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

13 February 2017

Map Games and Odyssey Jam

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom & BL Labs collaborator Gary Green, on twitter as @ggnewed. Gary and Stella are interested in many things including games and interactive fiction.

Last Friday it was Late at the Library: You Are Here! an event celebrating all things cartographic to coincide with the current exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line.  So we thought it was a perfect excuse to bring out our mappy boardgames and set up a pop-up games parlour similar to the games area that we run in the British Library for International Games Day at Your Library in November. Fortunately many games use maps and we had great fun playing Carcassonne, Pandemic and Ticket To Ride Europe. Big kudos to the awesome Ben O'Steen, Sarah Cole and Jason Webber for all their help on the night. Also deserving a mention is BL Labs resident artist Michael Takeo Magruder, whose stand was opposite us. Michael was demonstrating the new Oculus version of his A New Jerusalem, a really cool immersive virtual reality art installation, you can see a video about the work here.

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Ticket To Ride Europe

In addition to playing boardgames, Gary has been busy setting up an online interactive fiction game jam; the theme of which is Homer's The Odyssey - an ancient tale of Odysseus’ journey home across the seas after the Trojan War, with a mix of fantastical mythical creatures, gods and mortals.

The aim is to encourage participants to create an interactive text based story based on this work. If you're not sure what interactive stories are, the IFDB site will give you a good idea. All text based digital works are welcome, including interactive fiction, text games and visual novels.

Even though the focus is on creating a written interactive story, it can include other media too – images, sound, video etc. If you’re looking for visual inspiration we’ve identified many images from the British Library's Flickr gallery, which you can use freely in your story if you want to. If you do use them, it would be lovely if you can give the British Library a mention in the credits of your game. Links to the collections of images appear on this page.

This writing challenge is tied in with Read Watch Play, a partnership of libraries worldwide encouraging themed discussions of books, films, music and games, each month they have a theme and for March it is #waterread. 

Odysseyjam

The #OdysseyJam challenge runs 11th – 27th March 2017,  it is hosted on the itch.io game site (https://itch.io/jam/odysseyjam) and anyone at all in the world can submit an entry… whether you’ve written interactive fiction before or not.

The Odyssey was epic, but your entry into #OdysseyJam doesn’t have to be a long piece of work. It also doesn’t have to cover the whole of the Odyssey – you could create something that focuses on a small part of the tale, and you don’t even have to set it in ancient Greece, just use The Odyssey for inspiration. You can also work as part of a team, or it can be a solo effort.

Want to join in but never made an interactive text based story before? Why not try using free software, such as:

If you post about your story on social media please use the hashtag #OdysseyJam, we can't wait to see the entries.

24 January 2017

Publication of Quarterly Lists: Catalogues of Indian Books

The Two Centuries of Indian Print project is pleased to announce the online availability of some wonderful catalogues held by the library, generally known as the Quarterly Lists. They record books published quarterly and by province of British India between 1867 and 1947.

Digitised for the first time, the Quarterly Lists can now be accessed as searchable PDFs via the British Library's datasets portal, data.bl.uk. Researchers will be able to examine rich bibliographic data about books published throughout India, including the names and address of printers and publishers, publication price and how many copies were sold.

 

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Our next steps will be to OCR the Quarterly Lists to create ALTO XML for every page, which is designed to show accurate representations of the content layout. This will allow researchers to apply computational tools and methods to look across all of the lists to answer their questions about book history. So if a researcher is interested in what the history of book publishing reveals about a particular time period and place, we would like to make that possible by giving them full access to this dataset.

To get to this point however, we will have to overcome the layout challenge that the Quarterly Lists present. Across all of the lists we have found a few different layout styles which are rather tricky for OCR solutions to handle meaningfully. Note for instance how the list below compares to the one from the Calcutta Gazette above. Through the Digital Research strand of the project we will be seeking out innovative research groups willing to take a crack at improving the OCR quality and accuracy of tabular text extraction from the Quarterly Lists. 

The Quarterly Lists available on data.bl.uk are out of copyright and openly licensed for reuse. If you or anyone you know are interested in using the Quarterly Lists in your research or simply want to find out more about them, feel free to drop me an email; Tom.Derrick@bl.uk or follow more about the project @BL_IndianPrint

You can read more about the history of the Quarterly Lists, in a previous blog I wrote last year.

21 December 2016

Mobius programme – on the beach of learning

This guest post is by Virve Miettinen, who spent four months with various teams at the British Library.

Every morning there’s a 100 meter queue in front of the British Library. It seems to say a lot about an unashamed nerdiness and love for learning in this city. Usually all the queuers have already put the things they might need in the Reading Room in a clear plastic bag, so they can head straight down to the lockers, stow away their coats, handbags and laptop cases and secure a place on the beach of learning.

Virve
Virve Miettinen

The Mobius fellowship programme, organised by the Finnish Institute in London, enables mobility for visual arts, museum, library and archives professionals, and customised working periods as part of the host organisation’s staff, in my case the British Library. The programme is a great opportunity to break away from daily routines, to think about one’s professional identity, find fresh ideas, compare the practices and methods between two countries, share knowledge and build meaningful networks.

Learn, relearn and unlearn from each other

Learning isn’t a destination, it’s a never-ending road of discovery, challenge, inspiration and wonder. Each learning moment builds character, shapes thoughts, guides futures. But what makes us learn? For me the answer is other people, and during the Mobius Fellowship I’ve been blessed with the chance to work with talented people willing to share their knowledge at the British Library.

I’ve familiarised myself with British Library Learning Team which is responsible for the library’s engagement with all kinds of learners. The Learning Team offers workshops, activities and resources for schools, teachers and learners of all ages.

I’ve been following the work of the Digital Scholarship team and BL Labs project to learn more about the incredible digital collections the library has to offer, and how to open them up for the public through various activities such as competitions, events and projects.

I’ve worked with the Knowledge Quarter, which is a network of now 76 partners within a one mile radius of Kings Cross and who actively create and disseminate knowledge. Partners include over 49 academic, cultural, research, scientific and media organisations large and small: from the British Library and University of the Arts London to the School of Life, Connected Digital Economy Catapult, Francis Crick Institute and Google.

I’ve assisted the Library’s Community Engagement Manager Emma Morgan. She has been working as a community engagement manager for six months now and the aim of her work is to create meaningful, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the surrounding community, i.e. residents, networks and organisations.

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Inside the British Library

I’ve observed the library’s marketing and communications unit in action, and learned for example how they measure and research the customer experience, i.e. who visits and uses the BL, what they think of their experience and how the BL might improve it.

 

I’ve got many 'mental souvenirs' to take back home with me - if they interest you, read more from my Mobius blog: http://itssupercalafragilistic.tumblr.com/. 

100 digital stories about Finnish-British relations

As part of the Mobius programme I’ve been working on a co-operative project between the British Library, the National Library in Finland, the Finnish National Archives, The Finnish Institute in London and the Finnish Embassy. In the last three decades, contacts between Finland and UK, the two relatively distant nations have multiplied. At the same time, the network of cultural relationships has tightened into a seamless 'love-story' – something that would not have been easy to predict just 50 years ago. In the coming year of 2017 the Finnish Institute celebrates the centennial anniversary of Finland’s independence by telling the story of two nations – the aim is to make the history, the interaction and the links between these two countries tangible and visible.

We are collaborating to create a digital gallery open to all, which offers its visitors carefully curated pieces of the shared history of the two countries and their political, cultural and economic relations. It will offer new information on the relations and influences between the two countries. It consists of digitised historical materials, like letters, news, cards, photographs, tickets and maps. The British Library and other partners will select 100 digitised items to create the basis of the gallery.

The gallery will be expanded further through co-creation. In the spirit of the theme of Finland’s centenary 'together', the gallery is open to all and easily accessible. With the call 'Wanted – make your own heritage' we invite people to share their own stories and interpretations, and record history through them. The gallery feeds curiosity, creates interaction and engages users to share their own memories relating to Finnish-British experiences. The users are invited to interpret recent history from a personal point of view.

The work continues after my Mobius-period and the gallery will open in September 2017. Join us and share your memories. Be frank, withdrawn, furious, imaginative, witty or sad. Through your story you create history.

P.S. The British Library Reading Room is actually far from The Beach of Learning, it’s more like The Coolest Place To Be, I found myself freezing in the air-conditioned Rare Books Reading Room despite wearing my leather jacket and extra pair of leggings

Virve Miettinen is working at Helsinki City Library/ Central Library as a participation planner. Her job is to engage citizens and partners to design the library of the future. For Helsinki City Library co-operative planning and service design means designing the premises and services together with the library users while taking advantage of user centric methods. Her interests involve co-design, service design, community engagement and community-led city development. At the moment she is also working with her PhD under the title 'Co-creative practices in library services'.