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16 December 2014

British Library Labs Symposium 2014 – The Winners

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs

After Tim Hitchcock's keynote which opened the British Library Labs' second annual symposium Roly Keating, the Library’s Chief Executive, presented awards to the 2014 Labs competition winners Bob Nicholson and Desmond Schmidt.

BL Labs Awards 2014_095
Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library

See Roly Keating's brief speech here:

Roly Keating's brief speech at the Labs Symposium.

Roly thanked the members of the British Library Labs team, advisory and project boards, workplacement students and volunteers. He then formally congratulated the winners of the 2014 Labs competition; Desmond Schmidt and Anna Gerber's 'TILT' and Bob Nicholson's Victorian Meme Machine.

Roly Keating presenting Bob Nicholson with his prizeRoly Keating presenting Bob Nicholson with his prize.

Roly_DesmondRoly Keating presenting Desmond Schmidt with his prize.

Desmond and Bob then gave presentations on their work.

Desmond presented TILT, a tool he and his colleague Anna Gerber have been developing with cooperation with the Labs. Historical printed and manuscript material is often difficult to read and understand. Once digitised, researchers create detailed transcriptions, but making links between page images and the transcribed text is difficult and time-consuming. TILT is a tool that uses semi-automated techniques to build these links, to verify them, and to capture information that goes beyond text to include differences in lineation, type-size and line-spacing.

Desmond SchmidtResearch Scientist, University of Queensland, talking about 'TILT' 

Read more about the project.

Bob presented the work he has been doing with Labs on the Victorian Meme Machine. What would it take to make a Victorian joke funny again? While the great works of Victorian art and literature have been preserved and celebrated by successive generations, even the period’s most popular jokes have now been lost or forgotten. Fortunately, thousands of these endangered jests have been preserved within the British Library’s digital collections. This project has begun to find these forgotten jokes and bring them back to life.

Bob NicholsonLecturer, Edge Hill University talking about the Victorian Meme Machine


Read more about the project.

@bl_labs #bl_labs #britishlibrary

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15 December 2014

British Library Labs Symposium 2014 – Keynote

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs

The second annual British Library Labs Symposium on Monday 3rd November, 2014, opened with Professor Tim Hitchcock giving a keynote speech focusing on 'Big and small data in the humanities'.

Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex, giving a keynote at the British Library Labs Symposium 2014

Please note that full subtitles are available on YouTube and the transcript for the Tim's talk is available here.

Tim began with a quick reflection on the British Library Labs project:

In my experience Labs is unique. With a budget the size of a tuppenny bit, the BL, through the Labs, is both intervening in a space few others have had the confidence to inhabit; and as importantly, gently interrogating the role of a ‘library’ – in this case THE library – in a changing world of information and discovery.

By reaching out to both humanist scholars in need of technical support and expertise, and as importantly, developers keen to pursue an idea with an academic or humanist twist, the Lab is working in a space that neither the academy and higher education, nor the private sector are particularly good at. The Lab creates a space in which the intellectual capital of the Library, is made available to its users, in an entirely new way.

There are any number of research council initiatives, European funding calls, and twitchy private sector start-ups out there, ragging at the edge of established practise. We are advised to seek ‘disruption’, and to pursue the shiny. But it is important to remember that the institutions we have inherited – libraries and museums in particular - were created in service of a deeper purpose. It is not simply that we value them because they are ancient and august. Instead, we value them as a means of preserving memory, and acknowledging worth. And as importantly, we value them as part of a complex ecology of knowledge discovery, dissemination, and reflexion. So while disruption and the shiny, are all good; it remains important that libraries, continue to serve the fundamental purposes for which they were created. And the Lab, seems to me to answer this need.

In other words, as much as being a space in which new projects and approaches can be bench-tested; the Lab is important as a fragment of an ongoing negotiation about the role of the institutions of memory and knowing. And getting that role right, is imperative.

By acknowledging the existence of the library’s own great technical expertise; and essentially inviting people from across the piste to partner with it, the Lab is effectively re-thinking what it is to be a ‘reference’ librarian, an information professional, an engineer, servicing a technology of knowing.

Over the course of the rest of the day, wild and fun initiatives will roll before your eyes, but as they do, I think it is worthwhile keeping in mind that larger project and aspiration, of turning this inherited institution, the British Library, in to something that can continue to deliver on the unchanging principals it was created to serve.

Tim the went on to talk about how while 'big data' has grabbed the headlines in recent years, the creation of new digital tools has also changed how we undertake forms of 'close reading'. This talk explored how 'big data' and 'close reading' can be more effectively integrated into a single research strategy that acknowledges the importance of seeing inherited culture both in detail - close up; and in context - at scale. It also considered these methodological developments in light of the continuing importance of more traditional humanist theory.

BL Labs Awards 2014_058
Tim Hitchcock answering a question from the audience at the Labs' Symposium.

@bl_labs #bl_labs #britishlibrary #bldigital @timhitchcock

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12 December 2014

Curious Roads to Cross - 21st Century Curatorship Talk by David Normal

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs

On the 17th of October 2014, artist David Normal gave a presentation to a group of British Library staff, as a part of the 21st Century Curatorship series about his work 'Crossroads of Curiosity'. David had previously blogged about his work here.

David Normal giving his talk to British Library staff.

He talked about 4 pieces of collage art he created for the 2014 Burning Man Festival, entitled the 'Crossroads of Curiosity' which were based on images from the British Library 1 Million images release. As part of this talk, David was interviewed and was able to give a brief summary of how the work came about (see the 5 minute video below):

A 5 minute interview with David Normal about his work 'Crossroads of Curiosity'

The lecture David gave to staff covered his background as an artist and his various interests and influences which included; collage, computer graphics and use of illustration in his work especially from the 1940s and the 19th Century. He then talked about how his four paintings entitled 'Crossroads of Curiosity' came about and how he used images from the British Library's Flickr Commons 1 million release to make them. David then explained how these paintings (each created originally at a size of 3 foot by 8 foot (0.9m by 2.4m)) were made into an 'epic suite' of 4 illuminated light boxes at a size of 8 feet by 20 feet (2.4m by 6.1m) for the Burning Man Festival that took place between 25th of August and 1 September, in Nevada, USA this year.

The full lecture (just under 20 minutes) can be viewed below for those that missed it:

David Normal's lecture given to staff at the British Library about his work.

David then spent just over 20 minutes (about 5 minutes for each painting) giving his interpretation of what the paintings actually meant to him, see the video below:

An interpretation of the meaning of each of the four paintings, collectively called, 'Crossroads of Curiosity', created for Burning Man

For those of you that are interested, David will be speaking at the Curious Images event on 18 December, 2014 at the British Library.

@bl_labs #bl_labs #britishlibrary #BLDigital

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