THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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6 posts categorized "Workshops"

01 November 2019

Picture this - visualising newspaper data

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What are newspapers made of?

One could say that they are made of accounts of current events, collected in the form of a document for the interest of a particular readership. One could equally say that they are made of assumptions that covertly or overtly express an ideology of one kind or another. One could be literal and say that newspapers are made of paper, generally derived from a rag or wood pulp confection, cut to a set shape and overlaid with ink in the form of recognisable objects. Newspapers are, most simply, made of words, numbers and pictures - but mostly words.

Volunteers

Participants at British Library newspaper data visualisation workshop, 30 October 2019

Newspapers are also made of data. Data is a newspaper's underlying code. Beyond the plain text there exist underlying collections of terms from which we may discovers ideas, clues, connections and patterns which may reveal all the more for us what a set of newspapers has to say.

The digitisation of historic newspapers is creating not just a digital simulacrum of our physical newspaper archives, but a vast collection of data that can be derived from the digitisation process. Most users of digitised historic newspapers will be aware of optical character recognition, or OCR, the process by which the text on an old newspaper page, which we see as words but which a machine understands to be images, is converted by that machine into words that it can recognise. Some will also know that older type, or poor quality microfilmed newspapers, can lead to inaccurate OCR, as the machine struggles to interpret the muddy images it sees into words that we will recognise. Some may also know that specialist software enables a digitised newspaper page to be broken down into its constituent parts, such as article, illustrations or advertisements.

But there is much more than can be done when we digitally analyse this initial layer of information still further. Software programmes can highlights proper names (people, places, organisations), word frequencies, patterns of words and recurrent phrases. It is a form of indexing, as though someone had read through an entire run of a newspaper and produced an index. Indexes to annual volumes of newspapers were not uncommon in the nineteenth century, when  people would visits clubs or newspaper reading rooms to leaf their way through past newspapers, the best known being Palmer's Index to The Times. Now software can do this basic work but also much more. It can reveal those patterns which may reveal an underlying history; hidden truths just waiting for the right software programme to bring them to the surface.

The opportunities created by derived data are exciting a growing number of data science and digital humanities scholars, who find newspapers an especially fruitful source of enquiry for their large numbers, their consistency of form and their geographical, social or political identity. Digitised newspapers reflect the flow of time, turning news into history.

Illustratedpolicenews

So the specialists are being well catered for, but what about the rest of us? Here at the British Library, as we digitise more and more newspapers and so create an ever greater reservoir of re-usable data, we are interested in opening up newspaper data to other kinds of users. We shouldn't all have to be experts in specialist file formats or programming languages to get something out of newspaper data. We should be thinking equally of those who would just like to have a spreadsheet with a clear set of fields that they can sort (by place, date, title etc.), and maybe some guidance on easy-to-use visualisation tools that enable anyone to produce a graph, pie-chart or stylish map.

All of this we are going to do. We will have news about what we are going to be making available to all soon. But we are also looking at ways in which such data might inspire creativity. In partnership with the London College of Communication, we have organised some trial workshop in newspaper data visualisation. 

The first of these took place early in October, a report on which was published on this blog. For this workshop we had a mixed group of volunteers, though several were newspaper history specialists. We gave them some sample nineteenth century British newspaper stories and invited them to rethink what they saw in visual terms, with reference to the data that could be derived from the stories, either by machine or human.

String

The results were fascinating, at times inspiring (we now know that inside some newspaper historians lies an artist just waiting to be set free). However, for a second workshop at the end of October we changed tack. Instead of giving the volunteers stories we gave them one of four sample newspapers from the nineteenth century but asked them to concentrate on sets of terms, phrases and story headlines that we had generated from an entire year of the newspaper (we chose 1880 and the newspapers the Illustrated Police News, Hull Packet, Newcastle Courant and Manchester Weekly Times). Analysing an entire year yielded more meaningful results from which we expected the volunteers to be able to create their own visual impressions, rough sketches inevitably, but with the hope showing the potential.

Our volunteers were another mixed group, this time with more people from the creative side of things (including some art and design students), but again some with expertise in newspapers. What we saw were a rich set of different responses to the data. Some worked with the terms as presented. One create an idea for a headline generator, focussing on disturbing stories reporting on violence towards women, from the Illustrated Police News. Another, who was a poet, uncovered patterns within the terms that revealed found poetry.

Entities

Named entities from the Hull Packet for 1880 (names and organisations)

Others worked with the data to visualise the newspaper form differently, one that made its underlying messages more apparent, or at least arranged in a new light. One design student reinvented her newspaper as an unfolding square, with its messages on the outside leading to greater discovery within. One group extracted the major components of their newspaper (advertising, law reports, local news, entertainments) which they laid out on the floor, with lengths of string indicating which kinds of newspaper component were most prominent (advertising had by far the longest string). 

Labels

Another group started with an academic research question (they wanted to know how they could find out how much advertising space was being paid for different products) and imagined a form of digital analysis which measured space alongside subject, extrapolating the potential for visual analysis in a most interesting way. Another participant saw the opportunity for presenting nineteenth century newspapers in a twenty-first century format, and likewise twenty-first century subjects in a nineteenth century newspaper format, to make that which could appear alien to a young audience of today more meaningful, and revelatory.

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I noted three things in particular. The first was that data on its own was not helpful. It appeared to lack meaning. A set of terms only became meaningful to the volunteers when they could see it in the context of the newspaper from which the data was generated. To understand and value derived data, we need knowledge of its roots.

Secondly, it is noticeable how much people did not so much work with the data as use it as a springboard for their own analyses of what was significant about the newspaper before them. The data encouraged creative thinking without necessarily being used directly as the basis of the creative object. Derived data can form the building blocks of a new kind of historical enquiry, but it can also - quite literally - inspire. It encourages to think, and to visualise, analytically.

Lastly, people see things differently because they are different, and in this variety lies such opportunity. A newspaper historian see the patterns of news. A designer sees how a raw idea may be made both beautiful and practical. A poet sees poetry. 

Workshop

We will be exploring this area further. Although our primary goal in making more historical newspaper data available is to assist academic, as well as general researchers, we want to see where the creative impulse may take us. It could lead to different kinds of newspapers being digitised, or derived data being made in forms most suitable for creative inspiration. It could lead to beautiful things.

 

 

07 October 2019

Visualisation workshop report

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Historical newspapers are not always easy to digest. Mostly without illustrations or photography, the ‘wall of text’ of a nineteenth-century newspaper can be intimidating or difficult to engage with, and we’ve been thinking about how we can solve this.

Last Wednesday evening we ran an experimental workshop in conjunction with lecturers in design from London College of Communication. Our aim was to learn how techniques from design could help the understanding of nineteenth-century newspaper articles, and we hoped to learn how we could make the information within our newspapers more accessible to Library users. We were very lucky to have a diverse group of historical newspaper users to help us out in our experiment.

We gathered historians, general library users with a passing interest in newspapers and newspaper data, artists, and designers together and asked them to take part in a workshop where they would ‘visualise’ a newspaper in an innovative way, using art materials rather than computer software.

The evening started with a brief overview of The British Library’s newspaper resources, an outline of our Heritage Made Digital programme (which will result in a set of openly available historical newspaper resources and the underlying data), and some pointers for those looking to learn how to do data analysis. We gave a very quick description of some of the tools we use, including R, Python, Jupyter Notebooks, https://voyant-tools.org/, and Palladio, and where to learn how to use them: we recommend checking out https://programminghistorian.org/ and  https://software-carpentry.org/.

Participants then worked with art materials, including hand-printed riso paper, to visually communicate an aspect of a newspaper article they found interesting. We gave several articles to choose from: one on the ‘Trial of Queen Caroline’, one about the burglar and murderer Charles Peace, one about the first commercial passenger railway journey (which also includes the first railway fatality), as well as a page of advertisements and a page of letters to the editor.

Workshop1

Participant showing their visual representation of categorical information found in a newspaper article

Participants took a range of approaches and styles: some took to chopping up paper straight away, whereas others were more cautious. Some chose to focus on the content of the article, and others looked at the visual or structural elements of the page. One participant color-coded their article according to gender. Another noticed a faint outline of an illustration on a page and based their work around this. Several attendees picked up on the significance of the advertisements, and the potential historical information within. By the end we had an impressive array of visualisations, including an entire three dimensional dolls’ house.

Workshop2

A dolls’ house based on the details of the ‘Trial of Queen Caroline’

There’s definitely more work to do. The workshop was exploratory and we already have some ideas on how to improve our next iteration. But it was an interesting, stimulating experiment, and we think a good stepping-point in the goal of making historic newspapers more accessible.

The introductory slides from the workshop are available at https://www.slideshare.net/lukemckernan/data-visualisation-workshop

We are organising a second newspaper data visualisation workshop for  October 30, between 17:00 and 19:00, at the British Library in London. If you’re interested to participate, please contact Yann.Ryan@bl.uk for more information.

Yann Ryan, Curator Newspaper Data

12 September 2019

Visualising newspaper data

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Regional

Interested in data visualisation, information design or historic newspapers? We’re looking for a small group of volunteers to take part in some trial workshops in October, being run in collaboration with London College of Communication. You’ll learn how to work with data in a creative, hands-on way, while getting an overview of the Library’s digital newspaper collection and how you might use its data.

Volunteers from any background are welcome: you don't need to have expertise in working with data. All you need is some enthusiasm, ideas, and an interest in learning more about one of the areas above. We’ll provide all the necessary supplies, including the tea and biscuits.

The workshops will be held at The British Library in London on October 2 and October 30, between 17:00 and 19:00. 

If you’re interested and can make one or other of these dates, please contact Yann.Ryan@bl.uk for more information.

11 August 2015

Web newspapers workshop

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Since April 2013 the British Library has been archiving millions of UK websites for the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive. Most of these sites are archived on an annual basis, but around 1,000 news-based websites are being archived on a weekly or monthly basis. These include newspaper title websites, news broadcaster sites, web-only news sites, and ‘hyperlocal’ community journalism sites.

We continue to add more news sites to the archive, and to review the frequency with which they are archived. All of the archives are made available in our Reading Rooms in London (St Pancras) and Yorkshire (Boston Spa), as well as the other Legal Deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland.

Newspages

We are undertaking a review of our digital news intake, and we would like to take in the views of researchers. The aim of this workshop is to introduce the Web news collection, to ask the participants to test out some of the archived news sites, and to discuss how best Web news sites can be used for research. We will be looking at the archived sites versus their live Web equivalents, and comparing Web news with newspapers.

The workshop will take place 2 September 2015, 15:00-16:00, at the Business & IP Centre, Floor 1, British Library (St Pancras). The workshop is free, but spaces are limited. If you are interested in taking part, please contact us at newspaper@bl.uk to book a place.

 To find out more about our Web news collections, visit http://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/web-news.

30 June 2014

News reference workshops

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If you are new to the newspaper and other news collections at the British Library, or if you simply feel in need of a refresher on how to get the best out of our services, then our News Reference Workshops will be just the thing for you. These free workshops are run by our newspaper reference team and news curators, and are designed to provide general introductions different parts of the collection. There is workshop on using the Newsroom (which will feature on a monthly, regular basis), and workshops on specific areas such as early and modern newspapers, news-related electronic services, television news, and the British Newspaper Archive. Each lasts 45mins to an hour.

British-library-newsroom

Introduction to the Newsroom
This session aims to provide an introduction to the Newsroom and the news collections as well as basic guidance for researchers using the Reading Room. The session will:

  • Provide an overview of the scope and history of our news collections
  • Explain what digital news sources are available
  • Explain how to search for and order newspapers
  • Provide information on resources and services in the Reading Room

Dates: 8 July (14.30); 5 Aug (14.30); 9 Sept (14.30); 7 Oct (14.30); 11 Nov (14.30); 9 Dec (14.30)
To book a place, please email us at: newspaper@bl.uk

Introduction to early newspapers: From the early 17th century to the mid-19th century
This workshop will include:

  • The development of newspapers from the early C17th to the mid C19th.
  • The origins of the national and regional press in the UK
  • Early newspaper collections at the British Library
  • Searching for early newspapers in the British Library catalogue (Explore the British Library)
  • Digitised early newspapers

Date: 26 Nov (14.30)
To book a place, please email us at: newspaper@bl.uk

Introduction to modern newspapers: mid-19th – 20th century
This workshop will include:

  • The development of newspapers from the mid C19th to the present day
  • Modern newspaper collections at the British Library
  • British/Irish newspapers received on Legal Deposit
  • Overseas newspapers
  • Searching for modern newspapers in the British Library catalogue (Explore the British Library)

Date: 20 Aug (14.30)
To book a place, please email us at: newspaper@bl.uk

News-related electronic resources
This session will cover the range of news related electronic resources available at the BL and how to access this material. The session will include:

  • Awareness of newspaper electronic resources and importance of newspaper e-resources for contemporary research.
  • Highlighting the various ways to access BL newspaper e-resources.
  • Demonstrations of key newspaper e-resources.
  • Showcasing the variety of newspaper databases including facsimile and text only e-resources, and various news related bibliographies and indexes available at the BL.

Date: 24 Sept (14.30)
To book a place, please email us at: newspaper@bl.uk

Television and Broadcast News service
Our Broadcast News service has four years of television and radio news programmes from the UK and adds 60 hours every day. We also provide onsite access to 200,000 BBC television and radio programmes. This workshop will give a guide to finding and using television news at the British Library, and to television archive sources in the UK.

Date: 21 Oct (14.30)

To book a place, please email us at: newspaper@bl.uk

Using the British Newspaper Archive
This presentation and short practical session offers an introduction to the British Newspaper Archive (BNA). It will cover the scope and techniques of the digitisation programme and highlight the advantages of using newspapers as digital resources. The talk will explore the content of the BNA in terms of titles, dates and regional areas of the UK and Ireland.

The practical element looks at basic and advanced searching, getting help, printing and some of the more advanced features such as My Research, contextual information, corrections and tagging.

Attendees are encouraged to register with the BNA before arrival.

Date: 23 July (14.30)

To book a place, please email us at: newspaper@bl.uk

More information on British Library workshops and training events is provided here. You can book by emailing us at newspaper@bl.uk, or just ask any of the staff at the Newsroom reference desk.

04 June 2014

An introduction to the Newsroom

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The Newsroom is the British Library's new dedicated reading room for researching its news collections. It is located on the second floor of the Library's site at St Pancras in London. This post is an overall guide to what researchers can expect to find in the Newsroom. 

Newsroom_issuedesk

The Newsroom is in two sections: the main reading room, which delivers access to the news collections and is open to anyone with a British Library reader's pass; and the networking area, a research space open to anyone which displays live news on screens from a variety of sources.

Finding

You can find most of our news collections through the British Library's main catalogue, http://explore.bl.uk. News items can be searched for by title, any word from a title, place name, or word in the catalogue record. Some of our television and radio news records can be found on Explore, but we are still adding records. The full collection can be found via Broadcast News (see below). Our web news collection needs to be searched separately (see below).

To access anything from our news collections you will need a free Reader Pass - guidelines on how to obtain a pass are available here.

You can order items before your visit using http://explore.bl.uk.

Desks

The main room has 110 desks, of which 58 are clear Reader desks, 40 have microfilm viewers plus access to electronic resources, and 8 have dedicated electronic resources terminals. 

Services

We offer self-service facilities for making copies from print, microfilm and digital newspapers, subject to preservation and copyright restrictions. There are 3 printers in the Newsroom, and 1 print release station. We have a wide range of news media reference works available on open access, including such titles as Willing's Press Guide and the Times Index.

Newspapers

We collect nearly all newspapers published in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with some 60 million issues going back to the early 1600s. We currently receive around 1,500 newspaper titles on a daily or weekly basis, and nearly 100 titles from overseas. Because the main print newspaper collection is currently in transit from its former home in Colindale to our Newspaper Storage Building in Boston Spa, Yorkshire, the newspapers will not become available in the Newsroom until autumn 2014.

Microfilm

There are 15 microfilmed newspaper titles available immediately via open access, while anything from our main collection of 625,000 reels of microfilmed newspapers is available for delivery within 70 minutes, or can be ordered in advance by using http://explore.bl.uk. Appropxiately one third of our newspaper collection is available on microfilm. The 15 titles available for immediate access are:

  • Daily Mail 1896-2009
  • Daily Telegraph 1855-2009
  • Daily Worker 1930-1960
  • Evening Standard 1860-June 2010
  • Financial Times 1888 onwards
  • Guardian 1821 onwards
  • Independent 1986 onwards
  • Independent on Sunday 1989 onwards
  • Mail on Sunday 1982-2009
  • Morning Star 1966-2009
  • News of the World 1843-2011
  • Observer 1791 onwards
  • Sun 1964-2009
  • Sunday Telegraph 1961-2009
  • The Times 1785 onwards

Our specialist microfilm readers enable the microfilmed images to be viewed on a digital screen, and can be rotated to suit the shape on a newspaper if required. They offer the ability to zoom in and out, crop, adjust focus, brightness, contrast, and de-skew the image.

Electronic resources

We provide access to a wide range of digitised newspapers and other electronic news collections, both those derived from our own holdings and the digital collections of third parties. This includes:

  • British Newspaper Archive
  • British Newspapers 1600-1950 
  • Gale News Vault
  • Readex World Newspaper Archive
  • NewsBank
  • ProQuest Historial Newspapers
  • UKpressonline

All of our electronic news resources are listed at http://www.bl.uk/eresources/main.shtml and all can be seen for free in the Newsroom.

Television and radio news

We have almost 50,000 television and radio news programmes recorded since May 2010 available onsite via the Broadcast News service. This can be accessed by using the link to Sound and Moving Image collections given on the home page of the Library terminals. There are recordings taken from 22 channels:

  • Television:
  • Al Jazeera English 
  • BBC One
  • BBC News
  • BBC Parliament
  • BBC Two 
  • BBC Four
  • Bloomberg
  • CCTV News
  • Channel 4
  • CNN
  • France 24
  • ITV1
  • NHK World
  • RT
  • Sky News
  • Radio:
  • BBC London
  • BBC Radio 1
  • BBC Radio 4 
  • BBC 5 Live
  • BBC World Service
  • LBC
  • talkSport

Most programmes are available in the Newsroom from the day of broadcast. We only record news and news-related programmes.

BBC

Separately we provide access to BBC programmes via the BBC Catalogue service. This has some 2 million BBC catalogue records from the 1950s to 2012, with around 200,000 playable television and radio programmes broadcast 2007-2012. This can be accessed by using the link to Sound and Moving Image collections given on the home page of the Library terminals.

Web archives

We provide access to over 4.8 million UK websites archived since 2013 as part of the Legal Deposit Web Archive. This archive can be accessed by using the link to Web Archives collections given on the home page of the Library terminals. The collection includes over 500 news-based websites archived on a frequent basis, including most UK national newspaper sites and many regional sites, which can be searched as a discrete collection.

Networking

Networking area

The networking area is open to anyone. It has seating for over 30, with cubicles, and many charging points. The area's Video Wall features live television news, a rotating display of live news websites (all sites archived by the Library) and the Newsmap news aggregator site. We refresh the content on the Video Wall periodically.

Above the cubicles we project live tweets from around 100 news websites that we archive, including international, national and regional titles.

Opening hours

10.00-20.00 Mon

9.30-20.00 Tue-Thu

9.30-17.00 Fri - Sat

Workshops

We are organising a series of regular workshops on using the news collections, both general guides and introductions to particular parts of the collection. See http://www.bl.uk/reader-workshops.

Finding out more

The Newsroom has leaflets aavailable on the news collections and their use.

Our newspaper reference team can give help on using the Newsroom and finding items, though we cannot undertaken in-depth research requests. You can contact us online via http://www.bl.uk/reference-contacts.

Guide to the collection and its use are given on our web pages at http://www.bl.uk/subjects/news-media.

You can follow discussion about news and news collections via the Newsroom blog at http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/thenewsroom.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter too: @BL_newsroom