Untold lives blog

2 posts categorized "Digital scholarship"

07 January 2016


According to Picasso, a picture can serve as a stepping stone to other worlds.  A picture of a bookbinding, in itself a work of art, can do the same.  The thousands of images of bindings which the British Library released on Wikimedia Commons in August 2015 can take the viewer on unexpected journeys: to discover what Queen Elizabeth I’s books look like or to answer the question when is a binding not a binding? When it comes from Mrs Wordsworth’s wardrobe!  Robert Southey’s female friends were reputed to have covered his library books using dress fabric.

Scholars who appreciate the relevance of bookbindings to their field of study are familiar with websites which can help their research, for example the British Library’s image database of bookbindings but you do not need specialist knowledge to admire a bookbinding. 

  Bookbinding Collage

Serendipity occurs when we happen upon something amazing while seeking something else, and Wikimedia provides an exciting opportunity for bindings to be discovered in this way.  Publishing the Library’s bookbindings images on Wikimedia Commons means that they can be readily accessed and be easy to browse.  Hopefully the creative copyright commons licenced pictures will be available on other sites, guiding people to this fascinating but little considered subject.

At a time of limited resource, institutions can achieve a great deal with existing digital material, if they are prepared to be cooperative and generous. With this aim in mind, Mahendra Mahey and colleagues in BL Labs have explored how the bindings database could be exploited to reach a wider audience.   With the help of knowledgeable volunteers and students, notably Dimitra Charalampidou, who were given the opportunity of working with the Library’s technicians on real data (images and text), existing treasure troves were assessed, and others like Ed King’s research on stunning Victorian trade bindings were added, to expand the resource even further. We particularly thank Ed for his wonderful contribution.

The images are out there. We hope you enjoy them!

PJM Marks
Western Heritage Collections

View the collection British Library Bookbindings


06 November 2015

One Year of Qatar Digital Library

This month we celebrate the first anniversary of the Qatar Digital Library Portal, launched a year ago as a result  of the Partnership between the British Library, the Qatar Foundation, and the Qatar National Library. The Portal, available in English and Arabic, has been widely accessed from the Persian Gulf, and its Arabic version is extremely popular. 600,000 images have been uploaded to-date and more content will be made available in the coming years.

The Qatar Digital Library hosts a selection of India Office Records and private papers, maps of the Persian Gulf and the wider region, and Arabic Scientific Manuscripts from the British Library’s Manuscripts Collections.

During the first year, the most popular map was IOR/R/15/1/730 f 88  showing air routes, islands in the Persian Gulf;  and the boundaries of Kuwait and Trucial Area.

   Map showing (A) Air Routes, established and projected; (B) Islands in the Persian Gulf; (C) Boundaries of Kuwait and Trucial AreaNoc
IOR/R/15/1/730, f 88 – Map showing (A) Air Routes, established and projected; (B) Islands in the Persian Gulf; (C) Boundaries of Kuwait and Trucial Area. Map II (accessed in Arabic). 


The most popular manuscript was IO Islamic 1249 - Arabic versions of seven Greek treatises on mathematics edited by Naṣīr al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Ṭūsī  طوسي، نصير الدين محمد بن محمد, (detail below, f 1v).

Noc Islamic manuscript - Arabic versions of seven Greek treatises on mathematics

 IO Islamic 1249 f.1v


The most popular India Office Records file was IOR/R/15/2/31 File E/8 I Ibn Sa‘ud.  The second most popular file was IOR/R/15/1/480 - 'File 53/7 X (D 54) Kuwait Affairs, Bin Saud (Captain Shakespeare's Deputation)' (detail from f ‎26r below, on the Death of Captain Shakespear).


Letter reporting death of Captain ShakespearNoc




The Qatar Digital Library also contains contextualised explanatory notes and links, in both English and Arabic. The most popular of these pieces is Robots, Musicians and Monsters: The World’s Most Fantastic Clocks, accessed both in English and Arabic. This was closely followed by The British in the Gulf, mostly accessed in Arabic, and The Death of Captain Shakespear, in English.

Keep following us on Twitter @BLQatar to see what the curators are working on, and what is being uploaded every week to the Qatar Digital Library.

Valentina Mirabella
Archive Specialist British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership Cc-by