THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

58 posts categorized "Research collaboration"

05 February 2019

BL Labs 2018 Research Award Honourable Mention: 'Doctoral theses as alternative forms of knowledge: Surfacing "Southern" perspectives on student engagement with internationalisation'

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This guest blog is by Professor Catherine Montgomery, recipient of one of two Honourable Mentions in the 2018 BL Labs Awards Research category for her work with the British Library's EThOS collection.British Library slide 1

 ‘Contemporary universities are powerful institutions, interlinked on a global scale; but they embed a narrow knowledge system that reflects and reproduces social inequalities on a global scale’ (Connell, 2017).

Having worked with doctoral students for many years and learned much in this process my curiosity was sparked by the EThOS collection at the British Library. EThOS houses a large proportion of UK doctoral theses completed in British Universities and comprises a digital repository of around 500,000 theses. Doctoral students use this repository regularly but mostly as a means of exploring examples of doctorates in their chosen area of research. In my experience, doctoral students are often looking at formats or methodologies when they consult EThOS rather than exploring the knowledge provided in the theses.

So when I began to think about the EThOS collection as a whole, I came to the conclusion that it is a vastly under-used but incredibly powerful resource. Doctoral knowledge is not often thought of as a coherent body of knowledge, although individual doctoral theses are sometimes quoted and consulted by academics and other doctoral students. It is also important to remember that of 84,630 Postgraduate Research students studying full time in the UK in 2016/17, half of them, 42,325, were non-UK students, with 29,875 students being from beyond the EU. So in this sense, the knowledge represented in the EThOS collection is an important international body of knowledge.

So I began to explore the EThOS collection with some help from a group of PhD students (Gihan Ismail, Luyao Li and Yanru Xu, all doctoral candidates at the Department of Education at the University of Bath) and the EThOS library team. I wanted to interrogate the collection for a particular field of knowledge and because my research field is internationalisation of higher education, I carried out a search in EThOS for theses written in the decade 2008 to 2018 focusing on student engagement with internationalisation. This generated an initial data set of 380 doctoral theses which we downloaded into the software package NVivo. We then worked on refining the data set, excluding theses irrelevant to the topic (I was focusing on higher education so, for example, internationalisation at school-level topics were excluded) coming up with a final data set of 94 theses around the chosen topic. The EThOS team at the British Library helped at this point and carried out a separate search, coming up with a set of 78 theses using a specific adjacent word search and they downloaded these into a spreadsheet for us. The two data sets were consistent with each other which was really useful triangulation in our exploration of the use of the EThOS repository.

This description makes it sound very straightforward but there were all sorts of challenges, many of them technology related, including the fact that we were working with very large amounts of text as each of the 380 theses was around 100,000 words long or more and this slowed down the NVivo software and sometimes made it crash. There were also challenges in the search process as some earlier theses in the collection were in different formats; some were scanned and therefore not searchable.

The outcomes of the work with the EThOS collection were fascinating. Various patterns emerged from the analysis of the doctoral theses and the most prominent of these were insights into the geographies of student engagement with internationalisation; issues of methodologies and theory; and different constructions of internationalisation in higher education.

The theses were written by students from 38 different countries of the globe and examined internationalisation of higher education in African countries, the Americas and Australia, across the Asian continent and Europe. Despite this diversity amongst the students, most of the theses investigated internationalisation in the UK or international students in the UK. The international students also often carried out research on their own countries’ higher education systems and there was some limited comparative research but all of these compared their own higher education systems with one or (rarely) two others. There was only a minority of students who researched the higher education systems of international contexts different from their own national context.

A similar picture emerged when I considered the sorts of theories and ideas students were using to frame their research. There was a predominance of Western theory used by the international students to cast light on their non-western educational contexts, with many theses relying on concepts commonly associated with Western theory such as social capital, global citizenship or communities of practice. The ways in which the doctoral theses constructed ideas of internationalisation also appeared in many cases to be following a well-worn track and explored familiar concepts of internationalisation including challenges of pedagogy, intercultural interaction and the student experience. Having said this, there were also some innovative, creative and critical insights into students engaging with internationalisation, showing that alternative perspectives and different ways of thinking were generated by the theses of the EThOS collection.

Raewyn Connell, an educationalist I used in the analysis of this project tells us that in an unequal society we need ‘the view-from-below’ to challenge dominant ways of thought. I would argue that we should think about doctoral knowledge as ‘the-view-from-below’, and doctoral theses can offer us alternative perspectives and challenges to the previous narratives of issues such as internationalisation. However, it may be that the academy will need to make space for these alternative or ‘Southern’ perspectives to come in and this will rely on the capacity of the participants, both supervisors and students, to be open to negotiation in theories and ideas, something which another great scholar, Boaventura De Sousa Santos, describes as intercultural translation of knowledge.

I am very grateful indeed to the British Library and the EThOS team for developing this incredible source of digital scholarship and for their support in this project. I was delighted to be given an honourable mention in the British Library Research Lab awards and I am intending to take this work forward and explore the EThOS repository further. I was fascinated and excited to find that a growing number of countries are also developing and improving access to their doctoral research repositories (Australia, Canada, China, South Africa and USA to name but a few). This represents a huge comparative and open access data set which could be used to explore alternative perspectives on ‘taken-for-granted’ knowledge. Where better to start than with doctoral theses?

More information on the project can be found in this published article:

Montgomery, C. (2018). Surfacing ‘Southern’ perspectives on student engagement with internationalisation: doctoral theses as alternative forms of knowledge. Journal of Studies in International Education. (23) 1 123-138. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315318803743

British Library slide 2

Watch Professor Montgomery receiving her award and talking about her project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 6.57 to 10.39):

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

30 January 2019

Reading 35,000 Books: The UCD Contagion Project and the British Library Digital Corpus - Workshop & Roundtable

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A guest post by Geradine Meany, Professor of Cultural Theory in the School of English, Drama and Film and Derek Greene, Assistant Professor at the School of Computer Science, both at the University College Dublin who are organising a FREE workshop and roundtable together with the BL Labs team on Thursday 20 February 2019 at the British Library in London.

How do you set about finding specific references and thematic associations in the massive digital resource represented by the British Library Nineteenth Century Book Corpus, originally digitised through a collaboration with Microsoft?

The Contagion, Biopolitics and Cultural Memory project at UCD Dublin set out to illuminate culturally and historically specific understandings of disease and contagion that appear within the fiction in the corpus. In order to do so, the project team extracted over 35,000 unique volumes out of a total of 65,000 in English and built a searchable interface of 12.3 million individual pages of text, which can be filtered and sorted using the corpus metadata (e.g. author, title, year, etc). The interface incorporates an index of the topical catalogue of volumes used by the British Library from 1823-1985 (within Alston index). Using a combination of OCR text recognition and manual annotation, we have extracted data the two top levels of the index, covering over 98% of the English language texts in the corpus. So for the first time it is possible to reliably identify and extract fiction, drama, history, topography, etc, from the corpus.

35000books
Extracting data from 35,000 digitised books

To allow researchers to further filter the corpus to identify texts from niche topic areas, the interface supports the semi-automatic creation of word lexicons, built upon modern “word embedding” natural language processing methods. By combining the resulting lexicons with existing corpus metadata and the data extracted from digitised version of the Alston Index, researchers can efficiently create and export small topical sub-corpora for subsequent close reading.

The Contagion project team is currently using information retrieval and word embeddings to identify texts for close reading. This combination allows us to track key trends pertaining to illness and contagion in the corpus, and interpret these findings with particular reference to current and historical debates surrounding biopolitics, medical culture and migration. Clusters of associations between contagion, poverty and morality are identifiable within the corpus. However, to date our research indicates that Victorians were more worried about religious contamination from migrants and minorities than they were about contagious diseases.

A key feature of the project is the intersection of methodologies and concepts from English literature, automated text mining, and medical humanities. This involves using data analytics as a mode of interpretation not a substitute for it, a way of engaging with the extent and complexity of cultural production in the nineteenth century. Cultural data resists giving definitive yes or no answers to the questions put to it by researchers, but the more cultural data we analyse the better we can map the processes of cultural change and continuity, in all their complexity. The process of tracking themes, topics, and associations enabled by the new interface offers an opportunity to work with and far beyond the existing canon of nineteenth century fiction, itself radically expanded by the last 20 years of scholarship. The identification within the corpus of a very large collection of 3 volume novels indicates that the popular novel is very well represented, for example, while the ability to identify and extract ‘Collected Works’ indicates which writers their contemporaries expected to remain central to the tradition of fiction.

On February 20th 2019, the FREE ‘Reading 35,000 Books’ workshop and roundtable will present the project’s work to date, and will also include discussion by scholars of nineteenth century literature and the British Library Labs of the future development and use of the new searchable interface, including exporting topical sub-corpora for further research.

The event is supported by the Irish Research Council.

 

24 January 2019

Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction in the Emerging Formats Project

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There’s an episode of book shop-based comedy, Black Books, in which Fran, played by Tamsin Greig, starts a new job. She has no idea what her role actually consists of, and yet, somehow, she becomes good at it and delivers a rousing presentation, all while never fully understanding what she has done. Every new research project feels somewhat like this. There are usually continuities from previous projects, but because this one is new there will inevitably be new things you don’t know and how do you find out what you don’t know if you don’t know it?

Fortunately, thanks to the Library’s excellent Web Archiving, Contemporary British and Digital Scholarship teams, I’ve managed to fill in most of those blanks pretty quickly. My name’s Lynda Clark and I’m currently undertaking an AHRC/M3C Innovation Placement embarking on a six-month research project called ‘Emerging Formats: Discovering and Collecting Contemporary British Interactive Fiction’. My primary goals are to get a sense of the ‘shape’ of contemporary British web-based interactive fiction – the kinds of tools British creators are using and the works they are making with them; and to explore how those works might be preserved for future readers and researchers.

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Boxes created at a British Library hosted emerging formats project workshop

I’m a maker of interactive fiction myself and have produced a variety of works, often silly (almost always silly, in fact) but sometimes more serious, the most substantial of which was my interactive novella Writers Are Not Strangers, produced as part of my recently submitted creative-critical PhD thesis. Even amongst my own modest back catalogue there is a fair amount of variation in styles, interfaces and tools used, some of which I know will likely scupper the webcrawlers commonly used to archive web-based digital work. Six months isn’t long to find a solution to this challenge, but I’m hoping I can at the very least start to create a record of works to preserve and at least categorically determine what doesn’t work to enable future researchers to move towards what does.

This is where you come in. If you’re a UK-based creator of web-based interactive fiction, please nominate your work for inclusion in the UK Web Archive, where it could (technology permitting) be included in a collection. This will mean the system takes regular ‘snapshots’ of the nominated website and stores them forever! You can make your nominations via the UKWA’s site or by contacting me.

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

17 January 2019

BL Labs 2018 Research Award Winner: 'The Delius Catalogue of Works'

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This guest blog is by the winners of the BL Labs Research Award for 2018: Joanna Bullivant and Daniel M. Grimley of the Faculty of Music, University of Oxford; and David Lewis and Kevin Page of the University of Oxford e-Research Centre.

The Delius Catalogue of Works is a new, freely accessible digital catalogue of the complete works of Frederick Delius (1862-1934).

Explore more here: https://delius.music.ox.ac.uk

The Delius Catalogue (DCW) was created as part of a project called ‘Delius, Modernism, and the Sound of Place’ (https://deliusmodernism.wordpress.com), a collaboration between the University of Oxford, the British Library, and the Royal Library, Denmark, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project as a whole sought to better understand Delius and his music. Delius has been understood as an English portraitist, someone who wrote impressionistic works depicting natural scenes, whose music was strongly linked to the English landscape, and who had little interest in large-scale musical construction or in the details of performance.

However, Delius also lived and wrote music all over the world (in Scandinavia, Florida, Germany and France), and was the friend of many important modern artists, writers and musicians including Edvard Grieg, Edvard Munch, August Strindberg and Paul Gauguin. He also left behind very substantial sketches and other manuscripts that help us to understand his music, the vast majority of which are in the British Library.

Within the project, our aim in creating the DCW was to make a clear and up-to-date catalogue of Delius’s works which was both of a high scholarly standard and accessible to a variety of users (such as scholars, performers and students). We also wanted to integrate the catalogue as far as possible with the British Library’s own manuscript catalogue, to showcase the Library’s Delius collections and enable users of the catalogue to understand and have access to the physical manuscripts. This was a challenge both in terms of research (collecting and presenting information in a clear and concise manner) and web design (presenting it in the best possible manner).

Creating the catalogue was greatly helped by the decision to use MerMEId (Metadata Editor and Repository for MEI Data), specialist software created by Axel Teich Geertinger and his team at the Royal Library, Denmark, originally for creating a catalogue of the works of Carl Nielsen (http://www.kb.dk/dcm/cnw/navigation.xq). MerMEId is built on an eXist XML database with Lucene-based searching, and most of its functionality is implemented using xquery and xslt.

The core catalogue data is stored as MEI, an XML-based standard for the encoding and markup of musical data, inspired by TEI for text. MerMEId’s combination of open-source, standards-based technologies gave great flexibility to customise both the data model and the user interface to suit the application. In the DCW, we adapted genre categories, improved site accessibility, and adapted things like instrumental abbreviations and references to Delius reference works for our purposes. We also adapted the conceptual cataloguing model FRBR (https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/cataloguing/frbr/frbr_2008.pdf) in order to create records for each work that were narrative and hierarchical.

In the case of a work with a straightforward history like Brigg Fair, this meant adopting a standard presentational format in which the catalogue gave catalogue numbers, dedicatee, date of composition, a short introduction, duration, instrumentation, a musical incipit, and information in chronological order on manuscript sources, performance history and documents such as letters or bibliographic items:

Delius image 1

See: https://delius.music.ox.ac.uk/catalogue/document.html?doc=delius_briggfair.xml

In a work with a more complicated history like the Piano Concerto, however, the model may be adapted to show a long compositional process and multiple versions:

Delius image 2

See: https://delius.music.ox.ac.uk/catalogue/document.html?doc=delius_pianoconc.xml

By creating multiple “versions” of the work in MerMEId to reflect its journey through different stages of composition, and by noting extant manuscript and print sources and performances in each case, we can clearly and consistently both narrate the story of each work and show how existing sources and versions fit into it.

The data available in the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue was essential for creating the Delius catalogue. At the ‘Sources’ level of each catalogue record, users can link directly to the manuscript and thus see how to access the physical manuscript, and how extant manuscripts relate to the history of each work, as in the Caprice and Elegy:

Delius image 3

See: https://delius.music.ox.ac.uk/catalogue/document.html?doc=delius_capriceelegy.xml

As well as fostering understanding of Delius’s works and their connection to the British Library’s outstanding manuscript collections, this project has led to exciting ongoing work. A subsequent project involving the same team involved digitising some of the British Library’s Delius manuscripts and other materials and creating a variety of articles, teaching resources and other metadata to showcase them. These are now part of the Library’s new online learning resource Discovering Music: https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-music.

We intend to expand our work to other composers, continuing to explore ways to make their music and manuscripts more accessible to a wide variety of people.

Watch Joanna Bullivant and David Lewis receiving their award on behalf of their team, and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 10.36):

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

15 January 2019

The BL Labs Symposium, 2018

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On Monday 12th November, 2018, the British Library hosted the sixth annual BL Labs Symposium, celebrating all things digital at the BL. This was our biggest ever symposium with the conference centre at full capacity - proof, if any were needed, of the importance of using British Library digital collections and technologies for innovative projects in the heritage sector.

The delegates were welcomed by our Chief Executive, Roly Keating, and there followed a brilliant keynote by Daniel Pett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. In his talk, Dan reflected on his 3D modelling projects at the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam, and talked about the importance of experimenting with, re-imagining, and re-mixing cultural heritage digital collections in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs).

This year’s symposium had quite a focus on 3D, with a series of fascinating talks and demonstrations throughout the day by visual artists, digital curators, and pioneers of 3D photogrammetry and data visualisation technologies. The full programme is still viewable on the Eventbrite page, and videos and slides of the presentations will be uploaded in due course.

Composite bl labs 2018 awardees

Each year, BL Labs recognises excellent work that has used the Library's digital content in five categories. The 2018 winners, runners up and honourable mentions were announced at the symposium and presented with their awards throughout the day. This year’s Award recipients were:

Research Award:

Winner: The Delius Catalogue of Works by Joanna Bullivant, Daniel Grimley, David Lewis and Kevin Page at the University of Oxford

Honourable Mention: Doctoral theses as alternative forms of knowledge: Surfacing ‘Southern’ perspectives on student engagement with internationalisation by Catherine Montgomery and a team of researchers at the University of Bath

Honourable Mention: HerStories: Sites of Suffragette Protest and Sabotage by Krista Cowman at the University of Lincoln and Rachel Williams, Tamsin Silvey, Ben Ellwood and Rosie Ryder of Historic England

Artistic Award:

Winner: Another Intelligence Sings by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker

Runner Up: Nomad by independent researcher Abira Hussein, and Sophie Dixon and Edward Silverton of Mnemoscene

Teaching & Learning Award:

Winner: Pocket Miscellanies by Jonah Coman

Runner Up: Pocahontas and After by Michael Walling, Lucy Dunkerley and John Cobb of Border Crossings

Commercial Award:

Winner: The Library Collection: Fashion Presentation at London Fashion Week, SS19 by Nabil Nayal in association with Colette Taylor of Vega Associates

Runner Up: The Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher by David Zvi Kalman, Print-O-Craft Press

Staff Award:

Winner: The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200 by Tuija Ainonen, Clarck Drieshen, Cristian Ispir, Alison Ray and Kate Thomas

Runner Up: The Digital Documents Harvesting and Processing Tool by Andrew Jackson, Sally Halper, Jennie Grimshaw and Nicola Bingham

The judging process is always a difficult one as there is such diversity in the kinds of projects that are up for consideration! So we wanted to also thank all the other entrants for their high quality submissions, and to encourage anyone out there who might be considering applying for a 2019 award!

We will be posting guest blogs by the award recipients over the coming months, so tune in to read more about their projects.

And finally, save the date for this year's symposium, which will be held at the British Library on Monday 11th November, 2019.

11 January 2019

Digital Conversations @BL: Data, Place and Digital Economies

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As part of our Digital Conversations series, we invite you to join us for an evening discussing the use of place data in understanding politics and economies; this takes place on Tuesday 29 January, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre, to book a ticket go here.

Drawing upon recent research at the University of Birmingham, which utilises data from the UK Web Archive to understand individual online behaviour, we are opening the discussion around the value of web archives, digital collections and metadata as a means to understand the role of place in politics and digital economies. Our speakers will explore the spatial information included in web archives and other collections, demonstrate innovative uses of these rich datasets, and discuss the challenges, both ethical and technical, that accompany their use. After the presentations, the audience and panel will have a chance to discuss these issues in detail.

 

 

Animated image illustrating the number of domains that reference a postcode per inhabitant distributed within London

Chaired by the Library's Head of Contemporary British Publications Ian Cooke, our panel includes the following speakers: Mark Birkin, Miranda Marcus, Jeremy Morley and Emmanouil Tranos.

Mark Birkin is Professor of Spatial Analysis and Policy in the School of Geography, Director of the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, University of Leeds and also the Programme Director for Urban Analytics at the Alan Turing Institute. He has longstanding interests in mathematical modelling of urban and regional systems including geodemographics, microsimulation, agent-based modelling, and spatial decision-support systems. Mark has a notable track record of collaboration, including ten years as an executive director of Geographical Modelling and Planning Limited, who developed into a market analytics business with 120 employees and global reach, working with household name partners such as Ford Motor Company, Asda-Walmart, HBoS, Exxon-Mobil and GSK. An ethos of collaboration with external partners in business and the public sector continues in his current role as Director of the Consumer Data Research Centre, a national investment within the ESRC Big Data Network. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Miranda Marcus leads the Open Data Institute's research and development programme. She is a digital programme manager specialising in applied research, agile delivery and digital strategy. Her background is in design and digital anthropology and she has worked across the arts, education and third sectors. Her personal research field focuses on the impact of engineering practices on medical artificial intelligence applications. Miranda is also Director of the AXNS Collective, an interdisciplinary organisation bringing together art, neuroscience and technology.

Jeremy Morley is Chief Geospatial Scientist at Ordnance Survey. He has worked in geospatial research since the mid-90s, first at University College London before moving to the University of Nottingham in 2009 as Geospatial Science Theme Leader in the Nottingham Geospatial Institute. His academic career spanned a range of geospatial information topics from radar mapping of ice and terrain, through crowd-sourcing and citizen science to applications of geospatial science in fields from the digital economy to planetary mapping. He joined Ordnance Survey in 2015 where he leads the Research team who carry out research and standards development in conjunction with universities and other research organisations. Their research aspirations include enabling the business' medium-term business plans, plus horizon scanning to identify plausible "unknown unknown" research topics which might affect our future services or role, nationally or internationally. Jeremy will discuss the meaning of place, and how locations and places are represented and described online, and hence their relevance to digital services, online activities and the wider digital economy.

Emmanouil Tranos is an economic geographer focusing on the spatiality of the digital economy. He is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Birmingham and Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute. He has published on issues related with the geography of the internet infrastructure, the economic impacts that this digital infrastructure can generate on cities and regions and the position of cities within spatial, complex networks. His current research utilises digital archives as a means to understand cities and the spatial economy. His research aims to generate new knowledge about business activities, the digital economy and its evolution over space and time.

We are looking forward to a fascinating and lively discussion, so please prepare your questions for the panel! If you can't attend in person, please follow #BLdigital for the twitter stream during the event.

11 September 2018

Building Library Labs around the world - the event and complete our survey!

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, BL Labs Manager.

Original labs lab (not cropped)
Building Library Labs

Around the world, leading national, state, university and public libraries are creating 'digital lab type environments' so that their digitised and born digital collections / data can be opened up and re-used for creative, innovative and inspiring projects by everyone such as digital researchers, artists, entrepreneurs and educators.

BL Labs, which has now been running for five years, is organising what we believe will be the first ever event of its kind in the world! We are bringing together national, state and university libraries with existing or planned digital 'Labs-style' teams for an invite-only workshop this Thursday 13 September and Friday 14 September, 2018.

A few months ago, we sent out special invitations to these organisations. We were delighted by the excitement generated, and by the tremendous response we received. Over 40 institutions from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa will be attending the workshop at the British Library this week. We have planned plenty of opportunities for networking, sharing lessons learned, and telling each other about innovative projects and services that are using digital collections / data in new and interesting ways. We aim to work together in the spirit of collaboration so that we can continue to build even better Library Labs for our users in the future.

Our packed programme includes:

  • 6 presentations covering topics such as those in our international Library Labs Survey;
  • 4 stories of how national Library Labs are developing in the UK, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands;
  • 12 lightning talks with topics ranging from 3D-Imaging to Crowdsourcing;
  • 12 parallel discussion groups focusing on subjects such as funding, technical infrastructure and user engagement;
  • 3 plenary debates looking at the value to national Libraries of Labs environments and digital research, and how we will move forward as a group after this event.

We will collate and edit the outputs of this workshop in a report detailing the current landscape of digital Labs in national, state, university and public Libraries around the world.

If you represent one of these institutions, it's still not too late to participate, and you can do so in a few ways:

  • Our 'Building Library Labs' survey is still open, and if you work in or represent a digital Library Lab in one of our sectors, your input will be particularly valuable;
  • You may be able to participate remotely in this week's event in real time through Skype;
  • You can contribute to a collaborative document which delegates are adding to during the event.

If you are interested in one of these options, contact: mahendra.mahey@bl.uk.

Please note, that event is being videoed and we will be putting up clips on our YouTube channel soon after the workshop.

We will also return to this blog and let you know how we got on, and how you can access some of the other outputs from the event. Watch this space!

 

 

 

06 September 2018

Visualising the Endangered Archives Programme project data on Africa, Part 3. Finishing up

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Sarah FitzGerald is a linguistics PhD researcher at the University of Sussex investigating the origins and development of Cameroon Pidgin English. She is currently a research placement student in the British Library’s Digital Scholarship Team, using data from the Endangered Archives Programme to create data visualisations

This summer I have taken a break by working hard, I’ve broadened my academic horizons by ignoring academia completely, and I’ve felt at home while travelling hundreds of miles a week. But above all else, I’ve just had a really nice time.

In my last two blogs I covered the early stages of my placement at the British Library, and discussed the data visualisation tools I’ve been exploring.

In this final blog I am going to outline the later stages of my project, I am also going to talk about my experience of undertaking a British Library placement, what I’ve learned and whether it was worth it (spoiler alert, it was).

What I’ve been doing

The final stages of my project have mostly consisted of two separate lines of investigation.

Firstly, I have been working on finding out as much as I can about the  Endangered Archives Programme (EAP)’s projects in Africa and finding the best ways to visualise that information in order to create a sort of bank of visualisations that the EAP team can use when they are talking about the work that they do. Visualisations, such as the one below showing the number of applications related to each region of Africa by year, can make tables of data much easier to understand.

Chart

Secondly, I was curious about why some project applications get funded and some do not. I wanted to know if I could identify any patterns in the reasons why projects get rejected.

This gave me the opportunity to apply my skills as a linguist to the data, albeit on a small scale. I decided to examine the feedback given to unsuccessful applicants by the panel that awards the EAP grants to see if I could identify any patterns. To do this I created a corpus, or electronic database, of texts. This could then be run through corpus analysis software to look for patterns.

AntConc

This image shows a word list created for my corpus using AntConc software, which is a free and open source corpus analysis tool.

My analysis allowed me to identify a number of issues common to many unsuccessful applications. In addition to applications outside of the scope of EAP there are also proposals which would make excellent projects but their applications lack the necessary information to award a grant.

Based on my analysis I was able to make a number of recommendations about additional information EAP could provide for applicants which might help to prevent potentially valuable archives being lost due to poor applications.

What I’ve learned

As well as learning about visualisation software I’ve learned a lot this summer about the EAP archives.

I’ve found out where applications are coming from, and which African countries have the most associated applications. I’ve learned that there are many great data visualisation tools available for free online. I’ve learned that there are over 70 different languages represented in the EAP archived projects from Africa.

EAP656
James Ssali and an unknown woman, from the Ham Musaka archive, Uganda (EAP656)

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned is just how much archival material is available for research – and on an incredibly broad range of topics. The materials digitised and preserved in Africa over the last 13 years includes:

This wealth of information provides so much opportunity for research and these are just the archives from Africa. The EAP funds projects all over the world.

EAP143
Shui manuscript from China (EAP143)

In addition to learning about the EAP archives I’ve learned a lot from working in the British Library more generally. The scale of the work that is carried out is immense and I don’t think I fully appreciated before working here for three months just how large the challenges they face are.

In addition to preserving a copy of every book published in the UK, the BL is also working to create large digital archives in order to facilitate the way that modern scholarship has developed. They are digitising books, audio, websites, as well as historical documents such as the records of the East India Company.

East India House
View of East India House by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

Was it worth it?

A PhD is an intense thing to undertake and you have a time limit to complete it. At first glance, taking three months out to work on a placement with little direct relevance to my PhD might seem a bit foolish, particularly when it means a daily commute from Brighton to London.

Far from wasting my time, however, this placement has been an enriching experience. My PhD is on the origins and development of Cameroon Pidgin English. This placement has given me a break from my work while broadening my understanding of African culture and the context in which the language I study is spoken.

I’ve always had an interest in data visualisation and my placement has given me time to play with visualisation tools and gain a real understanding of the resources available. I feel refreshed and ready for the new term despite having worked full time all summer.

The break has also given me thinking space, it has allowed ideas to percolate and given me new skills which I can apply to my work. Taking a break from academia has given me more perspective on my work and more options for how to develop it.

BL
The British Library, St Pancras

Finally, the travel has been a lot but my supervisors have been very flexible, allowing me to work from home two days a week. The up-side of coming to London regularly has been getting to work with interesting people.

Working in a large institution could be an intimidating and isolating experience but it has been anything but. The digital scholarship team have been welcoming and interested, in particular I have had two very supportive supervisors. The British Library are really keen to support and develop placement students, and there is a lovely community of PhD students at the BL some on placements, some doing their PhD here.

I have had a great time at the British Library this summer and can only recommend the scheme to anyone thinking of applying for a placement next year.