 2010. NMWP was won by Christine Wilks in 2010. Christine is circled in green, NMWP in people, and Underbelly in yellow.  QIDs are listed: Q108810306, highlighted in green Q108459688, highlighted in purple Q109237591, highlighted in yellow  Properties are listed: P166, highlighted in blue P800, highlighted in turquoise P585, highlighted in orange
Image by the author, notes own.

The Numbers Bit

You can see from this image how the framework develops: specific items, like nouns, are given identification numbers when they become a Wikidata item. This is their QID. The relationships between QIDs, sort of like the adjectives and verbs, are defined as properties and have P numbers. So Christine Wilks is now Q108810306, and her relationship to her work, Underbelly, or Q109237591, is defined with P800 which means ‘notable work’.

Q108810306 - P800 - Q109237591

You can upload this relationship using the visual editor on Wikidata, by clicking fields and entering data. If you have a large amount of information (remember those slips of paper!) tools like QuickStatements become very useful. Dominic Kane blogged about his experience of this system during his British Library student placement project in 2021.

The intricacies of language are also very important on Wikidata. The nuance and inference we can draw from specific terms is important. The concept of ‘winning’ an award became a subject of semantic debate: the taxonomy of Wikidata advises that we use ‘award received’ in the case of a literary prize, as it’s less of an active sporting competition than something like a marathon or an athletic event.

Asking Questions of the Data

Ultimately we upload information to Wikidata so that it can be queried. Querying uses SPAQRL, a language which allows users to draw information and patterns from vast swathes of data. Querying can be complex: to go back to the language analogy, you have to phrase the query in precisely the right way to get the information you want.

One of the lessons I learned during the NMWP uploads was the importance of a unifying property. Users will likely query this data with a view to surveying results and finding patterns. Each author and work, therefore, needed to be linked to the prize and the collection itself (pictured above). By adding this QID to the property P6379 (‘has works in the collection’), we create a web of data that links every shortlisted author over the 11 year time period.

Getting Started

To have a look at some of the NMWP data, here are some queries I prepared earlier. Please note that data from the 2021 competition has not yet been uploaded!

Authors who won NMWP

Works that won NMWP

Authors nominated for NMWP

Works nominated for NMWP

If you fancy trying some queries but don’t know where to start, I recommend these tutorials:

Tutorials

Resources About SPARQL

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

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 georeferencer@bl.uk 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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