Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

14 October 2010

Searching video, growing knowledge


It's taken a while, but at long last we've been able to go public with our first digital video service. From today the British Library is showcasing its digital video management system, or Video Server, in the Growing Knowledge exhibition. Growing Knowledge is a small exhibition about the future of research, and "aims to challenge our audiences on how research is changing and ask what they want to experience from the library of the future". In practice this means presenting users with an array of mostly web-based projects which are pointing the way forward for research, with new tools, partnerships, forms of interaction, and outcomes.

Should you visit Growing Knowledge - which runs until 16 July 2011 - you will be confronted by a startlingly white room looking much like the set of a 1970s sci-fi movie (Sleeper? THX 1138? 2001: A Space Odyssey? - you take your choice). There is a browsable 19th century panorama on a surface table and an ingenious 3-D object viewer to distract your attention, but the main business is at four 'pods', which offer different arrangment of screens and and some particularly comfortable chairs at which to test the resources on offer. There are twenty-five of them, most of which you can also test online through the Growing Knowledge website. One that you can test onsite only (owing to rights issues) is Video Server.


What we are offering is BBC television news pogrammes which we have been recording since 6 May 2010 (general election day), which you can access by searching across subtitles. This is rather more difficult than you might think, as the subtitles provided for television programmes are not text-based but graphics (bitmaps) and need to be processed through the video equivalent of optical character recognition to convert them to text. This is what Video Server does, and it makes the news programmes word searchable. Above is the results page for an individual programme (The Andrew Marr Show) showing the subtitles down the left-hand side, with the term searched for highlighted. Click on all line of text and it takes you automatically to that point in the video.


Below the video player and subtitles is another clever bit - the thumbnails. It displays a thumbnail image every five, ten or fifteen seconds, and by clicking on any image it takes you to that exact point in the video. Thus the time-based medium is made word-searchable and visible in its entirety on a single page, so that the researcher can see immediately where to go within the video without having to browse through for thirty minutes or more. The potential for improved searching, and for linking up video content to other resources (especially news-based resources) through word-linkages is huge.


There's also a Workspaces feature, which enables you to select programmes on whatever theme you might wish to investigate and to view them all together. Eventually, when Video Server becomes a public service the workspaces will be private, accessible by personal log-in. For the purposes of the exhibition they are open to all.

Video Server is still a work in progress, and we are keen to receive feedback on its functionality and utility as a research tool. Behind the scenes we are recording more channels that just BBC 1, 2, 4, News and Parliament (which are the ones featured in the exhibition). The next stage for Video Server will be when it becomes a British Library reading room service, which should be by autumn 2011, and where we plan to make available a greater range of content. At present we are recording 13 hours of TV and 6 hours of radio per day - we hope to up this to 25 hours of TV per day quite soon. We're also aiming to add digitised video material from our non-news collections. Meanwhile we continue to test, and to add content - all new BBC programmes that we record (and we are doing so on a daily basis) will be added to the service in the Growing Knowledge exhibiton.

But what about television news programmes that don't have subtitles? What about radio and other forms of speech recording which present a huge challenge for the researcher who needs to find subjects quickly and efficiently? Well, there is another solution on display in Growing Knowledge - Audio Search. More on that in the next post.


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