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86 posts categorized "Tools"

15 August 2019

Creating Geo-located Digital Sound Walks

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A few months ago, here at the British Library we held an interesting Exploring with Sound Walks event, that discussed digital projects that connect literature, sound recordings, place, technology and walking. Several digital tools were mentioned by the presenters at this event, so this post, by Marcin Barski, is a practical guide for creating geo-located sound walks.

We hope you are inspired to create your own walks, listen to sound walks, vote for your favourite (you need to be logged in to vote), and maybe attend one of the Sound Walk Sunday events taking place on the 1st and throughout the month of September 2019. If you can easily travel to London, you may also be interested in attending a Sound Walk Sunday walkshop in and around the British Library, taking place 10:00-13:00 on Saturday 31st August.

Man standing next to a tree, wearing headphones and listening to a sound walk experience
Image copyright Stefaan van Biesen

Over to Marcin for his advice on creating sound walks:

Let's start with some basic definitions. A sound walk is any activity that involves both walking and some form of listening. Listening is a much broader term than most of us would ever suspect. It can basically relate to the very act of giving attention to sound, but if we focus on details we soon realise that, as much as it happens mostly involuntarily, in certain circumstances and contexts we can direct it at the topics or phenomena that otherwise would have been lost in the very rich audiosphere that incessantly surrounds us.

It's rather important to understand that those topics and phenomena do not necessarily need to be of audial nature. Using pre-recorded sets of narratives, spoken word or studio-engineered music, we can make our audience aware of stories normally hidden from sight.

In recent years several tools have been developed that help sound walk artists, educators and creators place sounds in exact locations. Once placed, we need to tell our audience how to find and experience them. This can be achieved by voice instructions, QR codes or most commonly (and conveniently) by using mobile apps that determine the user's position via GPS and trigger sounds in the exact locations where we would like them to be heard.

Below you will find a quick guide on how to start creating your own geo-located sound walk, along with descriptions of some of the tools that can make the process smooth and stress free.

  1. Know your subject

The very first thing you will need to do is to decide what story you want to tell. Do you know it well enough already, or is there a need to do some research? Is the story self-explanatory, or will you need to explain some or all details to your audience? And - actually, maybe the first question to ask - is it a story at all? Some sound walks can be based on natural recordings and music only, meaning the whole covered area changes its character without a single word.

Once your story is ready, decide how it should be conveyed to your audience. Do you prefer to tell the story yourself, or maybe it will be better to find and interview other people with significant knowledge of the topic? Creating a sound walk can sometimes be similar to working on a radio piece, in which important elements are delivered by experts or insiders. Will you need to record everything yourself or is it possible to find archival sounds that would add something valuable to your content?

  1. Choose the area

In the next step you will need to decide what area should be covered with your sounds and narratives. Would you like the sounds to be located only in the described and meaningful locations, or would you prefer to have the whole area covered with some more or less abstract background recordings? In the latter case, you need to take into consideration that the larger the area, the more sounds will be needed to fill all the silent spaces.

Bear in mind that your audience will most likely experience your piece by foot, hence the distances between the particular spots should not be too large. The best results are achieved when distances between the sounds allow for smooth and undistracted strolling.

Remember to consider safety! Don't force your audience to walk in hazardous or restricted areas. They will be using headphones, so choose a route away from busy roads.

  1. Choose your tools

Each app you are going to use will come with specific requirements for the format or duration of your recordings. In most cases these requirements will be easy to meet, but make sure you are doing it correctly right from the beginning to avoid the hassle of file conversion or additional editing in later stages. You will find helpful descriptions of some of the available apps below.

Creating a geo-located sound walk can be fun not only for you, but also for others. Consider working in a group in which all of you have assigned tasks or subjects to cover. You will be surprised how much a socially creative activity it can become. Some people create sound walks with children, or with their local community groups.

  1. Recording and editing

We don't all carry high quality microphones in our pockets. Of course, if you want to create an audiophile experience, you will need to secure professional audio recorders and microphones, however technology is not a barrier anymore. You can even use your smartphone to make your recordings - their quality will definitely be good enough to record speech.

If you'd like to use background sounds, and you have no means of making the recordings yourself, there are repositories of sounds available on the Internet. Impressive collection of sounds can be found, for example, on the British Library's SoundCloud channel. You can also search at http://archive.org and http://freesound.org - which are available for you to use free of charge.

There's quite a number of open-source and free sound editing software on the Internet. If you're not a professional sound designer, most likely Audacity will be enough for you. It's easy to use and has all the features you may need. It's also quite popular so you will find many helpful tutorials online.

  1. Placing sounds

This is probably the most pleasant and at the same time the most challenging part of the work. Be prepared to spend hours in your chosen area and to have your patience tested. Although most of the apps allow for fairly accurate placing of sounds, you will need to test each single location yourself. Sometimes you will need to move a sound by a few metres, other times you will want to change the way in which two sounds interact with each other. Wear comfortable shoes and submit to the trial and error process. Despite the challenges, trust us, it's fun!

  1. Go public and advertise

Once you are sure that all of your recordings are out there and in the exact places you want them to be, you can make your walk public. In most of the available apps you can publish with just one click. And when it's public, don't forget to tell everyone to try it. It's very rewarding to hear back from your audience - you will realise how much your work has re-shaped their perception of the chosen space.

Person standing in front of a church building, they are wearing headphones and listening to a sound walk
Image copyright Stefaan van Biesen

Here is a list of digital tools and platforms available for making sound walks:

Echoes

Echoes gives you the freedom to explore breath-taking GPS-triggered audio tours wherever you are. With the Echoes Creator, you can quickly and easily upload audio, images, and text, geolocate them on the map, and publish them for the world to see. Just add shapes to the map, which create geofenced areas. These will trigger content when your listeners physically walk inside them.

Echoes is free to use and available at http://echoes.xyz

PlaceCloud

Placecloud's mission is to reveal the cultural significance of everyday places. To achieve this, they have invented something called 'placecasts', or place-specific podcasts: short audio recordings with GPS coordinates attached to them. Users can listen to them while being physically present in the places they refer to.

Placecloud keeps the process simple: many of the steps described above won't be necessary when working with this tool. By adding your recordings you become part of a wider community of 'placecasters'.

http://www.placecloud.io

VoiceMap

VoiceMap is a tool for digital storytelling in public spaces. It's designed for storytellers and passionate locals all over the world who can - in an easy way - share their thoughts and narratives about the places they live in. As a creator you can guide your audience around your city - and get paid for this.

http://voicemap.me

Locosonic

Similar to Echoes, Locosonic is designed for creating "movies for your ears" - as they call it. Locosonic Soundscapes link sounds, music and stories to a location. While exploring an area, you will hear the Soundscape that matches your location. Like an additional sense, Locosonic allows you to experience places through their stories and music.

http://www.locosonic.com

CGeomap

CGeomap  is a collaborative tool which allows people to work together on the same project. Very easy to use, it creates simultaneously an online map and a browser-based web app, geolocating audio, text and visual content, without the need to install on your device.

It is more limited in terms of sound than Echoes or Locosonic, but adds media to your walk, and generates simultaneously an online media map, accessible for all on desktop. An extra feature allows the user to shift, while walking, from one map to the other, activating up to three layers of content in one place.

Info: http://bit.ly/300hpMS

Aporee

radio aporee ::: miniatures for mobiles is a platform for (creating) sound walks. These are created and organised by a web-based editing tool and listened to with a mobile phone app, while walking outside, at the site where the piece is created for. In addition to the phone apps, a (prototype) browser-based web app is also available, without the need to install the app on your device.

https://aporee.org/mfm/


We hope you have fun making and listening to sound walks! Sound Walk Sunday events are taking place on the 1st and throughout the month of September 2019. One of them "Ecumenopolis – the whole world is one city", by Geert Vermeire, is being made for walkers around the British Library London, the State Library of Moscow, the National Library of Greece and the City Library of Sao Paulo, so we can't wait to listen to this work.

This post is introduced by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom) and Andrew Stuck from the Museum of Walking.  Many thanks to Marcin Barski, curator, music publisher, sound and installation artist, co-founder of the Instytut Pejzażu Dźwiękowego (Polish Soundscape Institute) for writing this practical guide to creating sound walks.

10 June 2019

Collaborative Digital Scholarship in Action: A Case Study in Designing Impactful Student Learning Partnerships

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The Arts and Sciences (BASc) department at University College London has been at the forefront of pioneering a renascence of liberal arts and sciences degrees in the UK. As part of its Core modules offering, students select an interdisciplinary elective in Year 2 of their academic programme – from a range of modules specially designed for the department by University College London academics and researchers.

When creating my own module – Information Through the Ages (BASC0033) – as part of this elective set, I was keen to ensure that the student learning experience was both supported and developed in tandem with professional practices and standards, knowing that enabling students to progress their skills developed on the module beyond the module’s own assignments would aid them not only in their own unique academic degree programmes but also provide substantial evidence to future employers of their employability and skills base. Partnering with the British Library, therefore, in designing a data science and data curation project as part of the module’s core assignments, seemed to me to provide an excellent opportunity to enable both a research-based educative framework for students as well as a valuable chance for them to engage in a real-world collaboration, as providing students with external industry partners to collaborate with can contribute an important fillip to their motivation and the learning experience overall – by seeing their assessed work move beyond the confines of the academy to have an impact out in the wider world.

Through discussions with my British Library co-collaborators, Mahendra Mahey and Stella Wisdom, we alighted on the Microsoft Books/BL 19th Century collection dataset as providing excellent potential for student groups to work with for their data curation projects. With its 60,000 public domain volumes, associated metadata and 1 million+ extracted images, it presented as exciting, undiscovered territory across which our student groups might roam and rove, with the results of their work having the potential to benefit future British Library researchers.

Structuring the group project around wrangling a subset of this data: discovering, researching, cleaning and refining it, with the output from each group a curated version of the original dataset we therefore felt presented a number of significant benefits. Students were enabled to explore and develop technical skills such as data curation, software knowledge, archival research, report writing, project development and collaborative working practices, alongside experiencing a real world, digital scholarship learning experience – with the outcomes in turn supporting the British Library’s Digital Scholarship remit regards enabling innovative research based on the British Library digital collections.

Students observed that “working with the data did give me more practical insight to the field of work involved with digitisation work, and it was an enriching experience”, including how they “appreciated how involved and hands-on the projects were, as this is something that I particularly enjoy”. Data curation training was provided on site at the British Library, with the session focused on the use of OpenRefine, “a powerful tool for working with messy data: cleaning it; transforming it from one format into another; and extending it with web services and external data.”[1] Student feedback also told us that we could have provided further software training, and more guided dataset exploration/navigation resources, with groups keen to learn more nuanced data curation techniques – something we will aim to respond to in future iterations of the module – but overall, as one student succinctly noted, “I had no idea of the digitalization process and I learned a lot about data science. The training was very useful and I acquired new skills about data cleaning.”

Overall, we had five student groups wrangling the BL 19th Century collection, producing final data subsets in the following areas: Christian and Christian-related texts; Queens of Britain 1510-1946; female authors, 1800-1900 (here's a heatmap this student group produced of the spread of published titles by female authors in the 19th century); Shakespearean works, other author’s adaptations on those works, and any commentary on Shakespeare or his writing; and travel-related books.

In particular, it was excellent to see students fully engaging with the research process around their chosen data subset – exploring its cultural and institutional contexts, as well as navigating metadata/data schemas, requirements and standards.

For example, the Christian texts group considered the issue of different languages as part of their data subset of texts, following this up with textual content analysis to enable accurate record querying and selection. In their project report they noted that “[u]sing our dataset and visualisations as aids, we hope that researchers studying the Bible and Christianity can discover insights into the geographical and temporal spread of Christian-related texts. Furthermore, we hope that they can also glean new information regarding the people behind the translations of Bibles as well as those who wrote about Christianity.”

Similarly, the student group focused on travel-related texts discussed in their team project summary that “[t]he particular value of this curated dataset is that future researchers may be able to use it in the analysis of international points of view. In these works, many cities and nations are being written about from an outside perspective. This perspective is one that can be valuable in understanding historical relations and frames of reference between groups around the world: for instance, the work “Travels in France and Italy, in 1817 and 1818”, published in New York, likely provides an American perspective of Europe, while “Four Months in Persia, and a Visit to Trans-Caspia”, published in London, might detail an extended visit of a European in Persia, both revealing unique perspectives about different groups of people. A comparable work, that may have utilized or benefitted from such a collection, is Hahner’s (1998) “Women Through Women’s Eyes:Latin American Women in Nineteenth Century Travel Accounts.” In it, Hahner explores nineteenth century literature written to unearth the perspectives on Latin American women, specifically noting that the primarily European author’s writings should be understood in the context of their Eurocentric view, entrenched in “patriarchy” and “colonialism” (Hahner, 1998:21). Authors and researchers with a similar intent may use [our] curated British Library dataset comparably – that is, to locate such works.”

Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group

Over the ten weeks of the module, alongside their group data curation projects, students covered lecture topics as varied as Is a Star a Document?, "Truthiness" and Truth in a Post-Truth World, Organising Information: Classification, Taxonomies and Beyond!, and Information & Power; worked on an individual archival GIF project which drew on an institutional archival collection to create (and publish on social media) an animated GIF; and spent time in classroom discussions considering questions such as What happens when information is used for dis-informing or mis-informing purposes?; How do the technologies available to us in the 21st century potentially impact on the (data) collection process and its outputs and outcomes?; How might ideas about collections and collecting be transformed in a digital context?; What exactly do we mean by the concepts of Data and Information?; How we choose to classify or group something first requires we have a series of "rules" or instructions which determine the grouping process – but who decides on what the rules are and how might such decisions in fact influence our very understandings of the information the system is supposedly designed to facilitate access to? These dialogues were all situated within the context of both "traditional" collections systems and atypical sites of information storage and collection, with the module aiming to enable students to gain an in-depth knowledge, understanding and critical appreciation of the concept of information, from historical antecedents to digital scientific and cultural heritage forms, in the context of libraries, archives, galleries and museums (including alternative, atypical and emergent sources), and how technological, social, cultural and other changes fundamentally affect our concept of “information.”

“I think this module was particularly helpful in making me look at things in an interdisciplinary light”, one student observed in module evaluation feedback, with others going on to note that “I think the different formats of work we had to do was engaging and made the coursework much more interesting than just papers or just a project … the collaboration with the British Library deeply enriched the experience by providing a direct and visible outlet for any energies expended on the module. It made the material seem more applicable and the coursework more enjoyable … I loved that this module offered different ways of assessment. Having papers, projects, presentations, and creative multimedia work made this course engaging.”

Situating the module’s assessments within such contexts I hope encouraged students to understand the critical, interdisciplinary focus of the field of information studies, in particular the use of information in the context of empire-making and consolidation, and how histories of information, knowledge and power intersect. Combined with a collaborative, interdisciplinary curriculum design approach, which encouraged and supported students to gain technical abilities and navigate teamwork practices, we hope this module can point some useful ways forward in creating and developing engaging learning experiences, which have real world impact.

This blog post is by Sara Wingate-Gray (UCL Senior Teaching Fellow & BASC0033 module leader), Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager) and Stella Wisdom (BL Digital Curator for Contemporary British Collections).

29 March 2019

Staying Late at the Library ... to Algorave

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Blog article by Algorave audio-visual artist Coral Manton. Coral is curating this British Library Lates Algorave in collaboration with British Library Events, BL Labs, Digital Scholarship and The Alan Turing Institute.

On the 5th April British Library Lates will host an Algorave in the atrium. Algorave artists will live-code music and visuals, writing code sequences generating algorithmic beats beneath the iconic Kings’ Library Tower.

Alex Mclean
Alex Mclean AKA Yaxu

The scene grew out of a reaction to ‘black-boxing’ in electronic music - where the audience is unable to interface with the ‘live-ness’ of what the performer is making. Nothing is hidden at an Algorave. In an Algorave you can see what the performer is doing through code projected onto walls in realtime. The creative process is open and shared with the audience. Code is shared freely. Performers share their screens with the crowd, taking them on a journey through making - unmaking - remaking, thought processes laid bare in lines of improvised code weaving it’s way through practised shaping of sound.

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Coral Manton AKA Coral

As a female coder, becoming part of the Algorave community has led me to reflect on the power of seeing women coding live, and how this encourages greater participation from women. Algorave attempts to maintain a positive gender balance. More than this the joy of seeing women confidently and openly experimenting with code, sharing their practise, making mistakes, revelling in uncertainty and error, crashing-restarting-crashing again to cheers from the supportive crowd willing the performances to continue sharing the anarchic joy of failure in a community where failure leads to new possibilities.

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ALGOBABEZ AKA Shelly Knotts and Joanne Armitage

Algorave is a fun word - an algorithmic rave - a scene where people come to together to create and dance to music generate by code. Technically Algorave is described as "sounds wholly or partly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive conditionals”. The performers writes
 lines of code that create cyclic patterns of music, layered to create an evolving composition. The same is applied to the visuals: live coded audio reactive patterns, showing shapes bouncing, revolving, repeating to the beat of the music. All of this creates a shared club experience like no other.

Visual Artists Antonio Robert AKA hellocatfood: “I like to do Algorave because I think it runs an otherwise perfect black box computer into a live performance instrument. Playing at an Algorave forces me to abandon what I know and respond to everything happening around me. It shows me that even something as meticulously designed as a computer is a living tool that is subject to randomness and mistakes.”

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Antonio Roberts AKA hellocatfood

Algorave is an open, non-hierarchical global community, with it’s hub in Sheffield. There have been Algoraves in over 50 cities around the world. Algorave is not a franchise, it is a free culture, anyone can put on an Algorave - however their approach should align with the ethos of the community. Algorave collapses hierarchies - headliners are generally frowned upon. Diversity is key to the Algorave community. Algorave is open to everyone and actively promotes diversity in line-ups and audiences. The community is active both online and at live events organised by community members. The software people use is created within the community and open-source. There is little barrier to participation. If you are interested in Algorave come along, speak to the performers, join the online community, download some software
(e.g. IXI LangpuredataMax/MSPSuperColliderExtemporeFluxus, TidalCyclesGibberSonic PiFoxDot and Cyril) and get coding.

If this sounds like your scene or you want to know more, please join us at the Algorave Late Event. Tickets available here: https://www.bl.uk/events/late-at-the-library-algorave

Also check out https://algorave.com & https://toplap.org

26 March 2019

BL Labs Staff Award Runners Up: 'The Digital Documents Harvester'

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This guest blog is by Jennie Grimshaw on behalf of her team who were the BL Labs Staff Award runners up for 2018.

Harvest Haystack uk

The UK Legal Deposit Web Archive (LDWA) contains terabytes of data harvested from the UK web domain. It has a public search interface at https://webarchive.org.uk/ , but finding individual documents in what is in effect a vast unstructured dataset is challenging. The analogy of looking for a needle in a haystack comes to mind as being entirely appropriate.

The Digital Documents Harvesting and Processing Tool (DDHAPT) was designed to overcome the problem of finding individual known documents in the LDWA. It is an adaptation of the web archiving software that enables selectors to set up regular in-depth crawls of target, document heavy websites. The system then extracts new pdfs published since its previous visit from the target websites and presents them to the selector in a list with the most recent at the top:

DDH image 1

The selector can then view an image of the document on the screen by clicking on the title. If the document is in scope, basic metadata is created by completing an on-screen form. If the document doesn’t make the grade for the creation of an individual record, it can be removed from the list of new documents for selection by clicking on the green Ignore button on the right of the screen.

The metadata we create records the title and subtitle, publication year and publisher, edition, series, personal and corporate authors and ISBN (if present). Some fields such as title, publication year and publisher are automatically populated.  A broad subject heading is assigned from a pick list. Our aim is to create a “good enough” record that can stand without upgrading by the digital cataloguers, avoiding double handling.

DDH image 2

To save time and avoid transcription errors system allows the selector to highlight information in the document such as personal author, publisher, series title or ISBN. You then mouse up, which calls up a list of fields. Clicking on the appropriate field automatically transfers the data into it.

DDH image 3

Once the metadata has been created, the selector clicks on a submit button which starts the process of loading it into the British Library catalogue and the catalogues of the other five legal deposit libraries – the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and Trinity College Dublin. The document remains in the Legal Deposit Web Archive. Its URL in the web archive is recorded in the metadata and creates the link between the document and its catalogue record. Readers who find the record in the British Library’s public catalogue or those of any of the legal deposit libraries can then click on the “I want this” button and view the document on screen.

The DDHAPT is currently being used to monitor the publications of Westminster government departments and help us ensure that future generations of researchers can reliably access known official documents via the catalogues of the six legal deposit libraries. However, we intend to extend its use to cover the output of other non-commercial publishers such as campaigning charities, think tanks, academic research centres, and pressure groups as a way of making their archived publications easily discoverable.

Normally material collected under the non-print legal deposit regulations can only be viewed by law on the premised on one of the six legal deposit libraries. However, the Libraries have negotiated licences with the UK government and many other non-commercial online publishers that allow us to make their archived websites and the documents on them open and available remotely. These licences lift non-print legal deposit restrictions and allow us to make the documents covered by them available 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

In these ways the DDHAPT improves the discoverability of non-commercially published documents collected under non-print legal deposit, facilitates metadata creation through auto-population of some fields, and avoids double handling through creation of good quality metadata at the point of selection.

Watch the Digital Documents Harvester team receiving their award and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 8.15 to 14.45):

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

28 February 2019

The World Wide Lab: Building Library Labs - Part II

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BL Flickr Copenhagen 1

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

Danish lib & BL logis

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

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

11248527023_2655ce2ceb_oNext week's participants, from over 30 institutions, will be sharing lessons learned, talking about innovative projects and services that have used their digital collections and data in clever ways, and continuing to establish the foundations for an international network of Library Labs. We aim to work together in the spirit of collaboration so that we can continue to build even better Library Labs for our users in the future.

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

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

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

Posted by Eleanor Cooper on behalf of BL Labs

13 February 2019

BL Labs 2018 Artistic Award Runner Up: 'Nomad'

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Nomad is a collaborative project between Abira Hussein, an independent researcher and curator, and Sophie Dixon and Ed Silverton of Mnemoscene. They were the runners up in the BL Labs Artistic Award category for 2018, and they've written a guest blog post about their project for the Digital Scholarship blog.

Nomad: Reconnecting Somali heritage

The project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery fund and premiered at the British Library and British Museum during the Somali Week Festival 2018. Centred around workshops engaging Somali communities in London, Nomad explores the creative use of Mixed Reality and web-based technology to contextualise archival Somali objects with the people and traditions to which they belong.

Nomad 1

Nomad began with three Somali heritage objects - a headrest, bowl, and incense burner - which had been digitised at the British Museum. Thanks to Object Journeys, a previous project Abira was involved in, they were freely available to use.

Our goal was to reflect the utilitarian nature of the objects by showing their intended use. Furthermore, in Somali culture, songs and poetry are very important and we wanted to reconnect the objects to the sounds and traditions to which they belonged.

Our approach was to use Microsoft’s Mixed Reality HoloLens headset to show a Nomadic Somali family using the objects in real, everyday spaces. When wearing the headset the user can select different objects to reveal different members of the family, seeing how the object would be used, and hearing the songs which would have accompanied their use.

You can get a taste of the HoloLens experience in this short video (1 minute).

To create these ephemeral figures we used motion capture and 3D modelling, creating the clothing by referencing archival photographs held at the Powell Cotton Museum in Kent.

We used the British Library’s John Low collection as the source for the sounds you hear in the Mixed Reality experience. John Low travelled across Somalia between 1983-1986 working for an NGO to support community development. In his spare time he made field recordings with different tribes and dialects, providing an insight into the diversity of Somali oral traditions. The collection includes work songs reflecting pastoral life and poems, also known as Gabay, which are often recited in communal settings.

Nomad 2
Workshop held at the British Museum during the Somali Week Festival

With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund we toured the Mixed Reality experience to different Somali communities in London. The immersive experience became a way to inspire and encourage communities to share their own stories, to be part of an openly accessible archive representing their own narratives for Somali cultural heritage.

These workshops were exciting events in which participants handled real objects, tried the Mixed Reality experience and took part in the photogrammetry process to capture 3D models of the objects they had brought to the workshops.

To make the objects and sounds accessible to all, we also created Web-based Augmented Reality postcards to be used in the workshops. 

Nomad 3
Workshop participants looking at 3D objects using web-based Augmented Reality on their mobile phones

From the workshops we have 3D models, photographs and audio recordings which we’re currently adding to an online archive using the Universal Viewer. For updates about the archive and to find out more about our project please visit us at nomad-project.co.uk.

Watch the Nomad team receiving their award and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 4:15 to 8:16):

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.

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

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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.

25 January 2019

BL Labs 2018 Artistic Award Winner: 'Another Intelligence Sings'

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This guest blog is by the winners of the BL Labs Artistic Award for 2018, Robert Walker, Rose Leahy and Amanda Baum, for 'Another Intelligence Sings'.AI Sings 1

When the natural world is recorded, it is quantised for the human ear, to wavelengths within our perception and timeframes within our conception. Yet the machine learning algorithm sits outside the human sensorium, outside the human lifespan. An algorithm is agnostic to the source, the intention and the timescale of data. By feeding it audio samples of lava and larvae, geological tensions and fleeting courtship, the seismic and the somatic, the many voices of life are woven into a song no one lifespan or life form could sing.

Another Intelligence Sings ( AI Sings ) is an immersive audio-tactile installation inviting you to experience the sounds of our biological world as recounted through an AI. Through the application of neural networks to field recordings from the British Library sound archive a nonhuman reading of the data emerges. Presenting an alternative composition of Earth’s songs, AI Sings explores an expanded view of what might be perceived as intelligent.

The breadth of the British Library Wildlife and Environmental Sounds archive enabled us to take a cross section of the natural world from primordial physical phenomena to the great beasts of the savannas to the songbirds of the British countryside. The final soundscape is created from using two different neural networks, Wavenet and Nsynth. We trained Wavenet, Google’s most advanced human speech synthesis neural network, on many hours of field recordings, including those from the British Library archives.

Nsynth is an augmented version of Wavenet that was built and trained by Magenta, Google AI’s creative lab. Nsynth creates sounds that are not a simple crossfade or blend but something genuinely new based on the perceived formal musical qualities of the two source sounds. This was used to create mixtures between specific audio samples, for example, sea lion meets mosquito, leopard meets horse, and mealworm meets ocean.

Click here to play a 4 minute clip of the sound from the installation.

AI Sings 2
Through this use of the technology, AI Sings reorients the algorithm’s focus, away from the human expression of individual thought and towards an amalgam of geological and biological processes. The experience aims to enable humans to meditate on the myriad intelligences around and beyond us and expand our view of what might be perceived as intelligent. This feeds into our ongoing body of shared work, which raises questions about the use of artificial intelligence in society. Previously, we have used a neural network to find linguistic patterns not perceivable to human reading to mediate our collectively written piece Weaving Worlds (2016). In AI Sings we continue this thread of asking which perspectives an AI can bring that human perception cannot.

AI Sings 3

AI Sings takes digital archive content and makes it into a tactile, sensuous, and playful experience. By making the archive material an experiential encounter, we were able to encourage listeners to enter into a world where they could be immersed and engaged in the data. Soft, tactile materials such as hair and foam invited people to enter into and interact with the work. In particular, we found that the playful nature of the materials in the piece meant that children were keen to experience the work, and listen to the soundscape, thereby extending the audience of the archive material to one it may not usually reach.

By addressing the need for experiential, visceral and poetic encounters with AI, Another Intelligence Sings goes beyond the conceptual and engages people in the technology which is so rapidly transforming society. We hope this work shows how the creative application of AI opens up new possibilities in the field of archivology, from being a tool of categorisation to becoming a means of expanding the cultural role of the library in the future.

The piece premiered at the V&A Digital Design Weekend 2018 on 22nd of September as part of London Design Festival, where it was exhibited to over 22,000 visitors. Following the weekend we were invited by Open Cell, London’s newly opened bioart- and biodesign studio and exhibition space, to be showcased on their site.

More about the project can be found on our websites:

www.baumleahy.com + www.irr.co + www.amandabaum.com + www.roseleahy.com

Watch the AI Sings team receiving their award and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 8.18):

 

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.