One of the things we wanted to do was run a series of three Wikithons, each celebrating a different aspect of the collection: in this case, the role of women; the ways in which censorship impacted creativity for Black theatre makers and the political surveillance of Black creatives. Alongside these Wikithons, we are developing a Wikibase structure to enable users to search the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays index cards from anywhere in the world. A blog on this work is forthcoming.
What transpired from our Wikithon dream was a series of three excellent events, interactions and collaborative work with a number of exceptional researchers and historians, all mixed in with a year of administrative tumult as we felt the impact of numerous strikes (academic and transport), the Royal funeral and the ongoing implications of the pandemic.
This was an important learning opportunity for us to examine the role and impact of Wikithons, and consider different methods of delivery and engagement, tying into bigger conversations happening around Wikipedia on an international scale. It was a year in three Wikithons!
Our first event took place in March 2022. Having only just gotten over the dreaded Covid myself, the long-term impact of the pandemic was sorely felt: we were just out of some winter restrictions, and we felt it was best to hold this event as an online session, due to the uncertainty of the months ahead. Further to this, we had to look at dates that would not interrupt or clash with the ongoing University and College Union strikes. Once we had this in hand, we were ready to open the (virtual) doors to Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950.
We were lucky to have speakers from the Library, Alexander Lock and Laura Walker, to talk about and contextualise the materials, while Kate herself offered a thematic and political overview of the importance of the work we were to embark upon. Despite the strikes, the pandemic and the demands of early 2022, 9 editors added over 1600 words, 21 references and 84 total edits. Changes made on this day have now been viewed over 25000 times. For a small batch of changes, that is a significant impact! Articles edited included Elisabeth Welch, Anna Lucasta and Edric Connor. I was grateful to Stuart Prior and Dr Francesca Allfrey for the training support at this event, and to Heather Pascall from the News Reference Team who offered her expertise on the day. The British Newspaper Archive also gave us access to their online resource for this event, which was both generous and very helpful.
Image of Pauline Henriques, BBC UK Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Event Two (November 2022)
After a summer of political upheaval, a royal funeral and further transport strikes, we finally made it to Leeds Playhouse on the 7th of November 2022. As luck would have it, there was a train strike running that day, but as most of our participants were local to Leeds, there was thankfully very little impact on our numbers. Leeds Playhouse was the perfect home for this Wikithon: Furnace Producer Rio Matchett was a fantastic ambassador for the venue, and made sure we were fed and watered in style. Hope Miyoba was there to support me in training both sessions and I am so grateful to her for her support, particularly as my laptop wasn’t working!
We took over the Playhouse for the full day, running Wikithon sessions in the morning and afternoon, with a lunchtime talk by Joe Williams of Heritage Corner Leeds which was attended by morning and afternoon attendees, as well as some members of the public. Joe’s talk on Sankofa Yorkshire was a brilliant overview of Black creativity in the Leeds area throughout history, and informed a lot of our conversation around the politics and practicalities of Wiki editing in an equitable way. Articles edited included Una Marson, a central figure in Kate’s research and the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays.
It was fantastic to be in person again, and to meet the excellent community of creatives at Leeds Playhouse. Joe’s talk was inspirational and the questions it provoked regarding the way in which the Wikimedia guidelines for notability can negatively impact the prevalence of Black creatives on Wiki were a much needed point of discussion.
Our arrival at the iconic National Archives building at Kew was long awaited and months in the planning. Drs Jo Pugh and Kevin Searle were exceptionally helpful and supportive as we planned our way to the ‘Black Theater Making and Surveillance’ event in January 2023. We were delighted to be in the building, and even happier to welcome Perry Blankson of the Young Historians Project to present his work on The Secret War on Black Power in Britain and the Caribbean. Gathering in a central space in the Archives, Dr Searle curated an amazing selection of archival materials for participants to view and utilise, including documents from the Information Research Department.
Some of the documents on display at Kew, image by the author
Our conversations on this day turned towards the idea of Wiki notability and the use of primary sources in establishing authority on Wikipedia in particular. I was grateful once again to Stuart Prior and Dr Francesca Allfrey for their support and training assistance, and moreover for the thoughtful and important conversations we fostered around the ways in which the politics of the present day can cloud and impact what happens on Wiki and how events and politics can be reported. A truly breathtaking moment was when Dr Searle and his colleagues allowed us to look at the Windrush manifest, a material reminder of a significant and hugely important moment in modern Britain. It was wonderful, also, to welcome Dr Cara Rodway, Head of Research Development and Philip Abraham, Deputy Head of the Eccles Centre, to join us in seeing this final event in the Wikithon series.
Despite a year of unforeseeable events, disruption and obstacles, I am immensely proud of what this series of Wikithons achieved, bringing aspects of modern society into direct conversation with our literary archives, asking questions about race, equality and diversity in Britain. We were lucky to work with creative practitioners and speakers like Joe Williams and Perry Blankson, and to be afforded the chance to really think about what it is to edit Wiki, and to try to improve the world in this way. It has allowed me to think more deeply about the wider Wiki conversations around how best to engage with and train new Wiki editors, and how to look at collections in new and impactful ways. I am very grateful to the American Trust for the British Library and the Eccles Centre for American studies for their support in achieving this work.
This blogpost is by Dr Lucy Hinnie, Wikimedian in Residence, British Library. She is on Twitter @BL_Wikimedian.
The first ever Museum Late at Leeds City Museum! Come along to experience the museum after hours with music, pub quiz, weaving, informal workshops, chats with curators, and a quiz. Local food and drinks in the main hall.
A unique opportunity to hear experts in the field illuminate key themes from the exhibition and learn how exhibition co-curators found stories and objects to represent research work in AI and digital history. This study day is online via Zoom so that you can attend from anywhere.
Ever wanted to try editing Wikipedia, but haven't known where to start? Join us for a session with our brilliant Wikipedian-in-residence to help improve Wikipedia’s coverage of local lives and topics at an editathon themed around our exhibition.
Everyone is welcome. You won’t require any previous Wiki experience but please bring your own laptop for this event. Find out more, including how you can prepare, in my blog post on the Living with Machines site, Help fill gaps in Wikipedia: our Leeds editathon.
The exhibition closes the next day, so it really is your last chance to see it!
We’ve put together some great panels with expert speakers guaranteed to get you thinking about the impact of AI with their thought-provoking examples and questions. You'll have a chance to ask your own questions in the Q&A, and to mingle with other attendees over drinks.
We’ve also collaborated with AI Tech North to offer an exclusive workshop looking at the practical aspects of ethics in AI. If you’re using or considering AI-based services or tools, this might be for you. Our events are also part of the jam-packed programme of the Leeds Digital Festival#LeedsDigi22, where we’re in great company.
How will AI change what we wear, the TV and films we watch, what we read?
Join our fabulous Chair Zillah Watson (independent consultant, ex-BBC) and panellists Rebecca O’Higgins (Founder KI-AH-NA), Laura Ellis (Head of Technology Forecasting, BBC) and Maja Maricevic, (Head of Higher Education and Science, British Library) for an evening that'll help you understand the future of these industries for audiences and professionals alike.
AI is coming, so how do we live and work with it? What can we all do to develop ethical approaches to AI to help ensure a more equal and just society?
Our expert Chair, Timandra Harkness, and panellists Sherin Mathew (Founder & CEO of AI Tech UK), Robbie Stamp (author and CEO at Bioss International), Keely Crockett (Professor in Computational Intelligence, Manchester Metropolitan University) and Andrew Dyson (Global Co-Chair of DLA Piper’s Data Protection, Privacy and Security Group) will present a range of perspectives on this important topic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Evaluating Articles and Sources
Contributing Images and Media Files
Sandboxes and Mainspace
Sources and Citations
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Mahendra Mahey, former Manager of British Library Labs or "BL Labs" for short
[estimated reading time of around 15 minutes]
This is is my last day working as manager of BL Labs, and also my final posting on the Digital Scholarship blog. I thought I would take this chance to reflect on my journey of almost 9 years in helping to set up, maintain and enabling BL Labs to become a permanent fixture at the British Library (BL).
BL Labs was the first digital Lab in a national library, anywhere in the world, that gets people to experiment with its cultural heritage digital collections and data. There are now several Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum Labs or 'GLAM Labs' for short around the world, with an active community which I helped build, from 2018.
I am really proud I was there from the beginning to implement the original proposal which was written by several colleagues, but especially Adam Farquhar, former head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library (BL). The project was at first generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation through four rounds of funding as well as support from the BL. In April 2021, the project became a permanently funded fixture, helped very much by my new manager Maja Maricevic, Head of Higher Education and Science.
The great news is that BL Labs is going to stay after I have left. The position of leading the Lab will soon be advertised. Hopefully, someone will get a chance to work with my helpful and supportive colleague Technical Lead of Labs, Dr Filipe Bento, bright, talented and very hard working Maja and other great colleagues in Digital Research and wider at the BL.
The beginnings, the BL and me!
I met Adam Farquhar and Aly Conteh (Former Head of Digital Research at the BL) in December 2012. They must have liked something about me because I started working on the project in January 2013, though I officially started in March 2013 to launch BL Labs.
I must admit, I had always felt a bit intimidated by the BL. My first visit was in the early 1980s before the St Pancras site was opened (in 1997) as a Psychology student. I remember coming up from Wolverhampton on the train to get a research paper about "Serotonin Pathways in Rats when sleeping" by Lidov, feeling nervous and excited at the same time. It felt like a place for 'really intelligent educated people' and for those who were one for the intellectual elites in society. It also felt for me a bit like it represented the British empire and its troubled history of colonialism, especially some of the collections which made me feel uncomfortable as to why they were there in the first place.
I remember thinking that the BL probably wasn't a place for some like me, a child of Indian Punjabi immigrants from humble beginnings who came to England in the 1960s. Actually, I felt like an imposter and not worthy of being there.
Nearly 9 years later, I can say I learned to respect and even cherish what was inside it, especially the incredible collections, though I also became more confident about expressing stronger views about the decolonisation of some of these. I became very fond of some of the people who work or use it, there are some really good kind-hearted souls at the BL. However, I never completely lost that 'imposter and being an outsider' feeling.
What I remember at that time, going for my interview, was having this thought, what will happen if I got the position and 'What would be the one thing I would try and change?'. It came easily to me, namely that I would try and get more new people through the doors literally or virtually by connecting them to the BL's collections (especially the digital). New people like me, who may have never set foot, or had been motivated to step into the building before. This has been one of the most important reasons for me to get up in the morning and go to work at BL Labs.
So what have been my highlights? Let's have a very quick pass through!
BL Labs Launch and Advisory Board
I launched BL Labs in March 2013, one week after I had started. It was at the launch event organised by my wonderfully supportive and innovative colleague, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom. I distinctly remember in the afternoon session (which I did alone), I had to present my 'ideas' of how I might launch the first BL Labs competition where we would be trying to get pioneering researchers to work with the BL's digital collections.
God it was a tough crowd! They asked pretty difficult questions, questions I myself was asking too which I still didn't know the answer too either.
My first gut feeling overall after the event was, this is going to be hard work. This feeling and reality remained a constant throughout my time at BL Labs.
In early May 2013, we launched the competition, which was a really quick and stressful turnaround as I had only officially started in mid March (one and a half months). I remember worrying as to whether anyone would even enter! All the final entries were pretty much submitted a few minutes before the deadline. I remember being alone that evening on deadline day near to midnight waiting by my laptop, thinking what happens if no one enters, it's going to be disaster and I will lose my job. Luckily that didn't happen, in the end, we received 26 entries.
I am a firm believer that we can help make our own luck, but sometimes luck can be quite random! Perhaps BL Labs had a bit of both!
After that, I never really looked back! BL Labs developed its own kind of pattern and momentum each year:
hunting around the BL for digital collections to make into datasets and make available
helping to make more digital collections openly licensed
having hundreds of conversations with people interested in connecting with the BL's digital collections in the BL and outside
working with some people more intensively to carry out experiments
developing ideas further into prototype projects
telling the world of successes and failures in person, meetings, events and social media
launching a competition and awards in April or May
roadshows before and after with invitations to speak at events around the world
the summer working with competition winners
late October/November the international symposium showcased things from the year
'Nothing interesting happens in the office' - Roadshows, Presentations, Workshops and Symposia!
One of the highlights of BL Labs was to go out to universities and other places to explain what the BL is and what BL Labs does. This ended up with me pretty much seeing the world (North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and giving virtual talks in South America and Africa).
My greatest challenge in BL Labs was always to get people to truly and passionately 'connect' with the BL's digital collections and data in order to come up with cool ideas of what to actually do with them. What I learned from my very first trip was that telling people what you have is great, they definitely need to know what you have! However, once you do that, the hard work really begins as you often need to guide and inspire many of them, help and support them to use the collections creatively and meaningfully. It was also important to understand the back story of the digital collection and learn about the institutional culture of the BL if people also wanted to work with BL colleagues. For me and the researchers involved, inspirational engagement with digital collections required a lot of intellectual effort and emotional intelligence. Often this means asking the uncomfortable questions about research such as 'Why are we doing this?', 'What is the benefit to society in doing this?', 'Who cares?', 'How can computation help?' and 'Why is it necessary to even use computation?'.
Making those connections between people and data does feel like magic when it really works. It's incredibly exciting, suddenly everyone has goose bumps and is energised. This feeling, I will take away with me, it's the essence of my work at BL Labs!
A full list of over 200 presentations, roadshows, events and 9 annual symposia can be found here.
Competitions, Awards and Projects
Another significant way BL Labs has tried to connect people with data has been through Competitions (tell us what you would like to do, and we will choose an idea and work collaboratively with you on it to make it a reality), Awards (show us what you have already done) and Projects (collaborative working).
At the last count, we have supported and / or highlighted over 450 projects in research, artistic, entrepreneurial, educational, community based, activist and public categories most through competitions, awards and project collaborations.
We also set up awards for British Library Staff which has been a wonderful way to highlight the fantastic work our staff do with digital collections and give them the recognition they deserve. I have noticed over the years that the number of staff who have been working on digital projects has increased significantly. Sometimes this was with the help of BL Labs but often because of the significant Digital Scholarship Training Programme, run by my Digital Curator colleagues in Digital Research for staff to understand that the BL isn't just about physical things but digital items too.
Browse through our project archive to get inspiration of the various projects BL Labs has been involved in or highlighted.
Putting the digital collections 'where the light is' - British Library platforms and others
When I started at BL Labs it was clear that we needed to make a fundamental decision about how we saw digital collections. Quite early on, we decided we should treat collections as data to harness the power of computational tools to work with each collection, especially for research purposes. Each collection should have a unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI) so researchers can cite them in publications. Any new datasets generated from them will also have DOIs, allowing us to understand the ecosystem through DOIs of what happens to data when you get it out there for people to use.
However, BL Labs has not stopped there! We always believed that it's important to put our digital collections where others are likely to discover them (we can't assume that researchers will want to come to BL platforms), 'where the light is' so to speak. We were very open and able to put them on other platforms such as Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, not forgetting that we still needed to do the hard work to connect data to people after they have discovered them, if they needed that support.
Our greatest success by far was placing 1 million largely undescribed images that were digitally snipped from 65,000 digitised public domain books from the 19th Century on Flickr Commons in 2013. The number of images on the platform have grown since then by another 50 to 60 thousand from collections elsewhere in the BL. There has been significant interaction from the public to generate crowdsourced tags to help to make it easier to find the specific images. The number of views we have had have reached over a staggering 2 billion over this time. There have also been an incredible array of projects which have used the images, from artistic use to using machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify them. It's my favourite collection, probably because there are no restrictions in using it.
Read the most popular blog post the BL has ever published by my former BL Labs colleague, the brilliant and inspirational Ben O'Steen, a million first steps and the 'Mechanical Curator' which describes how we told the world why and how we had put 1 million images online for anyone to use freely.
It is wonderful to know that George Oates, the founder of Flickr Commons and still a BL Labs Advisory Board member, has been involved in the creation of the Flickr Foundation which was announced a few days ago! Long live Flickr Commons! We loved it because it also offered a computational way to access the collections, critical for powerful and efficient computational experiments, through its Application Programming Interface (API).
I loved working with artists, its my passion! They are so creative and often not restricted by academic thinking, see the work of Mario Klingemann for example! You can browse through our archives for various artistic projects that used the BL's digital collections, it's inspiring.
I am really proud of helping to create the international GLAM Labs community with over 250 members, established in 2018 and still active today. I affectionately call them the GLAM Labbers, and I often ask people to explore their inner 'Labber' when I give presentations. What is a Labber? It's the experimental and playful part of us we all had as children and unfortunately many have lost when becoming an adult. It's the ability to be fearless, having the audacity and perhaps even naivety to try crazy things even if they are likely to fail! Unfortunately society values success more than it does failure. In my opinion, we need to recognise, respect and revere those that have the courage to try but failed. That courage to experiment should be honoured and embraced and should become the bedrock of our educational systems from the very outset.
Two years ago, many of us Labbers 'ate our own dog food' or 'practised what we preached' when me and 15 other colleagues came together for 5 days to produce a book through a booksprint, probably the most rewarding professional experience of my life. The book is about how to set up, maintain, sustain and even close a GLAM Lab and is called 'Open a GLAM Lab'. It is available as public domain content and I encourage you to read it.
Online drop-in goodbye - today!
I organised a 30 minute ‘online farewell drop-in’ on Wednesday 29 September 2021, 1330 BST (London), 1430 (Paris, Amsterdam), 2200 (Adelaide), 0830 (New York) on my very last day at the British Library. It was heart-warming that the session was 'maxed out' at one point with participants from all over the world. I honestly didn't expect over 100 colleagues to show up. I guess when you leave an organisation you get to find out who you actually made an impact on, who shows up, and who tells you, otherwise you may never know.
Those that know me well know that I would have much rather had a farewell do ‘in person’, over a pint and praying for the ‘chip god’ to deliver a huge portion of chips with salt/vinegar and tomato sauce’ magically and mysteriously to the table. The pub would have been Mc'Glynns (http://www.mcglynnsfreehouse.com/) near the British Library in London. I wonder who the chip god was? I never found out ;)
The answer to who the chip god was is in text following this sentence on white on white text...you will be very shocked to know who it was!- s
Spoiler alert it was me after all, my alter ego
Mahendra's online farewell to BL Labs, Wednesday 29 September, 1330 BST, 2021. Left: Flowers and wine from the GLAM Labbers arrived in Tallinn, 20 mins before the meeting! Right: Some of the participants of the online farewell
Leave a message of good will to see me off on my voyage!
It would be wonderful if you would like to leave me your good wishes, comments, memories, thoughts, scans of handwritten messages, pictures, photographs etc. on the following Google doc:
I will leave it open for a week or so after I have left. Reading positive sincere heartfelt messages from colleagues and collaborators over the years have already lifted my spirits. For me it provides evidence that you perhaps did actually make a difference to somone's life. I will definitely be re-reading them during the cold dark Baltic nights in Tallinn.
I would love to hear from you and find out what you are doing, or if you prefer, you can email me, the details are at the end of this post.
BL Labs Sailor and Captain Signing Off!
It's been a blast and lots of fun! Of course there is a tinge of sadness in leaving! For me, it's also been intellectually and emotionally challenging as well as exhausting, with many ‘highs’ and a few ‘lows’ or choppy waters, some professional and others personal.
I have learned so much about myself and there are so many things I am really really proud of. There are other things of course I wish I had done better. Most of all, I learned to embrace failure, my best teacher!
I think I did meet my original wish of wanting to help to open up the BL to as many new people who perhaps would have never engaged in the Library before. That was either by using digital collections and data for cool projects and/or simply walking through the doors of the BL in London or Boston Spa and having a look around and being inspired to do something because of it.
I wish the person who takes over my position lots of success! My only piece of advice is if you care, you will be fine!
Anyhow, what a time this has been for us all on this planet? I have definitely struggled at times. I, like many others, have lost loved ones and thought deeply about life and it's true meaning. I have also managed to find the courage to know what’s important and act accordingly, even if that has been a bit terrifying and difficult at times. Leaving the BL for example was not an easy decision for me, and I wish perhaps things had turned out differently, but I know I am doing the right thing for me, my future and my loved ones.
Though there have been a few dark times for me both professionally and personally, I hope you will be happy to know that I have also found peace and happiness too. I am in a really good place.
I would like to thank former alumni of BL Labs, Ben O'Steen - Technical Lead for BL Labs from 2013 to 2018, Hana Lewis (2016 - 2018) and Eleanor Cooper (2018-2019) both BL Labs Project Officers and many other people I worked through BL Labs and wider in the Library and outside it in my journey.
Where I am off to and what am I doing?
My professional plans are 'evolving', but one thing is certain, I will be moving country!
To Estonia to be precise!
I plan to live, settle down with my family and work there. I was never a fan of Brexit, and this way I get to stay a European.
I would like to finish with this final sweet video created by writer and filmaker Ling Low and her team in 2016, entitled 'Hey there Young Sailor' which they all made as volunteers for the Malaysian band, the 'Impatient Sisters'. It won the BL Labs Artistic Award in 2016. I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Ling over a lovely lunch in Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia, where I had also given a talk at the National Library about my work and looked for remanants of my grandfather who had settled there many years ago.
I wish all of you well, and if you are interested in keeping in touch with me, working with me or just saying hello, you can contact me via my personal email address: [email protected] or follow my progress on my personal website.
Happy journeys through this short life to all of you!
At the beginning of this month, I began a work placement with the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). The EAP hosted a group of University College London students for several projects, and I was working to further connect EAP collections with Wikimedia. We were able to tailor the project to our interests, which meant that I was able to spend my placement researching and writing about two pioneering women photographers, Marie-Lydie Bonfils (EAP644) and Annemarie Heinrich (EAP755).
Creating a Wikipedia article
I began with Marie-Lydie Bonfils (1837–1918), an early woman photographer and co-owner of the Maison Bonfils studio in Beirut. The Bonfils family archive was digitised in a 2013 project between the EAP and the Jafet Memorial Library, American University of Beirut, and the physical archive is currently preserved at the Sursock Museum.
Perhaps unsurprisingly to those interested in women’s history, while her husband, Félix Bonfils, already had his own Wikipedia article, Marie-Lydie did not. So, I created a new article for her, adding to Félix’s along the way as well. I worked from as many biographical sources as I could possibly access online, including the excellent EAP blog post on Marie-Lydie.
Marie-Lydie Cabanis Bonfils' Wikipedia entry
Wikipedia’s notability criteria were a concern for me when publishing. Topics on Wikipedia must be considered “notable” to avoid needless and self-promotional content. This can have the unintended consequence of noteworthy articles being removed if they are not able to demonstrate their significance to other users. Balancing the objective language of Wikipedia with the need to persuade others of Marie-Lydie’s importance was something I had to be careful of when writing the text.
Once published, the article was given a C rating, which shows room for improvement and expansion. As I was waiting in suspense to see if the article would be removed entirely, a C was really quite exciting! Wikipedia articles are ongoing, collaborative projects rather than the completed essays that I am more used to in my studies. This has encouraged me to have a different and more productive mindset about my work more broadly.
Editing a Wikipedia article
Next, I began to look into Annemarie Heinrich (1912–2005). A German photographer who lived most of her life in Argentina, Heinrich was particularly famous for her celebrity portraits, such as those of Carmen Miranda, Pablo Neruda and Eva Perón. Her archive was added to the EAP collections in 2016, in a project with the Institute for Research in Art and Culture, Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, Argentina. I expanded upon Heinrich’s short existing Wikipedia article.
On beginning my research, I discovered that her article on Spanish Wikipedia was much more extensive. This provided a useful starting point for biographical information and tracking down additional citations (thank you GCSE Spanish!). Heinrich’s lack of recognition on the English-speaking web made research difficult, but also highlighted the importance of adding more information about her onto English Wikipedia.
I was also introduced to Wikidata on my placement, another of Wikimedia’s projects consisting of open linked data and a completely unknown field to me. On the placement, we were able to attend the IFLA Wikidata and Wikibase Working Group office hour. The thought-provoking whistle-stop tour of the platform that we were given in this meeting had me creating an account immediately after closing the Zoom call tab.
I did have a few challenges with Wikidata over my second week. One arose when I tried to add the EAP to the Bonfils’ items. Adrien Bonfils had an existing property for “has works in the collection”, with museums and galleries listed, so I added the EAP to this section. However, on looking at a similar artist’s item entry, I found that there is also a property for “archives at” that might better apply.
Wikidata entry for the Bonfils Collection
Seeing this, I not only realised that I might have used the wrong category, but also that there might be others that were more relevant that I just hadn’t seen yet! Being able to search for each qualifier allows for a flexible and tailored user experience but, for a newbie, the amount of choice can be a bit overwhelming! The upside is that Wikidata is quite forgiving, with changes easily made and explanatory symbols popping up when the system recognises a mistake (as can be seen in the image below).
Amended Wikidata entry for the Bonfils Collection on Wikidata
To sum up, researching the lives and careers of these women photographers from the EAP collections has been fascinating. It has been so rewarding to help to increase their online discoverability, and that of the EAP.
Working remotely, this placement was bound to be unusual in some ways, but the BL team was really welcoming and encouraged us all to ask lots of questions (which I absolutely did!). I have learnt a lot about Wikimedia in these few weeks and I will definitely continue exploring and making edits in the future.
This is a guest post by UCL Archives and Records Management MA student and recent Wiki convert, Hope Lowther (@hopelowther)
Today Wikipedia, the world’s collaborative, online, free encyclopedia is marking it's twentieth birthday. Many celebrations are underway for this, including a #WikiLovesCakes online bake off competition organised by Wikimedia UK, which will be judged by Sandi Toksvig and Nick Poole.
Alas I am lacking in baking skills (though I am excellent at cake eating!), so I’m marking #Wikipedia20 with a reflection on how the British Library has collaborated with Wikimedia and contributed to Wikipedia over the last few years.
I am also delighted to announce that a memorandum of understanding has been signed this month between the British Library and Wikimedia UK for a new Wikimedian-in-Residence. My colleague Richard Davies who signed this agreement on behalf of the Library said:
“The Library has learnt a great deal both from and since our first Wikipedian-in-Residence in 2012-2013, Andrew Gray. Through this new residency we will be able to build on this hugely successful work with Wikipedia, across all our collection areas. It will also enable the Library to contribute more to the GLAM-Wiki Community in a coordinated and sustainable way, with particular emphasis on increasing the visibility of our digital collections, data and research materials from underrepresented people and marginalised communities through the development of innovative partnership projects.”
We are really looking forward to hosting this new residency, so watch this blog for future updates on this project. Fortunately this residency will be building upon existing experience, as British Library colleagues from many departments have actively engaged with Wikipedia and the Wikimedia family of platforms over several years. I will do my best to give summaries of some of these below:
BL Labs assisted Erasmus undergraduate student Dimi Charalampidou from the Library Science and Information Systems department at the Alexander Technological Education Institution of Thessaloniki, in 2015 in her dissertation, which was about uploading a collection of over 7000 digitised bookbindings images onto Wikimedia Commons using bulk upload tools.
BL Labs were interviewed about the long term impact of Wikimedians in residence in 2018, you can read this here.
BL Labs have also supported the excellent Wikipedia project Wiki-Food and (mostly) Women, this is an ongoing partnership with the Oxford Symposium of Food & Cookery (OSFC), which was initiated in 2015 by experienced Wikipedia editor and trainer Roberta Wedge, former OSFC Trustee Bee Wilson, OSFC Director Ursula Heinzelmann and the British Library’s Polly Russell. This project has held regular Wikipedia edit-a-thons at the British Library and in Oxford, providing training and support for Wikipedia editing with the aim of increasing and improving the articles about food, especially ones about women’s contributions to food and cooking culture. When this project started 90% of Wikipedia editors were men and this gender bias was reflected in Wikipedia coverage. There is still a bias, but thanks to the efforts of Wikipedia and many wonderful projects worldwide this gender balance is being addressed. Their plans for edit-a-thon events in 2020 were curtailed by Covid-19, but they did run some online training sessions and surgeries with Roberta Wedge at the OSFC virtual conference in 2020.
Another collaboration addressing gender balance issues was a recent Wikithon: Women in Leeds event, which took place on 22nd November 2020, to create and improve Wikipedia articles about some of the amazing women of Leeds, past and present. This was part of the British Library's cultural programme in Yorkshire, working with other GLAM organisations in the region. It was co-organised by Kenn Taylor from the British Library, in partnership with Rhian Isaac of Leeds Libraries and Lucy Moore of Leeds Museums & Galleries, for the season of events accompanying the British Library’s exhibition, "Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights".
Hope Miyoba, Wikimedian in Residence for the Science Museum Group, who is based at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, gave an excellent training session on how to edit Wikipedia and the event produced new articles for Catherine Mary Buckton, the first woman elected to public office in Leeds, sharpshooter and circus performer Florence Shufflebottom, and philanthropist Marjorie Ziff who is notable for her contributions to the Jewish community in Leeds, whose article was further improved by the Women in Red editing community. This event also inspired me to create a new Wikipedia article for writer Rosie Garland, who is also a singer in Leeds goth band The March Violets.
Positive feedback was received from participants at this event, with comments such as ‘my 9 year old daughter says she wants to do this forever’, ‘just finished Uni and missing researching things, so this is definitely a good lockdown activity to get into!’ and ‘I’m thinking about how to incorporate women and Wikipedia entries into my teaching!’.
In addition to editing Wikipedia and adding images to Wikimedia Commons, a number of British Library staff have been editing Wikidata. In 2020 Eleanor Casson from the Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives team updated seventy Wikipedia articles and seventy two Wikidata entries with information about their collections, see the entry for the Society of Authors example in the image above, and Graham Jevon from the Endangered Archives Project has been using the Wikidata reconciliation service to validate and create authority records. This work enabled him to create more than three hundred authority records for people identified in a digitised collection of photographs from South America, which will be published online soon. Graham says:
"Wikidata has proved particularly helpful for continued productivity and collaboration while working from home during lockdown. It has enabled a colleague without access to internal cataloguing systems to create and edit authority records in Wikidata, which I can then extract to update the BL’s systems. This is a win-win. It helps us update our own catalogue records while simultaneously enhancing the shared Wikidata resource."
Before I end this post, I also want to flag up the excellent work done by the global GLAM–Wiki community (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums, also including botanic gardens and zoos), which advises and supports cultural institutions to share their resources with the world through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors.
Also the awesome #1Lib1Ref campaign (abbreviation for one librarian, one reference), which invites librarians around the world, and anyone who has a passion for free knowledge, to add missing references to articles on Wikipedia, with the aim to reduce Wikipedia's backlog of citation needed notices.
Please do add some references and eat some cake to celebrate Wikipedia's 20th birthday this year, I know I will be. You may also like to listen to BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme from earlier today (15/01/2021), where David Gerard and myself discuss Wikipedia and libraries, you can hear this section from 37 minutes 55 seconds into the recording.