Endangered archives blog

10 September 2019

Eight weeks at EAP

My name is Yiru Guo, a student of Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, on a summer placement with the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). It was my pleasure to be a part of the EAP team, which aims to foster the digitisation of threatened archival documents around the world and make them freely accessible for the public.

Portrait of Yiru Guo standing in a cave.

Over the past two months of my placement, I was encouraged to join rich staff talks and British Library tours, including the treasures room and the conservation studio.

Additionally, I received training to use open source software Open Refine, which I used to process metadata, including the extraction of named entities and reconciliation with Wikidata.

My main tasks were to improve metadata relating to Chinese language collections, catalogue a new accession of Lanten manuscripts from Northern Laos, and promote EAP on Weibo social media. I learnt that sharing knowledge and expertise is vital to enhance research all over the world and sustain a team of preserving cultural heritage.

Staff sitting around a large table watching a presentation.

Group of British Library placement students looking at a display of bookbinding tools.

Improving metadata for Chinese language projects

Because some EAP projects only have transliterated (Pinyin) titles, I enhanced this metadata by checking the digitised manuscripts and creating Chinese language titles, as found on the original manuscripts. This will help improve the accuracy of the online search function and facilitate greater public access. Therefore, researchers can discover more details about these archives and conduct further studies.

On the left a digitised manuscript visible on the EAP website, on the right the catalogue entry.

Cataloguing the Lanten Manuscipts project (EAP791)

When every EAP project is completed, the project team supply the digital images and corresponding metadata to the EAP team, who process the content and make it available online. It was a great experience for me to participate in the Lanten manuscripts project. Using Open Refine, I processed all of the catalogue data for this project. This included checking the content of places, dates and subjects, and calculating the number of digital images and the digital file size of each record. Sometimes, it was important to check the images and find modern equivalents of ancient Chinese characters. This process is essential for making the material accessible to the public and making them more discoverable.

On the left Open Refine software, on the right the Lanten project page on the EAP website.

Promote EAP on the Weibo social media

I also helped introduce and promote the achievements of EAP's projects on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo. I wrote two posts for the official Weibo account of the British Library and received positive feedback in the comments. This encouraged people to contemplate the importance of preserving and digitising endangered archives and pay attention to their invaluable cultural heritage. I hope that it will also lead to the preservation of more endangered documents by EAP and lead to further use of this material by researchers.

Weibo post in Chinese showing images from EAP projects.

Weibo post in Chinese showing photographs of London.

Professional development

Taking part in this placement has been significantly beneficial to me. The development of my digital skills, the processing of archival metadata, and the use of collection management systems will broaden my career path and help me to work in or collaborate with different departments. It will increase my competitive capability to transfer this experience to work on digitisation projects within the museum sector. It has also taught me transferable skills such as teamwork, time management and communication.

Learning more about the Endangered Archives Programme and digitising endangered heritage material has given me a better understanding of the British Library’s wider role in the world, and how it interacts and assists with other places, no matter where they are. I understand that preserving cultural archives is not merely a work done by one person or team; it requires the combined effort of many people around the world.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the EAP team for all they have done for me.  I am really glad that I did this placement. Not only do I understand more about the cultural institutions in the UK, my professional and personal development have greatly improved too. It was an unforgettable and fulfilling experience to be here with the EAP team.

The front of the British Library on a sunny day.