THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

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

07 September 2017

Introducing... Playbills In the Spotlight

Mia Ridge, Alex Mendes and Christian Algar from the Library's Digital Scholarship and Printed Heritage teams introduce a new project...

Playbills were sheets of paper handed out or posted up (as in the picture of a Portsmouth theatre, below) to advertise entertainments at theatres, fairs, pleasure gardens and other such venues. The British Library has a fantastic collection of playbills dating back to the 1730s. Looking through them is a lovely way to get a glimpse at how Britons entertained themselves over the past 300 years.

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Passers-by read playbills outside a theatre in Portsmouth. From: A collection of portraits of celebrated actors and actresses, views of theatres and playbills,([1750?-1821?])<http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_100022589190.0x000002#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=164&z=-53.6544%2C795.6187%2C2422.3453%2C1335.8411>

 

Why do playbills matter?

The playbills are a great resource for academic and community researchers interested in theatre and cultural history or seeking to understand their local or family history. They're full of personal names, including actors, playwrights, composers, theatre managers and ticket sellers. The playbills list performances of plays we know and love now alongside less well-known, even forgotten plays and songs. But individual playbills are hard to find in the British Library's catalogues, because they are only listed as a group (in the past they were bound into volumes of frequently miscellaneous sheets) with a brief summary of dates and location/theatre names. The rich details captured on each historical page - from personal names to popular songs and plays to lost moments in theatrical history - aren't yet available to search online.

What is In the Spotlight?

We're launching a project called In the Spotlight soon to make these late 18th - late 19th century digitised playbills more findable online, and to give people a chance to see past entertainments as represented in this collection. In this new crowdsourcing project, members of the public can help transcribe titles, names and locations to make the playbills easier to find.

Detail from a playbill
Detail from a playbill


We're starting with a very simple but fun task: mark out the titles of plays by drawing around them. The screenshot shows how varied the text on playbills can be - it's easy enough for people to spot the title of upcoming plays on the page, but it's not the kind of task we can automate (yet). You'll notice the playbills used different typefaces, sizes and weights with apparent abandon, which makes it tricky for a computer to work out what's a title and what's not. That's why we need your help! 

How you can help

We've chosen two volumes from the Theatre-Royal, Plymouth and one from the Theatre Royal, Margate to begin with. You can find out more about the project and the playbills, or you can just dive in and play a role: https://playbills.libcrowds.com

This project is an 'alpha', work-in-progress that we think is almost but not quite ready for its moment in the spotlight. In theatrical terms, we’re still in rehearsal. Behind-the-scenes, we're preparing the transcription tasks for you, but in the meantime we're excited about giving people a chance to explore the playbills while marking up titles.

Your efforts will help uncover the level of detail important to researchers: titles; names of actors, dramatis personae; dates of performance, and the details of songs performed. Who knows what researchers will discover when the collection is more easily searchable? Key information from individual playbills will be added to the Library's main catalogue to permanently enhance the way these playbills can be found and reviewed for the benefit of all. The website also automatically makes the raw data available for re-use as tasks are completed.

What happens next?

We're taking an iterative approach and releasing a few volumes to test the approach and make sure the tasks we're asking for help with are sufficiently entertaining. Once we have sets of marked up titles for each volume of playbills, they're ready for the transcription task. Your comments and feedback now will make a big difference in making sure the version we formally launch is as entertaining as possible.

Please have a go and do let us know what you think: do the instructions make sense? Do the tasks work as you expected? Is there too much to mark and transcribe, or too little? Are you comfortable using the project forum to discuss the playbills? Are there other types of tasks you'd like to suggest for the pages you've seen? You can help by posting feedback on the project forum, emailing us digitalresearch@bl.uk or tweeting @LibCrowds.

Please consider this your official invitation to our dress rehearsal - we hope you'll find it entertaining! Join us and help us put playbills back in the spotlight at https://playbills.libcrowds.com.


25 August 2017

Announcing the new British Library Research Data Strategy

With the support of a Research Data Strategy since 2010, the Library has been active in services for research data for a number of years. This work has included European-funded projects such as ODE, ODIN and THOR; Providing the DataCite UK service and involvement in other activities such as data discovery and unlocking thesis data.

Since 2010 a lot has changed. Due to activities like DataCite or the FAIR Data Principles, data are now considered a first class research output. This has led to more researchers and organisations sharing their data and getting credit for it. As data become more widely available and better integrated into research workflows, services around data are key to the way the British Library needs to support research and business. This is already recognised in Living Knowledge, with data a priority to achieving the Library’s Research Purpose. With this changing landscape, we have re-evaluated our research data strategy in order to move forward with new services for research data.

British Library Research Data Strategy Outline Cover

Click the image to download the summary of the British Library Research Data Strategy 2017 (PDF, 13.4MB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

In the new Research Data Strategy, some things remain the same. We take a very broad definition of ‘research data’, based on the Open Data Concordat. We still exclude day-to-day management and administrative data. But some activities that the Library had previously excluded will now be considered as we move forward.

Our vision for the British Library is that research data are as integrated into our collections, research and services as text is today. The British Library's users will be able to consume research data online through tools that enable it to be analysed, visualised and understood by non-specialists. Research data will be integrated into our collections and shared storage hubs and we will deliver data from trusted external hosts. All will be easy to discover and linked to related research outputs, be they text, data or multimedia.

The new Research Data Strategy outlines the areas in which the Library's strengths could be applied to develop appropriate data activities and services to support this vision as well as the Living Knowledge ambition to be the most open, creative and innovative institution of its kind by the time of our 50th anniversary in 2023.

The strategy is structured around 4 central themes for the activities we will be taking forward. These themes and rough outlines of their content are given below.

Data Management

This element of the data strategy sets out the creation of a data management plan and process, enabling the British Library to meet its obligations under funding council data management planning requirements.

Data Creation

The British Library will create datasets derived from its collections, and support others as they create their own datasets derived from Library collections. The role of datasets in the development of the Library’s collections will also be considered.

Data Archiving and Preservation

Datasets collected and created by the Library will be archived and preserved in line with its other collections. This will also open up the possibility for the development of providing archiving services to third parties and sharing its lessons learned in dataset preservation.

Data Access, Discovery and Reuse

The Library will ensure appropriate discovery, access and reuse of the datasets it holds, as well as those available from third parties. This will require new models of access to data onsite and online. Access to secure data for BL researchers will also be investigated.

You can download a summary of the British Library’s new Research Data Strategy here: British Library Research Data Strategy Outline

11 August 2017

Last Chance to Book for Game Library Camp Tomorrow

Tomorrow afternoon is Game Library Camp here at the British Library. So if you are in or near London, and are interested in libraries and games (all types of games, including board games, table top roleplaying, live action roleplaying (though please don't bring any foam replica weapons!), videogames, interactive fiction etc.), then please book a free place from https://gamelibcamp.eventbrite.co.uk.

The event is happening on Saturday 12 August, 12:30 to 16:30, at the Knowledge Centre, The British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London, NW1 2DB. For info on how to get here, go to https://www.bl.uk/aboutus/quickinfo/loc/stp. Please note lunch is not provided, but there are cafés on site, or bring your own snacks. We'll be using #GameLibCamp17 to discuss the event on Twitter etc.

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-08-11/c9eac854-6ad0-4e23-ab9f-f766f43cf7d1.png

At a library camp the participants lead the agenda – in fact, there isn’t an agenda until attendees pitch (bad tent pun, groan!) and decide what they’d like to talk about at the start of the event.  The only requirement for a session is that it fits within the theme. If you already have an idea for a talk, discussion, game or activity; you can propose your suggestion beforehand on this page http://gamesandglams.blogspot.co.uk/p/game-library-camp-sessions.html. We'll have the use of a number of rooms at the British Library's Knowledge Centre, so will be able to run a few sessions in parallel during the event. Also, please do bring games along if you want to run a game! - this is totally encouraged.

Programme:

  • Registration from 12 noon
  • Introduction and session pitches 12:30pm
  • 1st session 1pm - 1:40pm
  • 2nd session 1:45pm - 2:25pm
  • 3rd session 2:30pm - 3:10pm
  • 4th session 3:15pm - 3:55pm
  • Closing session 4pm
  • Finish by 4:30pm
  • Post-event social meetup at The Somers Town Coffee House

In the words of experienced Library Campers Sue Lawson and Richard Veevers who run the http://www.librarycamp.co.uk website: "there's no cost, there are no keynotes and library camp is open to anyone: public/private/whatever sector and you don't have to work in a library".

This specific library camp is intended as a warm up to International Games Week in the autumn and to inspire librarians and library staff from all sectors to host their own game events. We also totally welcome colleagues from, and people who visit, other cultural heritage organisations, museums, archives etc. who participate in games projects and events, both game making and game playing.  

Furthermore, if you are interested, but you can't attend tomorrow, I recommend joining the online discussion group Games & GLAMS set up by British Library collaborator, Sarah Cole, that focuses on game related activities in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector. It's open to anyone with an interest in games in any of these areas. There is also an associated Games & GLAMS Twitter account: @Games_GLAMS.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom. Stella is co-organising Game Library Camp with Darren Edwards of Bournemouth Libraries and the lead on International Games Week in the UK, and Gary Green from Surrey Libraries.