As part of Open Access Week 2021, the British Library is delighted to host its annual Open and Engaged event online on 25 October. Please join us for Open and Engaged 2021: Understanding the Impact of Open in the Arts and Humanities Beyond the University.
In Higher Education contexts, discussions around openness are often focused on the pathways to make publications, data or cultural objects openly available online. It is often not known what impact open resources can have for various communities beyond the research community.
The speakers at Open and Engaged 2021 will explore the different impacts that open resources can have on people. They will seek to question how openness enhances the ability to engage with communities, how projects can be sustainable and make positive changes in the long-term, as well as some of the downsides to current approaches to open engagement.
Many of the speakers come from the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector, and we will learn about ways cultural organisations generate, measure and report on impact, and seek useful connections across the higher education and cultural sectors.
This online conference will address key questions of:
How does openness enhance (or restrict) the ability to engage with communities?
What can the higher education sector learn from people involved in research and research-related activities that is conducted outside of universities?
What are some of the ways in which GLAM organisations generate, measure and report on impact?
How can universities work with the wider GLAM sector to enhance the impact of scholarly research?
Are projects geared towards making positive changes in society sustainable?
25 October 2021, Monday – British Summer Time (UTC+1)
09:50 - 10:00 Opening remarks
10:00 - 11:00 Session I: Increasing engagement with cultural heritage collections
Brigitte Vézina. Creative Commons. What does the future hold for "open" and cultural heritage institutions?
Sam van Schaik, British Library. The ethics of open access in the Endangered Archives Programme.
Merete Sanderhoff, SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst/National Gallery of Denmark. Users understand OpenGLAM. Do GLAMs?
Rebecca Bailey, Towards a National Collection, Historic Environment Scotland. Increasing engagement through Towards a National Collection.
11:00 - 11:20 Q&A
11:20 - 11:40 Break
11:40 - 12:40 Session II: Measuring and evaluating impact of open resources beyond journal articles
Luc Boruta, Thunken. Impact cannot be measured, and other sad half-truths about impact measurement.
Gemma Derrick, University of Lancaster. Hidden REF. (TBC)
Anne Boddington, Kingston University. Making a difference and ‘partnering for impact’.
Helen Adams, Oxford University Gardens, Libraries & Museums (GLAM), University of Oxford. Best of both: combining arts and science to measure the benefits of online culture for mental health in young people.
12:40 - 13:00 Q&A
13:00 - 13:05 Closing remarks
Registration Details: Registration is free and open now. The sessions will be recorded and made publicly available in November 2021.
We encourage you to participate in discussion with other attendees and speakers by using the Twitter hashtag #OpenEngaged. By registering for this conference and participating in the Twitter hashtag, we ask that you treat all organizers, speakers and other participants with respect.
Posted by Mahendra Mahey, former Manager of British Library Labs or "BL Labs" for short
[estimated reading time of around 15 minutes]
This is is my last day working as manager of BL Labs, and also my final posting on the Digital Scholarship blog. I thought I would take this chance to reflect on my journey of almost 9 years in helping to set up, maintain and enabling BL Labs to become a permanent fixture at the British Library (BL).
BL Labs was the first digital Lab in a national library, anywhere in the world, that gets people to experiment with its cultural heritage digital collections and data. There are now several Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum Labs or 'GLAM Labs' for short around the world, with an active community which I helped build, from 2018.
I am really proud I was there from the beginning to implement the original proposal which was written by several colleagues, but especially Adam Farquhar, former head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library (BL). The project was at first generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation through four rounds of funding as well as support from the BL. In April 2021, the project became a permanently funded fixture, helped very much by my new manager Maja Maricevic, Head of Higher Education and Science.
The great news is that BL Labs is going to stay after I have left. The position of leading the Lab will soon be advertised. Hopefully, someone will get a chance to work with my helpful and supportive colleague Technical Lead of Labs, Dr Filipe Bento, bright, talented and very hard working Maja and other great colleagues in Digital Research and wider at the BL.
The beginnings, the BL and me!
I met Adam Farquhar and Aly Conteh (Former Head of Digital Research at the BL) in December 2012. They must have liked something about me because I started working on the project in January 2013, though I officially started in March 2013 to launch BL Labs.
I must admit, I had always felt a bit intimidated by the BL. My first visit was in the early 1980s before the St Pancras site was opened (in 1997) as a Psychology student. I remember coming up from Wolverhampton on the train to get a research paper about "Serotonin Pathways in Rats when sleeping" by Lidov, feeling nervous and excited at the same time. It felt like a place for 'really intelligent educated people' and for those who were one for the intellectual elites in society. It also felt for me a bit like it represented the British empire and its troubled history of colonialism, especially some of the collections which made me feel uncomfortable as to why they were there in the first place.
I remember thinking that the BL probably wasn't a place for some like me, a child of Indian Punjabi immigrants from humble beginnings who came to England in the 1960s. Actually, I felt like an imposter and not worthy of being there.
Nearly 9 years later, I can say I learned to respect and even cherish what was inside it, especially the incredible collections, though I also became more confident about expressing stronger views about the decolonisation of some of these. I became very fond of some of the people who work or use it, there are some really good kind-hearted souls at the BL. However, I never completely lost that 'imposter and being an outsider' feeling.
What I remember at that time, going for my interview, was having this thought, what will happen if I got the position and 'What would be the one thing I would try and change?'. It came easily to me, namely that I would try and get more new people through the doors literally or virtually by connecting them to the BL's collections (especially the digital). New people like me, who may have never set foot, or had been motivated to step into the building before. This has been one of the most important reasons for me to get up in the morning and go to work at BL Labs.
So what have been my highlights? Let's have a very quick pass through!
BL Labs Launch and Advisory Board
I launched BL Labs in March 2013, one week after I had started. It was at the launch event organised by my wonderfully supportive and innovative colleague, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom. I distinctly remember in the afternoon session (which I did alone), I had to present my 'ideas' of how I might launch the first BL Labs competition where we would be trying to get pioneering researchers to work with the BL's digital collections.
God it was a tough crowd! They asked pretty difficult questions, questions I myself was asking too which I still didn't know the answer too either.
My first gut feeling overall after the event was, this is going to be hard work. This feeling and reality remained a constant throughout my time at BL Labs.
In early May 2013, we launched the competition, which was a really quick and stressful turnaround as I had only officially started in mid March (one and a half months). I remember worrying as to whether anyone would even enter! All the final entries were pretty much submitted a few minutes before the deadline. I remember being alone that evening on deadline day near to midnight waiting by my laptop, thinking what happens if no one enters, it's going to be disaster and I will lose my job. Luckily that didn't happen, in the end, we received 26 entries.
I am a firm believer that we can help make our own luck, but sometimes luck can be quite random! Perhaps BL Labs had a bit of both!
After that, I never really looked back! BL Labs developed its own kind of pattern and momentum each year:
hunting around the BL for digital collections to make into datasets and make available
helping to make more digital collections openly licensed
having hundreds of conversations with people interested in connecting with the BL's digital collections in the BL and outside
working with some people more intensively to carry out experiments
developing ideas further into prototype projects
telling the world of successes and failures in person, meetings, events and social media
launching a competition and awards in April or May
roadshows before and after with invitations to speak at events around the world
the summer working with competition winners
late October/November the international symposium showcased things from the year
'Nothing interesting happens in the office' - Roadshows, Presentations, Workshops and Symposia!
One of the highlights of BL Labs was to go out to universities and other places to explain what the BL is and what BL Labs does. This ended up with me pretty much seeing the world (North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and giving virtual talks in South America and Africa).
My greatest challenge in BL Labs was always to get people to truly and passionately 'connect' with the BL's digital collections and data in order to come up with cool ideas of what to actually do with them. What I learned from my very first trip was that telling people what you have is great, they definitely need to know what you have! However, once you do that, the hard work really begins as you often need to guide and inspire many of them, help and support them to use the collections creatively and meaningfully. It was also important to understand the back story of the digital collection and learn about the institutional culture of the BL if people also wanted to work with BL colleagues. For me and the researchers involved, inspirational engagement with digital collections required a lot of intellectual effort and emotional intelligence. Often this means asking the uncomfortable questions about research such as 'Why are we doing this?', 'What is the benefit to society in doing this?', 'Who cares?', 'How can computation help?' and 'Why is it necessary to even use computation?'.
Making those connections between people and data does feel like magic when it really works. It's incredibly exciting, suddenly everyone has goose bumps and is energised. This feeling, I will take away with me, it's the essence of my work at BL Labs!
A full list of over 200 presentations, roadshows, events and 9 annual symposia can be found here.
Competitions, Awards and Projects
Another significant way BL Labs has tried to connect people with data has been through Competitions (tell us what you would like to do, and we will choose an idea and work collaboratively with you on it to make it a reality), Awards (show us what you have already done) and Projects (collaborative working).
At the last count, we have supported and / or highlighted over 450 projects in research, artistic, entrepreneurial, educational, community based, activist and public categories most through competitions, awards and project collaborations.
We also set up awards for British Library Staff which has been a wonderful way to highlight the fantastic work our staff do with digital collections and give them the recognition they deserve. I have noticed over the years that the number of staff who have been working on digital projects has increased significantly. Sometimes this was with the help of BL Labs but often because of the significant Digital Scholarship Training Programme, run by my Digital Curator colleagues in Digital Research for staff to understand that the BL isn't just about physical things but digital items too.
Browse through our project archive to get inspiration of the various projects BL Labs has been involved in or highlighted.
Putting the digital collections 'where the light is' - British Library platforms and others
When I started at BL Labs it was clear that we needed to make a fundamental decision about how we saw digital collections. Quite early on, we decided we should treat collections as data to harness the power of computational tools to work with each collection, especially for research purposes. Each collection should have a unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI) so researchers can cite them in publications. Any new datasets generated from them will also have DOIs, allowing us to understand the ecosystem through DOIs of what happens to data when you get it out there for people to use.
However, BL Labs has not stopped there! We always believed that it's important to put our digital collections where others are likely to discover them (we can't assume that researchers will want to come to BL platforms), 'where the light is' so to speak. We were very open and able to put them on other platforms such as Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, not forgetting that we still needed to do the hard work to connect data to people after they have discovered them, if they needed that support.
Our greatest success by far was placing 1 million largely undescribed images that were digitally snipped from 65,000 digitised public domain books from the 19th Century on Flickr Commons in 2013. The number of images on the platform have grown since then by another 50 to 60 thousand from collections elsewhere in the BL. There has been significant interaction from the public to generate crowdsourced tags to help to make it easier to find the specific images. The number of views we have had have reached over a staggering 2 billion over this time. There have also been an incredible array of projects which have used the images, from artistic use to using machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify them. It's my favourite collection, probably because there are no restrictions in using it.
Read the most popular blog post the BL has ever published by my former BL Labs colleague, the brilliant and inspirational Ben O'Steen, a million first steps and the 'Mechanical Curator' which describes how we told the world why and how we had put 1 million images online for anyone to use freely.
It is wonderful to know that George Oates, the founder of Flickr Commons and still a BL Labs Advisory Board member, has been involved in the creation of the Flickr Foundation which was announced a few days ago! Long live Flickr Commons! We loved it because it also offered a computational way to access the collections, critical for powerful and efficient computational experiments, through its Application Programming Interface (API).
I loved working with artists, its my passion! They are so creative and often not restricted by academic thinking, see the work of Mario Klingemann for example! You can browse through our archives for various artistic projects that used the BL's digital collections, it's inspiring.
I am really proud of helping to create the international GLAM Labs community with over 250 members, established in 2018 and still active today. I affectionately call them the GLAM Labbers, and I often ask people to explore their inner 'Labber' when I give presentations. What is a Labber? It's the experimental and playful part of us we all had as children and unfortunately many have lost when becoming an adult. It's the ability to be fearless, having the audacity and perhaps even naivety to try crazy things even if they are likely to fail! Unfortunately society values success more than it does failure. In my opinion, we need to recognise, respect and revere those that have the courage to try but failed. That courage to experiment should be honoured and embraced and should become the bedrock of our educational systems from the very outset.
Two years ago, many of us Labbers 'ate our own dog food' or 'practised what we preached' when me and 15 other colleagues came together for 5 days to produce a book through a booksprint, probably the most rewarding professional experience of my life. The book is about how to set up, maintain, sustain and even close a GLAM Lab and is called 'Open a GLAM Lab'. It is available as public domain content and I encourage you to read it.
Online drop-in goodbye - today!
I organised a 30 minute ‘online farewell drop-in’ on Wednesday 29 September 2021, 1330 BST (London), 1430 (Paris, Amsterdam), 2200 (Adelaide), 0830 (New York) on my very last day at the British Library. It was heart-warming that the session was 'maxed out' at one point with participants from all over the world. I honestly didn't expect over 100 colleagues to show up. I guess when you leave an organisation you get to find out who you actually made an impact on, who shows up, and who tells you, otherwise you may never know.
Those that know me well know that I would have much rather had a farewell do ‘in person’, over a pint and praying for the ‘chip god’ to deliver a huge portion of chips with salt/vinegar and tomato sauce’ magically and mysteriously to the table. The pub would have been Mc'Glynns (http://www.mcglynnsfreehouse.com/) near the British Library in London. I wonder who the chip god was? I never found out ;)
The answer to who the chip god was is in text following this sentence on white on white text...you will be very shocked to know who it was!- s
Spoiler alert it was me after all, my alter ego
Mahendra's online farewell to BL Labs, Wednesday 29 September, 1330 BST, 2021. Left: Flowers and wine from the GLAM Labbers arrived in Tallinn, 20 mins before the meeting! Right: Some of the participants of the online farewell
Leave a message of good will to see me off on my voyage!
It would be wonderful if you would like to leave me your good wishes, comments, memories, thoughts, scans of handwritten messages, pictures, photographs etc. on the following Google doc:
I will leave it open for a week or so after I have left. Reading positive sincere heartfelt messages from colleagues and collaborators over the years have already lifted my spirits. For me it provides evidence that you perhaps did actually make a difference to somone's life. I will definitely be re-reading them during the cold dark Baltic nights in Tallinn.
I would love to hear from you and find out what you are doing, or if you prefer, you can email me, the details are at the end of this post.
BL Labs Sailor and Captain Signing Off!
It's been a blast and lots of fun! Of course there is a tinge of sadness in leaving! For me, it's also been intellectually and emotionally challenging as well as exhausting, with many ‘highs’ and a few ‘lows’ or choppy waters, some professional and others personal.
I have learned so much about myself and there are so many things I am really really proud of. There are other things of course I wish I had done better. Most of all, I learned to embrace failure, my best teacher!
I think I did meet my original wish of wanting to help to open up the BL to as many new people who perhaps would have never engaged in the Library before. That was either by using digital collections and data for cool projects and/or simply walking through the doors of the BL in London or Boston Spa and having a look around and being inspired to do something because of it.
I wish the person who takes over my position lots of success! My only piece of advice is if you care, you will be fine!
Anyhow, what a time this has been for us all on this planet? I have definitely struggled at times. I, like many others, have lost loved ones and thought deeply about life and it's true meaning. I have also managed to find the courage to know what’s important and act accordingly, even if that has been a bit terrifying and difficult at times. Leaving the BL for example was not an easy decision for me, and I wish perhaps things had turned out differently, but I know I am doing the right thing for me, my future and my loved ones.
Though there have been a few dark times for me both professionally and personally, I hope you will be happy to know that I have also found peace and happiness too. I am in a really good place.
I would like to thank former alumni of BL Labs, Ben O'Steen - Technical Lead for BL Labs from 2013 to 2018, Hana Lewis (2016 - 2018) and Eleanor Cooper (2018-2019) both BL Labs Project Officers and many other people I worked through BL Labs and wider in the Library and outside it in my journey.
Where I am off to and what am I doing?
My professional plans are 'evolving', but one thing is certain, I will be moving country!
To Estonia to be precise!
I plan to live, settle down with my family and work there. I was never a fan of Brexit, and this way I get to stay a European.
I would like to finish with this final sweet video created by writer and filmaker Ling Low and her team in 2016, entitled 'Hey there Young Sailor' which they all made as volunteers for the Malaysian band, the 'Impatient Sisters'. It won the BL Labs Artistic Award in 2016. I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Ling over a lovely lunch in Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia, where I had also given a talk at the National Library about my work and looked for remanants of my grandfather who had settled there many years ago.
I wish all of you well, and if you are interested in keeping in touch with me, working with me or just saying hello, you can contact me via my personal email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow my progress on my personal website.
Happy journeys through this short life to all of you!
Six months ago, twenty members of staff from the British Library and The National Archives UK completed Computing for Cultural Heritage, a project that trialled Birkbeck University and Institute of Coding’s new PGCert, Applied Data Science. In this blog post we explore the necessity of this new course, the final report of this trial, and the lasting impact that this PGCert has made on some of the participants.
Information professionals have been experiencing a massive shift to digital in the way collections are being donated, held and accessed. In the British Library’s digital collections there are e-books, maps, digitised newspapers, journal titles, sound recordings and over 500 terabytes of preserved data from the UK Web Archive. Yearly, the library sees 6 million catalogue searches by web users with almost 4 million items consulted online. This amounts to a vast amount of potential cultural heritage data available to researchers, and it requires complex digital workflows to curate, collect, manage, provide access, and help researchers computationally make sense of it all.
Staff at collecting institutions like the British Library and the National Archives, UK are engaging in computationally driven projects like never before, but often without the benefit of data skills and computational thinking to support them. That is where a program like Computing for Cultural Heritage can help information professionals, allowing them to upskill and tackle issues – like building new digital systems and services, supporting collaborative, computational and data-driven research using digital collections and data, or deploying simple scripts to make everyday tasks easier – with confidence.
The trial course was broken into two modules, a taught lesson on ‘Demystifying Computing with Python’ and a written ‘Industry Project’ on a software solution to a work-based problem. A third module, Analytic Tools for Information Professionals, would be offered to participants outside of the trial as part of the full live course in order to earn their PGCert.
By the end of the trial, participants were able to:
Demonstrate satisfactory knowledge of programming with Python.
Understand techniques for Python data structures and algorithms.
Work on case studies to apply data analytics using Python.
Understand the programming paradigm of object-oriented programming.
Use Python to apply the techniques learned on the module to real-world problems.
Demonstrate the ability to develop an algorithm to carry out a specified task and to convert this into an executable program.
Demonstrate the ability to debug a program.
Understand the concepts of data security and general data protection regulations and standards.
Develop a systematic understanding and critical awareness of a commonly agreed problem between the work environment and the academic supervisor in the area of computing.
Develop a software solution for a work-based problem using the skills developed from the taught modules, for example develop software using the programming languages and software tools/libraries taught.
Present a critical discussion on existing approaches in the particular problem area and position their own approach within that area and evaluate their contribution.
Gain experience in communicating complex ideas/concepts and approaches/techniques to others by writing a comprehensive, self-contained report.
The learning objectives were designed and delivered with the cultural heritage context in mind, and as such incorporated, for instance, examples and datasets from the British Library Music collections in the Python programming elements of the taught module. Additionally, there was a lecture focused on a British Library user case involving the design and implementation of a Database Management System.
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.
The Lasting Impact of Computing for Cultural Heritage
Now that we’re six months on from the end of the trial, and the participants who opted in have earned their full PGCert, we followed up with some of the learners to hear about their experiences and the lasting effects of the 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.”
“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."
The Computing for Cultural Heritage project concluded in February 2021 with a virtual panel session that highlighted the learners’ projects and allowed discussion of the course and feedback to the key project coordinators and contributors. Case studies of the participants’ projects, as well as links to other blog posts and project pages can be found on our Computing for Cultural Heritage Student Projects page.
The final report highlights these projects as well as demographical statistics on the participants and feedback that was gained through anonymous survey at the end of the trial. In order to evaluate the experience of the students on the PGCert we composed a list of questions that would provide insight into various aspects of the course with respect to how the learner fit in the work around their work commitments and how well they met the learning objectives.
Why Computing for Cultural Heritage?
Figure 1: Why did you choose to do this course? Results breakdown by topic and gender
When asked why the participants chose to take part in the course, we found that one of the most common answers was to develop methods for automating repetitive, manual tasks – such as generating unique identifiers for digital records and copying data between Excel spreadsheets – to free up more curatorial time for their digital collections. One participant said:
“I wanted to learn more about coding and how to use it to analyse data, particularly data that I knew was rich and had value but had been stuck in multiple spreadsheets for quite some time.”
There was also a desire to learn new skills, either for personal or professional development:
“I believe in continuous professional development and knew that this would be an invaluable course to undertake for my career.”
“I felt I was lagging behind and my job was getting static, and the feeling that I was behind [in digital] and I wanted to kind of catch up.”
Figure 2: 'Did the course help you meet your aims? Results broken down by answer and gender.
A follow up question asked whether these goals and aims was met by the course. Happily, most participants indicated that they had been met, for reasons of increased confidence, help in developing new computational skills, and a deeper knowledge of information technology.
What was the most enjoyed aspect of the course?
Figure 3: 'What did you enjoy most about the course?' Results breakdown by topic and gender
When broken down, the responses to ‘What did you enjoy most’ largely reflect the student experience, whether it was being in taught modules (4), getting hands on experience (4), or being in a learning environment again (6). Participants also indicated that networking with peers was an enjoyable part of the experience:
“Day out of work with like minded people made it really easy to stick with rather than just doing it online.”
“Spending a day away from work and meeting the people I had never met at the NA, and also speaking to people from the BL about what they did.”
“I enjoyed being a student again, learning a new skill amongst my peers, which week after week is a really valuable experience…”
“Learning with colleagues and people working in similar fields was also a plus, as our interests often overlapped...”
While only two responses were made where the project module was considered as one of the most enjoyable components, it was useful to see how the course really afforded the opportunity to apply their learning to solving a work-based problem that provides some benefit to their role, department or digital collection:
“I really enjoyed being able to apply my learning to a real-world work-based project and to finally analyze some of the data that has been lying around the department for over a decade without any further analysis.”
“The design and create aspect of the project. Applying what I learned to solving a genuine problem was the most enjoyable part - using Python and solving problems to achieve something tangible. This is where I really consolidated my learning.”
What was the most challenging aspect of the course?
Figure 4: 'What did you find the most challenging and why?' Results breakdown by topic and gender.
When discussing the most challenging aspect of the course, most of the learners focused on the practical Python lab sessions and the work-based project module. Interestingly, participants also stated that they were able to overcome the challenges through personal perseverance and the learning provided by the course itself:
“I found the initial hurdle of learning how [to] code very challenging, but after the basics it became possible to become more creative and experimental.”
“The work-based project was a huge challenge. We'd only really done 5 weeks of classes and, having never done anything like this before, it was hard to envisage an end product let alone how to put it together. But got there in the end!”
While the majority of the cohort found the practical components of the PGCert trial most challenging, the feedback also suggested that the inclusion of the second module – which will be available as part of the full programme – will provide more opportunity to practice the practical programming skills like software tools and APIs.
The Effectiveness of Computing with Cultural Heritage
Figure 5: 'Have you applied anything you have learnt?' Results breakdown by topic and gender.
Participants were asked whether they had used any of the knowledge or skills acquired in the PGCert trial. Even after sitting just the first and third modules, participants responded that they were able to apply their learning to their current role in some form.
“I now regularly use the software program I built as part of my day-to-day job. This program performs a task in a few seconds, which otherwise could take hours or days, and which is otherwise subject to human error. I have since adapted this so that it can also be used by a colleague in another department.”
“Python helps me perform tasks that I previously did not know how to achieve. I have also led a couple of training sessions within the library, introducing Python to beginners (using the software I built in the project as a cultural heritage use case to frame the introduction).”
“I changed [job] role at the end of the course so I think that helped me also in getting this promotion. And in this new role I have many more data analysis tasks to perform [quickly] for actions that would take months so yeah I managed to write that with a few scripts in my new role.”
It was great to hear that the impacts of the trial were being felt so immediately by the participants, and that they were able to not only retain but also apply the new skills that they had gained.
This blog post was written by Deirdre Sullivan, Business Support Officer for Digital Scholarship Training Initiatives, part of the Digital Research and Curators Team. Special thanks to Nora McGregor, Digital Curator for the European and American Collection for support on the blog post and Martyn Harris, Institute of Coding Manager, for his work on the final report, as well as Giulia Rossi, Callum McKean and Graham Jevon for sharing their experiences.
The New Media Writing Prize is awarded annually to interactive works that use technology and digital tools in exciting and innovative ways. Organised by Bournemouth University, the prize is now in its 12th year and open for entries until 26th November 2021.
The British Library hosted a Digital Conversations event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the prize in 2019 and as part of our work on collecting and preserving emerging formats, last year we started building a special collection to archive all shortlisted and winning entries to the prize in the UK Web Archive. Thanks to Joan Francis for her valued support adding targets and metadata into the Annotation and Curation Tool, at the moment of writing, the collection stands at 226 websites, including not only all the works that were web-based and live at the moment of collection, but blog posts, press kits, online reviews and author’s websites as well. This kind of contextual information (like the data recorded on the ELMCIP Knowledge Base website) is especially valuable in those instances where the work itself couldn’t be captured, due to the limitations of web archiving tools, or the fact that it had already disappeared from the Internet. More information on how the collection was conceived and developed is available in the Collection Scoping Document on the British Library Research Repository.
In order to improve access to the collection and assure quality for the websites we captured, a PhD placement project started at the beginning of this June. Tegan Pyke, from Cardiff Metropolitan University, is working on the collection to identify best captures for each of these works and is also developing a creative response to the collection.
From the New Media Writing Prize shortlists, a total of 78 works have been captured, with each work averaging 13 instances to compare and contrast. Each instance represents a web crawl undertaken by the team from the Emerging Formats project.
A screenshot showing the instances collected for Serge Bouchardon’s 2011 Main Prize winning piece, "Loss of Grasp".
One of the most difficult aspects of this work has been deciding what, exactly, constitutes an ‘acceptable’ capture. By nature digital works are highly complex—featuring audio, visual, and kinetic assets—and using bespoke platforms, formats, and code. These attributes are heightened by the speed at which technology changes; what was acceptable a decade ago may be entirely defunct today, as is the case with Adobe removing their Flash Player support.
After an initial overview of the collection, I came to the conclusion that a strict set of criteria wouldn’t be appropriate. Nor would the capture of all aspects of a work, as many—such as Amira Hanafi’s What I’m Wearing and J R Carpenter’s The Gathering Cloud—make use of external links or externally hosted image and video files. If these lie outside the UK Legal Deposit’s scope, capturing them in their entirety becomes more difficult and sometimes impossible.
Instead, I decided to focus on narrative, asking three questions as I approached each instance:
Can viewers complete the narrative?
Does the theme remain understandable?
Is the atmosphere (the overall mood of the piece) intact?
If an instance fulfils these questions, it’s acceptable, with the most complete of those captures being identified as suitable for display in the archive.
At this point, I’m half-way through comparing instances for the collection. Of the pieces captured, just less than half meet the criteria above. Out of these, most can be improved by additional crawls that capture the missing assets. Those that cannot be improved have, for the most part, been affected by software deprecation or EOL (end-of-life), where support has been completely removed.
I’m aiming to finish my review of the collection over the next couple of months, at which point I hope to provide further insight into the process. I’ve also started a collaboration with the BL's Wikimedian-in-Residence, Lucy Hinnie, to plan a Wikidata project related to the collection aiming to make use of contextual data points collected during its creation—I’m sure you’ll read about this work here soon!
This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari and Tegan Pyke, a PhD student at Cardiff Metropolitan University currently undertaking a placement in Contemporary British Published Collections at the British Library.
Can you help University of Reading researchers with their studies examining the potential therapeutic effects of looking at ‘soothing’ images and listening to natural sounds on mental health and wellbeing?
Both surveys are completely randomised; some participants will be asked to look at images only, others to listen to sounds only, and the final group to look at images while listening to the sounds at the same time. These research projects have been fully approved by the University of Reading’s ethical standards board. If you have any questions about these surveys, please email Jasmiina Ryyanen (j.ryynanen(at)student.reading.ac.uk) and Emily Witten (e.i.c.witten(at)student.reading.ac.uk).
We hope you enjoy participating in these surveys and feel suitably soothed from the experience!
If the page doesn’t already exist, then creating it is also very simple: just select ‘create a new item’ from the menu on the left-hand side of the page.
When using Wikidata, there are some powerful tools which make adding data quicker and easier. One of these is Quick Statements. Unfortunately, using QuickStatements requires that you have made 50 edits on Wikidata before you make your first batch. Fortunately, it is rather quicker than Citation Hunt (for which, see Triangulating Bermuda, Detroit and William Wallace).
Creating a new item in Wikidata
I made those 50 edits very quickly, by setting up Wikidata item pages for each of the sample items from the India Office Records that we are working with (at the moment we are prioritising adding information about the records; further work will take place before any digitised items are uploaded to Wikimedia platforms). Basic information was added to each of the item pages.
Q107074810 (1888-9 Report on the Administration of Bengal)
Q107074801 (1889-90 Report on the Administration of Bengal)
Once I had done this, it became clear that I needed to create more general pages, which could contain the DOIs that link back to the digitised records which are currently only accessible via batch download through the British Library research repository.
Q107134086 Page for administrative reports (V/10/60-1) in general.
Q107136752 Page for India lists (v/13/173-6) in general.
The final preparatory step was to create a WikiProject page, which will facilitate collaboration on the project. This page contains links to all the pages involved in the project and will soon also contain useful resources such as templates for creating new pages as part of the project and queries for using the data.
After this, I began to experiment with Quick Statements, making heavy use of the useful guide to it available on Wikidata.
I decided to upload information on members of a particular regiment in Bengal, since this was information I could easily copy into a spreadsheet because the versions of the reports in the British Library research repository support Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
Section of the original India Office List containing information on members of the 14th Infantry Regiment (IOR/V/6/175, page 258)
Finally, once I had done all of this, I met with the curators of the India Office Records for feedback and suggestions. It became clear from this that there was in fact some confusion about the exact identification of the regiment they were involved in. Fortunately, it turned out we had identified the correct regiment, but had we made a mistake, it would have just required a simple batch of the Quick Statement edits to quickly put right.
Section of my spreadsheet of members of the 14th Infantry Regiment
All in all, I can recommend using Wikidata and I hope I have shown that I can be a useful tool, but also that it is easy to use. The next step for our Wikidata project will be to upload templates and case studies to help and support future volunteer editors to develop it further. We will also add resources to support research on the uploaded data.
Screenshot of Quick Statements for adding gender to each of the pages for the officers
The British Library and the British Fashion Council held a Virtual Awards Ceremony on 22nd March to celebrate the results of the 2021 research inspired fashion design competition, part of an innovative collaboration between the British Library and the British Fashion Council. The event showcased examples of what has inspired a new generation of fashion designers who have explored the richness and potential of the Library’s extensive digital collections for a design project based on themes of ‘Identity’ or ‘Disruption’.
Earlier in the day a winner was selected by a panel of judges comprised of respected industry individuals including Anna Orsini, Strategic Consultant, British Fashion Council; Dal Chodha, Editor of non-seasonal publication Archivist, Writer & Consultant; Halina Edwards, Researcher, Lead Designer at The Black Curriculum and by the Library’s Daniel Lowe - Curator Arabic Collections. Nabil El Nayal, Designer and Course Leader MA Fashion Design Technology Womenswear, London College of Fashion undertook an advisory role for the judging day and the panel was chaired by Judith Rosser-Davies, Head of Government Relations & Education, Chair Colleges Council, British Fashion Council.
In addition to the Judges' Award, an additional award - the Public Award was voted for by the online audience at the Awards event.
The Judges' Award
The winner of the Judges Award was Adela Babinska, MA Womenswear Student at the London College of Fashion. Her submission ‘NOT’ reflected on the absence of knowledge and on the need for persisting curiosity in our challenging times.
Winning entry by Adela Babinska
Adela arrived in London during lockdown from Slovakia as an international student and found herself in a strange new reality of being a London student in Covid times – studying online, meeting her colleagues and tutors online, and responding to our fashion competition without ever visiting the Library. Just as many other students, she discovered that the access to online resources, including at the British Library, is limited and, also, that she cannot complete the Library’s registration process during the lockdown. Normally in her research Adela would search for the answers, but in the absence of being able to visit the Library and with only limited access to online content, she found herself in a disruptive position, so she decided to explore how she could benefit from this.
In her submission, Adela referenced the same emotion that she felt after reading Waiting for Godot – which prompts many questions, but does not provide the answers. Rather than search for the answers she reflected that she needed to search for the questions and decided to generate as many queries as possible about the Library and to use these to guide her designs, including the intangibility of the Library during lockdown. Her research for this project led her to see that the mere act of not knowing can also be powerful.
Her thinking and questioning included a conceptualisation of the icon image on the Customer Services section of the BL website in relation to impersonality and distance. She also reflected on what accessing the BL Sound archives could bring to her research and referenced a recording of the foyer of the Library in which she could hear voices which made the Library seem more real to her.
As well as producing a fantastic fashion presentation, Adela’s experience and search for the Library amidst the current disruptions provides both a challenging and inspirational view of the Library from a student perspective.
The Public Award
The winner of the Public Award is Chiara Lamon, Fashion and Textile Student from Gray’s School of Art, based at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, with her submission ‘Morphe’.
Designs from the public award winner Chiara Lamon
Chiara analysed the idea of a malleable and dynamic identity through a study of body movement. Her research approach focused on disrupting common ideas of the stillness and singularity of our identity. Using the Library’s online collections, she explored visual imagery, blogs, thematic pages books and ideas which she considered had a high impact on the quality and depth of her research. This experience helped Chiara reflect on how she now conducts research - researching opposites, making mistakes and looking for the unexpected, letting the research lead her rather than trying to control it.
Chiara’s research involved exploring the catalogues on futurism and cubism and discovering connection and metaphors in unexpected ways, such as from images of geological strata from the Library’s Flickr collection to represent layers of the self, building on the concept of the body multiple.
Engaging with practice led research Chiara was able to explore ideas from a digital and physical development for a more sustainable practice. Images that Chiara used from the Library’s digital collections included the work of photographer Ethienne Jules, images from geology and dance and a comparison of a multiple collar garment from Viktor and Rolf’s Autumn /Winter 2003 collection paired with an early portrait of a man in a collared shirt.
Chiara turned images from BL collections and abstracted forms into shapes to apply to the body as an experience for a multifaceted and morphing representation of the self and our dynamic nature.
Eight finalists were shortlisted from a strong field of 111 submissions for this year’s competition.
The six other finalists were:
Jordan Fergusson, Manchester Metropolitan University
Jordan's submission ‘The Tearlachs’, is based on a theme of disrupting the codes of highland dress and exploring gender. Jordan reflected on Jacobite poetry and song using multiple images, manuscripts and letters from the BL Collection and extracts from a Jacobite Songbook from 1863. The depictions in this book gave Jordan a strong sense of the character of a Tearlach (instigator). Jordan presents the Tearlachs as gender non-conforming trailblazers of the highlands, embodying the Jacobite cause and romanticism of Scottish History. In designing his collection, Jordan used himself as a blank canvas to build up inspiration transferring it to 2D then back to 3D. His research led to Jordan to design a ‘warped tartan’ as his own interpretation of a’Tearlach Tartan’, inspired by graph-like images of the Aurora Borealis from the BL Collection.
Maria Fernanda Nava Melgar, Royal College of Art
Maria’s submission ‘The Invisibles’ explored identity through fundamental questions such as to what are we made of, how we are perceived and how are we are listened to. Her work took inspiration from chiaroscuro scientific paintings from the 18th Century, medical journals and distorted sound recordings (Touch Radio) from the BL Collection. Images of decay and cells were used to inform the design of her collection. Maria reflected on the relationship between light, space and sound and the human body and how the body is information made out of layers that are constantly being pressed and crushed against each other whist working together inside a system.
Emma Fraser, Gray’s School of Art, (Robert Gordon University Aberdeen)
Emma’s submission ‘Repair Yourself’ was based on a following a powerful, moving journey as a survivor of sexual assault and her message to other survivors that they are not alone. Emma used visual metaphors to explore the idea of trauma and recovery initially starting with the concept of damage and repair, reflected through her textile work and then through ideas of comfort and exposure. Another aspect of her work was exploring the over-sexualising of women and the idea of femininity by researching the BL archives. Her submission included images from the Library’s s Flickr Collection -Women of the World. Emma intended her work as a representation of the courage and strength that it takes to go on such a journey of recovery, confirming that it was ‘not about the attackers, but about the survivors’.
Kelsey Ann Kasom, Royal College of Art
Kelsey’s submission ‘Identity’ is based on the concept of the left side of her brain being her inner child the ‘past’ and right side of her brain being her creative genius – the ‘present’. Using research and images form the BL Collection her work focused on what can be created from harmonising these two aspects. Kelsey explored abstract feelings and surreal thought working to make sense of them three dimensionally ‘as an extension of the soul outside the body’. Kelsey experimented with the technical aspects of working with organza creating shapes for the body
Louise Korner, London College of Fashion
Louise’s submission ‘The Becoming’ focused on the theme of disruption as a design approach using a destructive force such as fire, (by watching objects burning), to lead to a greater understanding of fire as a transformative process and also to highlight current issues surrounding the fashion industry. Using images and art work from the 18th century from BL Collections, including an image of a forest fire, Louise reflected on what is left after the disruption of the landscape and what is regenerated after the fire. Louise used a disruptive approach to her research of the BL catalogues by mis - spelling words and entering words backwards in order ‘to stumble across an interesting recording or sound or art work.’ Her research led to her designing a ‘hidden garment withing a garment’ that the wearer decides when to reveal and garments that are sustainable that can be returned to the designer for repurposing.
Cameron Lyall, Gray’s School of Art, (Robert Gordon University Aberdeen)
Cameron’s submission ‘No Place’ is inspired by a theme of identity. It tells a story of the ‘pilgrim of no place’ and their journey, both physically and mentally to understand their own identity. This journey involves the pilgrim reflecting on history and what they have learnt and applying this to ‘a future forward-thinking attitude.’ Cameron’s concept was in response to his own journey in 2020. His work included images from ancient philosophies, celestial esoterica and astrology from the BL Collection. For his designs, Cameron dissembled and reconstructed garments, some of which took on ‘symbiotic shapes reminiscent of beetles’ purposing and rebranding these garments into new concepts.
Hello, I’m Dr Lucy Hinnie and I’ve just joined the Digital Scholarship team as the new Wikimedian-in-Residence, in conjunction with Wikimedia UK and the Eccles Centre. My role is to work with the Library to develop and support colleagues with projects using Wikidata, Wikibase and Wikisource.
Bringing underrepresented people and marginalised communities to the fore is a huge part of this remit, and I am looking to be as innovative in our partnerships as we can be, with a view to furthering the movement towards decolonisation. I’m going to be working with curators and members of staff throughout the Library to identify and progress opportunities to accelerate this work.
I have recently returned from a two-year stay in Canada, where I lived and worked on Treaty Six territory and the homeland of the Métis. Working and living in Saskatchewan was a hugely formative experience for me, and highlighted the absolute necessity of forward-thinking, reconciliatory work in decolonisation.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon, December 2020
2020 was my year of immersion in Wikimedia – I participated in a number of events, including outreach work by Dr Erin O’Neil at the University of Alberta, Women in Red edit-a-thons with Ewan McAndrew at the University of Edinburgh and the Unfinished Business edit-a-thon run by Leeds Libraries and the British Library. In December 2020 I coordinated and ran my own Wikithon in conjunction with the National Library of Scotland, as part of my postdoctoral project ‘Digitising the Bannatyne MS’.
Front page of the Bannatyne MS, National Library of Scotland, Adv MS 1.1.6. (CC BY 4.0)
Since coming into post at the start of this March I have worked hard to make connections with organisations such as IFLA, Code the City and Art+Feminism. I’ve also been creating introductory materials to engage audiences with Wikidata, and thinking about how best to utilise the coming months.
Andrew Gray took up post as the first British Library Wikipedian in Residence nearly ten years ago, you can read more about this earlier residency here and here. Much has changed since then, but reflection on the legacy of Wikimedia activity is a crucial part of ensuring that the work we do is useful, engaging, vibrant and important. I want to use creative thinking to produce output that opens up BL digital collections in relevant, culturally sensitive and engaging ways.
I am excited to get started! I’ll be blogging here regularly about my residency, so please do subscribe to this blog to follow my progress.