Digital scholarship blog

16 posts categorized "Wikipedia"

23 May 2022

Picture Perfect Platinum Jubilee Puddings on Wikimedia Commons

2022 is the year of the UK’s first ever Platinum Jubilee. Queen Elizabeth II is the first monarch in British history to serve for over 70 years, and the UK is getting ready to celebrate! Here at the Library we are doing a number of things to celebrate. The UK Web Archive is inviting nominations for websites to be archived to a special Jubilee collection that will commemorate the event. You can read more about their project here and here, and nominate websites using this online form.

Inspired by Fortnum & Mason's Platinum Jubilee Pudding Competition, in Digital Scholarship we are encouraging you to upload images of your celebratory puddings and food to Wikimedia Commons.

Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, pictured wearing a tiara and smiling broadly. The image is black and white.
Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Image from Associated Press, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons is a collection of freely usable images that anyone can edit. We have created a simple set of Jubilee guidelines to help you upload your images: you can view and download it here. The most important thing to know about Commons is that everything you upload is then available under a Creative Commons license which allows it to be used, for free, by anyone in the world. The next time someone in Australia searches for a trifle, it may be yours they find! 

You may be asking yourself what you should upload. You could have a look at specific Wikipedia entries for types of pudding or cake. Wikipedia images come from Commons, so if you spot something missing, you can upload your image and it can then be used in the Wikipedia entry. You might want to think regionally, making barmbrack from Ireland, Welsh cakes, Scottish cranachan or parkin from northern England. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not crack out the lemon and amaretti and try your hand at the official Jubilee pudding?

How to make your images platinum quality:

  • Make sure your images are clear, not blurry.
  • Make sure they are high resolution: most phone cameras are now very powerful, but if you have a knack for photography, a real camera may come in useful.
  • Keep your background clear, and make sure the image is colourful and well-lit.
  • Ask yourself if it looks like pudding – sometimes an image that is too close up can be indistinct.
Image of a white cake with jigsaw shaped white icing, representing the Wikipedia logo.
Image of cake courtesy of Ainali, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

NB: Please add the category 'British Library Platinum Pudding Drive' to your uploads. You can see instructions on how to add categories here. from 3.19 onwards.

We can’t wait to see your images. The Wikimedia Foundation recently ran a series of events for Image Description Week – check out their resources to help and support your uploads, making sure that you are describing your images in an accessible way. Remember to nominate any websites you’d like to see archived at the UK Web Archive, and if your local library is part of the Living Knowledge Network, keep an eye out for our commemorative postcards, which contain links to both the Web Archive drive and our Commons instructions.

We have events running at the Library to celebrate the Jubilee, such as the Platinum Jubilee Pudding at St Pancras on Monday 23rd May, and A Queen For All Seasons on Thursday 26th May. There is also a fantastic Food Season running until the end of May, with a wide array of events and talks. You can book tickets for upcoming events via the Events page.

Happy Jubilee!

16 March 2022

Getting Ready for Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950

Following on from last week’s post, have you signed up for our Wikithon already? If you are interested in Black theatre history and making women visible, and want to learn how to edit Wikipedia, please do join us online, on Monday 28th March, from 10am to 1.30pm BST, over Zoom.

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

Finding Sources in The British Newspaper Archive

We are grateful to the British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast for granting our participants access to their resources on the day of the event. If you’d like to learn more about this Archive beforehand, there are some handy guides to how to do this below.

Front page of the British Newspaper Archive website, showing the search bar and advertising Findmypast.
The British Newspaper Archive Homepage

I used a quick British Newspaper Archive Search to look for information on Una Marson, a playwright and artist whose work is very important in the timeframe of this Wikithon (1900-1950). As you can see, there were over 1000 results. I was able to view images of Una at gallery openings, art exhibitions and read all about her work.

Page of search results on the British Newspaper Archive, looking for articles about Una Marson.
A page of results for Una Marson on the British Newspaper Archive

Findmypast focuses more on legal records of people, living and dead. It’s a dream website for genealogists and those interested in social history. They’ve recently uploaded the results of the 1921 census, so there is a lot of material about people’s lives in the early 20th century.

Image of the landing page for the 1921 Census of England and Wales on Findmypast.
The Findmypast 1921 Census Homepage.

 

Here’s how to get started with Findmypast in 15 minutes, using a series of ‘how to’ videos. This handy blog post offers a beginner's guide on how to search Findmypast's family records, and you can always use  Findmypast’s help centre to seek answers to frequently asked questions.

Wikipedia Preparation

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

The Wikipedia logo, a white globe made of jigsaw pieces with letters and symbols on them in black.
The Wikipedia Logo, Nohat (concept by Paullusmagnus), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once you have done that, or if you already have a Wikipedia account, please join our event dashboard 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

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.

Happier with an asynchronous approach?

If you cannot join the Zoom event on Monday 28th March, but would like to contribute, please do check out and sign up to our dashboard. 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 be proud of yourself for making the world of Wikipedia a better place, in your own time.

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Dr Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian).

08 March 2022

Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950

On International Women’s Day 2022 we are pleased to announce our upcoming online Wikithon event, Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950, which will take place on Monday 28th March, 10:00 – 13:30 BST. Working with one of the Library’s notable collections, the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays, we will be looking to increase the visibility and presence of Black women on Wikipedia, with a specific focus on twentieth century writers and performers of works in the collection, such as Una Marson and Pauline Henriques, alongside others who are as yet lesser-known than their male counterparts.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Plays are the largest single manuscript collection held by the Library. Between 1824 and 1968 all plays in the UK were submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for licensing. This period includes two important acts of Parliament related to theatre in the UK: the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 and the Theatres Act of 1843. You can watch Dr Alexander Lock, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library, discussing this collection with Giuliano Levato who runs the People of Theatre vlog in this video below.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Plays with British Library Curator Dr Alexander Lock on People of Theatre - The Vlog for Theatregoers

We are delighted to be collaborating with Professor Kate Dossett of the University of Leeds. Kate is currently working on ‘Black Cultural Archives & the Making of Black Histories: Archives of Surveillance and Black Transnational Theatre’, a project supported by an Independent Social Research Foundation Fellowship and a Fellowship from our very own Eccles Centre. Her work is crucial in shining light on the understudied area of Black theatre history in the first half of the twentieth century .

 A woman and a man sit behind a desk with an old-fashioned microphone that says ‘BBC’. The woman is on the left, holding a script, looking at the microphone. The man is also holding a script and looking away.(1)
Pauline Henriques and Sam Sevlon in 1952. Image: BBC UK Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Our wikithon is open to everyone: you can register for free here. We will be blogging in the run up to the event with details on how to prepare. We are thankful to be supported by the British Newspaper Archive and FindMyPast, who will provide registered participants access to their online resources for the day of the event. You can also access 1 million free newspaper pages at any time, as detailed in this blog post.  

We hope to consider a variety of questions, such as what a timeline of Black British theatre history looks like, who gets to decide the parameters, and how we can make women more visible in these studies? We will think about the traditions shaping Black British theatre and the collections that help us understand this field of study, such as the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays. This kind of hands-on historical research helps us to better represent marginalised voices in the present day. 

It will be the first of a series of three Wikithons exploring different elements of the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays. Throughout 2022 we will host another two Wikithons. Please follow this blog, our twitter @BL_DigiSchol and keep an eye on our Wiki Project Page for updates about these.

Art + Feminism Barnstar: a black and white image of a fist holding a paintbrush in front of a green star.
Art + Feminism Barnstar, by Ilotaha13, (CC BY-SA 4.0)

We are running this workshop as part of the Art + Feminism Wiki movement, with an aim to expand and amplify knowledge produced by and about Black women. As they state in their publicity materials:

Women make up only 19% of biographies on English Wikipedia, and women of colour even fewer. Wikipedia's gender trouble is well-documented: in a 2011 survey 2010 UNU-MERIT Survey, the Wikimedia Foundation found that less than 10% of its contributors identify as female; more recent research [such as the] 2013 Benjamin Mako Hill survey points to 16% globally and 22% in the US. The data relative to trans and non-binary editors is basically non-existent. That's a big problem. While the reasons for the gender gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity is not: gaps in participation create gaps in content.

We want to combat this imbalance directly. As a participant at this workshop, you will receive training on creating and editing Wikipedia articles to communicate the central role played by Black women in British theatre making between 1900 and 1950. You will also be invited to explore resources that can enable better citation justice for women of colour knowledge producers and greater awareness of archive collections documenting Black British histories. With expert support from Wikimedians and researchers alike, this is a great opportunity to improve Wikipedia for the better.

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

26 January 2022

Which Came First: The Author or the Text? Wikidata and the New Media Writing Prize

Congratulations to the 2021 New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) winners, which were announced at a Bournemouth University online event recently: Joannes Truyens and collaborators (Main Prize), Melody MOU (Student Award) and Daria Donina (FIPP Journalism Award 2021). The main prize winner ‘Neurocracy’ is an experimental dystopian narrative that takes place over 10 episodes, through Omnipedia, an imagined future version of Wikipedia in 2049. So this seemed like a very apt jumping off point for today’s blog post, which discusses a recent project where we added NMWP data to Wikidata.

Screen image of Omnipediaan imagined futuristic version of Wikipedia from Neurocracy by Joannes Truyens
Omnipedia, an imagined futuristic version of Wikipedia from Neurocracy by Joannes Truyens

Note: If you wish to read ‘Neurocracy’ and are prompted for a username and password, use NewMediaWritingPrize1 password N3wMediaWritingPrize!. You can learn more about the work in this article and listen to an interview with the author in this podcast episode.

Working With Wikidata

Dr Martin Poulter describes learning how to work with Wikidata as being like learning a language. When I first heard this description, I didn’t understand: how could something so reliant on raw data be anything like the intricacies of language learning?

It turns out, Martin was completely correct.

Imagine a stack of data as slips of paper. Each slip has an individual piece of data on it: an author’s name, a publication date, a format, a title. How do you start to string this data together so that it makes sense?

One of the beautiful things about Wikidata is that it is both machine and human readable. In order for it to work this way, and for us to upload it effectively, thinking about the relationships between these slips of paper is essential.

In 2021, I had an opportunity to see what Martin was talking about when he spoke about language, as I was asked to work with a set of data about NMWP shortlisted and winning works, which the British Library has collected in the UK Web Archive. You can read more about this special collection here and here

Image of blank post-it notes and a hand with a marker pen preparing to write on one.

About the New Media Writing Prize

The New Media Writing Prize was founded in 2010 to showcase exciting and inventive stories and poetry that integrate a variety of digital formats, platforms, and media. One of the driving forces in setting up and establishing the prize was Chris Meade, director of if:book uk, a ‘think and do tank’ for exploring digital and collaborative possibilities for writers and readers. He was the lead sponsor of the if:book UK New Media Writing Prize, and the Dot Award, which he created in honour of his mother, Dorothy, and he chaired every NMWP awards evening since 2010. Very sadly Chris passed away on 13th January 2022 and the recent 2021 awards event was dedicated to Chris and his family.

Recognising the significance of the NMWP, in recent years the British Library created the New Media Writing Prize Special Collection as part of its emerging formats work. With 11 years of metadata about a born digital collection, this was an ideal data set for me to work with in order to establish a methodology for working with Wikidata uploads in the Library.

Last year I was fortunate to collaborate with Tegan Pyke, a PhD placement student in the Contemporary British Publications Collections team, supervised by Guilia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications. Tegan's project examined the digital preservation challenges of complex digital objects, developing and testing a quality assurance process for examining works in the NMWP collection. If you want to read more about this project, a report is available here.  For the Wikidata work Tegan and Giulia provided two spreadsheets of data (or slips of paper!), and my aim was to upload linked data that covered the authors, their works, and the award itself - who had been shortlisted, who had won, and when.

Simple, right?

Getting Started

I thought so - until I began to structure my uploads. There were some key questions that needed to be answered about how these relationships would be built, and I needed to start somewhere. Should I upload the authors or the texts first? Should I go through the prize year by year, or be led by other information? And what about texts with multiple authors?

Suddenly it all felt a bit more intimidating!

I was fortunate to attend some Wikidata training run by Wikimedia UK late last year. Martin was our trainer, and one piece of advice he gave us was indispensable: if you’re not sure where to start, literally write it out with pencil and paper. What is the relationship you’re trying to show, in its simplest form? This is where language framing comes in especially useful: thinking about the basic sentence structures I’d learned in high school German became vital.

Image shows four simple sentences: Christine Wilks won NMWP in 2010. Christine Wilks wrote Underbelly. Underbelly won NMWP in 2010. NMWP was won by Christine Wilks in 2010. Christine is circled in green, NMWP in people, and Underbelly in yellow.  QIDs are listed: Q108810306, highlighted in green Q108459688, highlighted in purple Q109237591, highlighted in yellow  Properties are listed: P166, highlighted in blue P800, highlighted in turquoise P585, highlighted in orange
Image by the author, notes own.

The Numbers Bit

You can see from this image how the framework develops: specific items, like nouns, are given identification numbers when they become a Wikidata item. This is their QID. The relationships between QIDs, sort of like the adjectives and verbs, are defined as properties and have P numbers. So Christine Wilks is now Q108810306, and her relationship to her work, Underbelly, or Q109237591, is defined with P800 which means ‘notable work’.

Q108810306 - P800 - Q109237591

You can upload this relationship using the visual editor on Wikidata, by clicking fields and entering data. If you have a large amount of information (remember those slips of paper!) tools like QuickStatements become very useful. Dominic Kane blogged about his experience of this system during his British Library student placement project in 2021.

The intricacies of language are also very important on Wikidata. The nuance and inference we can draw from specific terms is important. The concept of ‘winning’ an award became a subject of semantic debate: the taxonomy of Wikidata advises that we use ‘award received’ in the case of a literary prize, as it’s less of an active sporting competition than something like a marathon or an athletic event.

Asking Questions of the Data

Ultimately we upload information to Wikidata so that it can be queried. Querying uses SPAQRL, a language which allows users to draw information and patterns from vast swathes of data. Querying can be complex: to go back to the language analogy, you have to phrase the query in precisely the right way to get the information you want.

One of the lessons I learned during the NMWP uploads was the importance of a unifying property. Users will likely query this data with a view to surveying results and finding patterns. Each author and work, therefore, needed to be linked to the prize and the collection itself (pictured above). By adding this QID to the property P6379 (‘has works in the collection’), we create a web of data that links every shortlisted author over the 11 year time period.

Getting Started

To have a look at some of the NMWP data, here are some queries I prepared earlier. Please note that data from the 2021 competition has not yet been uploaded!

Authors who won NMWP

Works that won NMWP

Authors nominated for NMWP

Works nominated for NMWP

If you fancy trying some queries but don’t know where to start, I recommend these tutorials:

Tutorials

Resources About SPARQL

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Dr Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian

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).

22 October 2021

Thought Bubble 2021 Wikithon

We are so excited to be working with Thought Bubble and our friends at Leeds Libraries to run our first in-person Wikithon since this residency started. Thought Bubble is an amazing comics festival spread across Yorkshire, culminating in a two day convention in Harrogate, where the British Library will be having a stall and curating a panel discussion, more details about these can be found here.

Thought Bubble Comic Convention Banner

The Thought Bubble website sums it up best when it says: ‘[w]e use our festival week to promote the power of comics! We believe they can inspire, educate and bring people together like no other medium [...]’. We at the library quite agree.

On Thursday November 11, from 1.30pm to 4.30pm, we’ll be taking up residence in the Sanderson Room of Leeds Central Library to demonstrate how to update, create and improve Wikipedia articles, and we'll even dabble in a bit of basic Wikidata editing for those who are interested. The Comics Wikithon event is free, but please book here.

Photograph of Leeds Central Library on a clear sunny day
Leeds Central Library by Lad 2011, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

We’ll be focusing on underrepresented and marginalised voices in graphic novels and comics. We’re particularly interested in exploring the way Black, Asian and minority ethnic, disabled and LGBTQ+ creators and characters, and want to amplify representation at all levels!

As with all our Wikithons, no previous experience of editing Wikipedia is required. If you can write an email, you can edit Wikipedia! Whether it’s Widdershins, The Walking Dead or Wolverine that you like best, come along and learn some new skills and expand your comic horizons.

For those of you keen to get started, we’ll be following up next week with a blog post on how to get set up for the event. In the meantime you can freely register for the Comics Wikithon event here. 

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian).

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!

23 September 2021

National Libraries Now: Wikimedians Unite!

On Friday 17th September 2012, I was delighted to participate in a conference panel for the National Libraries Now Conference. I had worked to assemble a veritable dream team of Wikimedia and library talent, to talk about Wikimedia Residencies from a four-nation perspective. 

Joining me on the panel were Stella Wisdom (British Library), Jason Evans (National Library of Wales), Rebecca O’Neill (Wikimedia Community Ireland) and Ruth Small (Digital Productions Operator, National Library of Scotland). Stuart Prior (Programme Coordinator, Wikimedia UK) kindly agreed to be our chair. We pre-recorded presentations that were circulated to participants, so that our time on the 17th could be devoted to questions and discussion.

Going over my notes now, the best way to try to reflect the discussion is to look at some of the questions asked and the responses garnered. Please bear in mind that some remarks may be out of chronological order!

  • How do you think working with Wikimedia helps your institution’s strategic goals?

We reflected as a group on the move from WikiPedians in Residence to WikiMedians in residence [emphasis my own] and how this shows a shift in institutional thinking towards the potential of larger Wikimedia projects, and the use of platforms such as Commons, Wikisource and WikiBase.

Jason spoke about the way that fewer onsite footfall numbers at NLW, because of its physical location, enhance the importance of digital work and online outreach. He also spoke about the need for training, promotion and contribution through Wikimedia platforms as being just as valuable, if not more so, than the total number of views gained.

Image of National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
It might not be digital, but it is a beauty! Ian Capper, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

The National Library of Scotland is in the heart of Edinburgh, so does not face the same issues with footfall, however, as Ruth pointed out, a key strategic goal of the Library is to reach people, and digitising is not the end of the road. Engagement with collections like the NLS Data Foundry is crucial, and the groundbreaking Scottish Chapbooks project run by the NLS was born out of the pandemic, showing a new imagining of institutional goals.

  • How do you incorporate Wikimedia work into your ‘normal’ work?

It was agreed that the inclusion of Wiki in job descriptions could help change at an institutional level, while Rebecca pointed out that the inclusion of Wiki activity as an outreach activity in funding applications is often a good way forward for inclusion of this work as part of major research projects. Again, advocacy and emphasis on the ease with which Wiki work can be undertaken was a key focal point, showing colleagues that their interests and our tools can align well.

  • How do you implement elements of quality control to what is ultimately crowdsourced work?

Jason suggested that we start to think about ‘context’ control: we can upload content and edit and amend details from the beginning, however how we contextualise this material and the activity of Wiki engagement is crucial. There is a high level of quality in curation already, and often Wiki datasets will link back to other repositories such as Flickr or institutional catalogues.

The classic counterpoint of ‘anyone can edit’ and ‘everyone can edit’ came to the fore here: as was rightly pointed out, the early 00s impression of Wikipedia as a free-for-all is largely outdated. In fact, expectations are often inverted, as the enthusiastic and diligent Wiki community are quick to act upon misinformation or inaccuracies. We spoke about the beauty of the process in Wikimedia whereby information picks up value and enriched data along the way, an active evolution of resources.

Image of WIkipedia welcome page stating 'the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit'
The WIkipedia landing page: anyone can edit!

 

  • What about decolonisation and Wikimedia?

Decolonisation is a huge question for Wikimedia: movements around the world are examining what we can do to better serve the larger cause of anti-racist practice. For the British Library, I spoke about the work we have done on the India Office Records in offering a template for content warnings and working with the input of our colleagues to make this as robust of a model as we can.

Rebecca’s experience of working in Ireland was incredibly insightful: she shared with us the experience of working with Irish material that is shaped by colonial ideas of what Ireland is, and how the culture has formed. Despite being a white, European, primarily English-speaking nation, the influence of colonialism is still felt.

The use of Wikimedia as a tool for breaking down barriers is vital, as each of our speakers illustrated. Jason spoke about the digital repatriation of items, and gave an example of the Red Book of Hergest, held by Jesus College Oxford (MS 111) and now available through Wikimedia Commons. Though this kind of action cannot always stand in place of physical repatriation, the move towards collaboration is notable and important.

 

An image of anti-Irish propaganda, featuring an Irish Frankenstein figure
'The Irish Frankenstein', a piece of anti-Irish propaganda from 1882. John Tenniel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

An hour was simply not enough! National Libraries Now was an incredibly important experience for me, at this point in my residency. I was particularly delighted with the dedication and enthusiasm of my co-panelists, and hope that we were able to shed some light on the Wikimedian-in-Residence role for those attending.

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian).

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