Digital scholarship blog

42 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

29 September 2021

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

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

[estimated reading time of around 15 minutes]

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

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

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

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

The beginnings, the BL and me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

BL Labs Launch and Advisory Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competitions, Awards and Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Exhibitions, Creativity and Education

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

Crossroads of Curiosity by David Normal

Imaginary Cities by Michael Takeo Magruder

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

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

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

GLAM Labs community and Booksprint

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

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

Online drop-in goodbye - today!

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

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

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

Spoiler alert it was me after all, my alter ego

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

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

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

http://tiny.cc/mahendramahey

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

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

BL Labs Sailor and Captain Signing Off!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where I am off to and what am I doing?

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

To Estonia to be precise!

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

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

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

Happy journeys through this short life to all of you!

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

03 August 2021

Automating the Recognition of Chinese Manuscripts: New Chevening British Library Fellowship

 

The Chevening Fellowship Programme is the UK government’s international awards scheme aimed at fostering knowledge exchange and collaboration, and developing global leaders. In 2015, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has partnered with the British Library to offer professionals two new fellowships every year, and recently the two organisations have announced the renewal of their partnership until 2024/25.

Chevening logo and the British Library logo

These fellowships are unique opportunities for one-year placements at the Library, working with exceptional collections under the Library’s custodianship. The Library has hosted international fellows through this scheme since 2016, with each fellowship framing a distinct project inspired by Library collections. Past and present Chevening Fellows at the Library have focused on geographically diverse collections, from Latin America through Africa to South Asia, with different themes such as archival material from Latin America and the Caribbean, African-language printed books, Nationalism, Independence, and Partition in South Asia and Big Data and Libraries.

We are thrilled to (re-)announce that one of the two placements available for the 2022/2023 academic year will focus on automating the recognition of historical Chinese handwritten texts. This fellowship, originally announced two years ago, had to be postponed due to the pandemic – and we are excited to be able to offer it again. This is a special opportunity to work in the Library’s Digital Research Team, and engage with unique historical collections digitised as part of the International Dunhuang Project and the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project. Focusing on material from Dunhuang (China), part of the Stein collection, this fellowship will engage with new digital tools and techniques in order to explore possible solutions to automate the transcription of these handwritten texts.

End piece of a Chinese Lotus Sutra Scroll (shelfmark: Or.8210/S.1606). Digitised as part of the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project.
End piece of a Chinese Lotus Sutra Scroll (shelfmark: Or.8210/S.1606). Digitised as part of the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project.

 

The context for this fellowship is the Library’s efforts towards making its collection items available in machine-readable format, to enable full-text search and analysis. The Library has been digitising its collections at scale for over two decades, with digitisation opening up access to diversely rich collections. However, it is important for us to further support discovery and digital research by unlocking the huge potential in automatically transcribing our collections. Until recently, Western languages print collections have been the main focus, especially newspaper collections. A flagship collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, the Living with Machines project, has been applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to UK newspapers, designing and implementing new methods in data science and artificial intelligence, and analysing these materials at scale.

Taking a broader perspective on Library collections, we have been exploring opportunities with non-Western collections too. Library staff have been engaging closely with the exploration of OCR and Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) systems for English, Bangla and Arabic. Digital Curators Tom Derrick, Nora McGregor and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert have teamed up with PRImA Research Lab and the Alan Turing Institute to ran four competitions in 2017-2019, inviting providers of text recognition methods to try them out on our historical material. We have been working with Transkribus as well – for example, Alex Hailey, Curator for Modern Archives and Manuscripts, used the software to automatically transcribe 19th century botanical records from the India Office Records. An ongoing work led by Tom Derrick is to OCR our digitised collection of Bengali printed texts, digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

 

Regions, text lines and illustrations demarcated as ground truth, as shown in Transkribus (Shelfmark: Or 3366). Digitised and available on Qatar Digital Library.
Regions, text lines and illustrations demarcated as ground truth, as shown in Transkribus (Shelfmark: Or 3366). Digitised and available on Qatar Digital Library.
 
 
Another screenshot from Transkribus, showing automatically transcribed Bengali printed text (Shelfmark: VT 1914 d). Digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.
Another screenshot from Transkribus, showing automatically transcribed Bengali printed text (Shelfmark: VT 1914 d). Digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

 

The Chevening Fellow will contribute to our efforts to identify OCR/HTR systems that can tackle digitised historical collections. They will explore the current landscape of Chinese handwritten text recognition, look into methods, challenges, tools and software, use them to test our material, and demonstrate digital research opportunities arising from the availability of these texts in machine-readable format.

This fellowship programme will start in September 2022 for a 12-month period of project-based activity at the British Library. The successful candidate will receive support and supervision from Library staff, and will benefit from professional development opportunities, networking and stakeholder engagement, gaining access to a range of organisational training and development opportunities (such as the Digital Scholarship Training Programme), as well as staff-level access to unique British Library collections and research resources.

For more information and to apply, please visit the Chevening British Library Fellowship page: https://www.chevening.org/fellowship/british-library/, and the “Automating the recognition of historical Chinese handwritten texts” fellowship page: https://www.chevening.org/fellowship/british-library-historical-chinese-texts/.

Applications open on 3 August, 12:00 (midday) BST and close on 2 November, 12:00 (midday) GMT.

Good Luck!

This post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She is on twitter as @BL_AdiKS

 

24 May 2021

Two Million Images Inspire Creativity, Innovation, and Collaboration

BL/QFP Project celebrates two million images on the Qatar Digital Library and the creative ways we have used them.

This week we are celebrating a milestone achievement of two million images digitised and uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library (QDL). In addition to this bilingual, digital archive, the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project (BL/QFP Project) has also inspired creative and innovative pursuits. The material on the QDL is available to use and reuse, which allows for a wide variety of responses. Over the last few years, our Project’s diverse team has explored and demonstrated a multitude of ways to engage with these digital materials, including events, artwork, coding, and analysis.

The BL/QFP Project’s staff are skilled, experienced, and dedicated. They include cataloguers, historians, archivists, imaging specialists, conservators, translators, editors, and administrative support. This means that in one team (ordinarily housed in one office) we have a diverse pool of people, which has inspired some amazing interactions and ideas. Our skills range from photography, graphic design, and technology, to linguistics, history, and data analysis. By sharing and combining these talents, we have been able to engage with the digital material and resources in remarkable ways. We have all enjoyed learning about new areas, sharing skills and knowledge, engaging with fascinating materials, finding new ways of doing things, and collaborating with a range of people, such as the BL BAME Network and other partners.

Some of the work produced outside of our core deliverables is displayed below.

 

Hack Days

Hack Days are an opportunity to use innovative techniques to explore and respond to BL collections. The first BL/QFP Imaging Hack Day was held in October 2018, and led to an array of varied responses from our Imaging Team who used their skills to "hack" the QDL. Subsequent Hack Days have incorporated diverse topics, formats, collections, and participants. They are also award winning: the concept led by the Imaging Team won the British Library Labs Staff Award in 2019.

Poster for first Hack Day, created using images from manuscripts on the QDL, showing an orange tree with heads instead of fruit, saying 'Put Our Heads Together'
Figure 1: Poster for Hack Day created using images from manuscripts on the QDL

 

Astrolabe created by Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager) using Or 2411
Figure 2: Astrolabe created by Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager) using Or 2411

 

Example of images created to respond to the weaponry on the walls by Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician), showing flowers blooming from the muzzles of shotguns
Figure 3: Example of images created to respond to the weaponry on the walls by Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician)

 

Social media banner created by Rebecca Harris (Senior Imaging Technician) for International Women’s Day, showing seven different women from the collection
Figure 4: Social media banner created by Rebecca Harris (Senior Imaging Technician) for International Women’s Day

 

Imaging contrast showing insect damage to manuscript, ‘Four treatises on Astronomy’ (Or 8415), with one image of the manuscript page and the other showing just the pinpricks on a black background, created by Renata Kaminska (Digitisation Studio Manager)
Figure 5: Imaging contrast showing insect damage to manuscript, ‘Four treatises on Astronomy’ (Or 8415), created by Renata Kaminska (Digitisation Studio Manager)

 

Behind the scenes visualisations including conservation treatment, created by Sotirios Alpanis (former Head of Digital Operations) and Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician)
Figure 6: Behind the scenes visualisations including conservation treatment, created by Sotirios Alpanis (former Head of Digital Operations) and Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician)

 

Visual narratives made by combining digital images of desert by Melanie Taylor (Senior Imaging Support Technician)
Figure 7: Visual narratives made by combining digital images by Melanie Taylor (Senior Imaging Support Technician)

 

Colourisation of portrait of the Sharif of Mecca, from 1781.b.6/7, using historically accurate colours like gold and dark blue by Daniel Loveday (Senior Imaging Technician)
Figure 8: Colourisation of the portrait of the Sharif of Mecca, from 1781.b.6/7, using historically accurate colours by Daniel Loveday (Senior Imaging Technician)

 

A photo collage showing a creature with one foot, two leafy legs, a maze for a body, and seven heads comprised of flowers, two animal heads and two human heads. By Morgane Lirette (Conservator (Books), Conservation), Tan Wang-Ward (Project Manager, Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation), Matthew Lee (Imaging Support Technician), Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist)
Figure 9: Exquisite Corpse image created by collaging material from different images, including manuscripts from the QDL as well as BL Flickr and Instagram. By Morgane Lirette (Conservator (Books), Conservation), Tan Wang-Ward (Project Manager, Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation), Matthew Lee (Imaging Support Technician), Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist). Exquisite Corpse: Head part 1 (QDL), Head part 2 (QDL), Head part 3 (QDL), Head part 4 (QDL) Head part 5 (QDL), torso (Flickr), legs (Flickr), feet (Instagram)

 

Cyanotype Workshops

Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician), Daniel Loveday (Senior Imaging Technician) and the Imaging Team

Members of the Imaging team have since gone on to develop cyanotype workshops. The photographic printing process of cyanotype uses chemicals and ultraviolet light to create a copy of an image. The team led experiments on the process at one of the Project’s Staff Away Days. After its success, the concept was developed further and workshops were delivered to students at the Camberwell College of Arts. Images from manuscripts on the QDL were used to create cyanotype collages like those displayed below.

Cyanotype created using collage of images of a bird wearing a crown, a man holding two arms, and two fish in a bowl from the QDL, by Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician)
Figure 10: Cyanotype created using collage of images from the QDL, by Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician)

 

Cyanotype created using collage of images including women, text, buildings and animals from the QDL, by Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager)
Figure 11: Cyanotype created using collage of images from the QDL, by Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager)

 

Watermarks Project

Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician), Camille Dekeyser (Conservator), Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician), Heather Murphy (Conservation Team Leader)

The Watermarks Project is an ongoing collaboration between the Conservation and Imaging Teams. Together they have sought to examine and display watermarks found in our collection items. Starting with the physical items, and figuring out how best to capture them, they have experimented with ways to display the watermarks digitally. The process requires many forms of expertise, but the results facilitate the study and appreciation of the designs.

Two women standing by a book with cameras and tools
Figure 12: Studio setup for capturing the watermarks

 

Animated image showing traditional and translucid view of a manuscript with a watermark highlighted by digital tracing.
Figure 13: Gif image showing traditional and translucid view with watermark highlighted by digital tracing.

 

Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues and Translations Project

Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor), Mariam Aboelezz (Translation Support Officer), Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager), Sotirios Alpanis (former Head of Digital Operations), John Casey (Cataloguer, Gulf History), David Fitzpatrick (Content Specialist, Archivist), Susannah Gillard (Content Specialist, Archivist), John Hayhurst (Content Specialist, Gulf History), Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist), William Monk (Cataloguer, Gulf History), Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History), Curstaidh Reid (Cataloguer, Gulf History), George Samaan (Translation Support Officer), Tahani Shaban (Translation Specialist), David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History), Nariman Youssef (Arabic Translation Manager) and special thanks to the BL BAME Staff Network.

The Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues and Translations Project was joint winner of the 2020 BL Labs Staff Award. It is an ongoing, highly collaborative project inspired by a talk given by Dr Melissa Bennett about decolonising the archive and how to deal with problematic terms found in archive items. Using existing translation tools and a custom-built python script, the group has been analysing terms that appear in the original language of the documents, and assessing how best to address them in both English and Arabic. This work enables the project to treat problematic terms sensitively and to contextualise them in our catalogue descriptions and translations.

 

More projects

The work continues with projects that explore how to use and share different methods and technologies. For example, Hannah Nagle has taught us how to collage using digital images (How to make art when we’re working apart), Ellis Meade has created a Bitsy game based in the Qatar National Library that draws you inside a manuscript (‘Hidden world of the Qatar National Library’), and Dr Mariam Aboelezz has used the BL/QFP Translation Memory to analyse how we were using the Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿal) in our translations of catalogue descriptions (‘Investigating Instances of Arabic Verb Form X in the BL/QFP Translation Memory’).

Pixelated image of a stick person in front of the Qatar National Library using Bitsy from ‘Hidden world of the Qatar National Library’  blog post by Ellis Meade (Senior Imaging Technician)
Figure 14: Image of the Qatar National Library using Bitsy from ‘Hidden world of the Qatar National Library’ by Ellis Meade (Senior Imaging Technician)

 

We have also made the most of the Covid-19 restrictions and working from home, to share and learn skills such as coding, Arabic language, and photography. For example, through the Project’s ‘Code Club’, many of us have learnt about python and have written scripts to streamline our tasks. Furthermore, codes to explore the collections have also had creative outputs, such as Anne Courtney’s project “Making data into sound” (Runner-up, BL Labs Staff Awards, 2020).

The Project’s extraordinary collaborative work demonstrates some of the exciting and innovative ways to engage with library and archival collections. It also makes clear the wider benefits of digitisation and providing free online access to fully bilingual catalogued resources.

You can read about some of our projects in more detail in the blog posts below:

You can read about previous BL/QFP Hack Days in the blog posts below:

This is a guest post by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project, compiled by Laura Parsons. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.

29 April 2021

The Butcher, the Baker, but not the Candlestick Maker

It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost a year since we took a look at some of the weird and wonderful epithets that have been used to distinguish individuals in the Library’s archives and manuscripts catalogue. Twelve months on, the Western Manuscripts cataloguing team is still working its way through the personal name records – correcting errors, enhancing records, and merging duplicate names.

In doing so, yet more items of epithetical interest have emerged. Who amongst us would not have their curiosity piqued by a man described as a pastry-maker and impersonator of King Ferdinand of Portugal? I’m sure we would all wish to take our hats off to the person labelled advocate for world peace (could there be a more noble calling?). We might be impressed at the range of skills held by the builder and composer and be in awe of the derring-do associated with the British flying ace.

But it’s in the area we today call nominative determinism that I’ve started to see some patterns. You know the kind of thing: the farmer whose surname is Farmer, the miller called Miller, and so on. Those are the obvious ones but with a bit of lateral thinking one can find some slightly less obvious examples in Explore Archives and Manuscripts. Nominative determinism once removed, if you like.

The world of religion is a rich seam. We have clergy of various types called Parsons, Bishop, Deacon, Vicars, and Dean, although I’m not sure being called Demons is the most appropriate name for the former owner of a collection of religious treatises.

Then there are the trades and professions. In the catalogue we have a master mason called Stone and a joiner called Turner. And if there’s one thing a bricklayer needs it’s physical strength so being called Backbone is a good start. A schoolmaster called Read makes sense, and when you think of the materials a jeweller works with then so does being called Dargent. A baker called Assh seems ironic (perhaps he was a graduate of the King Alfred School of Baking).

I don’t think there could be a more appropriate name for a soldier than Danger (although Bullitt comes close), and Haddock and Waters seem apt for seafarers too. Ditto, an explorer called Walker.

But of course there are always those who refuse to play along, those who didn’t get the memo. So we have the carpenter called Butcher, the butcher called Baker, the draper called Cooper, the groom called Chandler, the tailor called Fisher, and the mason called Mercer.

And finally, I am disappointed to report that the individual named Le Cat was not, in fact, a burglar.

Burglar coming in through the window with light illuminating a cat
British Library digitised image from page 47 of "The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of Night. A story of the present day. With numerous illustrations" available on our Flickr collection

This guest blog post is by Michael St John-McAlister, Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager at the British Library.

19 February 2021

AURA Research Network Second Workshop Write-up

Keen followers of this blog may remember a post from last December, which shared details of a virtual workshop about AI and Archives: Current Challenges and Prospects of Digital and Born-digital archives. This topic was one of three workshop themes identified by the Archives in the UK/Republic of Ireland & AI (AURA) network, which is a forum promoting discussions on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be applied to cultural heritage archives, and to explore issues with providing access to born digital and hybrid digital/physical collections.

The first AURA workshop on Open Data versus Privacy organised by Annalina Caputo from Dublin City University, took place on 16-17 November 2020. Rachel MacGregor provides a great write-up of this event here.

Here at the British Library, we teamed up with our friends at The National Archives to curate the second AURA workshop exploring the current challenges and prospects of born-digital archives, this took place online on 28-29 January 2021. The first day of the workshop held on 28 January was organised by The National Archives, you can read more about this day here, and the following day, 29 January, was organised by the BL, videos and slides for this can be found on the AURA blog and I've included them in this post.

AURA

The format for both days of the second AURA workshop comprised of four short presentations, two interactive breakout room sessions and a wider round-table discussion. The aim being that the event would generate dialogue around key challenges that professionals across all sectors are grappling with, with a view to identifying possible solutions.

The first day covered issues of access both from infrastructural and user’s perspectives, plus the ethical implications of the use of AI and advanced computational approaches to archival practices and research. The second day discussed challenges of access to email archives, and also issues relating to web archives and emerging format collections, including web-based interactive narratives. A round-up of  the second day is below, including recorded videos of the presentations for anyone unable to attend on the day.

Kicking off day two, a warm welcome to the workshop attendees was given by Rachel Foss, Head of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library, Larry Stapleton, Senior academic and international consultant from the Waterford Institute of Technology and Mathieu d’ Aquin, Professor of Informatics at the National University of Ireland Galway.

The morning session on Email Archives: challenges of access and collaborative initiatives was chaired by David Kirsch, Associate Professor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. This featured two presentations:

The first of these was  about Working with ePADD: processes, challenges and collaborative solutions in working with email archives, by Callum McKean, Curator for Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives, British Library and Jessica Smith, Creative Arts Archivist, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. Their slides can be viewed here and here. Apologies that the recording of Callum's talk is clipped, this was due to connectivity issues on the day.

The second presentation was Finding Light in Dark Archives: Using AI to connect context and content in email collections by Stephanie Decker, Professor of History and Strategy, University of Bristol and Santhilata Venkata, Digital Preservation Specialist & Researcher at The National Archives in the UK.

After their talks, the speakers proposed questions and challenges that attendees could discuss in smaller break-out rooms. Questions given by speakers of the morning session were:

  1. Are there any other appraisal or collaborative considerations that might improve our practices and offer ways forward?
  2. What do we lose by emphasizing usability for researchers?
  3. Should we start with how researchers want to use email archives now and in the future, rather than just on preservation?
  4. Potentialities of email archives as organizational, not just individual?

These questions led to discussions about, file formats, collection sizes, metadata standards and ways to interpret large data sets. There was interest in how email archives might allow researchers to reconstruct corporate archives, e.g. understand social dynamics of the office and understand decision making processes. It was felt that there is a need to understand the extent to which email represents organisation-level context. More questions were raised including:

  • To what extent is it part of the organisational records and how should it be treated?
  • How do you manage the relationship between constant organisational functions and structure (a CEO) and changing individuals?
  • Who will be looking at organisational email in the future and how?

It was mentioned that there is a need to distinguish between email as data and email as an artifact, as the use-cases and preservation needs may be markedly different.

Duties of care that exist between depositors, tool designers, archivists and researchers was discussed and a question was asked about how we balance these?

  • Managing human burden
  • Differing levels of embargo
  • Institutional frameworks

There was discussion of the research potential for comparing email and social media collections, e.g. tweet archives and also the difficulties researchers face in getting access to data sets. The monetary value of email archives was also raised and it was mentioned that perceived value, hasn’t been translated into monetary value.

Researcher needs and metadata was another topic brought up by attendees, it was suggested that the information about collections in online catalogues needs to be descriptive enough for researchers to decide if they wish to visit an institution, to view digital collections on a dedicated terminal. It was also suggested that archives and libraries need to make access restrictions, and the reasoning for these, very clear to users. This would help to manage expectations, so that researchers will know when to visit on-site because remote access is not possible. It was mentioned that it is challenging to identify use cases, but it was noted that without deeper understanding of researcher needs, it can be hard to make decisions about access provision.

It was acknowledged that the demands on human-processing are still high for born digital archives, and the relationship between tools and professionals still emergent. So there was a question about whether researchers could be involved in collaborations more, and to what extent will there be an onus on their responsibilities and liabilities in relation to usage of born digital archives?

Lots of food for thought before the break for lunch!

The afternoon session chaired by Nicole Basaraba, Postdoctoral Researcher, Studio Europa, Maastricht University, discussed Emerging Formats, Interactive Narratives and Socio-Cultural Questions in AI.

The first afternoon presentation Collecting Emerging Formats: Capturing Interactive Narratives in the UK Web Archive was given by Lynda Clark, Post-doctoral research fellow in Narrative and Play at InGAME: Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise, University of Dundee, and Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications, British Library. Their slides can be viewed here.  

The second afternoon session was Women Reclaiming AI: a collectively designed AI Voice Assistant by Coral Manton, Lecturer in Creative Computing, Bath Spa University, her slides can be seen here.

Following the same format as in the morning, after these presentations, the speakers proposed questions and challenges that attendees could discuss in smaller break-out rooms. Questions given by speakers of the afternoon session were:

  1. Should we be collecting examples of AIs, as well as using AI to preserve collections? What are the Implications of this
  2. How do we get more people to feel that they can ask questions about AI?
  3. How do we use AI to think about the complexity of what identity is and how do we engineer it so that technologies work for the benefit of everyone?

There was a general consensus, which acknowledged that AI is becoming a significant and pervasive part of our life. However it was felt that there are many aspects we don't fully understand. In the breakout groups workshop participants raised more questions, including:

  • Where would AI-based items sit in collections?
  • Why do we want it?
  • How to collect?
  • What do we want to collect? User interactions? The underlying technology? Many are patented technologies owned by corporations, so this makes it challenging. 
  • What would make AI more accessible?
  • Some research outputs may be AI-based - do we need to collect all the code, or just the end experience produced? If the latter, could this be similar to documenting evidence e.g. video/sound recordings or transcripts.
  • Could or should we use AI to collect? Who’s behind the AI? Who gets to decide what to archive and how? Who’s responsible for mistakes/misrepresentations made by the AI?

There was debate about how to define AI in terms of a publication/collection item, it was felt that an understanding of this would help to decide what archives and libraries should be collecting, and understand what is not being collected currently. It was mentioned that a need for user input is a critical factor in answering questions like this. A number of challenges of collecting using AI were raised in the group discussions, including:

  • Lack of standardisation in formats and metadata
  • Questions of authorship and copyright
  • Ethical considerations
  • Engagement with creators/developers

It was suggested that full scale automation is not completely desirable and some kind of human element is required for specialist collections. However, AI might be useful for speeding up manual human work.

There was discussion of problems of bias in data, that existing prejudices are baked into datasets and algorithms. This led to more questions about:

  • Is there is a role for curators in defining and designing unbiased and more representative data sets to more fairly reflect society?
  • Should archives collect training data, to understand underlying biases?
  • Who is the author of AI created text and dialogue? Who is the legally responsible person/orgnisation?
  • What opportunities are there for libraries and archives to teach people about digital safety through understanding datasets and how they are used?

Participants also questioned:

  • Why do we humanise AI?
  • Why do we give AI a gender?
  • Is society ready for a genderless AI?
  • Could the next progress in AI be a combination of human/AI? A biological advancement? Human with AI “components” - would that make us think of AIs as fallible?

With so many questions and a lack of answers, it was felt that fiction may also help us to better understand some of these issues, and Rachel Foss ended the roundtable discussion by saying that she is looking forward to reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel Klara and the Sun, about an artificial being called Klara who longs to find a human owner, which is due to be published next month by Faber.

Thanks to everyone who spoke at and participated in this AURA workshop, to make it a lively and productive event. Extra special thanks to Deirdre Sullivan for helping to run the online event smoothly. Looking ahead, the third workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Archives: What comes next? is being organised by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the AURA project team, and is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 16 March 2021. Please do join the AURA mailing list and follow #AURA_network on social media to be part of the network's ongoing discussions.

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

29 January 2021

Hacking the BL from home

BL/QFP Project and BL BAME Network Hack Day: 13th January, 2021

This is a guest post by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership, compiled by Laura Parsons. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.

We may be unable to visit the British Library in person, or see our colleagues except for on our computer screens, but on Wednesday 13th January we proved that lockdown is no barrier to a Hack Day. For the first time our Hack Day was opened up to British Library staff from outside the BL/QFP Project, as we invited members of the BL BAME Network to join us. It was exciting to have a wide variety of people with different roles and Hack Day experience, which was reflected in the diverse ideas and results displayed on the day. There was no particular subject or theme for this Hack Day. The only objectives were to try or learn something new, meet some people from around the Library and have a bit of fun along the way.

It felt slightly weird holding our Hack Day online via Microsoft Teams, rather than gathered in the BL/QFP Project’s office on the 6th floor of the Library. However, with various types of technology and online platforms, including the Teams breakout function and a shared Google doc, we still managed to work collaboratively whilst working from home. Throughout the Teams rooms, it was great to see and hear amazing ideas, helpful team work, interesting discussions, valuable sharing of skills and knowledge, and laughter.

We hope you enjoy reading about our hacks as much as we enjoyed the process of making them together.

 

Exquisite Corpses

Contributors: Morgane Lirette (Conservator (Books), Conservation), Tan Wang-Ward (Project Manager, Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation), Matthew Lee (Imaging Support Technician, BL/QFP Project), Darran Murray (Digitisation Studio Manager, BL/QFP Project), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL/QFP Project)

Our project for this Hack Day collaboration was centered on the idea of the Exquisite Corpse – a fun and creative game popularised by the Surrealists as a tool to create bizarre and wonderful compositions.

The result was a cross collaborative effort, involving staff from the International Dunhuang Project, Conservation and the BL/QFP Project, that created a series of visual collages using material from the Library's digital collections, Flickr and Instagram accounts as well as the Qatar Digital Library (QDL). We created five exquisite corpses in total.

The biggest takeaway from the day was how easy, fun and creative this process was in facilitating cross library networking and collaboration but also as a tool for invention and exploration of the Library’s diverse collections.

 

Exquisite Corpse image created by collaging material from different images together.
Figure 1: Exquisite Corpse 1: Head part 1 (QDL), Head part 2 (QDL), Head part 3 (QDL), Head part 4 (QDL) Head part 5 (QDL), torso (Flickr), legs (Flickr), feet (Instagram)

 

Exquisite Corpse image 2 - collage
Figure 2: Exquisite Corpse 2: Head (Flickr), torso (BL Catalogue), legs (Instagram), feet (QDL)

 

Exquisite Corpse image 3 - collage
Figure 3: Exquisite Corpse 3: Head (BL Catalogue), torso (Flickr), legs (BL Catalogue), feet (BL Catalogue)

 

Exquisite Corpse image 4 - collage
Figure 4: Exquisite Corpse 4: Head (Flickr), torso (Instagram), legs (QDL), foot 1 (Flickr), foot 2 (Flickr)

 

Exquisite Corpse image 5 - collage
Figure 5: Exquisite Corpse 5: Head (BL Catalogue), torso (QDL), arm (QDL), legs (Flickr), foot 1 (BL Catalogue), foot 2 (BL Catalogue)

 

OCR Text Analysis

Contributors: David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project) & Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL/QFP Project)

This hack aimed to extend work undertaken as part of the Addressing Problematic Terms Project to explore the BL/QFP’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) data.

Inspiration for the Hack was drawn from Olivia Vane’s excellent OCR visualisation tool, Steptext. OCR is an automated process employed during the BL/QFP’s digitisation process that ‘reads’ the images captured and turns them into searchable text.

Initially the team came up with a list of terms to search the OCR text for. Then we wrote a Python script to search the OCR files for each term, and output three graphs, built using Bokeh.

Graph displays the number of matches for the term against the year the archive material was created.
Figure 6: This graph displays the number of matches for the term against the year the archive material was created. Click on the image to open an interactive version in a new window.

 

Using the year with the most occurrences of the term, bar chart displays break down of the frequency per shelfmark.
Figure 7: Using the year with the most occurrences of the term, this bar chart  displays the break down the frequency per shelfmark. Click on the image to open an interactive version in a new window.

 

Using the shelfmark with the most matches, this graph displays how often the term occurs in each image capture. Using Bokeh’s inbuilt Hover tool, the graph displays a snippet of the term in context with the rest of the OCR data.
Figure 8: Using the shelfmark with the most matches, this graph displays how often the term occurs in each image capture. Using Bokeh’s inbuilt Hover tool, the graph displays a snippet of the term in context with the rest of the OCR data. Click on the image to open an interactive version in a new window.

 

The results show how it is possible both to identify where specific terms are used in the records and to analyse how they are used over time. This will be of great help as we seek to take the project to the next stage.

 

OCR Exquisite Corpses

Contributor: Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL/QFP Project)

Taking inspiration from the Exquisite Corpse Hack project, the code for the OCR text analysis was re-factored to produce OCR Exquisite Corpses. Here is the process:

  1. Taking an initial search term, a shelfmark was picked at random and the term was searched for, this process was repeated until a match was found.
  2. Once a match was made the subsequent four words were selected, completing the first sentence of an exquisite corpse.
  3. The final word of the sentence was then used to begin the process again, creating a link between the two sentences.
  4. This was repeated four times to create surreal nonsense poem.
  5. Finally, using Google Translate’s text to speech service, an mp3 file was created for each poem.

The Hack team nominated some everyday words to generate OCR Exquisite Corpses. Here are some highlights:

  • BREAD and wine: he THEN he in his, POSSESSION of the enemy's ENTRENCHED camp at Brasjoon, ABOUT 80 per cent

Bread OCR Exquisite Corpse

  • BLUE and gold lackered, WORK fur r North & THE 15th November, 1933, WITH ENCLOSURES FOREIGN: Immediate

Blue OCR Exquisite Corpse

  • MUTINY had been prevented BY wandering tribes, small TRIBUTARY to Persia; AND has the honour TO deal with the

Mutiny OCR Exquisite Corpse

 

Investigating Instances of Arabic Verb Form X in the BLQFP Translation Memory

Contributor: Mariam Aboelezz

I investigated uses of Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿala) in the BLQFP Translation Memory using our translation software, memoQ. I chose this verb form because it conveys the meaning of seeking or acquiring something for oneself, possibly by force, and could therefore elicit unconscious bias in our translations. I identified 55 unique verbs that take this form, six of which were potentially problematic. A closer look at the most frequent verb (istawlá; to take forcefully or wrongfully) suggests that some unconscious bias may have travelled from the primary sources to the catalogue descriptions or been introduced during translation. The results provide a prompt for further discussions about problematic language among translators and cataloguers.

Search results from the BLQFP Translation Memory in memoQ for Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿala)
Figure 9: Search results from the BLQFP Translation Memory in memoQ for Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿala)

 

Bar chart displaying the 55 unique verbs identified and their frequency.
Figure 10: Bar chart displaying the 55 unique verbs identified and their frequency.

 

Bar chart displaying the six potentially problematic verbs.
Figure 11: Bar chart displaying the six potentially problematic verbs.

 

Birds of the QDL team

Contributors: Anne Courtney (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project), Sara Hale (Digitisation Officer, Heritage Made Digital/Asian and African Collections), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL/QFP Project), Annie Ward (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL/QFP Project)

The Birds of the QDL team set out to explore how birds appear in the digital records. Sara and Annie used manuscript paintings of bird species as inspiration, creating an animated GIF of a hoopoe and data visualisations of the search results for different birds. Anne tracked bird sightings in one of the IOR ship’s logs by combining quotes from the log with sound recordings and images to help bring the record to life. Francis investigated the Socotra cormorant, British guano extraction and the resistance of the islanders. We enjoyed experimenting with different formats to highlight some of the regional birds and the contexts in which they appear.

Animated gif using an image of a hoopoe bird. Image from: Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator [‎397r] (812/958), British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library and quote from: ''IRAQ AND THE PERSIAN GULF' [‎144v] (293/862), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/64, in Qatar Digital Library
Animated gif using an image of a hoopoe bird. Image from: Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator [‎397r] (812/958), British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100069559270.0x00000d> and quote from: ''IRAQ AND THE PERSIAN GULF' [‎144v] (293/862), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/64, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100037366479.0x00005e>

 

Bar chart displaying the number of search results by bird name on the Qatar Digital Library and decorated with bird images from a manuscript (Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator, British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library.
Bar chart displaying the number of search results by bird name on the Qatar Digital Library and decorated with bird images from a manuscript (Tarjumah-ʼi ʻAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt ترجمۀ عجائب المخلوقات Anonymous translator, British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 1621, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100035587342.0x000001>).

 

Image of the ocean with text reading: “This day we see no birds”. Image from: ‘Sea Song and River Rhyme from Chaucer to Tennyson’ (1887), ed. E D Adams and quote from: Blenheim : Journal [‎16v] (38/209), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MAR/B/697A, in Qatar Digital Library
Figure 14: Image of the ocean with text reading: “This day we see no birds”. Image from: ‘Sea Song and River Rhyme from Chaucer to Tennyson’ (1887), ed. E D Adams and quote from: Blenheim : Journal [‎16v] (38/209), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MAR/B/697A, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100085281813.0x000027>

 

Map of the island of Socotra from: ‘A Trigonometrical Survey of Socotra by Lieut.ts S.B. Haines and I.R. Wellsted assisted by Lieut. I.P. Sanders and Mess.rs Rennie Cruttenden & Fleming Mids.n, Indian Navy. Engraved by R. Bateman, 72 Long Acre’ [‎8r] (1/2), British Library: Map Collections, IOR/X/3630/13, in Qatar Digital Library
Figure 15: Map of the island of Socotra from: ‘A Trigonometrical Survey of Socotra by Lieut.ts S.B. Haines and I.R. Wellsted assisted by Lieut. I.P. Sanders and Mess.rs Rennie Cruttenden & Fleming Mids.n, Indian Navy. Engraved by R. Bateman, 72 Long Acre’ [‎8r] (1/2), British Library: Map Collections, IOR/X/3630/13, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100023868004.0x000010>

 

Story-Mapping: The Shater’s Journey

Contributors: Jenny Norton-Wright (Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, BL/QFP Project) & Ula Zeir (Content Specialist, Arabic Language, BL/QFP Project)

Our Hack project aimed to create an interactive map tracing the footsteps of a shater [shāṭir, foot-courier] who made a 700-mile return journey between Gombroon and Shiraz in 1761 bearing an important letter, as recounted in one of the Gombroon Diaries (IOR/G/29/13).

First, we collected background information on the journey and on the term shater, and transcribed the relevant diary entries. We then used the Esri ArcGIS StoryMap Tour platform to visualise and map the events. The Tour function integrates text boxes, captions, and associated images with a background map tracking the points of the journey, and supports hyperlinking to the IOR materials on the QDL.

Image from the start of the story map introducing the Shater journey.
Figure 16: Image from the start of the story map introducing the Shater journey.

 

Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey.
Figure 17: Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey.

 

Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey: a reply is received.
Figure 18: Image from the story map continuing the Shater journey: a reply is received.

 

For more information about the Gombroon Diaries:

Diary and Consultations of Mr Alexander Douglas, Agent of the East India Company at Gombroon [Bandar-e ʻAbbās] in the Persian Gulf, commencing 2 October 1760 and ending 30 December 1761, British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/G/29/13, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100000001251.0x00036a>

 

British Library mosaic

Contributor: Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL/QFP Project)

This project involved learning how to create mosaics using images from the Library and QDL collections. This was inspired by a presentation by Pardaad Chamsaz (Curator Germanic Collections, BL European Studies) about the Decolonising the BL working group of the BL BAME Network. He said that we should remember that the Library is made up of many different people. I decided to try using Mosaically to use multiple images to create an image of the British Library, to show that it takes many parts to make a whole. This also highlights the Library’s vast collections. I then repeated this with images from the QDL to show an image of the QDL homepage.

Mosaic of the British Library using images from the British Library Flickr account
Figure 19: Mosaic of the British Library using images from the British Library Flickr account.

 

Mosaic of the Qatar Digital Library homepage using images from the Qatar Digital Library
Figure 20: Mosaic of the Qatar Digital Library homepage using images from the Qatar Digital Library (https://www.qdl.qa/en).

 

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

24 December 2020

BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020, Rewind, Reflections, Box-sets and Seasons Greetings

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

This action packed, detailed 'rewind' and festive bumper edition blog post about last week's largest ever BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020, contains some hidden seasonal gifts🎁(if you read very carefully) to bring you seasonal cheer. The post rounds off a difficult and challenging 2020 for the BL Labs team and I am sure for everyone else.

In the new year, we will release this post in a series of shorter parts, but for now you have the opportunity to read the whole account together.

BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 - detailed report

MENU (Jump to different sections)

  1. About the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020
  2. Rewind the BL Labs Symposium 2020
  3. Feedback on the Symposium
  4. Keynote by Ruth Ahnert
  5. End keynote by Anasuya Sengupta
  6. BL Labs update by Mahendra Mahey
  7. Digital Research Team update by Adi Keinan-Schoonbeart
  8. Research Services update by Rachael Kortarski
  9. BL Labs Public Awards 2020
  10. BL Labs People's Choice Public Award 2020
  11. BL Labs Staff Awards 2020
  12. BL Labs Box Sets
  13. Conclusion

The BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 is an annual event and awards ceremony showcasing innovative projects that use, experiment with and have been inspired by the British Library's physical and digital collections and data through BL Labs and / or through collaborations with other people in and outside the Library.

The Labs symposium provides a platform for highlighting and engaging with the British Library’s and other  GalleriesLibrariesArchives and Museums or (GLAMs) through their Labs or similar facilities that enable, support and encourage access and experimentation with their digital collections and data for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

For those GLAMs and / or organisations that don't have similar digital Labs, would like one, support the concept of experimentation with their digital collections generally, or even for those that haven't engaged with GLAM Labs before, why not join our GLAM Labs mailing list or slack channel 🎁 to start a conversation with us. 

You can also download our 🎁 book 'Open a GLAM Lab' to read over this festive period to inspire you to start on your own personal journey into the world of GLAM Labs.

The BL Labs Awards this year recognised outstanding use of British Library's digital content in the categories of Research, Artistic, Educational, Community and British Library staff contributions. Through the BL Labs Public Awards 2020, we made a special request for project submissions about or developed during this century-defining COVID-19 pandemic and / or a request for work that focused on some of the current BL Labs priorities, namely anti-racism (especially in the context for racial equality globally) and the use of Jupyter Notebooks for computational research with data.

Our eighth annual symposium took place for the first time entirely online via the 'Zoom Webinar' platform and was broadcast live and simultaneously on YouTube between 1400-1700 GMT on Tuesday 15 December 2020. We have also had a suggestion from Sarah Cole to try out an alternative platform called 'Hopin'🎁, which we will definitely be looking at (Sarah was a previous BL Labs Awards Commercial Award runner-up with Poetic Places🎁and had two other submissions one for the Awards  - 'Badigical Kingdom: Repurposing Public Domain Images to Make Badges🎁and an idea submitted for the BL Labs competition called 'The Maniacal Curator: A Tabletop Game using the British Library Flickr Collection'🎁).

We had over 350 unique attendees who participated live in the Labs symposium. People came from all over the world, ranging from Europe, the USA and Australia and from different academic fields and professional sectors.  The total number of viewers who have now watched the symposium is steadily rising largely because of those who are watching it after the live broadcast, we really hope the event will reach a wider global audience over time. I feel the way we consume events such as the symposium as well as other types of 'conferences' will be more online and be the new 'normal' in the future. It's clear that what is currently happening to the events' industry happened to terrestrial broadcast TV a number of years ago, in that it has now largely  a mostly on-demand service. Having over 350 viewers for a live online broadcast may seem like a modest number, however for us, this was actually the most number of live attendees we have ever had for our symposium and an opportunity for many to attend who were never able to attend previously because of time zone clashes and not being able to be physically present in London. We were especially pleased with this number, considering that there were a host of other similar online events going on at exactly the same time. So in case you missed it, you can still watch it for the first time (see details below as to how) or watch it again in case you missed something specific.

Going completely online for our symposium this year was a new 'experiment' for us in the BL Labs team.  We really wanted to ensure that the online version should still try to capture the spirit of the awards symposium, i.e. keep the audience engaged right through to the end, inject some fun, make it a true celebration and enable people to connect with each other. We learned a lot from the experience, we knew that there would inevitably be some teething problems however we are pretty pleased with how things went and what we were able to achieve given the time and resources we had available.

Embracing and learning from our mistakes is something we constantly do in a 'Labs' context, fail fast and better. It's part of my own guiding professional principles and something I constantly say when I speak to people who want to engage with BL Labs, especially when we work on experimental projects. A superb example which exemplifies and illustrates this philosophy is in a book by Shawn Graham, in Failing Gloriously and other Essays 🎁in which he documents his personal, entertaining, humorous, insightful and honest journey through digital humanities and digital archaeology against the backdrop of the 21st-century university.

Dan van Strien's Tweet about the BL Labs Symposium 2020
Dan van Strien's tweet about the 'build up' video before the BL Labs Symposium 2020 started, describing a 'clubbing' vibe' with music and graphics.
My colleague Filipe Bento (Technical Lead for BL Labs) was responsible for this as well as other snazzy videos during transitions between breaks and presenters. We hope they injected a bit of fun and a taste and spirit of an MTV style awards show into the event.

The online version of the symposium has sparked some great ideas for me personally in how to run events like this and we hope to implement some new innovations and experiments in the future.

Did you miss attending the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 or want to watch a part or the whole thing again?

You can view the recorded live footage of the Symposium below via YouTube below:


🎁Recording of the YouTube live-stream of the 8th BL Labs Symposium, 15 December 2020, conducted on Zoom Webinar.

If you prefer, you may want to 'skip' to key moments in the programme detailed in the list of links below:

14:00 - 14:05  Welcome and introduction (skip to this section)
Maja Maricevic, Head of Higher Education and Science, British Library

14:05 - 14:45 Humanists Living with Machines: reflections on collaboration and computational history during a global pandemic (skip to this section)
Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London  and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute.

14:45- 14:55  BL Labs update (skip to to this section)
Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs, British Library

15:10 - 15:15 Research Award (skip to this section) 
Naomi Billingsley, Research Development Manager, British Library

15:15 - 15:25  Digital Scholarship projects update (skip to this section) 
Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator, Asian and African Collections, the British Library.

15:25 – 15:30  The Artistic Award (skip to this section)
Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, British Library

15:30 - 15:40  Research Services update (skip to this section)
Rachael Kotarski, Head of Research Infrastructure Services, British Library

15:40 - 15:45  The Teaching & Learning Award (skip to this section)
Ria Bartlett, Lead Producer: Onsite Learning at the British Library
(Please note that some of the videos shown in this section had poor audio and can be seen and heard again in our BL Labs Public Awards 2020 YouTube Playlist)

16:10 – 16:15  The Community Award (skip to this section)
Liz White, Head of Public Libraries and Community Engagement

16:15 - 16:25  The British Library Staff Award (skip to this section)
Jas Rai, Head of People, British Library
(Please note that some of the videos shown in this section had no audio and can be seen and heard again in our BL Labs Staff Awards YouTube playlist 2020.)

16:25 – 17:05  How to Decolonise the British Library in 3 (Un)Easy Step (skip to this section)
Anasuya Sengupta, Co-Director, Whose Knowledge?

17:05 – 17:15  'People's Favourite BL Labs Award' the RESULT and closing comments (skip to this section)
Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs, British Library

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Feedback on Symposium (during and after)

We have received some really positive comments about the event from live participants who rated it with an average of 8.9 out of 10 in terms of overall satisfaction by completing an event feedback survey at the time the event was live.

Comments included:

  • 'It was excellent, especially the opening and closing talks'
  • 'Getting a 'save the date' a bit earlier as there was a clash between many similar events online'
  • 'Having an event half way through the year would be great to give an update on BL Labs and other Digital Research projects as there are so many of them!!'

There were several other useful constructive comments which we are definitely going to think about and consider taking on board for future events and activities.

Calls to action

Participants on the day also logged 'calls to action' i.e. things they were going to do as a result of the event or things they wanted to encourage others to do:

  • 'Everyone must all watch the recordings and listen to the papers!'
  • 'Everyone who has done something relevant should enter the Awards, even if they're not sure that their work fits'
  • 'The event seemed quite academic, but it shed a light on how the digital archives are being used even if not all the terms are understood by the layman'
  • 'Several of the speakers highlighted extremely important topics that necessitate further engagement and research'
  • 'Machine learning based labelling and annotation and novel visualisation techniques to explore archives is something I am going to look into'
  • 'My personal research interest is identity (ethnic, cultural, religious, language, etc.) and how it is expressed both in literature and culture more generally by immigrants from other countries and cultures. I now have ideas of digital ways to pursue this within the BL collections as opposed to simply printed books'
  • 'Separate to the learning award, could there be a schools award? I'm thinking that maybe BL Labs could set a task and invite any school to take part'
  • The work on decolonaziation should be continued
  • 'Oral history archives - accessing transcripts, sound recordings and contextual information from a range of collections that could illuminate my current research based on published books of fiction and non-fiction in English'

Format for next year's event?

Interestingly, there was an overwhelming plea from participants that next year's event should be 'hybrid', online with an option to attend physically if possible. We will try our best (vaccines permitting) to consider this!

Feedback on watching as a pre-recorded event

If you do end up watching the recorded footage, it would really be incredibly helpful for us to receive your feedback about what you liked and what could be improved. This is in order to help us to continue justifying investing so much time and resources in organising such events. Please let us know what you thought about it, through our feedback page 🎁(your gift to us) or on social media / twitter using the @BL_Labs handle.

Behind the scenes team

The team 'behind the scenes' were:

8th BL Labs Symposium Organising Team8th BL Labs Symposium Organising Team
Top (Left to right) - Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager), Filipe Bento (BL Labs Technical Lead), Robin Saklatvala (Event Manager)
Bottom (left to right) - Maja Maricevic (Head of Higher Education and Science), Ruth Hansford (Endangered Archives Programme Grants Portfolio Manager), Dan van Strien (Digital Curator with Living with Machines), Rossitza Atassanova (Digital Curator, Digitisation)
 
Mahendra Mahey, BL Labs Manager behind the screen
Mahendra Mahey, BL Labs Manager 'behind' the screen during the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020

I would like to thank them all, especially Filipe and Robin who with me, did the heavy lifting.

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Welcome address from Maja Marcievic

Maja Maricevic, is the Head of Higher Education and Sciences at the British Library and manages me. She welcomed everyone who was attending the symposium and was 'master of ceremonies' for the first block of talks detailing some essential housekeeping duties. She then gave a summary of the direction that BL Labs will be moving into the future and detailed how the BL Labs team have been supporting and shining a light on research, artistic, educational as well as showcasing the incredibly important work which focuses on community activism over the year. Finally, she formally introduced the keynote speaker.

Keynote: Humanists Living with Machines: reflections on collaboration and computational history during a global pandemic

This year's keynote was delivered by Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' project at The Alan Turing Institute.

Ruth spoke passionately and very engagingly about her impressive journey and rise as a literary historian. Ruth's academic work has increasingly involved using computational approaches. She highlighted some of the latest results from the Living With Machines project and included descriptions of some poignant and personal reflections on how the Digital Humanities community have been effected by recent developments such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the push provided by the Black Lives Matter movement for memory organisations to provide greater transparency to their collections. Many of the attendees responded enthusiastically to Ruth's talk and there was a lot of buzz on social media about it. She was even able to answer 5 questions from the audience at the end of her talk.

We are also very excited to announce that Ruth has joined the BL Labs Advisory board and was part of this year's judging panel for our Public Awards 2020. We are delighted that her energy, warmth, humanity and enthusiasm will be helping shape the future of BL Labs moving forward.

You can download her full set of slides as a PDF from here 🎁.

You can follow Ruth on Twitter.

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End Keynote: How to Decolonise the British Library in 3 (Un)Easy Steps

Anasuya Sengupta, Co-Director and co-founder of Whose Knowledge? explored the notions of epistemic injustice and how different structures of power and privilege impact the ways we understand (digital) knowledge and scholarship. In particular, she offered some practices of decolonisation that might move us from metaphor to the ongoing (and never complete) transformation of our organisations and ourselves. Her talk was extremely well received by the audience with very positive comments and feedback such as 'Incredible presentation from Anasuya'. Thank you Anasuya for delivering a very powerful talk.

For me personally, Anasuya's presentation resonated deeply and emotionally. As someone who has a lived experience of racism, prejudice and castetism (as I am of Indian decent) I am very aware of the British Library's / Museum's colonial past and conversely I also try to be aware of my privilege and my awareness that changing things for the better starts with our own individual actions, no matter how small they may be. Her talk reminded me of my own efforts and motivations in trying to address some of these issues when I came to help set up the Lab nearly eight years ago. I saw that BL Labs could help facilitate opening up the Library's collections through digital experimentation. Subsequently, I have wanted it to connect with a new set of diverse audiences that previously would have never even known about the British Library, let alone engage with it. I really want to help people to create new, open, honest transparent narratives and initiate new dialogues about history and tell new inspirational 'time-travel' stories by remixing the past with the present and projecting into an imagined future. This was and still is one of my main motivations to get up in the morning and to continue to manage and lead BL Labs.

One of Anasuya's final slides brilliantly sums up what is needed:

Anasuya Sengupta's call to action
Anasuya Sengupta's call to action

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the British Library's BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) staff group for all their hard work in especially addressing anti-racism at the British Library over many years, which I know can be exhausting and emotionally draining and is often not always visible. I would like to raise awareness that our new head of diversity, appointed in August 2019, Hugh Brown has been looking at implementing actions to combat anti-racism within the Library, largely articulated in a press release this summer about the Library's commitment in becoming an anti-racist organisation.

You can download her full set slides as a PDF from here 🎁.

You can also follow Anasuya on Twitter.

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Updates from BL Labs', Digital Research's and Research Services' Teams at the British Library Library

BL Labs

I gave an update on behalf of the BL Labs Team about our activities and I looked forward to new projects and developments some of which are already underway. There was a call to action for people to seek their inner 'Labber', to experiment, create magic, tell fantastic engaging, moving and meaningful stories and conduct valuable and impactful research with the British Library's and other GLAMs' digital collections and data.

Francis Owtram Tweet
Francis Owtram's Tweet

I gave an overview of some details with statistics of work we have done up to now.  There was a personal reflection of my own struggles through this ongoing pandemic period. One BL Labs project that is close to completion is to provide computational access via browser based Jupyter Notebooks for British Library registered readers for some onsite-only available digital collections and data. Another BL Labs project is about building on and getting more of our data used in Higher Education and in the Sciences, especially Data Science, hopefully you will hear more about this in the new year.

You can download my full set slides as a PDF from here🎁.

You can follow me (Mahendra) on Twitter, the @BL_Labs twitter channel which is getting near to 9,000 followers and @GLAM_labs which represents the global GLAM Labs community. All of which I am proud to say I helped set up and run with colleagues.

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Digital Research Team

Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator, Asian and African Collections, at the British Library, presented some highlights of the incredible range of innovative projects and work being done by her and our colleagues in the Digital Research team at the British Library over the last year, such as:

You can download the full set slides as a PDF from here🎁.

You can also follow Adi on Twitter and members of her team, Rossitza Atassanova, Mia Ridge, Tom Derrick, Stella Wisdom, Nora McGregor, Deirdre Sullivan , Dan van Strien, Olivia Vane, Giorgia Tolfo, Claire Austin, some of whom are managed by Neil Fitzgerald.

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Research Services Update

Rachael Kotarski, Head of Research Infrastructure Services at the British Library, gave some highlights of current projects and services in the Research Services team. Their role is to improve the services the Library offers to researchers and research organisations - onsite and online, BL Labs has been collaborating with them for many years. A particular focus of her team is to make it easier to find and use items from our collections and relevant content globally such as license, acquire and process content, understand our users, what is our content strategy, digital preservation and tools and infrastructure. Highlights from Rachael's presentation include:

You can download the full set slides as a PDF from here 🎁.

You can follow Rachael on Twitter.

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BL Labs Public Awards 2020

The BL Labs Public Awards 2020 winners in Research, Artistic, Educational and Community categories were decided by BL Labs, the BL Labs Advisory Board and some of the British Library's Digital Research team:

From the BL Labs Advisory Board it included:

  • David De Roure, Professor of e-research, Oxford e-research Centre, University of Oxford and Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute
  • Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History, University of Sussex
  • Bill Thompson, Principal Research Engineer, BBC
  • Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Edinburgh‘s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
  • Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute (joined in December 2020)
  • Kelly Foster, open knowledge advocate and public historian, London Blue Badge Guide, chapter lead for Creative Commons UK and founding organiser of AfroCROWD UK, an initiative to encourage more people of African heritage to contribute to Wikipedia and it’s sister projects and founding member of TRANSMISSION, a collective of archivists and historians of African descent (joined in December 2020)

Unfortunately, Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities (English Language), University of Glasgow was unable to participate due to a clash with a PhD viva. However, he was able to participate on the day as a delegate at the symposium.

On a sad note, our colleague George Oates, Director of Good, Form & Spectacle Ltd has had to step down from the BL Labs Advisory Board after 4 years of excellent service for personal reasons, so we would like to wish George and thank her for all her help over the years.

From the British Library, the judging panel was made up of:

We had a wide range of fantastic and diverse range of entries from around the world this year, all of which can be downloaded as a .zip file. If you are curious about previous years Awards entries, you can also download all our Award entries since its inception🎁. We also strongly recommend you browse the huge BL Labs Digital Projects Archive 🎁where information about this year's entries together with over 300 projects and many BL Labs collaborations, competitions and projects over the nearly last 8 years BL Labs has been involved in or showcased can found. We keep this archive as a historic record to provide evidence of the impact of BL Labs and what it does as well as other initiatives in the Library. The archive could also provide inspiration and insights for you if you are contemplating starting your own projects or collaborations using the Library's and other GLAMs' digital collections and data.

Brief information about which entries were shortlisted this year (2020) can be viewed in just five minutes via a YouTube play list of 10 shortlisted entries for the Public Awards 2020:

BL Labs Public Awards 2020 - Playlist
BL Labs Public Awards 2020 - YouTube playlist of ten 30-second videos

So now onto the BL Labs Awards for 2020 by category.

Research Award

The BL Labs Research Award recognises a project or activity which demonstrates the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools using the Library’s digital collections or data.

The winners were announced by my colleague Naomi Billingsley, Research Development Manager, at the British Library, her slide deck is available to download here 🎁.

Shortlisted

  • Afrobits
    An interactive installation of African music and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade .

    By Javier Pereda (Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration and Researcher in the Experimental Technologies Lab, Liverpool John Moores University), Patricia Murrieta Flores (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University), Nicholas Radburn (Lecturer in the History of the Atlantic World 1500 – 1800, Co-Editor of the Slave Voyages Research Project, Lancaster University), Lois South (History Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University) and Christian Monaghan, Graphic Design and Illustration Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University.


    Links: Short videolonger videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Runner-up

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    By AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

The judging panel we were simply 'blown away' by Awate's work.

Winner

  • Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians
    16 Jupyter notebooks that demonstrate how specific historical research questions can be explored by analysing data from web archives.

    By Tim Sherratt (Associate Professor of Digital Heritage at the University of Canberra and founder and creator of the GLAM workbench), Andrew Jackson (Technical Lead - UK Web Archive, British Library), Alex Osborne (Technical Lead Australian Web Archive - National Library of Australia),  Ben O’Brien (Technical Lead New Zealand Web Archive - National Library of New Zealand) and Olga Holownia (International Internet Preservation Coalition (IIPC) Programmes & Communications Officer)

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

Congratulations Tim Sherratt, Andrew Jackson; Alex Osborne, Ben O’Brien and Olga Holownia. The panel were impressed with the quality of documentation and thought that went into how to work computationally through Jupyter Notebooks with web archives, which are challenging to work with because of their. These tools are some of the first of their kind for Web Archives.

The BL Labs advisory board wanted to acknowledge and reward the incredible work of Tim Sherratt in particular.

"Tim, you have been a pioneer as ‘a one person Lab’ over many years, and these 16 notebooks are a fine addition to your already extensive suite in your GLAM work-bench. Your work has inspired so many in GLAMs, the Humanities community and BL Labs to develop their own notebooks".

We strongly recommend that you look at the GLAM work-bench if you are interested in doing computational experiments with many institutions’ data sources, we genuinely think Tim's work has been at the forefront of computational hacking work in GLAMs.

Artistic Award

This Award recognises an artistic or creative endeavour that has used the Library’s digital content to inspire, amaze and provoke. This year's Awards were announced for the fourth time by Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, British Library, his slide deck is available here🎁.

Special commendation

  • Afrobits
    An interactive installation of African music and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade .

    By Javier Pereda (Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration and Researcher in the Experimental Technologies Lab, Liverpool John Moores University), Patricia Murrieta Flores (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University), Nicholas Radburn (Lecturer in the History of the Atlantic World 1500 – 1800, Co-Editor of the Slave Voyages Research Project, Lancaster University), Lois South (History Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University) and Christian Monaghan, Graphic Design and Illustration Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University.


    Links: Short videolonger videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

This is an interactive installation of influence of African music on culture and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It's a piece that is absolutely vital for our times.

Panel comments

Rosyln's work is a celebration of black heritage through black afro hair developed in the context of doing something positive given negative images of police brutality against black people around the world. She used images of Bantu, Balondo and Akan men and women from British Library’s Flickr Commons collection, using them to make patterns for fabrics and wallpapers, t-shirts and mugs and intend to use the fabrics to make other products. The panel loved how Rosyln created some positive out of the tremendous negativity that has been directed towards black people around the world. The team liked the designs, they were vibrant, fresh and cool.

Runner-up

Panel comments

This entry was very well received by everyone. The panel felt Faint Signals was wonderfully inventive use of the environmental sounds collection, clever imaginative use of Unity 3D technology, perfect impact over the COVID period. It's a piece that draws you in, that is relaxing and rather beguiling and certainly in these challenging times when travelling is impossible, and perhaps travelling into nature is difficult, this gives you a sense of the glories and the vastness of the sounds of nature.

Winner

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    By AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

The panel were incredibly moved by the performance of Awate. They were impressed by the quality of story telling and research needed to stitch together such powerful archive footage such as Grace Nichols’ poem ‘I have crossed an ocean’ (see below):

A reading's of Grace's work is available to listen to onsite at the British Library, together with other recordings of extraordinary people.

Congratulations to Awate, for creating this captivating performance, and I think, gave all of us who experienced it, goose bumps! We strongly urge you to please listen to his work, it’s very moving and inspiring.

Learning and Teaching (Educational) Award

This Award celebrates quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content. This year's awards were announced for the third time by Ria Bartlett, Lead Producer: Onsite Learning at the British Library, her slide deck is available here.

Special Commendation

Panel comments

The panel were particularly impressed by the quality of the tool produced by a student in their own time and his generosity and kindness to share the tool for the benefit of all. Also, this is the first time an Endangered Archives Programme's (EAP) digitised collections have been recognised with a BL Labs award. We hope many more projects will be submitted in the future that use EAP’s incredible range of digital collections.

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    by AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

We were particularly impressed how Awate worked with young people to unpack his journey of research in the British Library to make his piece, teaching at The Roundhouse in Camden and Fairbeats in Lewisham and recording voices from children from London to be included in some of his pieces, which was a geat honour for them. We particularly liked the narrative you created. The story takes place on a generation ship, during the one day a year a group of children are awake for a lesson taught to them by an artificial intelligence tutor. The tutor uses an algorithm to sample from the British Library archive from the years 1896-2019 in order to tell them stories of human migration using clips from Oral History recordings. As they are travelling to a different planet, the AI places them in the greater context of migration, exploring themes such as war, corruption, famine and drought.

Well done Awate! We urge you all to listen to his ‘The Unearthed Odyssey’ performance, it’s brilliant.

Runner-up

  • Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
    Enabling cultural heritage institutions and (digital) humanities researchers to experiment with Collections as Data and GLAM notebooks by showcasing practical implementations from a wide range of GLAM institutions and digital collections. 

    By Gustavo CandelaPilar EscobarMaría Dolores Sáez and Manuel Marco-Such  from the Research Libraries Team, Department of Software and Computing Systems, the University of Alicante, Spain

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

We were impressed that the notebooks the team have developed are being used in the team's own teaching on university courses. We also liked how the team have very generously created Jupyter Notebooks for other GLAMs' data, where many do not have the capacity to do so. That’s 15 notebooks for 12 GLAMs.

Winner

  • Beyond the Rubric: Collaborating with the Cultural Heritage Sector in Higher Education Teaching and Research
    A project-based, research-led collaboration between the British Library and students of the Centre for Digital Humanities Research at the Australian National University.

    By Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

Well done Terhi and especially her students who produced such outstanding work in only 12 weeks through their group projects. The panel felt this was an exemplary use of the British Library’s digital collections and data in a Digital Scholarship context and an excellent template for further collaboration with BL Labs and other GLAM Labs working with educational institutions especially in area of Digital Humanities. We were particularly impressed with Terhi’s grading criteria that recognised ambition in projects and Terhi’s decision to have interdisciplinary, gender-balanced, multi-lingual project groups.

Community

This Award celebrates an activity / work / project that has been created by an individual or group in a community inspired by or using our digital collections and data. This year's awards were announced for first time by Liz White, Head of Public Libraries and Community Engagement, her slide deck is available here.

Special Commendation

  • Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
    Enabling cultural heritage institutions and (digital) humanities researchers to experiment with Collections as Data and GLAM notebooks by showcasing practical implementations from a wide range of GLAM institutions and digital collections. 

    By Gustavo CandelaPilar EscobarMaría Dolores Sáez and Manuel Marco-Such  from the Research Libraries Team, Department of Software and Computing Systems, the University of Alicante, Spain

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

This entry was in fact the most nominated across 3 of the 4 BL Labs public Awards categories. The panel particularly loved the generosity of the group in developing computational access to 12 Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum’s (GLAMs) data through 15 Jupyter Notebooks, including the British Library. Many of these institutions do not have the capacity or expertise to do this, so this was some really kind and fantastic work moving these organisations forward computationally. A great contribution to the GLAM Labs community, initiated of course by Mahendra at BL Labs. Find out more about GLAM Labs at glamlabs.io.

Special Commendation

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    By AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

We were particularly impressed how Awate worked with British Library staff before and during lockdown, with school children from South London to unpack his journey of research in the British Library to make his piece. He also taught at the Roundhouse in Camden and Fairbeats in Lewisham and recorded voices from local children to be included in some of his pieces, a great honour for them.  Well done Awate, great work!

Winner

  • Flickr Georeferencing completed by volunteers
    Volunteer georeferencers have added coordinates to all the images of over 50,000 maps from the British Library's Flickr Commons site.

    By 'Volunteer geo-referencers' nominated by Gethen Rees, Digital Mapping Curator, British Library


    Links: Short videoFull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

Volunteer Geo-referencers with over 50,00 Maps geo-referenced was nominated on behalf of the volunteers by Gethen Rees, Digital Mapping Curator. It took them nearly 6 years to geo-reference over 50,000 maps, incredible and epic work that deserves a tremendous amount of recognition. Previously James Heald (2105) and Maurice Nicholson (2016)  from the volunteer mapping community have been recognised for their excellent work.

BL Labs will be donating the prize money to a Humanitarian Mapping charity.

  • In the Spotlight volunteers
    Since 2017, thousands of volunteers have helped bring the British Library's historic playbills collection to life through the In the Spotlight crowdsourcing project.

    By 'In the Spotlight volunteers' nominated by Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections, British Library


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

In the Spotlight volunteers was nominated by Mia Ridge, digital curator at the British Library on behalf of thousands of volunteers adding information to digitised historic playbills of plays and performances, with nearly a quarter of a million tasks”.

BL Labs will be donating the prize money to a charity that supports out-of-work actors who have especially been effected by the pandemic.

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BL Labs People's Choice Public Award 2020

Between 1100 (GMT) Monday 14 December 2020 to 1615 ( GMT) Tuesday 15 December 2020 an international public vote took place using Menti to decide on the overall favourite entry of all the shortlisted entrants to the BL Labs Public Awards 2020.

The results were as follows:

BL Labs People's Favourite Public Award 2020
BL Labs People's Favourite Public Award 2020 Results of Public Vote (1230 votes cast) Numbers on image correspond to the those in the table below:
Number Name of entry

Number of Public Votes

Ranking
1 Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians 56 4
2 Mapping the Reparto de Tierras in Michoacán, Mexico (1868 - 1929) 37 5
3 Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections:
a GLAM Notebooks approach
582 1
4 Afrobits 312 2
5 Faint Signals 18 8
6 Afro Hair and its Heritage 153 3
7 In the Spotlight volunteers 32 6
8 Flickr Geo-referencing Volunteers 4 10
8 Beyond the Rubric 32 6
10 Unlocking our Sound Heritage: The Unearthed Odessey - AWATE 14 9
  Total number of votes cast 1230  

The overall ranked list (by number of votes) was:

Rank Name of BL Labs Public Awards 2020 Entry
1 Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
2 Afrobits
3 Afro Hair and its Heritage
4 Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians
5 Mapping the Reparto de Tierras in Michoacán, Mexico (1868 - 1929)
6 In the Spotlight volunteers
6 Beyond the Rubric
8 Faint Signals
9 Unlocking our Sound Heritage: The Unearthed Odyssey - AWATE
10 Flickr Geo-referencing Volunteers

CONGRATULATIONS TO...

They are the FIRST WINNERS of the BL Labs People's Choice Public Award 2020!

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BL Labs Staff Awards 2020

The BL Labs Staff Awards were established in 2016 to highlight the exceptional work British Library staff have done with its data and / or digital collections and technology.

The 2020 British Library Labs Staff Award, now in its fifth year, gives recognition to current British Library staff who have created something brilliant using the Library's data and / or digital collections to answer and address the following questions and statements:

  • Perhaps you know of a project that developed new forms of knowledge, or an activity that delivered commercial value to the library.
  • Did the person or team create an artistic work that inspired, stimulated, amazed and provoked?
  • Do you know of a project developed by the Library where quality learning experiences were generated using the Library's digital content?
  • Have you worked on a project that used the Library's digital collections in the local community?

A panel comprised of the BL Labs Team and other British Library staff:

We received 13 entries, the most we have ever received for the Staff Awards and they are listed below:

  1. British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership watermarks project
    Digitally capturing watermarks from old manuscripts and books.

    Nominated by Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL Qatar Project) on behalf of Heather Murphy (Conservation Team Leader, BL Qatar Project), Camillie Dekeyser-Thuet (Conservator Gulf History and Arabic Science, BL Qatar Project), Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project) and Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician, BL Qatar Project).


    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  2. British Library Simulator on Bitsy
    The British Library simulator allows you to walk around the public spaces of the Library, visit a Reading Room, and see the basement (almost).

    Nominated by Ian Cooke (Head of Contemporary British Published Collections) on behalf of Giulia Carla Rossi (Curator, Digital Publications)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details, bitsy available here and the simulator is available here.

  3. Making Data into Sound
    Inspired by an article about sonification on the programming historian website, Anne Courtney enabled a new way of experiencing catalogue records through sound.

    Nominated by Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL Qatar Project) on behalf of Anne Courtney (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details 

  4. Leeds Exhibition Staff Doing Digital events and projects
    In response to the pandemic British Library exhibition staff had to deliver a range of activities online, some of which were originally conceived as physical events. They also worked on commercial project commissions such as Faint Signals.

    Nominated by Elvie Thompson (Lead Learning Producer, BL North - Leeds) and Conrad Bodman (Head of Culture Programmes, BL Culture and Learning) on behalf of Kenn Taylor (Lead Culture Producer, BL North - Leeds).

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  5. How to make art when we're working apart
    A guide developed during lock-down to enable people to create collages using the British Library's Flickr Commons collection.

    By Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  6. A title-level list of British, Irish, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies newspapers held by the BL
    Though the library has functions for searching the print newspaper collection, metadata was created for the newspaper titles for those who would like to get an overview of the collection or use it for statistical analysis. The data is being used by the designer of a 'history of newspapers' infographic, for the upcoming infographics exhibition to be held next year at the Library and a number of visualisations. 

    Nominated by Yann Ryan (Digital Newspaper Curator) on behalf of himself, Luke McKernan (Lead Curator News & Moving Image Collections), Stephen Lester (Curator Newspaper Collections) and Alan Danskin (Collection Metadata Standards Manager)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, dataset, and press picker developed by Living with Machines is based on this work.

  7. Extracting text from Maps
    The creation and release of a dataset containing the text extracted from almost 2,000 colonial-era maps and documents, using the Google Vision API, which was enabled during the completion of a pilot course in Computing for Cultural Heritage at Birkbeck University.

    Nominated by Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator, Asian and African Collections, the British Library on behalf of Nick Dykes (Curator for Modern Maps Collections)

    Links: Longer video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, online map, spreadsheet, included in a paper delivered at the Royal Anthropological Institute Conference 14 - 18 September 2020, ‘Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future’ – ‘From conservation to computer vision - curating the ‘War Office Archive’ of colonial-era maps held at the British Library’

  8. The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) Artist-in-Residence at the British Library
    Staff supporting Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content bAWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England).

    Nominated by Sue Davies on behalf of Chandan Mahal (Learning Projects Manager), Andrea Zarza (Curator World & Traditional Music Collections) and Amanda House (Lead Intellectual Property Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage).

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

  9. Languid: Language Identification Project
    The addition of the language codes to 3,196,285 catalogue records using a combination of machine learning and human methods to enhance the records of items from the British Museum collection covering the period from the beginning of printing to the 1970s.

    Nominated by Alan Danskin (Collection Metadata Standards Manager) on behalf of Victoria Morris (Online Metadata Analyst, BL Collection Metadata)

    Links: Short video, longer video, full BL Labs awards' entry and Morris, Victoria  Automated Language Identification of Bibliographic Resources: Cataloging & Classification Quarterly: Vol 58, No 1 (tandfonline.com) , also available on the British Library's institutional repository

  10. Improving the cataloguing process and quality of EAP metadata through Open Refine and writing own software
    Work that enhances the catalogue process for the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) digital archive, to improve the quality of the metadata and to make the cataloguing process more efficient.

    By Graham Jevon (Endangered Archives Programme Cataloguer, BL Endangered Archives Programme)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, GitHub and a second blog post

  11. Hidden world of Qatar National Library - Bitsy simulator
    Game developed using BITSY, based on the Qatar National Library in Doha. Users in the gamey have to undertake tasks such as to find a manuscript in the basement and an astrolabe with other aspects of game play to create a more immersive experience which has more intimate ties to, and features many more objects and items in the collection of the Library.

    Nominated by Ellis Meade (Senior Imaging Technician, BL Qatar Project) on behalf himself, Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor, BL Qatar Project), Heather Murphy (Conservation Team Leader, BL Qatar Project), Naomi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project) and Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  12. Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues
    Started by colleagues on the Qatar Foundation Partnership Project, the idea was inspired by a talk by Melissa Bennett about decolonising archives and how terms used in catalogue records can be problematic. This project has analysed the terms used in cataloguing including those used when translating our catalogue records into Arabic so that they can be added to our bilingual Qatar Digital Library.

    Nominated by Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL Qatar Project)  and Francisca Fuentes Rettig (Curator North American Publication Collections, British Library American) on behalf of British Library Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network. The team are: Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor, BL Qatar Project), Mariam Aboelezz (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager, BL Qatar Project), Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL Qatar Project) , John Casey (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), David Fitzpatrick (Content Specialist Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Susannah Gillard (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), John Hayhurst (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), William Monk (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Curstaidh Reid (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), George Samaan (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Tahani Shaban (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project) and Nariman Youssef (Arabic Translation Manager, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Short video and full BL Labs awards' entry.

  13. COVID-19 materials supplied by British Library
    From the start of the pandemic and during lockdown, teams have worked hard to provide key materials for Covid-19 from the British Library On Demand collection to researches working on treatments, preventative measures and vaccines for the virus. Visit www.bl.uk/on-demand

    Nominated by Peter Chymera on behalf of Customer Services, Document Supply Managers and Retrieval Staff at the British Library

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

 

The winners were announced by my colleague Jas Rai, Head of People, British Library, her slide deck is available here.

Special Commendation

  • Improving the cataloguing process and quality of EAP metadata through Open Refine and writing own software
    Work that enhances the catalogue process for the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) digital archive, to improve the quality of the metadata and to make the cataloguing process more efficient.

    By Graham Jevon (Endangered Archives Programme Cataloguer, BL Endangered Archives Programme)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, github and a second blog post

Panel comments

We received a number of entries which describe journeys of staff learning more about technology and then using what they learned to enable innovation in their work. We would like to give a special commendation to Nick and Graham, two members of staff who the panel felt were worthy exemplars of this.

Runners-up

Panel comments

Anne Courtney, Cataloguer of Gulf History at the British Library’s Qatar Project created a musical piece from the India Office records catalogue records. She did this by using the place names to connect with different instruments, dates in records connected to timing of the music and the how the data is related effected the interaction with the instruments.

The panel were really impressed with this very thoughtful and innovative way of discovering our collections, it was almost like leaving an acoustic memory of the people’s that these records are about.

Panel comments

Victoria Morris is an online metadata analyst in the British Library’s collection metadata team. She did some pioneering computational work using machine learning to detect missing information about the language of catalogue records.

The panel were really impressed with the innovation and the incredible impact of the work, identifying 471 languages in the records, 141 of which were not previously represented, with the addition of language codes to 3,196,285 records.

Winners

Panel comments

The simulator was created by Giulia in May 2020 using ‘Bitsy'. It has been viewed more than 5,000 times (with most use during the period when the Library was closed to the public). It has attracted press attention in the UK and in Europe. Subsequent attention has come from another national library in Europe, and also a student and librarian in the US, who is preparing a Fulbright application to study interactive storytelling and games in the UK.

Giulia followed up the Simulator by leading a 'Hack n Yack' session organised by the Digital Scholarship team on Bitsy for Library colleagues. A BL colleague has produced a similar simulator for the Qatar Digital Library inspired by Giulia's work.

This was a unanimous favourite with the judging panel. Thank you Giulia for such a fun project.

  • Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues
    Started by colleagues on the Qatar Foundation Partnership Project the idea to start the work that was inspired by a talk by Melissa Bennett about decolonising the archive and how terms used in catalogue records can be problematic. This project has analysed the terms used in cataloguing including the terms used when translating our catalogue records into Arabic so that they can be added to our bilingual Qatar Digital Library.

    Nominated by Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL Qatar Project)  and Francisca Fuentes Rettig (Curator North American Publication Collections, British Library American) on behalf of British Library Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network. Names are: Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor, BL Qatar Project), Mariam Aboelezz (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager, BL Qatar Project), Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL Qatar Project) , John Casey (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), David Fitzpatrick (Content Specialist Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Susannah Gillard (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), John Hayhurst (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), William Monk (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Curstaidh Reid (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), George Samaan (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Tahani Shaban (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project) and Nariman Youssef (Arabic Translation Manager, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Short video and full BL Labs awards' entry.

Panel comments

The second winner is from the British Library’s Qatar Foundation team. Congratulations go to: Serim Abboushi, Mariam Aboelezz, Louis Allday, Sotirios Alpanis, John Casey, David Fitzpatrick, Susannah Gillard, John Hayhurst, Julia Ihnatowicz, William Monk, Hannah Nagle, Noemi Ortega-Raventos, Francis Owtram, Curstaidh Reid, George Samaan, Tahani Shaban, David Woodbridge and Nariman Youssef  and special thanks to the BAME Staff Network.

This is incredibly important work as it is something that continues to require attention. Perhaps it’s fair to say it is now getting even more focus because of world events such as ‘Black Lives Matter’.

Congratulations to everyone, we know this work isn’t easy but it is MOST definitely needed!

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Binge-watch BL Labs 'box-sets' (YouTube Playlists)

This seasonal time in the UK often involves may of us binge watching online box sets online or on TV. If this is you, and you really want to learn more about the world of GLAM Labs, digital scholarship and the creative potential of working with our and other's digital collections and data we have organised and prepared footage from previous years' events. There are some fantastic, thought provoking and incredibly wise keynote speeches, some excellent presentations which highlight projects that are still relevant and inspiring for all of us today. You can even watch the launch of the BL Labs project almost eight years ago. 

BL_Labs_Symposium_2019Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2019
BL_Labs_Symposium_2018Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2018
BL_Labs_Symposium_2017Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2017
BL_Labs_Symposium_2016Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2016
BL_Labs_Symposium_2015Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2015
BL Labs Symposium 2014 YouTube Playlist
Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2014
BL_Labs_LaunchEvent2013BL Labs Launch
YouTube

Playlist 2013
Buildinglibrarylabs.jpegBuilding Library Labs
YouTube
Playlist 2018
Text-dataminingText& Data Mining
YouTube
Playlist 2015
CuriousimagesCurious Images
YouTube
Playlist 2014
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Conclusion and Season's Greetings

Winter_sceneBritish Library digitised image from page 161 of "Poetry of the year. Passages from the poets descriptive of the seasons. With twenty-two coloured illustrations from drawings by eminent artists [Edited by Joseph Cundall.]
Taken from the British Library's Flickr Commons collection.

That's a wrap from the BL Labs team for 2020, what a challenging year it has been!

We hope you find something in this post of interest that inspires you to start or continue your journey in using the British Library's (as well as other GLAM Labs and organisations) digital collections and data for an innovative project.

Looking back at nearly 8 years of working at BL Labs I am really proud of what we have achieved, let's hope 2021 will be a great year.

Seasons greetings and a Happy New Year to all, please stay safe and have a lovely and relaxing festive period with friends and family involved if possible.

Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

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14 December 2020

Shortlist and voting for BL Labs People's Choice: Public Awards 2020 announced! Last chance: Book BL Labs Symposium!

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

British Library Labs Shortlisted Entries for the Public Awards 2020
Screenshots from the 10 BL Labs shortlisted entries for the Public Awards 2020

After much deliberation and intense discussion with key people from the BL Labs Advisory board and British Library we have come up with a fantastic shortlist for the BL Labs Public Awards 2020.

The official announcement of who has been awarded prizes for the Awards in each category (Research, Artistic, Educational and Community) will take place tomorrow between 1400-1700 (GMT), Tuesday 15 December 2020 at the online BL Labs Symposium 2020. We will also announce our Staff Awards there too.

There are still a few places available - so hurry and BOOK NOW to find out if the project you voted for won! Also, learn more about some of the amazing projects that were submitted this year and listen and be inspired by our fantastic range of speakers in our packed programme.

In this strange, difficult and remarkable pandemic year, we decided to do something really special.

We we want you, the public, to choose which shortlisted entry will be crowned overall the 'BL Labs People's Choice for the Public Awards 2020'. It's going to be difficult as the projects this year are so diverse and difficult to compare. Also, you only have today and tomorrow to decide (voting will close around 1615 GMT tomorrow, Tuesday 15 December 2020).

The winner will be announced near the end of the BL Labs Symposium 2020 tomorrow, Tuesday 15 December 2020, just before 1700 GMT.

How to vote for the BL Labs People's Choice for the Public Awards 2020?

It's really simple:

  1. Read the descriptions below and follow the links to learn more about each entry.
  2. Vote for your favourite (you can only chose one!) using our VOTING FORM which is now live.
  3. You will be asked if you wish to have the results emailed to you after you have voted. If you choose this option, all you will be able to see are the number of people who have voted.
  4. The form will remain open from 1100 GMT Monday 14 December to 1615 GMT Tuesday 15 December 2020 (that's just over 30 hours).
  5. The winner will be announced around 1655 GMT tomorrow on 15 December 2020 near the end this year's online BL Labs Symposium 2020.

Only have 5 minutes to look through the entries and vote?

No problem! We have created a BL Labs Public Awards YouTube shortlist 2020 which contains ten 30-second promotional videos for each shortlisted entry to give you their 'essence'. It's just over 5 minutes and then you can VOTE!

You can also ownload a .zip file with all the submissions for this year's BL Labs Public Awards 2020 (all entries) if you prefer.

The shortlisted entries for the BL Labs Public Awards 2020 this year are (in alphabetical title order):

  1. Afrobits
    An interactive installation of African music and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade .
    by Javier Pereda (Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration and Researcher in the Experimental Technologies Lab, Liverpool John Moores University), Patricia Murrieta Flores (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University), Nicholas Radburn (Lecturer in the History of the Atlantic World 1500 – 1800, Co-Editor of the Slave Voyages Research Project, Lancaster University), Lois South (History Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University) and Christian Monaghan, Graphic Design and Illustration Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University.

    Links: Short video, longer video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  2. Afro Hair And Its Heritage
    A celebration of Black Heritage through Black Afro Hair.
    by Roslyn Henry (self-taught surface pattern designer, from Les Belles Bêtes, France)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details(1) and (2)

  3. Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians
    16 Jupyter notebooks that demonstrate how specific historical research questions can be explored by analysing data from web archives.
    by Tim Sherratt (Associate Professor of Digital Heritage at the University of Canberra and founder and creator of the GLAM workbench), Andrew Jackson (Technical Lead - UK Web Archive, British Library), Alex Osborne (Technical Lead Australian Web Archive - National Library of Australia) and Ben O’Brien (Technical Lead New Zealand Web Archive - National Library of New Zealand)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  4. Beyond the Rubric: Collaborating with the Cultural Heritage Sector in Higher Education Teaching and Research
    A project-based, research-led collaboration between the British Library and students of the Centre for Digital Humanities Research at the Australian National University.
    by Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details

  5. Faint Signals
    Interactive artwork that generates an imagined Yorkshire forest, densely populated with sounds of nature from the British Library's archive.
    by the Invisible Flock team who are Ben Eaton (Technical Director), Victoria Pratt (Creative Director),  Klavs Kurpnieks (Studio Manager), Catherine Baxendale (Executive Producer), Amy Balderston (General Manager) and Simon Fletcher (Interactions Engineer).

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  6. Flickr Georeferencing completed
    Volunteer georeferencers have added coordinates to all the images of over 50,000 maps from the British Library's Flickr Commons site.
    by 'Volunteer geo-referencers' nominated by Gethen Rees, Digital Mapping Curator, British Library

    Links: Short video, Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  7. Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
    Enabling cultural heritage institutions and (digital) humanities researchers to experiment with Collections as Data and GLAM notebooks by showcasing practical implementations from a wide range of GLAM institutions and digital collections. 
    by Gustavo Candela, Pilar Escobar, María Dolores Sáez and Manuel Marco-Such  from the Research Libraries Team, Department of Software and Computing Systems, the University of Alicante, Spain

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  8. In the Spotlight volunteers
    Since 2017, thousands of volunteers have helped bring the British Library's historic playbills collection to life through the In the Spotlight crowdsourcing project.
    by 'In the Spotlight volunteers' nominated by Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections, British Library

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  9. Mapping the Reparto de Tierras in Michoacán, Mexico (1868 - 1929)
    Research in 19th-century Mexican sources and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based approaches underpinning the creation of an interactive web map that enables users to spatially explore the British Library's recently digitized Libros de Hijuelas collection.
    by John Erard (Undergraduate researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, USA).

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  10. Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.
    by AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details

What happens to the projects not shortlisted?

Though we have criteria to decide which projects should be shortlisted it was still incredibly difficult to choose which ones should be. Judging can be so subjective! Remember it's a point in time with a specific group of people in a particular mood and set of lenses. At a different time, with another group of people I am sure they would probably come up with another selection.

So if you were not chosen this year, please do not be disheartened. The whole point of the BL Labs Awards is to shine a light and showcase uses of our digital collections through innovative projects and activities. These projects have often gone on to be developed further such as someone happened to have come across it and connected with individuals involved and ended up collaborating with them. Many projects have also inspired others to develop their own using the British Library's as well as other institution's cultural heritage digitised and born digital collections.

Details of all the projects entered this year are contained in the BL Labs Digital Projects Archive.

BL Labs can promote your work through our various communication channels (if we haven't already!). Who knows where that might lead? For some of these entrants, I would definitely recommend that they re-submit next year when the projects have been developed further and have had a chance to have further impact.

So for now, a quick thank you to the following people who took the time enter (we have also provided links for those who would like to read further about these entries), we really, really appreciate it:

  1. Drawings inspired by the British Library's Sound Archive of Wildlife Recordings by Viv Youell (England)
  2. Curatr: A Data Interface for the British Library Nineteenth Century Corpus by University College Dublin's Insight team and Centre for Cultural Analytics, Ireland
  3. Reconstructing Early Circus: Entertainments at Astley’s Amphitheatre, 1768-1833 by Leith Davis, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada
  4. Surfacing the impact of doctoral research: working with the EThOS collection by Catherine Montgomery, Craig Stewart, Tom Roberts, Sharon Riddle and Jinjie Huang from Durham University, England
  5. Baking in Better Catalogue Data by Sara Wingate Gray, University College London, England
  6. The Samtla (Search And Mining Tools for Labelling Archives) holographic search and browsing interface for cultural heritage photogrammetry models by Martyn Harris (Birkbeck) and Mark Levene (University College London), England
  7. Visualizing Space by Tara McDarby, United Kingdom
  8. The Interpreter and You Are Not An Island by Noriko Okaku, England (2 entries)
  9. Librorum: the British Library Edition by Janet Luk (Australian National University (ANU), Man-Ting Hsu (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Canberra, Australia), Billy Nam Cheng (ANU), Jingyi Lai (Haiwan Middle School (Shenzhen, China), Mengfei Liu (Access Canberra (Canberra, Australia) and Xiaohan Jiang (China Maritime Museum (Shanghai, China))
  10. BL Illuminated Glyphs CAPS: Typographic System of Illuminated Manuscript Letterings by Michelle Devlin , England

I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow at the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 and seasons greetings to you all, Mahendra.

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