THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

22 July 2019

Our highlights from Digital Humanities 2019: Nora and Giorgia

We've put together a series of posts about our experiences at the Digital Humanities conference in Utrecht this month. In this post, Digital Curator Nora McGregor and Dr Giorga Tolfo from the British Library / Alan Turing Institute's Living with Machines project shares her impressions. See also Mia and Yann's post, and Rossitza and Daniel's post.

Tivoli
Lunchtime at TivoliVredenburg music hall, viewed from Cloud Nine

Nora McGregor

My most exciting discovery was the Libraries & Digital Humanities Special Interest Group (@LibsDH) of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) (@ADHOrg). I found my PEOPLE! This is a loosely joined cohort of folks from Libraries across the world with a peculiar passion for all that is supporting digital scholarship. We held a casual, brief and efficient gathering over lunch where talk turned to joining forces to develop a summer school (in the vein of popular and prolific Rare Books, and Digital Humanities week long affairs) to address the specific digital skills training needs of Librarians.

Giorga Tolfo

What talk were you most looking forward to, why? 

DH2019 offered a huge plethora of panels and workshops to choose from. When I first read the program I felt like a hungry person at the supermarket, craving everything on the shelves. Since I couldn’t eat everything, I had to focus on the panels whose topic I knew was or sounded relevant to the Living with Machines project, an interdisciplinary project at the crossroad between historical research and artificial intelligence in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute.

As my role involves an in depth knowledge of digitisation strategies for newspapers and data models, my attention was immediately drawn to the Oceanic Exchanges panel, which focussed on some case studies around the spread of news and/or the translation of concepts across the atlantic ocean as it emerged in newspapers. Among these studies, one I was particularly interested in was on the concept of italianità (= italianness) in italian and US-based italian ethnic newspapers at the time of the unification of Italy.

What did you learn?

What I found most interesting, beyond the content of the singular research cases presented, was that regardless of the focus of the project, in the digital humanities community there are an underpinning shared methodology, as well as common known concerns and issues that we are trying to face both independently and together.

Among the latter there is certainly a problem with the availability and access to datasets. Due to copyrights limitations or lack of funds to digitise new material some possibly relevant datasets aren’t available, forcing in some cases the research questions to be reshaped according to what is available. The impact of this is the blurring of the distinction between historical research and storytelling. Which stories emerge from data analysis and visualisation? Are these universal or just some among the many possible ones? Are the sources biased or reliable? These are epistemological problems that need to be addressed carefully.

On the other side, in terms of shared methodology, there is an increasing awareness of the need (and effort) to focus on integration, sustainability and shareability. Hence the interest of many research teams on common data models, open linked data, use of standard languages and methodologies, scalable and reusable components.

Anything else?

Well, the fun run! I was one of the enthusiastic 25 people who set the alarm clock at 6am just to run.. for fun!

Our highlights from Digital Humanities 2019: Rossitza and Daniel

We've put together a series of posts about our experiences at the Digital Humanities conference in Utrecht this month. In this post, Digital Curator Dr Rossitza Atanassova and Daniel Van Strien from the British Library / Alan Turing Institute's Living with Machines project shares their impressions. See also Mia and Yann's post, and Nora and Giorgia's post.

Rossitza Atanassova

I loved the variety of the topics and formats in the conference programme and I have tweeted about some of most interesting talks I attended. I have to say movement between sessions was a bit complicated by the proliferation of stairs and escalators in the venue, which otherwise presented great views of Utrecht and offered comfy cushions to relax on during lunch! Like Mia and Nora I was inspired by the @LibsDH meetup, whilst my most surprising encounter was with the winning skeleton-poster.

Skeleton
Gender and Intersectional Identities in DH poster by @jotis13 @quinnanya @khetiwe24 @RHendery

Of particular interest to me were the sessions on digitised newspapers and related conversations between researchers and collections holding institutions. Back in the office I will reflect on some of the discussions and will continue to engage with the ‘Researchers & Libraries working together on improving digitised newspapers’ and the Digital Historical Periodica Groups. Many of the talks illustrated the importance of semantic annotations for synoptic examination of historical periodicals and I hope to apply at work my learning from the excellent pre-conference workshop on Named Entity Processing delivered by @ImpressoProject

I also found enjoyable and cool the panel on Exploring AV Corpora in the Humanities, in particular the presentation on the Distant Viewing Toolkit (DVT) for the Cultural Analysis of Moving. And outside the conference I had fun taking a walk along the artistic light-themed route to explore Utrecht city-centre. I enjoyed the conference so much that I have submitted DH2020 reviewer self-nomination!

Tunnel
Installation by Erik Groen, Ganzenmarkt Tunnel, Utrecht

Daniel Van Strien

I thought I would focus on a couple of sessions relating to OCR at the conference that I would be keen to explore further as part of the Living with Machines project. In particular I am keen to further explore two tools for OCR; Transkribus and Kraken

Transkribus was discussed in the context of doing OCR on newspapers as part of the Impresso project in the paper ‘Improving OCR of Black Letter in Historical Newspapers: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of HTR Models on Low-Resolution Images’. Although I have previously heard about the tool I was particularly interested to hear about how it was being used to work with newspapers as I have primarily heard about its use in handwritten text recognition. The paper also gave some initial idea of how much ground truth data might need to be generated before training a new OCR engine for newspaper text. As part of the impreso project a167 pages of ground truth data was created, not trivial by any means but much lower than what might be expected. With this amount of data the project was able to generate a substantial improvement in the quality of OCR over various version of ABBYY software. 

The second tool was Kraken which was introduced in the paper ‘Kraken - an Universal Text Recognizer for the Humanities’. I was particularly interested to hear about how this tool could be easily trained with new annotations to recognise new types and languages. For the most part Living with Machines will be relying on previously generated OCR but there may be occasions when it is worth investing time to try and produce more accurate OCR. For these occasions, testing Kraken further would be one nice starting point particularly because of the relative ease it provides in training data at the line rather than word level. This makes annotating the ground truth data (a little) less painful and time consuming. 



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Our highlights from Digital Humanities 2019: Mia and Yann

In this series of posts, Digital Curator (and Co-Investigator on the Living with Machines project), Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge has collected impressions of the Digital Humanities conference, held in Utrecht from July 8 - 12. In this post, Mia and Yann Ryan, Curator, Newspaper Data, share their impressions. See also Rossitza and Daniel's post, and Nora and Giorgia's post.

As my colleague Rossitza posted beforehand, a lot of the Digital Scholarship team were at the DH2019 conference. Before we left, I asked everyone to note which sessions they were looking forward to, what they'll bring back from the conference to work, and anything interesting or cool they spotted at the conference.

Mia Ridge

I’d reviewed some conference proposals so I knew there’d be lots of interesting talks, but I was particularly looking forward to lots of conversations at the conference - some online, some in person. (Apparently I tweeted quite a lot). A lot of those conversations ended up being around improving the discoverability and research experience with digitised newspapers. There was a strong theme around thinking about cultural heritage organisations as partners in research rather than simply as ‘data providers’. If you’re a researcher or GLAM practitioner who’d like to continue the conversation, join the Periodica discussion list or check out notes from the impromptu meetup on the Friday at DH2019 Lunch session - Researchers & Libraries working together on improving digitised newspapers.

I went to some sessions that were outside my usual areas of focus (media studies, VR/AR) and others that were familiar territory (designing data structures, working with union catalogue data). I’ve shared my more detailed but very rough and ready DH2019 conference notes on my own blog. Finally, I really enjoyed the 'Libraries and DH conversation', and both the libraries and newspapers conversations will inform my work in digital scholarship and on Living with Machines.

Digitised newspapers
Ad hoc session 'Researchers & Libraries working together on improving digitised newspapers' Photo by @MartijnKleppe

Yann Ryan

DH2019 was my first mega-conference and I found it a really useful, if overwhelming experience. Picking talks was a bit like trying to work out your schedule at Glastonbury: at both it’s worth keeping in mind you’re always going to miss something, and anyway the best bits always happen in the spaces in between: whether that is browsing the posters or just hanging around the communal area chatting to new friends.

It was fun to see the ways in which derived newspaper data – word embeddings, named entities and so forth – are being used by researchers in practice, and I loved hearing about the ways in which this material is bringing new insights to historical themes and concepts. It was also a great place to learn about new projects: I was particularly excited by the Impresso project (a platform for browsing digitised newspapers) and the Amsterdam Time Machine.

I learned a great deal about how researchers are working with data, as well as the format and size of newspaper datasets they need or expect. The Heritage Made Digital project will release open datasets based on the newspapers we’re digitising, and hearing how others are using similar material will help to inform the best way to carry that out.

My single favourite thing was Repetition And Popularity In Early Modern Songs, a poster for a project which measured the repetitiveness of early modern song lyrics against the number of times they were reprinted. Turns out more repetitive songs got reprinted sooner and lasted longer, which is a bit like modern pop music!

01 July 2019

British Library Digital Scholarship at Digital Humanities 2019

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BL_DigiSchol Twitter Profiles Collage

 

Members of the Library’s Digital Scholarship Department will be present at DH2019 - so far the biggest representation of our team at this important DH event. We are all really excited about it, especially the first timers amongst us!

Below we highlight the team’s contributions to the DH2019 Programme and hope to see you at these sessions. We will also be attending some of the pre-conference workshops and will record our #DH2019 impressions in a post-conference blogpost, so watch this space.

If you are interested to arrange a casual meetup do message us @BL_DigiSchol and our personal Twitter accounts. See you in Utrecht #DH2019!

 

Monday 8th July

Libraries As Research Partner in Digital Humanities

DH 2019 Pre-Conference, The Hague

Mahendra Mahey et al.

 

Wednesday 10th July 

A National Library’s digitisation guide for Digital Humanists

Rossitza Ilieva Atanassova

(11:00-12:30 SP-04 Cultural Heritage, Artifacts and Institution)

This short paper will give practical advice about the Library’s digitisation planning process for scholars who wish to use digitised resources in their research. The information will help scholars understand the institutional context, the roles involved in digitisation, the preparation stages and documentation required, typical timelines and the decision-making that happens at different stages. With this knowledge it is hoped that DH scholars will be better prepared for the process and will factor it in their research funding proposals. They will also gain an understanding of the Library’s considerations and policy for making available for reuse existing digitised resources and how scholars could request this for their projects. In making the policy and processes at the institution more transparent, the presentation will expose some of the hidden labour undertaken by cultural heritage staff to enable Digital Humanities (DH) research.

 

The Past, Present and Future of Digital Scholarship with Newspaper Collections

Mia Ridge1, Giovanni Colavizza2, Laurel Brake3, Maud Ehrmann4, Jean-Philippe Moreux6, Andrew Prescott5

1British Library; 2The Alan Turing Institute; 3Birkbeck, Univ of London; 4EPFL; 5University of Glasgow; 6Bibliothèque nationale de France

(2:00pm - 3:30pm P-07: History and Historiographies)

Historical newspapers are of interest to many humanities scholars as sources of information and language closely tied to a particular time, social context and place. Digitised newspapers are also of interest to many data-driven researchers who seek large bodies of text on which they can try new methods and tools. Recently, large consortia projects applying data science and computational methods to historical newspapers at scale have emerged, including NewsEye, impresso, Oceanic Exchanges and Living with Machines.

This multi-paper panel draws on the work of a range of interdisciplinary newspaper-based digital humanities and/or data science projects, alongside 'provocations' from two senior scholars who will provide context for current ambitions. As a unique opportunity for stakeholders to engage in dialogue, for the DH2019 community to ask their own questions of newspaper-based projects, and for researchers to map methodological similarities between projects, it aims to have a significant impact on the field.



Thursday 11th July

The Complexities of Video Games and Education: In the Library, the Museum, Schools and Universities

Stella Wisdom1, Andrew Burn2, Sally Bushell3, James Butler3, Xenia Zeiler4, Duncan Hay3

1British Library, United Kingdom; 2University College London Institute of Education, United Kingdom; 3Lancaster University, United Kingdom; 4University of Helsinki, Finland

(11:00-12:30 P-15: Cultural Heritage, Art/ifacts and Institutions)

This panel explores several research projects that use video games and digital game making tools as methods for engaging learners of all ages with digitised collections from libraries, archives and museums to facilitate new understandings of historical and cultural events, or create new media adaptations and interpretations of classic literary works.

 

Data Science & Digital Humanities: new collaborations, new opportunities and new complexities

Beatrice Alex1, Anne Alexander2, David Beavan3, Eirini Goudarouli4, Leonardo Impett6, Barbara McGillivray2, Nora McGregor5, Mia Ridge5

1University of Edinburgh; 2University of Cambridge; 3The Alan Turing Institute; 4The National Archives; 5British Library; 6Bibliotheca Hertziana - Max Planck Institute for Art History

(11:00-12:30 P-17: Scholarly Communities, Communication, Pedagogy)

This panel highlights the emerging collaborations and opportunities between the fields of Digital Humanities (DH), Data Science (DS) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). It charts the enthusiastic progress of a national-level research institute focussed on DS & AI, as it engages non-STEM disciplines. We discuss the exciting work and learnings from various new activities, across a number of high-profile institutions. As these initiatives push the intellectual and computational boundaries, the panel considers both the gains, benefits, and complexities encountered. The panel latterly turns towards the future of such interdisciplinary working, considering how DS & DH collaborations can grow, with a view towards a manifesto.

28 June 2019

Digital Conversations: Celebrating Ten Years of the New Media Writing Prize

As part of our Digital Conversations series and the season of events accompanying the Library's Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition; we invite you to join us for an evening discussing the future of the ‘written’ word.  In partnership with Bournemouth University, if:book uk, and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library; we are celebrating ten years of the New Media Writing Prize, by hosting a panel event on Thursday 18 July, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre. To book a ticket go here.

The New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) is an international award, which showcases exciting and inventive, interactive stories and poetry that integrate a variety of formats, platforms, and digital media. 

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On the 18th July, we will have an fascinating discussion featuring previous prize winners and innovative writers from around the world. This event will be chaired by NMWP co-founder and organiser Jim Pope from Bournemouth University, and speaking on the panel will be:

  • Andy Campbell, Digital Director at the One to One Development Trust and the founder/lead author of Dreaming Methods, One to One’s award-winning in-house Virtual Reality, digital storytelling and games development studio. Andy has been a NMWP judge since the prize was launched in 2010, has witnessed innovations and developments in digital publishing and has predictions for what may come next.
Digital Fiction Curios Exterior
Digital Fiction Curios is a unique digital archive of early electronic literature designed in the style of a ‘curiosity shop’, by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston
  • Amira Hanafi is a writer and artist based in Cairo. Her work ‘A Dictionary of the Revolution’, an experiment in polyvocal storytelling, won the New Media Writing Prize in 2018. In 2014, she initiated conversations around keywords used to talk about the 2011 Egyptian uprising and its aftermath with nearly 200 people. The project was published as a website using data visualization to allow readers to navigate through 125 texts that are woven from transcription of this speech.
A Dictionary of the Revolution
A Dictionary of the Revolution, by Amira Hanafi
  • Kayt Lackie, winner of the 2018 NMWP Dot Award for The VESSEL Project in Northern Ontario, Canada. This is an alternate reality game set in a fictionalised version of Elliot Lake. A weekend-long festival where the town of Elliot Lake becomes the setting of a real-world ‘video game’ – where players, as themselves, solve puzzles/gather clues/overcome challenges while experiencing a story created and performed by community participants.
Vessel project
The Ephemera Box Storytelling Installation from the The Vessel Project
  • Christine Wilks, a digital writer, artist and developer of interactive narratives and playable media. Her digital fiction, 'Underbelly', won the very first New Media Writing Prize in 2010.  She is currently building her own platform for authoring and playing text-driven interactive digital narratives, which she is using to develop a psychological thriller for her practice-based PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University.
Underbelly-Spin the Wheel
Underbelly, by Christine Wilks

We would be delighted to see you there to join our conversation, Thursday 18 July, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre, please book a ticket from: https://www.bl.uk/events/digital-conversations-celebrating-ten-years-of-the-new-media-writing-prize.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

26 June 2019

BL Labs Awards 2019: enter before midday on Monday 9th September!

The BL Labs Awards formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and data.

The closing date for entering the BL Labs Awards (2019) is 12:00 noon (BST) on Monday 9th September. Submit your entry, and help us spread the word to all interested parties over the next few months or so. This will ensure we have another year of fantastic digital-based projects highlighted by the Awards!

This year, BL Labs is commending work in four key areas:

  • Research - A project or activity that shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Commercial - An activity that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the Library's digital content.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour that inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Teaching / Learning - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.

After the submission deadline of noon BST on Monday 9th September 2019 for entering the BL Labs Awards has passed, the entries will be shortlisted. Selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Thursday 10th October 2019. 

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and Â£100 to the runner up in each Awards category at the BL Labs Symposium on 11th November 2019 at the British Library, St Pancras, London.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up over the last four years has led to the production of a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. In 2018, the Awards commended work in four main categories – Research, Artistic, Commercial and Teaching & Learning:

2018-BL-Labs-Award-Winners
BL Labs Award Winners 2018
(Top left - Delius Catalogue of Works, Top right - Another Intelligence Sings, Bottom right - The British Library Fashion Collection and Bottom right - Pocket Miscellanies)
  • Research category Award (2018) winner: The Delius Catalogue of Works: the production of a comprehensive catalogue of works by the composer Delius, based on research using (and integrated with) the BL’s Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue by Joanna Bullivant, Daniel Grimley, David Lewis and Kevin Page from Oxford University’s Music department.
  • Artistic Award (2018) winner: Another Intelligence Sings (AI Sings): an interactive, immersive sound-art installation, which uses AI to transform environmental sound recordings from the BL’s sound archive by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker independent artists and experience designers.
  • Commercial Award (2018) winner: Fashion presentation for London Fashion Week by Nabil Nayal: the Library collection - a fashion collection inspired by digitised Elizabethan-era manuscripts from the BL, culminating in several fashion shows/events/commissions including one at the BL in London.
  • Teaching and Learning (2018) winner: Pocket Miscellanies: ten online pocket-book ‘zines’ featuring images taken from the BL digitised medieval manuscripts collection by Jonah Coman, PhD student at Glasgow School of Art.

For further information about BL Labs or our Awards, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of of British Library Labs.

25 June 2019

Imaginary Cities Exhibition at the British Library

Michael-takeo-magruder-imaginary-cities-4

Until 14 July 2019

Entrance Hall Gallery, British Library

Our new art exhibition, Imaginary Cities, by British Library Labs artist in residence, Michael Takeo Magruder, has been drawing a steady stream of curious visitors since its opening on the 5th April 2019. Staged in the Entrance Hall Gallery, the show features four large technology-based art installations specially commissioned by the Library.

The works represent the artist's creative responses to a set of four nineteenth century city maps of London, Paris, New York and Chicago.

A-plan-of-london-and-its-environs-from-a-topographical-dictionary-of-england-1834
One of the digitised maps: 'A Plan of London and its Environs', drawn by R. Creighton, engraved by J. Walker. In 'A Topographical Dictionary of England ...' by Samuel Lewis, 1835

These four original digitised maps come from the British Library’s One Million Images from Scanned Books collection, which was made available on Flickr Commons in 2013. In the intervening six years, it has received over one billion views and sparked a wealth of creative responses, from the development of new artificial intelligence research, image tagging software and video games to educational initiatives, commercial products and artworks that have been exhibited all over the world.

From the 65,000 books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that were digitised, some 50,000 images of maps were identified and tagged by volunteers. Read more... Taking these maps as his initial inspiration, Michael then began to develop his ideas for this exhibition.

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Cabinet containing some of the map-rich 19th century books that were digitised at the BL

Imaginary Cities was borne out of Michael's collaboration with British Library Labs, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and British Library funded project that inspires and facilitates exciting and innovative uses of the Library’s digital collections and data. Michael has worked with BL Labs for several years as researcher and artist in residence, putting our digitised resources and the user-data associated with them to work in completely new ways.

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A detail taken from Michael Takeo Magruder's gilded artwork based on the 1872 map of Paris and the public's digital interactions with it

In creating the art installations on display, Michael has employed traditional techniques such as precious metal gilding and woodworking alongside cutting edge digital technologies to produce four very different artworks. He worked closely with the computer scientist, David Steele, who used the digitised maps and data representing the public's live interaction with them to transform the singular into an endless set of iterations.

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UV-active installation based on the 1874 map of Chicago and user interactions

Another of Michael's long-term collaborators, Drew Baker, took the static 2D plans and extruded them into 3D in a real-time virtual game environment – taking the map and creating a synthetic 'city' from it. The resulting artwork is housed in the small darkened room within the gallery space, with a large 2D screen and a VR headset... When you don the Oculus headset, what you see is a virtual reality cityscape based on New York City which is continuously regenerated to reflect the live visitor data associated with the historical map on Flickr Commons, such as page views, interactions and volunteer image tagging.

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Visitor using the Oculus headset to explore the 3D imaginary city based on the digitised map, 'Plan of the City of New York,' created in 1766-76

The exhibition has been reviewed in the press and by leading art magazines such as Studio International and Artlyst as well as featuring in Techworld's Culture Crossover series, which showcases 'examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture'.

We encourage you to come and enjoy the free exhibition over the final weeks of its run. If you haven't yet visited, or are unable to make it to the British Library in person, you can take a virtual tour around the exhibition here (video duration 4:36 minutes):

More videos about Imaginary Cities are available here:

  • A guided tour of the exhibition by Michael Takeo Magruder, 4 April 2019 (duration 30:32 minutes).
  • A conversation with the artist, Michael Takeo Magruder, and his collaborators, Drew Baker, David Steele and the manager of BL Labs, Mahendra Mahey. Chaired by Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, 5 April 2019 (duration 1 hour 15 minutes).
  • The opening night speeches by Prof Dame Carol Black and the artist Michael Takeo Magruder at the private view of Imaginary Cities, British Library, 4 April 2019 (duration 19:31 minutes).
  • Michael talking about his residency with BL Labs at the British Library, 19 October 2017 (duration 6 minutes).

For information on events associated with Imaginary Cities, see www.bl.uk/events/imaginary-cities.

Upcoming events include talks and exhibition tours as part of the Knowledge Quarter Conference on 26 June 2019 and the Imaginary Cities Book Launch on 10 July 2019 (at the British Library).

The Imaginary Cities exhibition is generously supported by The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

Posted by Eleanor Cooper on behalf of BL Labs.

19 June 2019

The Shape of Contemporary British Interactive Fiction

When I started this Innovation Placement, I had no idea what I was doing. Six months on, and the main thing I’ve learned is that I know even less than I thought I did. Which is not to say that I haven’t learned a lot, just that archiving interactive narrative is an even more complex and varied task than I had imagined, as are the works of interactive fiction themselves.

One of my key goals was to explore how to preserve interactive works for future researchers. My first task was finding suitable works – they had to be web-based (no downloadable files), be recognisable as interactive narratives in some way and be identifiably created in the UK. Sites such as IFDB (the Interactive Fiction Database) and Sub-Q (the only commercial IF-focussed magazine) and competitions such as Spring Thing and IFComp were invaluable sources, but determining whether the authors were UK-based was more difficult. Some remained entirely anonymous, or gave no indication as to their location on their website or social media, which meant it was not possible to include them in this particular project.

Once found, capturing the works initially didn’t appear to be too much of a challenge. The UK Web Archive’s crawlers were able to get most hypertexts while Webrecorder made it possible to collect most other works. However, playback was where the difficulties crept in. Some works captured well, but wouldn’t play back. Or played back, but with errors. Or showed that actually, the works had still been pulling information from the live web, and when placed in the archive and severed from this outside contact, no longer worked. You can see the Webrecorder collection here, and the UKWA Collection here, although the latter is a work-in-progress. A full list of all works reviewed (some of which were not collectable for various reasons) can be found here.

If you’re a maker of interactive works, I strongly suggest that you submit your work to UKWA or make a copy on Webrecorder and download the WARC (Web ARChive) files it creates (or both), because it will likely be some time before libraries develop systematic collecting policies for these works due to the many challenges associated with collecting and sharing them. Having your work backed up in WARC format may help you stay ahead of the curve!

My other key goal was to get a sense of the ‘shape’ of contemporary British web-based interactive fiction. If I had to draw it, I’d probably do something like this:

Shapes1

Or maybe even like this:

Shapes2

It’s messy and disruptive and gloriously so. But that’s not to say there aren’t some common threads running through the work. Some themes and motifs cropped up many times in many different guises.  Trains, cats, mental health and interactive fiction itself were all addressed by multiple creators, some taking on several of these topics at once in one work. Librarians and archivists were surprisingly well-represented as creators of interactive works, with a piece by the British Library’s own Andy Jackson included in the collection, and creators based at various other UK libraries also contributing works.

Naturally, I wrote some more formal reports on the types of works being created, the tools being used, and the methods used to collect them. However, I felt that the only way to truly summarise the experience of reading and playing and attempting to collect all these amazing works was to create a piece of interactive fiction that mimics the experience of reading and playing and attempting to capture all these amazing works. The result was The Memory Archivist which hopefully goes some way towards conveying the challenges faced by archivists of complex digital works, but also why tackling those challenges is important. I hope you enjoy it.

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