Living Knowledge blog

3 posts from September 2021

30 September 2021

Behind the scenes at the British Library: Isabelle Reynolds-Logue

We go behind the scenes to introduce you to our people and the many ways they work to open up our collection for everyone. This month we meet Senior Imaging Technician, Isabelle Reynolds-Logue.

Isabelle Portrait
Isabelle Portrait

Tell me about your role?

Isabelle joined the Library in January 2020 as a photographer on the International Dunhuang Project, working on the Lotus Sutra Manuscript Digitisation Project. She has since worked on a number of other projects including Heritage Made Digital, medieval manuscripts and the Bollinger Javanese manuscripts, as well as exhibition photography and commercial orders.

How did you get into this field?

Isabelle first encountered cultural heritage photography at university during her course in Arts and Sciences. However, it was after university, working front of house at the Postal Museum, where she discovered her passion.

‘I love photography and cultural heritage, so seeing the two combined was a dream! In my spare time, I went to the studio and was trained on the equipment. I knew this was the path I wanted to follow so I set about looking for more experience.’

She embarked on a digital archiving traineeship with the National Archives, learning on the job, which then led her to her current role as a Senior Imaging Technician at the British Library working on the International Dunhuang Project.

Isabelle unfurling the scrolls
Isabelle working on the Lotus Sutra scrolls

What do you love about the Library?

Isabelle is passionate about the collection and also enjoys the diversity of her work.

‘I love how the Library holds such a wide range of material that anyone can access. From a great Philatelic collection to the Sound Archive, and all the incredible manuscripts, there is something for everyone here. I also love the variety of exhibitions the Library puts on. Women’s Rights followed by Paddington Bear? Excellent!’

What are some of your favourite projects you have been a part of recently?

In almost two years at the Library, Isabelle has worked on a number of diverse projects and a variety of medieval manuscripts, requiring different types of digitisation and photography techniques.

Her favourite project so far has been the medieval manuscripts project where she discovered the incredible and fascinating illustrations of armed hares found in Yates Thompson MS 8 during the digitisation process.

‘They are as weird as they sound,’ she says. However there is no doubting the beauty of the illustrations.

Hare illustrations
Examples of the hare illustration on the Yates Thompson manuscripts

For the upcoming Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens exhibition, Isabelle digitised the Elizabeth I funeral procession scrolls. This manuscript is unique in being ‘the first ever visual record of the funeral of an English monarch’.

The panels of the scroll had been cut and bound into a large volume, and for the exhibition Isabelle was asked to generate a stitched image of all the panels so that the item could be viewed in its original state.

Funeral procession image
[Left hand of drawing]: The horse trapped with velvet, led by two attendants; the Sergeant of the Vestry and Children of the Chapel Royal

She captured each panel of the item individually, straightened and cropped the images using Capture One and then pieced these files together to generate a stitched image in Photoshop. As it wasn’t a continuous scroll and has been cut into pieces, Isabelle had to manually stitch each panel together, making sure they aligned properly and making the join line invisible.

This step by step guide, based on the Lotus Sutra scrolls for the International Dunhuang Project, shows you how she did it.

Overhead camera set up
Overhead camera set up capturing the funeral procession drawings

What is your favourite object in the collection?

Currently her favourite is the manuscript containing a lock of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s hair and ashes, alongside a lock of Mary Shelley’s hair. She found it while working at home on the metadata of images in the Library storage system, Portfolio.

‘However, there is so much to discover at the Library that my favourite object in the collection is bound to change!’

Any book recommendations for our readers?

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine. ‘I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and this cartoonist in particular, and this is the last one I read. It is so well put together, it really made me laugh and cringe. It is such an honest depiction of the artist’s life.’

Find out more about our Digitisation Services.

15 September 2021

Welcoming local friends back through our doors in London

As our building in St Pancras fully opened up this summer, we were excited to welcome back friends and neighbours on our doorstep after well over a year, thanks to the Holiday Activities Fund (HAF) programme.

Group from KCBNA
The brilliant group from KCBNA including youth workers Kamil, Ali and Nathan

In partnership with Young Camden Foundation and Camden Council, young people from the King’s Cross Brunswick Neighbourhood Association (KCBNA) community enjoyed fun learning activities, gained new skills and were inspired by stories of local start-up successes across two weeks of the holidays here at the Library.

In the first week our curators shared all kinds of items from our collection with the youngest children in the group, covering the origins of the Olympics, football fanzines and the first-ever published comics.

For most of the group it was their first time coming through the doors of our St Pancras building. And once inside they got a full behind-the-scenes tour including some of the most important books, maps and manuscripts in our collection on display in the Treasures Gallery, plus a first-hand experience of campaigning for change in our exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights. Local art teacher Annabel Levin also ran a workshop where the children got stuck into a tie-dying session.

Annabel with cotton and coloured dyes
Annabel with cotton that the group had tie-died with colourful ink, pebbles and string

In the second week local teenagers met with Matt Judkins MBA,  inventor of the world’s flattest international charger. Matt introduced the group to the world of start-up businesses from budgeting to branding. He told us how to sell a product or service and challenged the group to invent something new and original to take to market.

The enthusiastic group pitched their brilliant ideas in front of an audience and panel of our Business & IP Centre users who had previously benefitted from our start-up business support services. Among them was local entrepreneur, Ije Ene, who runs a sustainable fashion business.

'The young people learned a huge amount over the course of the week and were really inspired. I’ve had several young people telling me they want to be entrepreneurs and the parents asking what we did to get them so motivated!' Shofi Muhammod, Senior Youth Worker said.

A man speaking outside the British Library
Nigel Spencer, our Research and Business Manager, sharing advice on starting up a business in the Poet’s Circle

The HAF programme is just one of a range of activities we run to engage local people, many of which would not bepossible without our partners. A big thank you to Camden Council's Young Camden Foundation and King’s Cross Brunswick Neighbourhood Association, as well as our own curators, for making this happen. With the help of all our partners and supporters, we’ll keep opening up a world of ideas and inspiration for everyone, both in our own neighbourhood, and across the UK.

14 September 2021

British Library welcomes a special Afghan guest

Shazia Haya Ahmadzai is an Afghan journalist for the BBC’s Pashto service, who recently escaped from Kabul following its takeover by the Taliban. Shazia met our events producer Bee Rowlatt through a mutual colleague from BBC World Service, on the day she arrived in the UK from Kabul.

Bee invited Shazia to share her extraordinary experiences at the British Library, where she now has Membership and where she is speaking on Saturday 18 September as part of Jaipur Literature Festival’s one-day session for JLF London.

Shazia interviewing

Bee Rowlatt, British Library: Shazia, we are all very excited to welcome you on site, and now that you’re a British Library Member we hope to see you here regularly!

Shazia Haya Ahmadzai: I never imagined that one day I would be in the British Library. In Kabul there are no well-equipped libraries, that is why I did not go to the library in my lifetime. I just saw big libraries in movies, but you know books are the only things that bring me peace. I would like to spend my whole life reading books. I have heard about the British Library which is known all over the world and I even googled it, but I never imagined that one day I would be here. I hope it will bring me some peace and some community after what has happened.

Bee: Tell us about the last month

Shazia: Last month a storm came and destroyed everything, it destroyed life, dreams, and families. I reported the fall of the majority of the provinces. When Kabul fell and I saw insurgents on the roads, it was a dreadful moment. The next day, insurgents surrounded the building where I lived. The owner of the building came and told me that I should hide. I hid my work ID card in case the insurgents searched me. I cannot explain how scared I was, how my body shivered. I cannot forget those three or four nights that I did not sleep, that I hid in the kitchen.

On 21 August at 10pm I received a call and email that I should go to the airport. At 11pm I left my family alone, wore a burqa in the taxi and went to the airport entrance door which was closed by the insurgents. I begged an insurgent to let me in but he cursed me and shouted ‘go home or I will beat you!’ Finally, after an hour of walking along the side roads, I reached the entrance to Baron camp. I entered the camp by the same side road where a suicide bomber struck a few days later. I spent two nights and three days with a hungry stomach there but I am not complaining of those days in camp. It was the safest place for me.

Shazia presenting

Bee: And now that you are in the UK the hope is that you can carry on your work. How did you become a journalist in the first place?

Shazia: It was my dream to become a journalist but I grew up in a conservative family. A girl in my family couldn't appear on the screen, it was taboo. My brothers, uncles and father mentally tortured me and bullied me to quit my job. From the day I started as a journalist, I fought with family and with society for my rights. My father used to tell me, ‘do not tell anyone that you are my daughter because your work is a big shame for me’. Only my mother and my older sister supported me. That's why today I want to say that I, Shazia Haya, am the daughter of MY mother Zaibul Nesa and I am proud of it. No girl should experience the tough life which I did. But I started work with local media as a news presenter and after one year I got a job as a presenter of news talk shows, then I joined the BBC in 2019 as a reporter. In 2020 I was promoted to the senior team journalist of BBC Pashto TV. I want to share stories. I lived in a country where the people's voices could not be heard, especially women’s voices. I wanted to show that Afghan people's lives matter.

Bee: Talking of sharing people’s stories, what will you be talking about at JLF London on Saturday?

Shazia: I want to raise my voice this time. It is the first time I’m going to be speaking about myself, which is also the life of every Afghan girl and woman. As a journalist, I raise other people’s voices but now in the British Library, I will raise my own. I want to tell the world how much it hurts when in a minute, life, hopes, dreams are destroyed! I want to ask the world, do I or any Afghan girl deserve that miserable life?

Shazia and Suhail Shaheen of Taliban in Doha1

Bee: What are your hopes for your future?

I want to study and work because for these two rights I fought hard. I want to be a human rights activist in the future and help others, as today others are helping me! The day I arrived in Britain, I was given a new life. I am grateful to the British government for this gift.

Shazia Haya Ahmadzai will be taking part in Afghanistan: The Unravelling, a special event at the British Library as part of JLF London at 13.30–14.30, Saturday 18 September, with Saad Mohseni and Rory Stewart, in conversation with William Dalrymple. Tickets may be booked either to attend in person, or to watch on our platform (online) either live or within 48 hours on catch up.