Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

143 posts categorized "Research collaboration"

07 May 2024

Recovered Pages: Computing for Cultural Heritage Student Projects

The British Library is continuing to recover from last year’s cyber-attack. While our teams work to restore our services safely and securely, one of our goals in the Digital Research Team is to get some of the information from our currently inaccessible web pages into an easily readable and shareable format. We’ll be sharing these pages via blog posts here, with information recovered from the Wayback Machine, a fantastic initiative of the Internet Archive.  

The next page in this series is all about the student projects that came out of our Computing for Cultural Heritage project with the National Archives and Birkbeck University. This student project page was captured by the Wayback Machine on 7 June 2023.  

 

Computing for Cultural Heritage Student Projects

computing for cultural heritage logo - an image of a laptop with bookshelves as the screen saver

This page provides abstracts for a selection of student projects undertaken as part of a one-year part-time Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert), Computing for Cultural Heritage, co-developed by British Library, National Archives and Birkbeck University and funded by the Institute of Coding as part of a £4.8 million University skills drive.

“I have gone from not being able to print 'hello' in Python to writing some relatively complex programs and having a much greater understanding of data science and how it is applicable to my work."

- Jessica Green  

Key points

  • Aim of the trial was to provide professionals working in the cultural heritage sector with an understanding of basic programming and computational analytic tools to support them in their daily work 
  • During the Autumn & Spring terms (October 2019-April 2020), 12 staff members from British Library and 8 staff staff members from The National Archives completed two new trial modules at Birkbeck University: Demystifying computing for heritage professionals and Work-based Project 
  • Birkbeck University have now launched the Applied Data Science (Postgraduate Certificate) based on the outcomes of the trial

Student Projects

 

Transforming Physical Labels into Digital References 

Sotirios Alpanis, British Library
This project aims to use computing to convert data collected during the preparation of archive material for digitisation into a tool that can verify and validate image captures, and subsequently label them. This will take as its input physical information about each document being digitised, perform and facilitate a series of validations throughout image capture and quality assurance and result in an xml file containing a map of physical labels to digital files. The project will take place within the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership (BL/QFP), which is digitising archive material for display on the QDL.qa.  

Enhancing national thesis metadata with persistent identifiers

Jenny Basford, British Library 
Working with data from ISNI (International Standard Name Identifier) Agency and EThOS (Electronic Theses Online Service), both based at the British Library, I intend to enhance the metadata of both databases by identifying doctoral supervisors in thesis metadata and matching these data with ISNI holdings. This work will also feed into the European-funded FREYA project, which is concerned with the use of a wide variety of persistent identifiers across the research landscape to improve openness in research culture and infrastructure through Linked Data applications.

A software tool to support the social media activities of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project

Lucia Cavorsi, British Library
Video
I would like to design a software tool able to flag forthcoming anniversaries, by comparing all the dates present in SAMI (sound and moving image catalogue – Sound Archive) with the current date. The aim of this tool is to suggest potential content for the Sound Archive’s social media posts. Useful dates in SAMI which could be matched with the current date and provide material for tweets are: birth and death dates of performers or authors, radio programme broadcast dates, recording dates).  I would like this tool to also match the subjects currently present in SAMI with the subjects featured in the list of anniversaries 2020 which the social media team uses. For example anniversaries like ‘International HIV day’, ‘International day of Lesbian visibility’ etc.  A windows pop up message will be designed for anniversaries notifications on the day.  If time permits, it would be convenient to also analyse what hashtags have been used over last year by the people who are followed by or follow the Sound Archive Twitter account. By extracting a list of these hashtags further, and more sound related, anniversaries could be added to the list of anniversaries currently used by the UOSH’s social media team.

Computing Cholera: Topic modelling the catalogue entries of the General Board of Health

Christopher Day, The National Archives
BlogOther
The correspondence of the General Board of Health (1848–1871) documents the work of a body set up to deal with cholera epidemics in a period where some English homes were so filthy as to be described as “mere pigholes not fit for human beings”. Individual descriptions for each of these over 89,000 letters are available on Discovery, The National Archives (UK)’s catalogue. Now, some 170 years later, access to the letters themselves has been disrupted by another epidemic, COVID-19. This paper examines how data science can be used to repurpose archival catalogue descriptions, initially created to enhance the ‘human findability’ of records (and favoured by many UK archives due to high digitisation costs), for large-scale computational analysis. The records of the General Board will be used as a case study: their catalogue descriptions topic modelled using a latent Dirichlet allocation model, visualised, and analysed – giving an insight into how new sanitary regulations were negotiated with a divided public during an epidemic. The paper then explores the validity of using the descriptions of historical sources as a source in their own right; and asks how, during a time of restricted archival access, metadata can be used to continue research.

An Automated Text Extraction Tool for Use on Digitised Maps

Nicholas Dykes, British Library
Blog / Video
Researchers of history often have difficulty geo-locating historical place names in Africa. I would like to apply automated transcription techniques to a digitised archive of historical maps of Africa to create a resource that will allow users to search for text, and discover where, and on which maps that text can be found. This will enable identification and analysis both of historical place names and of other text, such as topographical descriptions. I propose to develop a software tool in Python that will send images stored locally to the Google Vision API, and retrieve and process a response for each image, consisting of a JSON file containing the text found, pixel coordinate bounding boxes for each instance of text, and a confidence score. The tool will also create a copy of each image with the text instances highlighted. I will experiment with the parameters of the API in order to achieve the most accurate results.  I will incorporate a routine that will store each related JSON file and highlighted image together in a separate folder for each map image, and create an Excel spreadsheet containing text results, confidence scores, links to relevant image folders, and hyperlinks to high-res images hosted on the BL website. The spreadsheet and subfolders will then be packaged together into a single downloadable resource.  The finished software tool will have the capability to create a similar resource of interlinked spreadsheet and subfolders from any batch of images.

Reconstituting a Deconstructed Dataset using Python and SQLite

Alex Green, The National Archives
Video
For this project I will rebuild a database and establish the referential integrity of the data from CSV files using Python and SQLite. To do this I will need to study the data, read the documentation, draw an entity relationship diagram and learn more about relational databases. I want to enable users to query the data as they would have been able to in the past. I will then make the code reusable so it can be used to rebuild other databases, testing it with a further two datasets in CSV form. As an additional challenge, I plan to rearrange the data to meet the principles of ‘tidy data’ to aid data analysis.

PIMMS: Developing a Model Pre-Ingest Metadata Management System at the British Library

Jessica Green, British Library
GitHub / Video
I am proposing a solution to analysing and preparing for ingest a vast amount of ‘legacy’ BL digitised content into the future Digital Asset Management System (DAMPS). This involves building a prototype for a SQL database to aggregate metadata about digitised content and preparing for SIP creation. In addition, I will write basic queries to aid in our ongoing analysis about these TIFF files, including planning for storage, copyright, digital preservation and duplicate analysis. I will use Python to import sample metadata from BL sources like SharePoint, Excel and BL catalogues – currently used for analysis of ‘live’ and ‘legacy’ digitised BL collections. There is at least 1 PB of digitised content on the BL networks alone, as well as on external media such as hard-drives and CDs. We plan to only ingest one copy of each digitised TIFF file set and need to ensure that the metadata is accurate and up-to-date at the point of ingest. This database, the Pre-Ingest Metadata Management System (PIMMS), could serve as a central metadata repository for legacy digitised BL collections until then. I look forward to using Python and SQL, as well as drawing on the coding skills from others, to make these processes more efficient and effective going forward.

Exploring, cleaning and visualising catalogue metadata

Alex Hailey, British Library
Blog / Video
Working with catalogue metadata for the India Office Records (IOR) I will undertake three tasks: 1) converting c430,000 IOR/E index entries to descriptions within the relevant volume entries; 2) producing an SQL database for 46,500 IOR/P descriptions, allowing enhanced search when compared with the BL catalogue; and 3) creating Python scripts for searching, analysis and visualisation, to be demonstrated on dataset(s) and delivered through Jupyter Notebooks.

Automatic generation of unique reference numbers for structured archival data.

Graham Jevon, British Library
Blog / Video / GitHub
The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) funds the digital preservation of endangered archival material around the world. Third party researchers digitise material and send the content to the British Library. This is accompanied by an Excel spreadsheet containing metadata that describes the digitised content. EAP’s main task is to clean, validate, and enhance the metadata prior to ingesting it into the Library’s cataloguing system (IAMS). One of these tasks is the creation of unique catalogue reference numbers for each record (each row of data on the spreadsheet). This is a predominantly manual process that is potentially time consuming and subject to human inputting errors. This project seeks to solve this problem. The intention is to create a Windows executable program that will enable users to upload a csv file, enter a prefix, and then click generate. The instant result will be an export of a new csv file, which contains the data from the original csv file plus automatically generated catalogue reference numbers. These reference numbers are not random. They are structured in accordance with an ordered archival hierarchy. The program will include additional flexibility to account for several variables, including language encoding, computational efficiency, data validation, and wider re-use beyond EAP and the British Library.

Automating Metadata Extraction in Born Digital Processing

Callum McKean, British Library
Video
To automate the metadata extraction section of the Library’s current work-flow for born-digital processing using Python, then interrogate and collate information in new ways using the SQLite module.

Analysis of peak customer interactions with Reference staff at the British Library: a software solution

Jaimee McRoberts, British Library
Video
The British Library, facing on-going budget constraints, has a need to efficiently deploy Reference Services staff during peak periods of demand. The service would benefit from analysis of existing statistical data recording the timestamp of each customer interaction at a Reference Desk. In order to do this, a software solution is required to extract, analyse, and output the necessary data. This project report demonstrates a solution utilising Python alongside the pandas library which has successfully achieved the required data analysis.

Enhancing the data in the Manorial Documents Register (MDR) and making it more accessible

Elisabeth Novitski, The National Archives
Video
To develop computer scripts that will take the data from the existing separate and inconsistently formatted files and merge them into a consistent and organised dataset. This data will be loaded into the Manorial Documents Register (MDR) and National Register of Archives (NRA) to provide the user with improved search ability and access to the manorial document information.

Automating data analysis for collection care research at The National Archives: spectral and textual data

Lucia Pereira Pardo, The National Archives
The day-to-day work of a conservation scientist working for the care of an archival collection involves acquiring experimental data from the varied range of materials present in the physical records (inks, pigments, dyes, binding media, paper, parchment, photographs, textiles, degradation and restoration products, among others). To this end, we use multiple and complementary analytical and testing techniques, such as X-ray fluorescence (XRF), Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) and Fibre Optic Reflectance spectroscopies (FORS), multispectral imaging (MSI), colour and gloss measurements, microfading (MFT) and other accelerated ageing tests.  The outcome of these analyses is a heterogeneous and often large dataset, which can be challenging and time-consuming to process and analyse. Therefore, the objective of this project is to automate these tasks when possible, or at least to apply computing techniques to optimise the time and efforts invested in routine operations, so that resources are freed for actual research and more specialised and creative tasks dealing with the interpretation of the results.

Improving efficiencies in content development through batch processing and the automation of workloads

Harriet Roden, British Library
Video
With the purpose to support and enrich the curriculum, the British Library’s Digital Learning team produces large-scale content packages for online learners through individual projects. Due to their reliance on other internal teams within the workflow for content delivery, a substantial amount of resource is spent on routine tasks to duplicate collection metadata across various databases. In order to reduce inefficiencies, increase productivity and improve reliability, my project aimed to alleviate pressures across the workflow through workload automation, through four separate phases.

The Botish Library: building a poetry printing machine with Python

Giulia Carla Rossi, British Library
Blog / Video
This project aims to build a poetry printing machine, as a creative output that unites traditional content, new media and Python. The poems will be sourced from the British Library Digitised Books dataset collection, available under Public Domain Mark; I will sort through the datasets and identify which titles can be categorised as poetry using Python. I will then create a new dataset comprising these poetry books and relative metadata, which will then be connected to the printer with a Python script. The poetry printing machine will print randomized poems from this new dataset, together with some metadata (e.g. poem title, book title, author and shelfmark ID) that will allow users to easily identify the book.

Automating data entry in the UOSH Tracking Database

Chris Weaver, British Library
The proposed software solution is the creation of a Python script (to feature as a module in a larger script) to extract data from a web-based tool (either via obtaining data in JSON format via the sites' API or accessing the database powering the site directly). The data obtained is then formatted and inserted into corresponding fields in a Microsoft SQL Server database.

Final Module

Following the completion of the trial, participants had the opportunity to complete their PGCert in Applied Data Science by attending the final module, Analytic Tools for Information Professionals, which was part of the official course launched last autumn. We followed up with some of the participants to hear more about their experience of the full course:

“The third and final module of the computing for cultural heritage course was not only fascinating and enjoyable, it was also really pertinent to my job and I was immediately able to put the skills I learned into practice.  

The majority of the third module focussed on machine learning. We studied a number of different methods and one of these proved invaluable to the Agents of Enslavement research project I am currently leading. This project included a crowdsourcing task which asked the public to draw rectangles around four different types of newspaper advertisement. The purpose of the task was to use the coordinates of these rectangles to crop the images and create a dataset of adverts that can then be analysed for research purposes. To help ensure that no adverts were missed and to account for individual errors, each image was classified by five different people.  

One of my biggest technical challenges was to find a way of aggregating the rectangles drawn by five different people on a single page in order to calculate the rectangles of best fit. If each person only drew one rectangle, it was relatively easy for me to aggregate the results using the coding skills I had developed in the first two modules. I could simply find the average (or mean) of the five different classification attempts. But what if people identified several adverts and therefore drew multiple rectangles on a single page? For example, what if person one drew a rectangle around only one advert in the top left corner of the page; people two and three drew two rectangles on the same page, one in the top left and one in the top right; and people four and five drew rectangles around four adverts on the same page (one in each corner). How would I be able to create a piece of code that knew how to aggregate the coordinates of all the rectangles drawn in the top left and to separately aggregate the coordinates of all the rectangles drawn in the bottom right, and so on?  

One solution to this problem was to use an unsupervised machine learning method to cluster the coordinates before running the aggregation method. Much to my amazement, this worked perfectly and enabled me to successfully process the total of 92,218 rectangles that were drawn and create an aggregated dataset of more than 25,000 unique newspaper adverts.” 

-Graham Jevon, EAP Cataloguer; BL Endangered Archives Programme 

“The final module of the course was in some ways the most challenging — requiring a lot of us to dust off the statistics and algebra parts of our brain. However, I think, it was also the most powerful; revealing how machine learning approaches can help us to uncover hidden knowledge and patterns in a huge variety of different areas.  

Completing the course during COVID meant that collection access was limited, so I ended up completing a case study examining how generic tropes have evolved in science fiction across time using a dataset extracted from GoodReads. This work proved to be exceptionally useful in helping me to think about how computers understand language differently; and how we can leverage their ability to make statistical inferences in order to support our own, qualitative analyses. 

In my own collection area, working with born digital archives in Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, we treat draft material — of novels, poems or anything else — as very important to understanding the creative process. I am excited to apply some of these techniques — particularly Unsupervised Machine Learning — to examine the hidden relationships between draft material in some of our creative archives. 

The course has provided many, many avenues of potential enquiry like this and I’m excited to see the projects that its graduates undertake across the Library.” 

- Callum McKean, Lead Curator, Digital; Contemporary British Collection

“I really enjoyed the Analytics Tools for Data Science module. As a data science novice, I came to the course with limited theoretical knowledge of how data science tools could be applied to answer research questions. The choice of using real-life data to solve queries specific to professionals in the cultural heritage sector was really appreciated as it made everyday applications of the tools and code more tangible. I can see now how curators’ expertise and specialised knowledge could be combined with tools for data analysis to further understanding of and meaningful research in their own collection area."

- Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator, Digital Publications; Contemporary British Collection

Please note this page was originally published in Feb 2021 and some of the resources, job titles and locations may now be out of date.

02 May 2024

Recovered Pages: A Digital Transformation Story

The British Library is continuing to recover from last year’s cyber-attack. While our teams work to restore our services safely and securely, one of our goals in the Digital Research Team is to get some of the information from our currently inaccessible web pages into an easily readable and shareable format. We’ll be sharing these pages via blog posts here, with information recovered from the Wayback Machine, a fantastic initiative of the Internet Archive.  

The second page in this series is a case study on the impact of our Digital Scholarship Training Programme, captured by the Wayback Machine on 3 October 2023. 

 

Graham Jevon: A Digital Transformation Story

'The Digital Scholarship Training Programme has introduced me to new software, opened my eyes to digital opportunities, provided inspiration for me to improve, and helped me attain new skills'

Gj

Key points

  • Graham Jevon has been an active participant in the Digital Scholarship Training Programme
  • Through gaining digital skills he has been able to build software to automate tricky processes
  • Graham went on to become a Coleridge Fellowship scholar, putting these digital skills to good use!

Find out more on what Graham has been up to on his Staff Profile

Did you know? The Digital Scholarship Training Programme has been running since 2012, and creates opportunities for staff to develop necessary skills and knowledge to support emerging areas of modern scholarship.

The Digital Scholarship Training Programme

Since joining the library in 2018, the Digital Scholarship Training Programme has been integral to the trajectory of both my personal development and the working practices within my team.

The very first training course I attended at the library was the introduction to OpenRefine. The key thing that I took away from this course was not necessarily the skills to use the software, but simply understanding OpenRefine’s functionality and the possibilities the software offered for my team. This inspired me to spend time after the session devising a workflow that enhanced our cataloguing efficiency and accuracy, enabling me to create more detailed and accurate metadata in less time. With OpenRefine I created a semi-automated workflow that required the kind of logical thinking associated with computer programming, but without the need to understand a computer programming language.

 

Computing for Cultural Heritage

The use of this kind of logical thinking and the introduction to writing computational expressions within OpenRefine sparked an interest in me to learn a computing language such as Python. I started a free online Python introduction, but without much context to the course my attention quickly waned. When the Digital Scholarship Computing for Cultural Heritage course was announced I therefore jumped at the chance to apply. 

I went into the Computing for Cultural Heritage course hoping to learn skills that would enable me to solve cataloguing and administrative problems, skills that would help me process data in spreadsheets more efficiently and accurately. I had one particular problem in mind and I was able to address this problem in the project module of the course. For the project we had to design a software program. I created a program (known as ReG), which automatically generates structured catalogue references for archival collections. I was extremely pleased with the outcome of this project and this piece of software is something that my team now use in our day-to-day activities. An error-prone task that could take hours or days to complete manually in Excel now takes just a few seconds and is always 100% accurate.

This in itself was a great outcome of the course that met my hopes at the outset. But this course did so much more. I came away from the course with a completely new set of data science skills that I could build on and apply in other areas. For example, I recently created another piece of software that helps my team survey any digitisation data that we receive, to help us spot any errors or problems that need fixing.

 

 

The British Library Coleridge Research Fellowship

The data science skills were particularly instrumental in enabling me to apply successfully for the British Library’s Coleridge research fellowship. This research fellowship is partly a personal development scheme and it enabled me the opportunity to put my new data science skills into practice in a research environment (rather than simply using them in a cataloguing context). My previous academic research experience was based on traditional analogue methods. But for the Coleridge project I used crowdsourcing to extract data for analysis from two collections of newspapers.

A screenshot of a Guardian article that covered the work Graham has done, titled 'Secrets of rebel slaves in Barbados will finally be revealed'

The third and final Computing for Cultural Heritage module focussed on machine learning and I was able to apply these skills directly to the crowdsourcing project Agents of Enslavement. The first crowdsourcing task, for example, asked the public to draw rectangles around four specific types of newspaper advertisement. To help ensure that no adverts were missed and to account for individual errors, each image was classified by five different people. I therefore had to aggregate the results. Thanks to the new data science skills I had learned, I was able to write a Python script that used machine learning algorithms to aggregate 92,000 total rectangles drawn by the public into an aggregated dataset of 25,000 unique newspaper advertisements.

The OpenRefine and Computing for Cultural Heritage course are just two of the many digital scholarship training sessions that I have attended. But they perfectly illustrate the value of the Digital Scholarship Training Programme, which has introduced me to new software, opened my eyes to digital opportunities, provided inspiration for me to improve, and helped me attain new skills that I have been able to put into practice both for the benefit of myself and my team.

15 March 2024

Call for proposals open for DigiCAM25: Born-Digital Collections, Archives and Memory conference

Digital research in the arts and humanities has traditionally tended to focus on digitised physical objects and archives. However, born-digital cultural materials that originate and circulate across a range of digital formats and platforms are rapidly expanding and increasing in complexity, which raises opportunities and issues for research and archiving communities. Collecting, preserving, accessing and sharing born-digital objects and data presents a range of technical, legal and ethical challenges that, if unaddressed, threaten the archival and research futures of these vital cultural materials and records of the 21st century. Moreover, the environments, contexts and formats through which born-digital records are mediated necessitate reconceptualising the materials and practices we associate with cultural heritage and memory. Research and practitioner communities working with born-digital materials are growing and their interests are varied, from digital cultures and intangible cultural heritage to web archives, electronic literature and social media.

To explore and discuss issues relating to born-digital cultural heritage, the Digital Humanities Research Hub at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in collaboration with British Library curators, colleagues from Aarhus University and the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme at the British Museum, are currently inviting submissions for the inaugural Born-Digital Collections, Archives and Memory conference, which will be hosted at the University of London and online from 2-4 April 2025. The full call for proposals and submission portal is available at https://easychair.org/cfp/borndigital2025.

Text on image says Born-Digital Collections, Archives and Memory, 2 - 4 April 2025, School of Advanced Study, University of London

This international conference seeks to further an interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral discussion on how the born-digital transforms what and how we research in the humanities. We welcome contributions from researchers and practitioners involved in any way in accessing or developing born-digital collections and archives, and interested in exploring the novel and transformative effects of born-digital cultural heritage. Areas of particular (but not exclusive) interest include:

  1. A broad range of born-digital objects and formats:
    • Web-based and networked heritage, including but not limited to websites, emails, social media platforms/content and other forms of personal communication
    • Software-based heritage, such as video games, mobile applications, computer-based artworks and installations, including approaches to archiving, preserving and understanding their source code
    • Born-digital narrative and artistic forms, such as electronic literature and born-digital art collections
    • Emerging formats and multimodal born-digital cultural heritage
    • Community-led and personal born-digital archives
    • Physical, intangible and digitised cultural heritage that has been remediated in a transformative way in born-digital formats and platforms
  2. Theoretical, methodological and creative approaches to engaging with born-digital collections and archives:
    • Approaches to researching the born-digital mediation of cultural memory
    • Histories and historiographies of born-digital technologies
    • Creative research uses and creative technologist approaches to born-digital materials
    • Experimental research approaches to engaging with born-digital objects, data and collections
    • Methodological reflections on using digital, quantitative and/or qualitative methods with born-digital objects, data and collections
    • Novel approaches to conceptualising born-digital and/or hybrid cultural heritage and archives
  3. Critical approaches to born-digital archiving, curation and preservation:
    • Critical archival studies and librarianship approaches to born-digital collections
    • Preserving and understanding obsolete media formats, including but not limited to CD-ROMs, floppy disks and other forms of optical and magnetic media
    • Preservation challenges associated with the platformisation of digital cultural production
    • Semantic technology, ontologies, metadata standards, markup languages and born-digital curation
    • Ethical approaches to collecting and accessing ‘difficult’ born-digital heritage, such as traumatic or offensive online materials
    • Risks and opportunities of generative AI in the context of born-digital archiving
  4. Access, training and frameworks for born-digital archiving and collecting:
    • Institutional, national and transnational approaches to born-digital archiving and collecting
    • Legal, trustworthy, ethical and environmentally sustainable frameworks for born-digital archiving and collecting, including attention to cybersecurity and safety concerns
    • Access, skills and training for born-digital research and archives
    • Inequalities of access to born-digital collecting and archiving infrastructures, including linguistic, geographic, economic, legal, cultural, technological and institutional barriers

Options for Submissions

A number of different submission types are welcomed and there will be an option for some presentations to be delivered online.

  • Conference papers (150-300 words)
    • Presentations lasting 20 minutes. Papers will be grouped with others on similar subjects or themes to form a complete session. There will be time for questions at the end of each session.
  • Panel sessions (100 word summary plus 150-200 words per paper)
    • Proposals should consist of three or four 20-minute papers. There will be time for questions at the end of each session.
  • Roundtables (200-300 word summary and 75-100 word bio for each speaker)
    • Proposals should include between three to five speakers, inclusive of a moderator, and each session will be no more than 90 minutes.
  • Posters, demos & showcases (100-200 words)
    • These can be traditional printed posters, digital-only posters, digital tool showcases, or software demonstrations. Please indicate the form your presentation will take in your submission.
    • If you propose a technical demonstration of some kind, please include details of technical equipment to be used and the nature of assistance (if any) required. Organisers will be able to provide a limited number of external monitors for digital posters and demonstrations, but participants will be expected to provide any specialist equipment required for their demonstration. Where appropriate, posters and demos may be made available online for virtual attendees to access.
  • Lightning talks (100-200 words)
    • Talks will be no more than 5 minutes and can be used to jump-start a conversation, pitch a new project, find potential collaborations, or try out a new idea. Reports on completed projects would be more appropriately given as 20-minute papers.
  • Workshops (150-300 words)
    • Please include details about the format, length, proposed topic, and intended audience.

Proposals will be reviewed by members of the programme committee. The peer review process will be double-blind, so no names or affiliations should appear on the submissions. The one exception is proposals for roundtable sessions, which should include the names of proposed participants. All authors and reviewers are required to adhere to the conference Code of Conduct.

The submission deadline for proposals is 15 May 2024, has been extended to 7 June 2024, and notification of acceptance is now scheduled for early August 2024. Organisers plan to make a number of bursaries available to presenters to cover the cost of attendance and details about these will be shared when notifications are sent. 

Key Information:

  • Dates: 2 - 4 April 2025
  • Venue: University of London, London, UK & online
  • Call for papers deadline: 7 June 2024
  • Notification of acceptance: early August 2024
  • Submission link: https://easychair.org/cfp/borndigital2025

Further details can be found on the conference website and the call for proposals submission portal at https://easychair.org/cfp/borndigital2025. If you have any questions about the conference, please contact the organising committee at [email protected].

13 March 2024

Rethinking Web Maps to present Hans Sloane’s Collections

A post by Dr Gethin Rees, Lead Curator, Digital Mapping...

I have recently started a community fellowship working with geographical data from the Sloane Lab project. The project is titled A Generous Approach to Web Mapping Sloane’s Collections and deals with the collection of Hans Sloane, amassed in the eighteenth century and a foundation collection for the British Museum and subsequently the Natural History Museum and the British Library. The aim of the fellowship is to create interactive maps that enable users to view the global breadth of Sloane’s collections, to discover collection items and to click through to their web pages. The Sloane Lab project, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Towards a National collection programme, has created the Sloane Lab knowledge base (SLKB), a rich and interconnected knowledge graph of this vast collection. My fellowship seeks to link and visualise digital representations of British Museum and British Library objects in the SLKB and I will be guided by project researchers, Andreas Vlachidis and Daniele Metilli from University College, London.

Photo of a bust sculpture of a men in a curled wig on a red brick wall
Figure 1. Bust of Hans Sloane in the British Library.

The first stage of the fellowship is to use data science methods to extract place names from the records of Sloane’s collections that exist in the catalogues today. These records will then be aligned with a gazetteer, a list of places and associated data, such as World Historical Gazetteer (https://whgazetteer.org/). Such alignment results in obtaining coordinates in the form of latitude and longitude. These coordinates mean the places can be displayed on a map, and the fellowship will draw on Peripleo web map software to do this (https://github.com/britishlibrary/peripleo).

Image of a rectangular map with circles overlaid on locations
Figure 2 Web map using Web Mercator projection, from the Georeferencer.

https://britishlibrary.oldmapsonline.org/api/v1/density

The fellowship also aims to critically evaluate the use of mapping technologies (eg Google Maps Embed API, MapBoxGL, Leaflet) to present cultural heritage collections on the web. One area that I will examine is the use of the Web Mercator projection as a standard option for presenting humanities data using web maps. A map projection is a method of representing part of the surface of the earth on a plane (flat) surface. The transformation from a sphere or similar to a flat representation always introduces distortion. There are innumerable projections or ways to make this transformation and each is suited to different purposes, with strengths and weaknesses. Web maps are predominantly used for navigation and the Web Mercator projection is well suited to this purpose as it preserves angles.

Image of a rectangular map with circles illustrating that countries nearer the equator are shown as relatively smaller
Figure 3 Map of the world based on Mercator projection including indicatrices to visualise local distortions to area. By Justin Kunimune. Source https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mercator_with_Tissot%27s_Indicatrices_of_Distortion.svg Used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 license. 

However, this does not necessarily mean it is the right projection for presenting humanities data. Indeed, it is unsuitable for the aims and scope of Sloane Lab, first, due to well-documented visual compromises —such as the inflation of landmasses like Europe at the expense of, for example, Africa and the Caribbean— that not only hamper visual analysis but also recreate and reinforce global inequities and injustices. Second, the Mercator projection has a history, entangled with processes like colonialism, empire and slavery that also shaped Hans Sloane’s collections. The fellowship therefore examines the use of other projections, such as those that preserve distance and area, to represent contested collections and collecting practices in interactive maps like Leaflet or Open Layers. Geography is intimately connected with identity and thus digital maps offer powerful opportunities for presenting cultural heritage collections. The fellowship examines how reinvention of a commonly used visualisation form can foster thought-provoking engagement with Sloane’s collections and hopefully be applied to visualise the geography of heritage more widely.

Image of a curved map that represents the relative size of countries more accurately
Figure 4 Map of the world based on Albers equal-area projection including indicatrices to visualise local distortions to area. By Justin Kunimune. Source  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albers_with_Tissot%27s_Indicatrices_of_Distortion.svg Used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 license. 

26 September 2023

Let’s learn together - Join us in the Cultural Heritage Open Scholarship Network

Are you working in Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums (GLAM) and cultural heritage organisations as research support and research-active staff? Are you interested in developing knowledge and skills in open scholarship? Would you like to establish good practices, share your experience with others and collaborate? If your answer is yes to one or more of these questions, we invite you to join the Cultural Heritage Open Scholarship Network (CHOSN).

Initiated by the British Library’s Research Infrastructure Services built on the experience of and positive responses received from the open scholarship training programme, which was run earlier this year. CHOSN is a community of practice for research support and research-active staff who work in GLAMs, organisations interested in developing and sharing open scholarship knowledge and skills, organising events, and supporting each other in this area. 

GLAMs demonstrate a significant amount of research showcases, but we may find ourselves with inadequate resources to make that research openly available, gain relevant open scholarship skills to make it happen, or even identify what forms research in these environments. CHOSN aims to provide a platform to create synergy for those aiming for good practice in open scholarship.

CHOSN flyer image, text says: Cultural Heritage Open Scholarship Network (CHOSN). Are you working in Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums (GLAMs)? Join Us! To develop knowledge and skills in open scholarship, organise activities to learn and grow, and create a community of practise to collaborate and support each other.

This network can be of interest to anyone who is facilitating, enabling, supporting research activities in GLAM organisations. They include but are not limited to research support staff, research-active staff, librarians, curatorial teams, IT specialists, copyright officers and so on. Anyone interested in the areas of open scholarship and works in cultural heritage organisations are welcome.

Join us in the Cultural Heritage Open Scholarship Network (CHOSN) to;

  • explore research activities, roles in GLAMs and make them visible,
  • develop knowledge and skills in open scholarship,
  • carry out capacity development activities to learn and grow, and
  • create a community of practice to collaborate and support each other.

We have set up a JISC mailing list to start communication with the network, you can join by signing up here. We will shortly organise an online meeting to kick off the network plans, explore how to move forward and to collectively discuss what we would like to do next. This will all be communicated via the CHOSN mailing list.

If you have any questions about CHOSN, we are happy to hear from you at [email protected].

14 September 2023

What's the future of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06 September 2023

Open and Engaged 2023: Community over Commercialisation

The British Library is delighted to host its annual Open and Engaged Conference on Monday 30 October, in-person and online, as part of International Open Access Week.

Open and Engaged 2023: Community over Commercialisation, includes headshots of speakers and lists location as The British Library, London and contact as openaccess@bl.uk

In line with this year’s #OAWeek theme: Open and Engaged 2023: Community over Commercialisation will address approaches and practices to open scholarship that prioritise the best interests of the public and the research community. The programme will focus on community-governance, public-private collaborations, and community building aspects of the topic by keeping the public good in the heart of the talks. It will underline different priorities and approaches for Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums (GLAMs) and the cultural sector in the context of open access.

We invite everyone interested in the topic to join us on Monday, 30 October!

This will be a hybrid event taking place at the British Library’s Knowledge Centre in St. Pancras, London, and streamed online for those unable to attend in-person.

You can register for Open and Engaged 2023 by filling this form by Thursday, 26 October 18:00 BST. Please note that the places for in-person attendance are now full and the form is available only for online booking.

Registrants will be contacted with details for either in-person attendance or a link to access the online stream closer to the event.

Programme

Slides and recordings of the talks are available as a collection in the British Library’s Research Repository.

9:30     Registration opens for in-person attendees. Entrance Hall at the Knowledge Centre.

10:00   Welcome

10:10   Keynote from Monica Westin, Senior Product Manager at the Internet Archive

Commercial Break: Imagining new ownership models for cultural heritage institutions.

10:40   Session on public-private collaborations for public good chaired by Liz White, Director of Library Partnerships at the British Library.

  • Balancing public-private partnerships with responsibilities to our communities. Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections, The British Library
  • Where do I stand? Deconstructing Digital Collections [Research] Infrastructures: A perspective from Towards a National Collection. Javier Pereda, Senior Researcher of the Towards a National Collection (TaNC)
  • "This is not IP I'm familiar with." The strange afterlife and untapped potential of public domain content in GLAM institutions. Douglas McCarthy, Head of Library Learning Centre, Delft University of Technology.

11:40   Break

12:10   Lightning talks on community projects chaired by Graham Jevon, Digital Service Specialist at the British Library.

  • The Turing Way: Community-led Resources for Open Research and Data Science. Emma Karoune, Senior Research Community Manager, The Alan Turing Institute.
  • Open Online Tools for Creating Interactive Narratives. Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications and Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator for Contemporary British Collections, The British Library

12:45   Lunch

13:30   Session on the community-centred infrastructure in practice chaired by Jenny Basford, Repository Services Lead at the British Library.

  • AHRC, Digital Research Infrastructure and where we want to go with it. Tao Chang, Associate Director, Infrastructure & Major Programmes, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • The critical role of repositories in advancing open scholarship. Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director, Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR). (Remote talk)
  • Investing in the Future of Open Infrastructure. Kaitlin Thaney, Executive Director, Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI). (Remote talk)

14:30   Break

15:00   Session on the role of research libraries in prioritizing the community chaired by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications at the British Library.

  • Networks of libraries supporting open access book publishing. Rupert Gatti, Co-founder and the Director of Open Book Publishers, Director of Studies in Economics at the Trinity College Cambridge
  • Collective action for driving open science agenda in Africa and Europe. Iryna Kuchma, Open Access Programme Manager at EIFL. (Remote talk)
  • The Not So Quiet Rights Retention Revolution: Research Libraries, Rights and Supporting our Communities. William Nixon, Deputy Executive Director at RLUK-Research Libraries UK

16:00   Closing remarks

Social media hashtag for the event is #OpenEngaged. If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected].

03 August 2023

My AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship: A year on

A year ago I started work on my RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship project to analyse computationally the descriptions in the Library’s incunabula printed catalogue. As the project comes to a close this week, I would like to update on the work from the last few months leading to the publication of the incunabula printed catalogue data, a featured collection on the British Library’s Research Repository. In a separate blogpost I will discuss the findings from the text analysis and next steps, as well as share my reflections on the fellowship experience.

Since Isaac’s blogpost about the automated detection of the catalogue entries in the OCR files, a lot of effort has gone into improving the code and outputting the descriptions in the format required for the text analysis and as open datasets. With the invaluable help of Harry Lloyd who had joined the Library’s Digital Research team as Research Software Engineer, we verified the results and identified new rules for detecting sub-entries signaled by Another Copy rather than a main entry heading. We also reassembled and parsed the XML files, originally split in two sets per volume for the purpose of generating the OCR, so that the entries are listed in the order in which they appear in the printed volume. We prepared new text files containing all the entries from each volume with each entry represented as a single line of text, that I could use for the corpus linguistics analysis with AntConc. In consultation with the Curator, Karen Limper-Herz, and colleagues in Collection Metadata we agreed how best to store the data for evaluation and in preparation to update the Library’s online catalogue.

Two women looking at the poster illustrating the text analysis with the incunabula catalogue data
Poster session at Digital Humanities Conference 2023

Whilst all this work was taking place, I started the computational analysis of the English text from the descriptions. The reason for using these partial descriptions was to separate what was merely transcribed from the incunabula from the more language used by the cataloguer in their own ‘voice’. I have recorded my initial observations in the poster I presented at the Digital Humanities Conference 2023. Discussing my fellowship project with the conference attendees was extremely rewarding; there was much interest in the way I had used Transkribus to derive the OCR data, some questions about how the project methodology applies to other data and an agreement on the need to contextualise collections descriptions and reflect on any bias in the transmission of knowledge. In the poster I also highlight the importance of the cross-disciplinary collaboration required for this type of work, which resonated well with the conference theme of Collaboration as Opportunity.

I have started disseminating the knowledge gained from the project with members of the GLAM community. At the British Library Harry, Karen and I ran an informal ‘Hack & Yack’ training session showcasing the project aims and methodology through the use of Jupyter notebooks. I also enjoyed the opportunity to discuss my research at a recent Research Libraries UK Digital Scholarship Network workshop and look forward to further conversations on this topic with colleagues in the wider GLAM community. 

We intend to continue to enrich the datasets to enable better access to the collection, the development of new resources for incunabula research and digital scholarship projects. I would like to end by adding my thanks to Graham Jevon, for assisting with the timely publication of the project datasets, and above all to James, Karen and Harry for supporting me throughout this project.

This blogpost is by Dr Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator, British Library. She is on Twitter @RossiAtanassova  and Mastodon @[email protected]

 

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