Digital scholarship blog

122 posts categorized "Tools"

30 November 2022

Skills and Training Needs to Open Heritage Research Through Repositories: Scoping report and Repository Training Programme for cultural heritage professionals

Do you think the repository landscape is mature enough in the heritage sector? Are the policies, infrastructure and skills in place to open up heritage research through digital repositories? Our brief analysis shows that research activity in GLAMs needs better acknowledgement, established digital repositories for dissemination of outputs and empowered staff to make use of repository services. At the British Library, we published a report called Scoping Skills and Developing Training Programme for Managing Repository Services in Cultural Heritage Organisations. We looked at the roles and people involved in the research workflow in GLAMs, and their skills needs to share heritage research openly through digital repositories in order to develop a training program for cultural heritage professionals.

 

Making heritage research openly available

Making research openly available to everyone increases the reach and impact of the work, driving increased value for money in research investment, and helps to make research reusable for everyone. ‘Open’ in this context is not only about making research freely accessible but also about ensuring the research is shared with rich metadata, licensed for reuse, including persistent identifiers, and is discoverable. Communicating research in GLAM contexts goes beyond journal articles. Digital scholarship, practice-based and computational research approaches generate a wide range of complex objects that need to be shared, reused to inform practice, policy and future research, and cannot necessarily be assessed with common metrics and rankings of academia.

The array of research activity in GLAMs needs to be addressed in the context of research repositories. If you look at OpenDOAR and Re3data, the global directories of open repositories, the number of repositories in the cultural heritage sector is still small compared to academic institutions. There is an increasing need to establish repositories for heritage research and to empower cultural heritage professionals to make use of repository services. Staff who are involved in supporting research activities, managing digital collections, and providing research infrastructure in GLAM organisations must be supported with capacity development programmes to establish open scholarship activities and share their research outputs through research repositories.

 

Who is involved in the research activities and repository services?

This question is important considering that staff may not be explicitly research-active, yet research is regularly conducted in addition to day-to-day jobs in GLAMs. In addition, organisations are not primarily driven by a research agenda in the heritage sector. The study we undertook as part of an AHRC funded repository infrastructure project showed us that cultural heritage professionals are challenged by the invisibility of forms of research conducted in their day-to-day jobs as well as lack of dedicated time and staff to work around open scholarship.

In order to bring clarity to the personas involved in research activities and link them to competencies and training needs later on for the purpose of this work, we defined five profiles that carry out and contribute to research in cultural heritage organisations. These five profiles illustrate the researcher as a core player, alongside four other profiles involved in making research happen, and ensuring it can be published, shared, communicated and preserved.

 

A 5 column chart showing 'researchers', 'curators and content creators', 'infomediaries', 'infrastructure architects', and 'policy makers' as the key personas identified.
Figure 1. Profiles identified in the cultural heritage institutions to conduct, facilitate, and support research workflow.

 

 

Consultation on training needs for repository services

We explored the skill gaps and training needs of GLAM professionals from curation to rights management, and open scholarship to management of repository services. In addition to scanning the training landscape for competency frameworks, existing programmes and resources, we conducted interviews to explore training requirements relevant to repository services. Finally, we validated initial findings in a consultative workshop with cultural heritage professionals, to hear their experience and get input to a competency framework and training curriculum.

Interviews highlighted that there is a lack of knowledge and support in cultural heritage organisations, where institutional support and training is not guaranteed for research communication or open scholarship. In terms of types of research activities, the workshop brought interesting discussions about what constitutes ‘research’ in the cultural heritage context and what makes it different to research in a university context. The event underlined the fact that cultural heritage staff profiles for producing, supporting, and communicating the research are different to the higher education landscape at many levels.

 

Discussion board showing virtual post its stuck to a canvas with a river in the background, identifying three key areas: 'What skills and knowledge do we already have?', 'What training elements are required?', and 'What skills and knowledge do we need?' (with the second question acting as a metaphorical bridge over the river).
Figure 2: Discussion board from the Skills and Training Breakout Session in virtual Consultative Workshop held on 28/04/2022.

 

The interviews and the consultative workshop highlighted that the ways of research conducted and communicated in the cultural heritage sector (as opposed to academia) should be taken into account in identifying skills needed and developing training programmes in the areas of open scholarship.

 

Competency framework and curriculum for repository training programme

There is a wealth of information, valuable project outputs, and a number of good analytical works available to identify gaps and gain new skills, particularly in the areas of open science, scholarly communications and research data management. However, adjusting and adopting these works to the context of cultural heritage organisations and relevant professionals will increase their relevance and uptake. Derived from our desk research and workshop analysis, we developed a competency framework that sets out the knowledge and skills required to support open scholarship for the personas present in GLAM organisations. Topic clusters used in the framework are as follows:

  1. Repository Service management
  2. Curation & data stewardship
  3. Metadata management
  4. Preservation
  5. Scholarly publishing
  6. Assessment and impact
  7. Advocacy and communication
  8. Capacity development

The proposed curriculum was designed by considering the pathways to develop, accelerate and manage a repository service. It contains only the areas that we identify as a priority to deliver the most value to cultural heritage organisations. Five teaching modules are considered in this preliminary work: 

  1. Opening up heritage research
  2. Getting started with GLAM repositories
  3. Realising and expanding the benefits
  4. Exploring the scholarly communications ecosystem
  5. Topics for future development

A complete version of the competency framework and the curriculum can be found in the report and is also available as a Google spreadsheet. They will drive increased uptake and use of repositories across AHRC’s investments, increasing value for money from both research funding and infrastructure funding.

 

What is next?

From January to July2023, we, at the British Library, will prepare a core set of materials based on this curriculum and deliver training events in a combination of online and in-person workshops. Training events are being planned to take place in Scotland, North England, Wales in person in addition to several online sessions. Both the framework and the training curriculum will be refined as we receive feedback and input from the participants of these events throughout next year. Event details will be announced in collaboration with host institutions in this blog as well as on our social media channels. Watch this space for more information.

If you have any feedback or questions, please contact us at openaccess@bl.uk.

29 November 2022

My AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship: Four months on

In August 2022 I started work on a project to investigate the legacies of curatorial voice in the descriptions of incunabula collections at the British Library and their future reuse. My research is funded by the collaborative AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship Scheme for academic and research libraries which launched in 2021. As part of the first cohort of ten Fellows I embraced this opportunity to engage in practitioner research that benefits my institution and the wider sector, and to promote the role of library professionals as important research partners.

The overall aim of my Fellowship is to demonstrate new ways of working with digitised catalogues that would also improve the discoverability and usability of the collections they describe. The focus of my research is the Catalogue of books printed in the 15th century now at the British Museum (or BMC) published between 1908 and 2007 which describes over 12,700 volumes from the British Library incunabula collection. By using computational approaches and tools with the data derived from the catalogue I will gain new insights into and interpretations of this valuable resource and enable its reuse in contemporary online resources. 

Titlepage to volume 2 of the Catalogue of books printed in the fifteenth century now in the British Museum, part 2, Germany, Eltvil-Trier
BMC volume 2 titlepage


This research idea was inspired by a recent collaboration with Dr James Baker, who is also my mentor for this Fellowship, and was further developed in conversations with Dr Karen Limper-Herz, Lead Curator for Incunabula, Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections, and Alan Danskin, Collections Metadata Standards Manager, who support my research at the Library.

My Fellowship runs until July 2023 with Fridays being my main research days. I began by studying the history of the catalogue, its arrangement and the structure of the item descriptions and their relationship with different online resources. Overall, the main focus of this first phase has been on generating the text data required for the computational analysis and investigations into curatorial and cataloguing practice. This work involved new digitisation of the catalogue and a lot of experimentation using the Transkribus AI-empowered platform that proved best-suited for improving the layout and text recognition for the digitised images. During the last two months I have hugely benefited from the expertise of my colleague Tom Derrick, as we worked together on creating the training data and building structure models for the incunabula catalogue images.

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue with separate regions drawn around columns 1 and 2, and the text baselines highlighted in purple
Layout recognition output for pages with only two columns, including text baselines, viewed on Transkribus Lite

 

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue alongside the text lines
Text recognition output after applying the model trained with annotations for 2 columns on the page, viewed on Transkribus Lite

 

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue with separate regions drawn around 4 columns of text separated by a single text block
Layout recognition output for pages with mixed layout of single text block and text in columns, viewed on Transkribus Lite

Whilst the data preparation phase has taken longer than I had planned due to the varied layout of the catalogue, this has been an important part of the process as the project outcomes are dependent on using the best quality text data for the incunabula descriptions. The next phase of the research will involve the segmentation of the records and extraction of relevant information to use with a range of computational tools. I will report on the progress with this work and the next steps early next year. Watch this space and do get in touch if you would like to learn more about my research.

This blogpost is by Dr Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator for Digitisation, British Library. She is on Twitter @RossiAtanassova  and Mastodon @ratanass@glammr.us

05 August 2022

Burmese Script Conversion using Aksharamukha

This blog post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She's on Twitter as @BL_AdiKS.

 

Curious about Myanmar (Burma)? Did you know that the British Library has a large collection of Burmese materials, including manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, early printed books, newspapers, periodicals, as well as current material?

You can search our main online catalogue Explore the British Library for printed material, or the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue for manuscripts. But, to increase chances of discovering printed resources, you will need to search the Explore catalogue by typing in the transliteration of the Burmese title and/or author using the Library of Congress romanisation rules. This means that searching for an item using the original Burmese script, or using what you would intuitively consider to be the romanised version of Burmese script, is not going to get you very far (not yet, anyway).

Excerpt from the Library of Congress romanisation scheme
Excerpt from the Library of Congress romanisation scheme

 

The reason for this is that this is how we catalogue Burmese collection items at the Library, following a policy to transliterate Burmese using the Library of Congress (LoC) rules. In theory, the benefit of this system specifically for Burmese is that it enables a two-way transliteration, i.e. the romanisation could be precisely reversed to give the Burmese script. However, a major issue arises from this romanisation system: romanised versions of Burmese script are so far removed from their phonetic renderings, that most Burmese speakers are completely unable to recognise any Burmese words.

With the LoC scheme being unintuitive for Burmese speakers, not reflecting the spoken language, British Library catalogue records for Burmese printed materials end up virtually inaccessible to users. And we’re not alone with this problem – other libraries worldwide holding Burmese collections and using the LoC romanisation scheme, face the same issues.

The Buddha at Vesali in a Burmese manuscript, from the Henry Burney collection. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 1
The Buddha at Vesali in a Burmese manuscript, from the Henry Burney collection. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 1

 

One useful solution to this could be to find or develop a tool that converts the LoC romanisation output into Burmese script, and vice versa – similar to how you would use Google Translate. Maria Kekki, our Curator for Burmese collections, have discovered the online tool Aksharamukha, which aims to facilitate conversion between various scripts – also referred to as transliteration (transliteration into Roman alphabet is particularly referred to as romanisation). It supports 120 scripts and 21 romanisation methods, and luckily, Burmese is one of them.

Aksharamukha: Script Converter screenshot
Aksharamukha: Script Converter screenshot

 

Using Aksharamukha has already been of great help to Maria. Instead of painstakingly converting Burmese script manually into its romanised version, she could now copy-paste the conversion and make any necessary adjustments. She also noticed making fewer errors this way! However, it was missing one important thing – the ability to directly transliterate Burmese script specifically using the LoC romanisation system.

Such functionality would not only save our curatorial and acquisitions staff a significant amount of time – but also help any other libraries holding Burmese collections and following the LoC guidelines. This would also allow Burmese speakers to find material in the library catalogue much more easily – readers will also use this platform to find items in our collection, as well as other collections around the world.

To this end, Maria got in touch with the developer of Aksharamukha, Vinodh Rajan – a computer scientist who is also an expert in writing systems, languages and digital humanities. Vinodh was happy to implement two things: (1) add the LoC romanisation scheme as one of the transliteration options, and (2) add spaces in between words (when it comes to spacing, according to the LoC romanisation system, there are different rules for words of Pali and English origin, which are written together).

Vinodh demonstrating the new Aksharamukha functionality, June 2022
Vinodh demonstrating the new Aksharamukha functionality, June 2022

 

Last month (July 2022) Vinodh implemented the new system, and what we can say, the result is just fantastic! Readers are now able to copy-paste transliterated text into the Library’s catalogue search box, to see if we hold items of interest. It is also a significant improvement for cataloguing and acquisition processes, being able to create acquisitions records and minimal records. As a next step, we will look into updating all of our Burmese catalogue records to include Burmese script (alongside transliteration), and consider a similar course of action for other South or Southeast Asian scripts.

I should mention that as a bonus, Aksharamukha’s codebase is fully open source, is available on GitHub and is well documented. If you have feedback or notice any bugs, please feel free to raise an issue on GitHub. Thank you, Vinodh, for making this happen!

 

27 June 2022

IIIF-yeah! Annual Conference 2022

At the beginning of June Neil Fitzgerald, Head of Digital Research, and myself attended the annual International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Showcase and Conference in Cambridge MA. The showcase was held in Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology’s iconic lecture theatre 10-250 and the conference was held in the Fong Auditorium of Boylston Hall on Harvard’s campus. There was a stillness on the MIT campus, in contrast Harvard Yard was busy with sightseeing members of the public and the dismantling of marquees from the end of year commencements in the previous weeks. 

View of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dome IIIF Consortium sticker reading IIIF-yeah! Conference participants outside Boylston Hall, Harvard Yard


The conference atmosphere was energising, with participants excited to be back at an in-person event, the last one being held in 2019 in Göttingen, with virtual meetings held in the meantime. During the last decade IIIF has been growing as reflected by the fast expanding community  and IIIF Consortium, which now comprises 63 organisations from across the GLAM and commercial sectors. 

The Showcase on June 6th was an opportunity to welcome those new to IIIF and highlight recent community developments. I had the pleasure of presenting the work of British Library and Zooninverse to enable new IIIF functionality on Zooniverse to support our In the Spotlight project which crowdsources information about the Library’s historical playbills collection. Other presentations covered the use of IIIF with audio, maps, and in teaching, learning and museum contexts, and the exciting plans to extend IIIF standards for 3D data. Harvard University updated on their efforts to adopt IIIF across the organisation and their IIIF resources webpage is a useful resource. I was particularly impressed by the Leventhal Map and Education Center’s digital maps initiatives, including their collaboration on Allmaps, a set of open source tools for curating, georeferencing and exploring IIIF maps (learn more).

 The following two days were packed with brilliant presentations on IIIF infrastructure, collections enrichment, IIIF resources discovery, IIIF-enabled digital humanities teaching and research, improving user experience and more. Digirati presented a new IIIF manifest editor which is being further developed to support various use cases. Ed Silverton reported on the newest features for the Exhibit tool which we at the British Library have started using to share engaging stories about our IIIF collections.

 Ed Silverton presenting a slide about the Exhibit tool Conference presenters talking about the Audiovisual Metadata Platform Conference reception under a marquee in Harvard Yard

I was interested to hear about Getty’s vision of IIIF as enabling technology, how it fits within their shared data infrastructure and their multiple use cases, including to drive image backgrounds based on colour palette annotations and the Quire publication process. It was great to hear how IIIF has been used in digital humanities research, as in the Mapping Colour in History project at Harvard which enables historical analysis of artworks though pigment data annotations, or how IIIF helps to solve some of the challenges of remote resources aggregation for the Paul Laurence Dunbar initiative.

There was also much excitement about the Detekiiif browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that detects IIIF resources in websites and helps collect and export IIIF manifests. Zentralbibliothek Zürich’s customised version ZB-detektIIIF allows scholars to create IIIF collections in JSON-LD and link to the Mirador Viewer. There were several great presentations about IIIF players and tools for audio-visual content, such as Avalon, Aviary, Clover, Audiovisual Metadata Platform and Mirador video extension. And no IIIF Conference is ever complete without a #FunWithIIIF presentation by Cogapp’s Tristan Roddis this one capturing 30 cool projects using IIIF content and technology! 

We all enjoyed lots of good conversations during the breaks and social events, and some great tours were on offer. Personally I chose to visit the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map and Education Centre and exhibition about environment and social justice, and BPL Digitisation studio, the latter equipped with the Internet Archive scanning stations and an impressive maps photography room.

Boston Public Library book trolleys Boston Public Library Maps Digitisation Studio Rossitza Atanassova outside Boston Pubic Library


I was also delighted to pay a visit to the Harvard Libraries digitisation team who generously showed me their imaging stations and range of digitised collections, followed by a private guided tour of the Houghton Library’s special collections and beautiful spaces. Huge thanks to all the conference organisers, the local committee, and the hosts for my visits, Christine Jacobson, Bill Comstock and David Remington. I learned a lot and had an amazing time. 

Finally, all presentations from the three days have been shared and some highlights captured on Twitter #iiif. In addition this week the Consortium is offering four free online workshops to share IIIF best practices and tools with the wider community. Don’t miss your chance to attend. 

This post is by Digital Curator Rossitza Atanassova (@RossiAtanassova)

20 April 2022

Importing images into Zooniverse with a IIIF manifest: introducing an experimental feature

Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge shares news from a collaboration between the British Library and Zooniverse that means you can more easily create crowdsourcing projects with cultural heritage collections. There's a related blog post on Zooniverse, Fun with IIIF.

IIIF manifests - text files that tell software how to display images, sound or video files alongside metadata and other information about them - might not sound exciting, but by linking to them, you can view and annotate collections from around the world. The IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) standard makes images (or audio, video or 3D files) more re-usable - they can be displayed on another site alongside the original metadata and information provided by the source institution. If an institution updates a manifest - perhaps adding information from updated cataloguing or crowdsourcing - any sites that display that image automatically gets the updated metadata.

Playbill showing the title after other large text
Playbill showing the title after other large text

We've posted before about how we used IIIF manifests as the basis for our In the Spotlight crowdsourced tasks on LibCrowds.com. Playbills are great candidates for crowdsourcing because they are hard to transcribe automatically, and the layout and information present varies a lot. Using IIIF meant that we could access images of playbills directly from the British Library servers without needing server space and extra processing to make local copies. You didn't need technical knowledge to copy a manifest address and add a new volume of playbills to In the Spotlight. This worked well for a couple of years, but over time we'd found it difficult to maintain bespoke software for LibCrowds.

When we started looking for alternatives, the Zooniverse platform was an obvious option. Zooniverse hosts dozens of historical or cultural heritage projects, and hundreds of citizen science projects. It has millions of volunteers, and a 'project builder' that means anyone can create a crowdsourcing project - for free! We'd already started using Zooniverse for other Library crowdsourcing projects such as Living with Machines, which showed us how powerful the platform can be for reaching potential volunteers. 

But that experience also showed us how complicated the process of getting images and metadata onto Zooniverse could be. Using Zooniverse for volumes of playbills for In the Spotlight would require some specialist knowledge. We'd need to download images from our servers, resize them, generate a 'manifest' list of images and metadata, then upload it all to Zooniverse; and repeat that for each of the dozens of volumes of digitised playbills.

Fast forward to summer 2021, when we had the opportunity to put a small amount of funding into some development work by Zooniverse. I'd already collaborated with Sam Blickhan at Zooniverse on the Collective Wisdom project, so it was easy to drop her a line and ask if they had any plans or interest in supporting IIIF. It turns out they had, but hadn't had the resources or an interested organisation necessary before.

We came up with a brief outline of what the work needed to do, taking the ability to recreate some of the functionality of In the Spotlight on Zooniverse as a goal. Therefore, 'the ability to add subject sets via IIIF manifest links' was key. ('Subject set' is Zooniverse-speak for 'set of images or other media' that are the basis of crowdsourcing tasks.) And of course we wanted the ability to set up some crowdsourcing tasks with those items… The Zooniverse developer, Jim O'Donnell, shared his work in progress on GitHub, and I was very easily able to set up a test project and ask people to help create sample data for further testing. 

If you have a Zooniverse project and a IIIF address to hand, you can try out the import for yourself: add 'subject-sets/iiif?env=production' to your project builder URL. e.g. if your project is number #xxx then the URL to access the IIIF manifest import would be https://www.zooniverse.org/lab/xxx/subject-sets/iiif?env=production

Paste a manifest URL into the box. The platform parses the file to present a list of metadata fields, which you can flag as hidden or visible in the subject viewer (public task interface). When you're happy, you can click a button to upload the manifest as a new subject set (like a folder of items), and your images are imported. (Don't worry if it says '0 subjects).

 

Screenshot of manifest import screen
Screenshot of manifest import screen

You can try out our live task and help create real data for testing ingest processes at ​​https://frontend.preview.zooniverse.org/projects/bldigital/in-the-spotlight/classify

This is a very brief introduction, with more to come on managing data exports and IIIF annotations once you've set up, tested and launched a crowdsourced workflow (task). We'd love to hear from you - how might this be useful? What issues do you foresee? How might you want to expand or build on this functionality? Email digitalresearch@bl.uk or tweet @mia_out @LibCrowds. You can also comment on GitHub https://github.com/zooniverse/Panoptes-Front-End/pull/6095 or https://github.com/zooniverse/iiif-annotations

Digital work in libraries is always collaborative, so I'd like to thank British Library colleagues in Finance, Procurement, Technology, Collection Metadata Services and various Collections departments; the Zooniverse volunteers who helped test our first task and of course the Zooniverse team, especially Sam, Jim and Chris for their work on this.

 

14 March 2022

The Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project: the collaborative work between the Heritage Made Digital team and the International Dunhuang Project team

Digitisation has become one of the key tasks for the curatorial roles within the British Library. This is supported by two main pillars: the accessibility of the collection items to everybody around the world and the preservation of unique and sometimes, very fragile, items. Digitisation involves many different teams and workflow stages including retrieval, conservation, curatorial management, copyright assessment, imaging, workflow management, quality control, and the final publication to online platforms.

The Heritage Made Digital (HMD) team works across the Library to assist with digitisation projects. An excellent example of the collaborative nature of the relationship between the HMD and International Dunhuang Project (IDP) teams is the quality control (QC) of the Lotus Sutra Project’s digital files. It is crucial that images meet the quality standards of the digital process. As a Digitisation Officer in HMD, I am in charge of QC for the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project, which is currently conserving and digitising nearly 800 Chinese Lotus Sutra manuscripts to make them freely available on the IDP website. The manuscripts were acquired by Sir Aurel Stein after they were discovered  in a hidden cave in Dunhuang, China in 1900. They are thought to have been sealed there at the beginning of the 11th century. They are now part of the Stein Collection at the British Library and, together with the international partners of the IDP, we are working to make them available digitally.

The majority of the Lotus Sutra manuscripts are scrolls and, after they have been treated by our dedicated Digitisation Conservators, our expert Senior Imaging Technician Isabelle does an outstanding job of imaging the fragile manuscripts. My job is then to prepare the images for publication online. This includes checking that they have the correct technical metadata such as image resolution and colour profile, are an accurate visual representation of the physical object and that the text can be clearly read and interpreted by researchers. After nearly 1000 years in a cave, it would be a shame to make the manuscripts accessible to the public for the first time only to be obscured by a blurry image or a wayward piece of fluff!

With the scrolls measuring up to 13 metres long, most are too long to be imaged in one go. They are instead shot in individual panels, which our Senior Imaging Technicians digitally “stitch” together to form one big image. This gives online viewers a sense of the physical scroll as a whole, in a way that would not be possible in real life for those scrolls that are more than two panels in length unless you have a really big table and a lot of specially trained people to help you roll it out. 

Photo showing the three individual panels of Or.8210S/1530R with breaks in between
Or.8210/S.1530: individual panels
Photo showing the three panels of Or.8210S/1530R as one continuous image
Or.8210/S.1530: stitched image

 

This post-processing can create issues, however. Sometimes an error in the stitching process can cause a scroll to appear warped or wonky. In the stitched image for Or.8210/S.6711, the ruled lines across the top of the scroll appeared wavy and misaligned. But when I compared this with the images of the individual panels, I could see that the lines on the scroll itself were straight and unbroken. It is important that the digital images faithfully represent the physical object as far as possible; we don’t want anyone thinking these flaws are in the physical item and writing a research paper about ‘Wonky lines on Buddhist Lotus Sutra scrolls in the British Library’. Therefore, I asked the Senior Imaging Technician to restitch the images together: no more wonky lines. However, we accept that the stitched images cannot be completely accurate digital surrogates, as they are created by the Imaging Technician to represent the item as it would be seen if it were to be unrolled fully.

 

Or.8210/S.6711: distortion from stitching. The ruled line across the top of the scroll is bowed and misaligned
Or.8210/S.6711: distortion from stitching. The ruled line across the top of the scroll is bowed and misaligned

 

Similarly, our Senior Imaging Technician applies ‘digital black’ to make the image background a uniform colour. This is to hide any dust or uneven background and ensure the object is clear. If this is accidentally overused, it can make it appear that a chunk has been cut out of the scroll. Luckily this is easy to spot and correct, since we retain the unedited TIFFs and RAW files to work from.

 

Or.8210/S.3661, panel 8: overuse of digital black when filling in tear in scroll. It appears to have a large black line down the centre of the image.
Or.8210/S.3661, panel 8: overuse of digital black when filling in tear in scroll

 

Sometimes the scrolls are wonky, or dirty or incomplete. They are hundreds of years old, and this is where it can become tricky to work out whether there is an issue with the images or the scroll itself. The stains, tears and dirt shown in the images below are part of the scrolls and their material history. They give clues to how the manuscripts were made, stored, and used. This is all of interest to researchers and we want to make sure to preserve and display these features in the digital versions. The best part of my job is finding interesting things like this. The fourth image below shows a fossilised insect covering the text of the scroll!

 

Black stains: Or.8210/S.2814, panel 9
Black stains: Or.8210/S.2814, panel 9
Torn and fragmentary panel: Or.8210/S.1669, panel 1
Torn and fragmentary panel: Or.8210/S.1669, panel 1
Insect droppings obscuring the text: Or.8210/S.2043, panel 1
Insect droppings obscuring the text: Or.8210/S.2043, panel 1
Fossilised insect covering text: Or.8210/S.6457, panel 5
Fossilised insect covering text: Or.8210/S.6457, panel 5

 

We want to minimise the handling of the scrolls as much as possible, so we will only reshoot an image if it is absolutely necessary. For example, I would ask a Senior Imaging Technician to reshoot an image if debris is covering the text and makes it unreadable - but only after inspecting the scroll to ensure it can be safely removed and is not stuck to the surface. However, if some debris such as a small piece of fluff, paper or hair, appears on the scroll’s surface but is not obscuring any text, then I would not ask for a reshoot. If it does not affect the readability of the text, or any potential future OCR (Optical Character Recognition) or handwriting analysis, it is not worth the risk of damage that could be caused by extra handling. 

Reshoot: Or.8210/S.6501: debris over text  /  No reshoot: Or.8210/S.4599: debris not covering text.
Reshoot: Or.8210/S.6501: debris over text  /  No reshoot: Or.8210/S.4599: debris not covering text.

 

These are a few examples of the things to which the HMD Digitisation Officers pay close attention during QC. Only through this careful process, can we ensure that the digital images accurately reflect the physicality of the scrolls and represent their original features. By developing a QC process that applies the best techniques and procedures, working to defined standards and guidelines, we succeed in making these incredible items accessible to the world.

Read more about Lotus Sutra Project here: IDP Blog

IDP website: IDP.BL.UK

And IDP twitter: @IDP_UK

Dr Francisco Perez-Garcia

Digitisation Officer, Heritage Made Digital: Asian and African Collections

Follow us @BL_MadeDigital

29 October 2021

Thought Bubble 2021 Wikithon Preparation

Comics fans, are you getting geared up for Thought Bubble? If you enjoy, or want to learn how to edit Wikipedia and Wikidata about comics, please do join us and our collaborators at Leeds Libraries for our first in-person Wikithon since this residency started, on Thursday 11th November, from 1.30pm to 4.30pm, in the Sanderson Room of Leeds Central Library.

Drawing of a person reading a comic and drinking a mug of tea

Joining us in person?

Remember the first step is to book your place here, via Eventbrite

If you’d like to get a head start, you can download and read our handy guide to setting up your Wikipedia account. There is advice on creating your account, Wikipedia's username policy and how to create your user page.

Once you have done that, or if you already have a Wikipedia account, please join our Thought Bubble Wikithon dashboard (the enrollment passcode is ltspmyfa) and go through the introductory exercises, which cover:

  • Wikipedia Essentials
  • Editing Basics
  • Evaluating Articles and Sources
  • Contributing Images and Media Files
  • Sandboxes and Mainspace
  • Sources and Citations
  • Plagiarism
  • Introduction to Wikidata (for those interested in this)

These are all short exercises that will help familiarise you with Wikipedia and its processes. Don’t have time to do them? We get it, and that’s totally fine - we’ll cover the basics on the day too!

You may want to verify your Wikipedia account - this function exists to make sure that people are contributing responsibly to Wikipedia. The easiest and swiftest way to verify your account is to do 10 small edits. You could do this by correcting typos or adding in missing dates. However, another way to do this is to find articles where citations are needed, and add them via Citation Hunt. For further information on adding citations, watching this video may be useful.

When it comes to Wikidata, we are very inspired by the excellent work of the Graphic Possibilities project at the Michigan University Department of English and we have been learning from them. For those interested in editing Wikidata we will be on hand to support this during our Thought Bubble Wikithon event.

Happier with a hybrid approach?

If you cannot join the physical event in person, but would like to contribute, please do check out and sign up to our dashboard. Although we cannot run the training as a hybrid presentation on this occasion, the online dashboard training exercises will be an excellent starting point. From there, all of your edits and contributions will be registered, and you can pat yourself firmly on the back for making the world of comics a better place from a distance.

However, if you can attend in person, please register for the Wikithon at Leeds Central Library here and check out the Thought Bubble festival programme here. Hope to see you there!

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian) and Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom).

29 September 2021

Sailing Away To A Distant Land - Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs - final post

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.

I remember Professors Tim Hitchcock (now at Sussex University and who eventually sat (and is still sitting) on the BL Labs Advisory Board) and Laurel Brake (now Professor Emerita of Literature and Print Culture, Birkbeck, University of London) being in the audience together with staff from the Royal Library of Netherlands, who 6 months later launched their own brilliant KB Lab. Subsequently, I became good colleagues with Lotte Wilms who led their Lab for many years and is now Head of Research support at Tilburg University.

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
  • working on special projects
  • repeat!

The winners were announced in July 2013, and then we worked with them on their entries showcasing them at our annual BL Labs Symposium in November, around 4 months later.

'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.

In 2014, https://data.bl.uk was born and today, all our 153 datasets (as of 29/09/2021) are available through the British Library's research repository.

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).

More recently, we have experimented with browser based programming / computational environments - Jupyter Notebooks. We are huge fans of Tim Sherrat who was a pioneer and brilliant advocate of OPEN GLAM in using them, especially through his GLAM Workbench. He is a one person Lab in his own right, and it was an honour to recognise his monumental efforts by giving him the BL Labs Research Award 2020 last year. You can also explore the fantastic work of Gustavo Candela and colleagues on Jupyter Notebooks and the ones my colleageue Filipe Bento created.

Art Exhibitions, Creativity and Education

I am extremely proud to have been involved in enabling two major art exhibitions to happen at the BL, namely:

Crossroads of Curiosity by David Normal

Imaginary Cities by Michael Takeo Magruder

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 was also involved in the first British Library Fashion Student Competition won by Alanna Hilton, held at the BL which used the BL's Flickr Commons collection as inspiration for the students to design new fashion ranges. It was organised by my colleague Maja Maricevic, the British Fashion Colleges Council and Teatum Jones who were great fun to work with. I am really pleased to say that Maja has gone on from strength to strength working with the fashion industry and continues to run the competition to this day.

We also had some interesting projects working with younger people, such as Vittoria's world of stories and the fantastic work of Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller at the Australian National University. This is something I am very much interested in exploring further in the future, especially around ideas of computational thinking and have been trying out a few things.

GLAM Labs community and Booksprint

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

Farwell-bl-labs-290921Mahendra'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:

http://tiny.cc/mahendramahey

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: mr.mahendra.mahey@gmail.com or follow my progress on my personal website.

Happy journeys through this short life to all of you!

Mahendra Mahey, former BL Labs Manager / Captain / Sailor signing off!

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