Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections


Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

09 February 2016

Poetic Places App Launch Event

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This is a guest post by Sarah Cole, the British Library’s current Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Sarah is working on a project called Poetic Places, which explores relationships between literary geographies, cultural heritage collections, and real world environments, via the creation of a smartphone geolocation user experience that shares British Library digital content in relevant real-world locations; enabling participants to experience meaningful “poetic” connections between location, history and literature. 

As the app nears completion, it’ll soon be time to release Poetic Places into the wild and let you good folk experience the result of the project.

To celebrate, we’ve decided to hold a free half-day event at the British Library Conference Centre in London on Friday 18th March 2016, starting at 13:30. We thought this would be a great opportunity to bring together and hear about a variety of projects that deal with literature, cultural heritage and place, to explore different methods and share our findings.

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Image taken from page 345 of 'L'Espagne ... Illustrée de 309 gravures dessinées sur bois par Gustave Doré',


Five excellent speakers and myself will be taking attendees through our work, we'll also have tea (& coffee) and a short walk where I’ll invite you to install the app and come exploring the poetic places around the British Library.

We’ll be hearing from:

Sarah Cole, Poetic Places

Andy Ryan, CityRead London

Dr Giasemi Vavoula, Affective Digital Histories

Maya Chowdhry, Tales from Towpath

Dr David Cooper, Manchester Metropolitan University, on literary geographies

Jocelyn Dodd, Talking Statues


There are limited places available for this free event, so go to to secure yours.

For those that can’t make it on the day, we’ll hopefully be recording the event to make it available online.

We look forward to seeing some of you then!

08 February 2016

Cambridge @BL_Labs Roadshow Mon 15 Feb (9.30am - 12.30pm) and (1.30pm - 4.30pm)

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The @BL_Labs roadshow moves onto Cambridge and we still have a few places available for our FREE and open to all afternoon showcase event on Monday 15 February between 1.30pm - 4.30pm (booking essential). The event is kindly hosted by the Digital Humanities Network of researchers at the University Cambridge who are interested in how the use of digital tools is transforming scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

  BL_Labs_roadshow-cambridge Cambridge-digital-humanities-netowrk
@BL_Labs Roadshow in Cambridge - Mon 15 Feb (0930 - 1230 and 1330 - 1630), hosted by the Digital Humanities Network at the University of Cambridge.

Building a search engine that works for you (9.30am - 12.30pm).Building-search-engine-that-works-for-you-2

Building a search engine that works for you, Cambridge - Mon 15 Feb (9.30am - 12.30pm).

Led by British Library Labs Technical Lead Ben O'Steen, a special workshop will be held in the morning (9.30am - 12.30pm) which gets under the 'hood' of search engines. Attendees will load some texts from the largely 19th Century British Library digitised Book collection into a search engine to explore the problems, opportunities and assumptions made when creating such a service. The session will be using Elasticsearch, Python, Git and Notepad++.

The aim is to step people through the challenges and compromises required to have something as simple as a Google search service and to explore a few ways to tailor it to specific needs. It involves dealing with XML and the quality of real world data and use python code to put data into and query Elasticsearch. This 3-hour workshop will give participants an understanding of how search engines work from the inside. No technical knowledge is required as a prerequisite but spaces are strictly limited and the focus of this workshop will be on practical application of the ideas. University of Cambridge researchers and students have priority for bookings however you can now book hereHowever, please contact Anne Alexander to see if there have been any last minute cancelations, especially if you are from outside the University and would like to attend.

Labs and Digital Research Showcase with an 'Ideas Lab' (1.30pm-4.30pm).

The showcase in the afternoon (1.30pm-4.30pm) will provide participants an opportunity to:

  • Understand what Digital Research activity is being carried out at the British Library.
  • Discover the digital collections the British Library has, understand some of the challenges of using them and even take some away with you.
  • Learn how researchers found and revived forgotten Victorian jokes and Political meetings from our digital archives.
  • Understand how special games and computer code have been developed to help tag un-described images and make new art.
  • Find out about a tool that links digitised handwritten manuscripts to transcribed texts and one that creates statistically representative samples from the British Library’s book collections.
  • Consider how the intuitions of a DJ could be used to mix and perform the Library's digital collections.
  • Talk to Library staff about how you might use some of the Library's digital content innovatively.
  • Get advice, pick up tips and feedback on your ideas and projects for the 2016 BL Labs Competition (deadline 11 April) and Awards (deadline 5 September).

For more information about the afternoon session, a detailed programme and to book your place, visit the Labs & Digital Research Showcase with an 'Ideas Lab' event page.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

The BL Labs project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

03 February 2016

PhD placements in Digital Scholarship

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The British Library is currently selecting professional development projects for doctoral researchers, hosted by our specialist curatorial teams and other Library experts. All applications for the PhD placement scheme must be supported by the applicant’s PhD supervisor and their department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent). Each placement (3 month or PT equivalent) has a dedicated workplan, plus full supervision and training and 3 of these placements will particularly contribute to the field of digital scholarship:

1. DIGITAL HUMANITIES IN CHINA: The Library is working on digitising and cataloguing our vast Chinese collections, to inform the development of future British Library services and support for scholars conducting innovative and computationally driven research. Through the placement, the Digital Research Team in conjunction with Asian & African Collections at the British Library will explore the extent to which Digital Humanities activities - relating to and within China - are being undertaken.

BLOG_ImageImage: Diamond Sutra of 868AD, frontispiece and text.( ID 010627)The British Library Flickr . Reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence2

2. THE FUTURE OF THE PHD THESIS: The rise of the non-text thesis presents a new curatorial challenge in digital archiving. As more universities allow students to submit a non-traditional final thesis for their PhD – for example in the form of a website, software, film, performance, artwork or database - this project will examine the implications for EThOS (, the British Library’s online repository of text-based theses. The project anticipates the potential issues surrounding the non-text theses, and seeks to explore how to adapt to and embrace this growing trend. 

3. DIGITAL –ONLY PUBLISHING: This PhD placement offers an opportunity to contribute to the Library’s on-going commitment to grow our holdings. The successful candidate will focus on a specific sector of the digital-only publishing sector, and their findings will be used to help anticipate future developments. The placement offers a valuable opportunity to gain insight into the many and varied challenges of managing published digital objects on a large scale.

The application deadline for the 2016/2017 PhD placements is 19 February 2016.

Full application guidelines available at:

Any questions please contact


Jane Shepard

Research Support team