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Digital scholarship blog

36 posts categorized "Printed books"

30 October 2019

Workshop on “Digitisation Workflows & Digital Research Studies Methodologies”

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In this post, Nicolas Moretto, Metadata Systems Analyst at the British Library, reflects on his work trip to India.

Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to attend a workshop on “Digitisation Workflows & Digital Research Studies Methodologies” held at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore, India.

The workshop, which was held on the NCBS campus in the northern part of Bangalore, was jointly organised by Tom Derrick (Two Centuries of Indian Print - 2CIP) and our host Venkat Srinivasan who is the archivist at NCBS. Tom represented the 2CIP project while I attended to cover different metadata aspects. The event was attended by colleagues from 26 different institutions. Tom and I were kindly provided with accommodation on the campus.

a photo showing the workshop participants sitting outside the main building at NCBS campus

Attendees of the workshop outside the NCBS main building                                                                                                         

The workshop was intended as an opportunity to learn more about cataloguing, digitisation and OCR, and for the Indian participants to meet colleagues from Bangalore and other parts of India, share experiences, exchange ideas and discuss common standards and best practices. The chance to meet with colleagues working on similar activities – and encountering similar challenges – was an important aspect of the workshop. Most attendees were not professional archivists but had come into archives from academic and other backgrounds and had been exposed to archives and cultural heritage in different ways. All participants shared a high level of enthusiasm for archives and a passion for preserving cultural heritage and the memory of their communities.

workshop participants sitting at desks during the workshop one group of workshop participants in discussion
On the left: The Safeda Room at NCBS. On the right: the NCBS campus offered space for discussions during the breaks

 

The topics of the two-day workshop ranged from talks on description and arrangement of material (archival and related discovery standards), presentations on specific projects to digitisation workflows and OCR. Tom gave a practical demo of OCR tools for Indic scripts. I gave a presentation on each day, covering metadata description as well as reuse and discovery.

Ten of the Indian institutions presented five-minute lightning talks covering a diverse range of initiatives and describing their archival collections. The Ashoka Archives of Contemporary India presented their collection, which includes the Mahatma Ghandi papers as well as material from other Indian politicians and academics. The Keystone Foundation gave an overview of the opportunities and challenges around their work with indigenous communities in India. Their aim is to challenge traditional portrayals of indigenous culture by employing oral history interviews, which give a voice to parts of the culture that would otherwise remain unheard. The French Institute of Pondicherry featured material that had been digitised for several Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) projects, including ceiling murals and glass frames. The participants from FLAME University presented a project of digitising Indian cookbooks, showing the interdependencies between caste and cooking. The multimedia resource Sahapedia (https://www.sahapedia.org/) was presented as a way of curating Indian heritage in an online environment. All participants were looking for ways to make cultural heritage more accessible using digital tools. On the afternoon of the second day, the participants had an opportunity to undertake a hands-on activity testing OCR tools using their own material.

The workshop was well received and feedback was overall positive. The participants voiced interest in receiving more in-depth practical training and how-to guides around cataloguing and metadata capture, setting up systems as well as preservation and conservation.

Maya Dodd speaking during her presentation Venkat shows a group of participants some documents inside the NCBS archive
On the left: MayaDodd from FLAME University presents the Indian recipes project. On the right: Venkat giving a tour of the NCBS archive

 

On the evening of the first day, Venkat gave us a tour of the NCBS archives, which he had built up from scratch, working with NCBS researchers and with the help of student volunteers. The archive was remarkably open, inviting in students and staff even if they did not have an explicit research interest. Venkat was very interested in maintaining it as an open space. His archive is accompanied by an open and evolving exhibition space, which students can contribute to.

Setting up archives in India is not an easy undertaking, and Venkat has put in a tremendous effort to make it work. Even the essentials can be difficult to come by, since there is no supplier for archival materials in India for example, and Venkat had to import all his acid-free boxes from Germany.

On my last day, I accompanied Tom on a visit to the Karnataka State Central Library. The Director of the Department of Public Libraries, Dr. Satish Kumar Hosamani was not present, but his team kindly offered to give us a tour of the library. The Librarian showed us the round reading room and newspaper reading room and the collection of rare books and manuscripts. The State Library is planning to digitise these in the near future. This activity is currently awaiting approval and funding from the Karnataka state government.

A view outside the front of the State Central Library  A view of the reading room inside the State Central Library

On the left: Karnataka State Central Library in Cubbon Park. On the right: the round reading room in the State Central Library

 

Trying to find our way to the library, we discovered the existence of a “British Library Road” in Bangalore but were unable to reach it due to the customary extremely heavy traffic in Bangalore. Getting to and from destinations usually took a long time. The best way to get around over short distances was by “Tuk-tuk”, the ever-present means of transport in Indian cities.

A screenshot of Google Maps centred on British Library Road, Bangalore A photo taken from a tuk tuk of congested traffic in Bangalore
On the left: British Library Road in Bangalore. On the right: view from a Tuk-Tuk - the traffic in Bangalore was eternally gridlocked!

 

03 October 2019

BL Labs Symposium (2019): Book your place for Mon 11-Nov-2019

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the seventh annual British Library Labs Symposium will be held on Monday 11 November 2019, from 9:30 - 17:00* (see note below) in the British Library Knowledge Centre, St Pancras. The event is FREE, and you must book a ticket in advance to reserve your place. Last year's event was the largest we have ever held, so please don't miss out and book early!

*Please note, that directly after the Symposium, we have teamed up with an interactive/immersive theatre company called 'Uninvited Guests' for a specially organised early evening event for Symposium attendees (the full cost is £13 with some concessions available). Read more at the bottom of this posting!

The Symposium showcases innovative and inspiring projects which have used the British Library’s digital content. Last year's Award winner's drew attention to artistic, research, teaching & learning, and commercial activities that used our digital collections.

The annual event provides a platform for the development of ideas and projects, facilitating collaboration, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field as well as being a focus on the creative reuse of the British Library's and other organisations' digital collections and data in many other sectors. Read what groups of Master's Library and Information Science students from City University London (#CityLIS) said about the Symposium last year.

We are very proud to announce that this year's keynote will be delivered by scientist Armand Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Imperial College, London.

Armand Leroi
Professor Armand Leroi from Imperial College
will be giving the keynote at this year's BL Labs Symposium (2019)

Professor Armand Leroi is an author, broadcaster and evolutionary biologist.

He has written and presented several documentary series on Channel 4 and BBC Four. His latest documentary was The Secret Science of Pop for BBC Four (2017) presenting the results of the analysis of over 17,000 western pop music from 1960 to 2010 from the US Bill Board top 100 charts together with colleagues from Queen Mary University, with further work published by through the Royal Society. Armand has a special interest in how we can apply techniques from evolutionary biology to ask important questions about culture, humanities and what is unique about us as humans.

Previously, Armand presented Human Mutants, a three-part documentary series about human deformity for Channel 4 and as an award winning book, Mutants: On Genetic Variety and Human Body. He also wrote and presented a two part series What Makes Us Human also for Channel 4. On BBC Four Armand presented the documentaries What Darwin Didn't Know and Aristotle's Lagoon also releasing the book, The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science looking at Aristotle's impact on Science as we know it today.

Armands' keynote will reflect on his interest and experience in applying techniques he has used over many years from evolutionary biology such as bioinformatics, data-mining and machine learning to ask meaningful 'big' questions about culture, humanities and what makes us human.

The title of his talk will be 'The New Science of Culture'. Armand will follow in the footsteps of previous prestigious BL Labs keynote speakers: Dan Pett (2018); Josie Fraser (2017); Melissa Terras (2016); David De Roure and George Oates (2015); Tim Hitchcock (2014); Bill Thompson and Andrew Prescott in 2013.

The symposium will be introduced by the British Library's new Chief Librarian Liz Jolly. The day will include an update and exciting news from Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager at the British Library) about the work of BL Labs highlighting innovative collaborations BL Labs has been working on including how it is working with Labs around the world to share experiences and knowledge, lessons learned . There will be news from the Digital Scholarship team about the exciting projects they have been working on such as Living with Machines and other initiatives together with a special insight from the British Library’s Digital Preservation team into how they attempt to preserve our digital collections and data for future generations.

Throughout the day, there will be several announcements and presentations showcasing work from nominated projects for the BL Labs Awards 2019, which were recognised last year for work that used the British Library’s digital content in Artistic, Research, Educational and commercial activities.

There will also be a chance to find out who has been nominated and recognised for the British Library Staff Award 2019 which highlights the work of an outstanding individual (or team) at the British Library who has worked creatively and originally with the British Library's digital collections and data (nominations close midday 5 November 2019).

As is our tradition, the Symposium will have plenty of opportunities for networking throughout the day, culminating in a reception for delegates and British Library staff to mingle and chat over a drink and nibbles.

Finally, we have teamed up with the interactive/immersive theatre company 'Uninvited Guests' who will give a specially organised performance for BL Labs Symposium attendees, directly after the symposium. This participatory performance will take the audience on a journey through a world that is on the cusp of a technological disaster. Our period of history could vanish forever from human memory because digital information will be wiped out for good. How can we leave a trace of our existence to those born later? Don't miss out on a chance to book on this unique event at 5pm specially organised to coincide with the end of the BL Labs Symposium. For more information, and for booking (spaces are limited), please visit here (the full cost is £13 with some concessions available). Please note, if you are unfortunate in not being able to join the 5pm show, there will be another performance at 1945 the same evening (book here for that one).

So don't forget to book your place for the Symposium today as we predict it will be another full house again and we don't want you to miss out.

We look forward to seeing new faces and meeting old friends again!

For any further information, please contact labs@bl.uk

02 October 2019

The 2019 British Library Labs Staff Award - Nominations Open!

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Looking for entries now!

A set of 4 light bulbs presented next to each other, the third light bulb is switched on. The image is supposed to a metaphor to represent an 'idea'
Nominate a British Library staff member or a team that has done something exciting, innovative and cool with the British Library’s digital collections or data.

The 2019 British Library Labs Staff Award, now in its fourth year, gives recognition to current British Library staff who have created something brilliant using the Library’s digital collections or data.

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? 

You may nominate a current member of British Library staff, a team, or yourself (if you are a member of staff), for the Staff Award using this form.

The deadline for submission is 12:00 (BST), Tuesday 5 November 2019.

Nominees will be highlighted on Monday 11 November 2019 at the British Library Labs Annual Symposium where some (winners and runners-up) will also be asked to talk about their projects.

You can see the projects submitted by members of staff for the last two years' awards in our online archive, as well as blogs for last year's winners and runners-up.

The Staff Award complements the British Library Labs Awards, introduced in 2015, which recognise outstanding work that has been done in the broader community. Last year's winner focused on the brilliant work of the 'Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Digitising and Presenting Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700–1200'.

The runner up for the BL Labs Staff Award last year was the 'Digital Documents Harvesting and Processing Tool (DDHAPT)' which was designed to overcome the problem of finding individual known documents in the United Kingdom's Legal Deposit Web Archive.

In the public competition, last year's winners drew attention to artistic, research, teaching & learning, and commercial activities that used our digital collections.

British Library Labs is a project within the Digital Scholarship department at the British Library that supports and inspires the use of the Library's digital collections and data in exciting and innovative ways. It was previously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is now solely funded by the British Library.

If you have any questions, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

 

30 August 2019

Using Transkribus for automated text recognition of historical Bengali Books

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In this post Tom Derrick, Digital Curator, Two Centuries of Indian Print, explains the Library's recent use of Transkribus for automated text recognition of Bengali printed books.

Are you working with digitised printed collections that you want to 'unlock' for keyword search and text mining? Maybe you have already heard about Transkribus but thought it could only be used for automated recognition of handwritten texts. If so you might be surprised to hear it also does a pretty good job with printed texts too. You might be even more surprised to hear it does an impressive job with printed texts in Indian scripts! At least that is what we have found from recent testing with a batch of 19th century printed books written in Bengali script that have been digitised through the British Library’s Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

Transkribus is a READ project and available as a free tool for users who want to automate recognition of historical documents. The British Library has already had some success using Transkribus on manuscripts from our India Office collection, and it was that which inspired me to see how it would perform on the Bengali texts, which provides an altogether different type of challenge.

For a start, most text recognition solutions either do not support Indian scripts, or do not reach close to the same level of recognition as they do with documents written in English or other Latin scripts. In part this is down to supply and demand. Mainstream providers of tools have prioritised Western customers, yet there is also the relative lack of digitised Indian texts that can be used to train text recognition engines.

These text recognition engines have also been well trained on modern dictionaries and a collection of historical texts like the Bengali books will often contain words which are no longer in use. Their aged physicality also brings with it the delights of faded print, blotchy paper and other paper-based gremlins that keeps conservationists in work yet disrupts automated text recognition. Throw in an extensive alphabet that contains more diverse and complicated character forms than English and you can start to piece together how difficult it can be to train recognition engines to achieve comparable results with Bengali texts.

So it was with more with hope than expectation I approached Transkribus. We began by selecting 50 pages from the Bengali books representing the variety of typographical and layout styles within the wider collection of c. 500,000 pages as much as possible. Not an easy task! We uploaded these to Transkribus, manually segmenting paragraphs into text regions and automating line recognition. We then manually transcribed the texts to create a ground truth which, together with the scanned page images, were used to train the recurrent neural network within Transkribus to create a model for the 5,700 transcribed words.

Screenshot of a page from one of the British Library's Bengali books within the Transkribus viewer showing segmentation of the page by green bounding boxes around paragraphs and underlined text lines. Typed transcriptions of the text are shown below the page image                               Screenshot of a page from one of the British Library's Bengali books within the Transkribus viewer showing segmentation of the page by green bounding boxes around paragraphs and underlined text lines. Typed transcriptions of the text are shown below the page image. 

The model was tested on a few pages from the wider collection and the results clearly communicated via the graph below. The model achieved an average character error rate (CER) of 21.9%, which is comparable to the best results we have seen from other text recognition services. Word accuracy of 61% was based on the number of words that were misspelled in the automated transcription compared to the ground truth. Eventually we would like to use automated transcriptions to support keyword searching of the Bengali books online and the higher the word accuracy increases the chances of users pulling back all relevant hits from their keyword search. We noticed the results often missed the upper zone of certain Bengali characters, i.e. the part of the character or glyph which resides above the matra line that connects characters in Bengali words. Further training focused on recognition of these characters may improve the results.

Screenshot of a graph showing the learning curve of the Bengali model using the Transkribus HTR tool which achieved 21.91% character error rateScreenshot of a graph showing the learning curve of the Bengali model using the Transkribus HTR tool which achieved 21.91% character error rate      

Our training set of 50 pages is very small compared to other projects using Transkribus and so we think the accuracy could be vastly improved by creating more transcriptions and re-training the model. However, we're happy with these initial results and would encourage others in a similar position to give Transkribus a try.

 

 

19 March 2019

BL Labs 2018 Commercial Award Runner Up: 'The Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher'

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This guest blog was written by David Zvi Kalman on behalf of the team that received the runner up award in the 2018 BL Labs Commercial category.

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The bentsher is a strange book, both invisible and highly visible. It is not among the more well known Jewish books, like the prayerbook, Hebrew Bible, or haggadah. You would be hard pressed to find a general-interest bookstore selling a copy. Still, enter the house of a traditional Jew and you’d likely find at least a few, possibly a few dozen. In Orthodox communities, the bentsher is arguably the most visible book of all.

Bentshers are handbooks containing the songs and blessings, including the Grace after Meals, that are most useful for Sabbath and holiday meals, as well as larger gatherings. They are, as a rule, quite small. These days, bentshers are commonly given out as party favors at Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, since meals at those events require them anyway. Many bentshers today have personalized covers relating the events at which they were given.

Bentshers have never gone out of print. By this I mean that printing began with the invention of the printing press and has never stopped. They are small, but they have always been useful. Seder Oneg Shabbos, the version which I designed, was released 500 years after the first bentsher was published. It is, in a sense, a Half Millennium Anniversary Special Edition.

SederOneg_4

Bentshers, like other Jewish books, could be quite ornate; some were written and illustrated by hand. Over the years, however, bentshers have become less and less interesting, largely in order to lower the unit cost. In order to make it feasible for wedding planners to order hundreds at a time, all images were stripped from the books, the books themselves became very small, and any interest in elegant typography was quickly eliminated. My grandfather, who designed custom covers for wedding bentshers, simply called the book, “the insert.” Custom prayerbooks were no different from custom matchbooks.

This particular bentsher was created with the goal of bucking this trend; I attempted to give the book the feel of the some of the Jewish books and manuscripts of the past, using the research I was able to gather a graduate student in the field of Jewish history. Doing this required a great deal of image research; for this, the British Library’s online resources were incredible valuable. Of the more than one hundred images in the book, a plurality are from the British Library’s collections.

https://data.bl.uk/hebrewmanuscripts/

https://www.bl.uk/hebrew-manuscripts

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In addition to its visual element, this bentsher differs from others in two important ways. First, it contains ritual languages that is inclusive of those in the LGBTQ community, and especially for those conducting same-sex weddings. In addition, the book contains songs not just in Hebrew, but in Yiddish, as well; this was a homage to two Yiddishists who aided in creating the bentsher’s content. The bentsher was first used at their wedding.

SederOneg_3

More here: https://shabb.es/sederonegshabbos/

Watch David accepting the runner up award and talking about the Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 5.33 to 7.26): 

David Zvi Kalman was responsible for the book’s design, including the choice of images. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he focuses on the relationship between Jewish history and the history of technology. Sarah Wolf is a specialist in rabbinics and is an assistant professor at the Jewish Theology Seminary of America. Joshua Schwartz is a doctoral student at New York University, where he studies Jewish mysticism. Sarah and Joshua were responsible for most of the books translations and transliterations. Yocheved and Yudis Retig are Yiddishists and were responsible for the book’s Yiddish content and translations.

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

28 February 2019

The World Wide Lab: Building Library Labs - Part II

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Abstract illustration featuring ropes and ships from 19th Century book

We're setting sail for Denmark! Along with colleagues from the UK, Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Qatar, Spain, Sweden and the USA, we will be mooring at Copenhagen's Black Diamond, waterfront home to Denmark's Royal Library, for the second International Building Library Labs event: 4-5 March 2019.

Royal Danish Library logo and British Library logo

For some time now, leading national, state, university and public libraries around the world have been creating 'digital lab type environments'. The purpose of these 'laboratories' is to afford access to their institutions' digital content - the digitised and 'born digital' collections as well as data - and to provide a space where users can experiment and work with that content in creative, innovative and inspiring ways. Our shared ethos is to open up our collections for everyone: digital researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, and everyone in between.

BL Labs has been running in such a capacity for six years. In September 2018, we hosted a 2-day workshop at the British Library in London for invited participants from national, state and university libraries - the first event of its kind in the world. It was a resounding success, and it was decided that we should organise a second event, this time in collaboration with our colleagues in Copenhagen.

19th century book illustration featuring three ship steering wheels with city names written on themNext week's participants, from over 30 institutions, will be sharing lessons learned, talking about innovative projects and services that have used their digital collections and data in clever ways, and continuing to establish the foundations for an international network of Library Labs. We aim to work together in the spirit of collaboration so that we can continue to build even better Library Labs for our users in the future.

Our packed programme is available to view on Eventbrite or as a Googledoc. We still have a few spaces left so if you are interested in coming along, you can still book here. As well as presentations and plenary debates, we will have eight lightning talks with topics ranging from how to handle big data to how to run a data visualisation lab. To accommodate our many delegates, with their own interests and specialisms, we will break out into 12 parallel discussion groups focusing on subjects such as how to set up a lab; how to get access to data; moving from 'project' lab to 'business as usual'; data curation; how to deal with large datasets; and using Labs & Makerspaces for data-driven research and innovation in creative industries. 

We will blog again after the event, and provide links to some of the presentations and outputs. Watch this space! 

Abstract 19th century book illustration featuring seagulls and ship carpentry

Danish-themed images trawled from our British Library Flickr Images set: pages 37, 126, and 15 of Copenhagen, the Capital of Denmark, published by the Danish Tourist Society, 1898. Find the original book here.

Posted by Eleanor Cooper on behalf of BL Labs

26 February 2019

Competition to automate text recognition for printed Bangla books

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You may have seen the exciting news last week that the British Library has launched a competition on recognition of historical Arabic scientific manuscripts that will run as part of ICDAR2019. We thought it only fair to cover printed material too! So we’re running another competition, also at ICDAR, for automated text recognition of rare and unique printed books written in Bangla that have been digitised through the Library's Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

Some of you may remember the Bangla printed books competition which took place at ICDAR2017 which generated significant interest among academic institutions and technology providers both in India and across the world. The 2017 competition set the challenge of finding an optimal solution for automating recognition of Bangla printed text and resulted in Google’s method performing best for both text detection and layout analysis.

Fast forward to 2019 and, thanks to Jadavpur University in Kolkata, we have added more ground truth transcriptions for competition entrants to train their OCR systems with. We hope that the competition encourages submissions again from cutting-edge OCR methods leading to a solution that can truly open up these historic books, dating between 1713 and 1914, for text mining, enabling scholars of South Asian studies to explore hundreds of thousands of pages on a scale that has not been possible until now.

 Image showing a transcribed page from one of the Bengali books featured in the ICDAR2019 competition

              Image showing a transcribed page from one of the Bengali books featured in the ICDAR2019 competition

As with the Arabic competition, we are collaborating with PRImA (Pattern Recognition & Image Analysis Research Lab) who will provide expert and objective evaluation of OCR results produced through the competition. The final results will be revealed at the ICDAR2019 conference in Sydney in September.

So if you missed out last time but are interested in testing your OCR systems on our books the competition is now open! For instructions of how to apply and more about the competition, please visit https://www.primaresearch.org/REID2019/

 

This post is by Tom Derrick, Digital Curator for Two Centuries of Indian Print, British Library. He is on Twitter as @TommyID83 and Two Centuries of Indian Print tweet from @BL_IndianPrint

 

18 February 2019

Updated Eighteenth-Century Collections Online

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The traditional, somewhat stereotypical image of the researcher of things past has not changed much in recent times. There is nothing easier than to imagine a scholar sitting at a scarcely illuminated wooden desk, surrounded by piles of old hardbound volumes, spending hours on end rummaging through the sheets in search of a clue.

In the field of eighteenth-century studies, this is certainly still the case. Scholars often go on a pilgrimage to prestigious repositories such as the British Library. However, in the last fifteen years or so, technology has started to offer attractive alternatives to the pleasure of travelling to London. Powered by Gale-Cengage, the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (commonly referred to as ECCO) is a well-known resource that provides access to English-language and foreign-language publications printed in Britain, Ireland and the American colonies during the eighteenth century. This extensive collection contains over 180,000 titles (200,000 volumes) and allows full-text searching of some 32 million pages. These are digital editions based on the Eighteenth Century microfilming that started in 1981 and the English Short Title Catalogue.

New ECCO main screen
New ECCO home page

Moving away from its classic web-1.0 design, the Gale-Cengage team recently decided to revamp the layout of ECCO – indeed, of their entire portfolio of archive products, which include among others the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Burney Newspapers Collection. The aim is to make the Gale Primary Sources experience more consistent and intuitive for the user. At the head of this delicate operation are product managers Doran Steele and Megan Sullivan, who lead a nine-person team of software developers, content engineers, researchers and designers. Not quite the IT-only type of personnel, Doran and Megan are scholars themselves, respectively holding degrees in History and Information Science and a remarkable passion for all things past. They are responsible for the maintenance of the existing ECCO interface, as well as the development of the upcoming design refresh.

During a recent interview they gave to the authors of this post, Doran and Megan declared their objective of evolving ECCO in line ‘with user expectations of modern online research experiences’. Their driving force was stated very clearly as a bottom-up process. ‘This redesign’, they explained, ‘is informed by user feedback and market research’. A beta version of the new site has been available since the second half of 2018 to enable the Gale-Cengage team to gather feedback about the new design. The product managers specified that the final transition to the ‘new’ ECCO will only be completed once they feel confident that the new experience ‘successfully meets the needs of our users’. The final goal is a better user experience, ‘one that is faster and more intuitive’. To achieve this, a range of new features have been included, such as more filters on search results; results more relevant to the search queries; data visualization tools; improved subject indexing; more options for adjusting the image; and the ability to download in a text format the OCR (optical character recognition) version of a volume. The latter feature will be a particularly welcome innovation for scholars that often need to look up the occurrence of a single word or cut and paste long chunks of text.

ECCO search results
New ECCO search results screen

The options for adjusting the page view are another significant novelty. The beta version boasts new settings to quickly select the preferred zoom level, as well as sliders to increase or decrease the brightness and contrast of the page. These improvements are particularly welcome considering that the quality of the scans remains unchanged. The page quality is not directly related to ECCO. The portal simply allows the consultation of the digitised microfilms included in the first collection (also known as ECCO 1, comprising over 154.000 texts) and the digitisation of a second, smaller collection of books (ECCO 2, over 52.000 titles). This raises an important issue. A plethora of relatively unknown, yet precious eighteenth-century material remains difficult to consult because, on top of the uneven quality in the texts that came out of eighteenth-century printing presses, the original microfilming technology that was employed for the first collection yielded relatively low-resolution results. This causes some hiccups with OCR recognition, thus discouraging the use of quantitative methodologies. But the issue is all the more salient when the category of eighteenth-century visuals is taken into account. At a time when British engravers multiplied in numbers to illustrate the newly-discovered wonders of the natural world or the archaeological remains of Roman cities in England, illustrations became an essential aspect of the eighteenth-century book market and reading experience. While for essential texts such as William Stukeley’s Itinerarium curiosum (1724) or Eleazar Albin and William Derham’s A Natural History of Birds (1734) more refined scans can be found elsewhere, a large number of texts is digitally available only through ECCO 1. Scholars interested in images are either to focus on well-known texts that have been digitised by other providers – with serious consequences in terms of canonicity – or eventually need to plan a visit to major libraries to consult the relevant volumes in person, somehow defeating the very idea of digital reading. Either way, the study of visual culture is somewhat inhibited. Nevertheless, the ‘new’ ECCO promises to enhance the user experience and to offer even more opportunities to engage with outstanding repositories of primary material. If you already had a chance to use the new version, we encourage you to get in touch with Doran and Megan: as your feedback and suggestions can improve ECCO even further.

New ECCO text screen
New ECCO image viewer screen

This post is by Alessio Mattana, Teaching Assistant in Eighteenth-Century Literature at the University of Leeds (on Twitter as @mattanaless), and Dr Giacomo Savani, Teaching Assistant in Ancient History at the University of Leeds (on Twitter as @GiacomoSavani).