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

20 July 2018

Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval

This a guest post is by Carol Butler, who is doing a collaborative PhD research project with the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City University of London and the British Library on the topic of  new technologies challenging author and reader roles. There is an introduction to her project in this previous post, and you can follow her on twitter as @fantomascarol.

The cold weather back in March seems a distant memory with all the warm weather we've been having recently. However, earlier in the year I braved the snow with my Doc Martens and woolly hat to visit New Brunswick, NJ, for the annual ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval (CHIIR), hosted this year by Rutgers University.

An intimate and welcoming conference with circa 130 attendees, CHIIR (pronounced ‘cheer’) attracts academics and industry professionals from the fields of Library and Information Science and Human Computer Interaction. I went to present early findings from my PhD study at their Doctoral Consortium, from which I have my first ever academic publication and where I gained helpful feedback and insight from a group of senior academics and fellow PhD students. Most notable was the help of Hideo Joho from the University of Tsukuba, who kindly shared his time for a one-to-one mentoring session.

A single-track conference, I was able to attend the majority of talks. In the main, presentations looked at better understanding how people search for information using digital tools and catalogues, and how we can improve their experience beyond offering the standard ’10 blue links’ we have come to expect from search results. Examples included early-stage research into search interfaces that understand vocal, ‘conversational’ enquiries and the new challenges this may present, and concepts such as VR goggles that can show us useful information about the world around us.

As well as seeking to better connect people with useful new information, talks also detailed how people re-find information they’ve already seen, for example in emails; on Twitter; or from their entire browsing history and file directory. There were also fascinating discussions about how people search in different languages, whether switching between languages fluidly if bilingual, or through viewing search results in different languages, side by side.

How people learn from the information they find was an important and tricky issue raised by a number of speakers, reminding us that finding information is not, in fact, the end goal. All in all, it was a very thought-provoking and enjoyable conference, and I am thankful to the organisers (ACM SIGIR), who awarded me a student travel grant to enable me to attend. Next year’s conference is considerably closer to home, in Glasgow, for more details check out http://sigir.org/chiir2019 – I very much hope to go again, and maybe I'll see some of you there!

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Not all UX problems are digital : I concluded my journey with a fascinating chat with the conductor on the train home, who shared top secret info about how he and his colleagues workaround usability problems with their paper ticketing process

16 July 2018

Crowdsourcing comedy: date and genre results from In the Spotlight

Beatrice Ashton-Lelliott is a PhD researcher at the University of Portsmouth studying the presentation of nineteenth-century magicians in biographies, literature, and the popular press. She is currently a research placement student on the British Library’s In the Spotlight project, cleaning and contextualising the crowdsourced playbills data. She can be found on Twitter at @beeashlell and you can join the In the Spotlight project at playbills.libcrowds.com.

In this blog post I discuss the data created so far by In the Spotlight volunteers via crowdsourcing – which has already thrown out quite a few surprises along the way! All of the data which I discuss was cleaned using Open Refine, with some manual intervention by me to group categories such as genre. My first post below highlights the most notable results to come out of the date and genre tasks so far, and a second post will present similar findings for play titles and playwrights.

Dates

I started off by analysing the dates generated by the projects as, to be honest, it seemed easiest! One of the problems we’ve encountered with the date tasks, however, is that a number of the playbills do not show a full date.  This is notable in itself but unsurprising – why would a playbill in the eighteenth or nineteenth century need a full date when they weren’t expected to last two hundred years into the future? With that in mind, this is by no means an exhaustive data set.

After creating a simple graph of the most popular dates, it became clear that we had a huge spike in the number of performances in 1825. Was something relevant to theatre history happening during this year, or were the sources of the playbill collections just unusually pro-active in 1825 after taking some time off? Was the paper stock quality better, so more playbills have lasted? The outside influence of the original collector or owner of these playbills is also something to consider, for instance, maybe he was more interested in one type of performance than others, had more time to collect playbills in certain years or in certain places, and so on. A final potential factor is that this data also only comes from the volumes added to the site projects so far, and so isn’t indicative of the Library’s playbills as a whole.

Aside from source or collector influence, some other possible explanations do present themselves. Britain in general was growing exponentially, with London in particular becoming one of the biggest cities in the world, and this era also saw the birth of railways and the extravagant influence of figures such as George IV. As this is coming off the back of what seems to be a very slow year in 1824, however, perhaps it is best just to chalk this up to the activity of the collectors. We also have another noticeable spike in 1829, but by no means as dramatic as that of 1825. I’ve spent a bit of time comparing the number of performances seen in the volumes with other online performance date tools, such as UMass's Adelphi calendar and Godwin’s Diary to compare numbers, but would love to hear any further insights into this!

alt="Graph of most popular dates"
A graph showing the most popular performance dates

Genre

The main issue I faced in working with the genre data was the wide variety of descriptors used on the playbills themselves. For instance, I encountered burlesque, burletta and burlesque burletta – which of the first two categories would the last one go under? When I went back to the playbills themselves, it was also clear that many of the ‘genres’ generated were more like comments from theatre managers or just descriptions e.g. ‘an amusing sketch’. With this in mind, genre was the dataset which I ‘interfered’ with the most from a cleaning point of view.

Some of the calls I made were to group anything cited as ‘dramatic ___’ with drama more widely, unless it had a notable second qualifier, such as pantomime, Romance or sketch. I also grouped anything mentioning ‘historical’ together, as from a research point of view this is probably the most prominent aspect, grouped harlequinades with pantomimes (although I know this might be controversial!) and grouped anything which involved a large organisation, such as military, Masonic or national performances, under ‘organisational’. Some were difficult to separate – I did wonder about grouping variety and vaudeville together, but as there were so few of each it seemed better to leave them be.

With these qualifications in mind, by far the most popular genre in the collections was farce, which I kept distinct from comedy, clocking up 537 performances from the projects. This was closely followed by comedy more generally with 527 performances, with the drama (197), melodrama (150) and tragedy (135) trailing afterwards. Once again, it could purely be that the original collectors of these volumes had more of a taste for comedy than drama, but there is such a wide gap in popularity from the volumes so far that it seems fair to conclude that the regional theatre-going public of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries preferred to be cheered rather than saddened by their entertainment.

alt="Graph of the most popular genres"
A graph showing the most popular genres in records transcribed to date

You can contribute to this research

The more contributions we receive, the more accurate the titles, genre and dates results will be, so whether you’re looking out for your local theatre or interested in the more unusual performances which crop up, get involved with the project today at playbills.libcrowds.com. In the Spotlight is well on the way to hitting 100,000 contributions – make sure that you’re one of them!

13 July 2018

Get Involved in the Gothic Novel Jam

On the previous Friday the 13th in April, I blogged about the Gaming the Gothic conference, at the University of Sheffield and also shared news that the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team is collaborating on a Gothic Novel Jam with online reading group Read Watch Play during July. Well we are now almost two weeks into the jam and it is great to see people working on their entries by following #GothNovJam and checking the itch.io submission feed.

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tweet by @CinereusDarrow

If you would like to make an entry for the jam, you still have 19 days left to create something amazing! As the deadline for uploading submissions to the site is the end of 31st July 2018.

As a reminder, it’s an online creative challenge with a gothic novel theme and it’s open to anyone around the world to participate in. Participants are encouraged to create a whole variety of works on their own or as part of a team. Even though the theme is the gothic novel, you don’t have to limit yourselves to a written submission. Writers, musicians, game makers, artists, crafters, makers of all ages and abilities have signed up from around the world and we are anticipating contributions in all of these areas. Furthermore, submissions don’t have to be limited to these forms. Let your imagination go wild. If you want to bake a cake that looks like a Hound of the Baskerville – go for it! Or you want to make an origami Frankenstein – go for it! Or maybe even a knitted map of Transylvania – go for it! Contribute in whatever way you want to. All we ask is that you have something that you can upload to the official host page at itch.io. Digital works can be uploaded and for physical objects, such as a cake, you could take a photo or video and upload this to the site instead. You’ll retain the copyright of anything you upload. If you haven’t signed up yet, don’t worry you can sign up until the last day.

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Tweet by @HazelRaah about an entry made with twine

As we mentioned, the main theme is the gothic novel, but there is also a sub-theme “The monster within”, which was selected from a shortlist of themes suggested and voted on by the jam participants.

We would love participants to use images from the British Library Flickr account as inspiration for submissions. They’re freely available for anyone to use and the following albums may be particularly inspiring:

Ghosts and Ghoulish scenes

Architecture

Castles

Children's Book illustrations

However, don't feel limited to using just those images, the full list of albums can be found here. There are also the Off the Map Gothic Collections of images on Wikimedia Commons and sounds on SoundCloud, which you are free to use. If you want to learn more about the gothic genre and it's authors, check out this hugely informative section of the Discovering Literature website.

If all this talk of jams has whetted your appetite for writing interactive fiction, then you may be interested in attending the Infinite Journeys: Interactive Fiction Summer School booking details are here.  It runs for five days, beginning Monday 23 July and ending on Friday 27 July. 

Also later in the year, on 10-11 November, we are delighted to be hosting the popular Narrative Games Convention AdventureX for International Games Week in Libraries. They currently have a call, which invites people to apply to speak, demo their narrative games, or volunteer. So if you have made an epic #GothNovJam narrative game, then do consider applying to showcase it at AdventureX. Good luck!

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom) and Gary Green (@ggnewed) from Surrey Libraries.