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

05 July 2017

It Must Have Been Dark By Then

Recently I posted about the Ambient Literature project, which is investigating how situated storytelling is changing through pervasive and ubiquitous computing. As this week, at the British Library, we are hosting the first Ambient Literature work to be made available; this is "It Must Have Been Dark By Then" by Duncan Speakman.

The work is an audio walk, delivered via an app and a printed book. Each reader is invited to reflect on their fragile relationship with the world around us. Field recordings and stories from the edge of the Sahara, abandoned Latvian villages, and the disappearing swamplands of Louisiana weave into the audience’s drift through a landscape both familiar and foreign. 

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"It Must Have Been Dark By Then" by Duncan Speakman

Today (05/07/2017) we have slots starting at: 12:00, 13:30, 15:00, 16:30, 18:00.  It is too late to book in advance, but places are available, so please just drop in. Our stand is in the Library's entrance foyer; underneath the Shakespeare sculpture and next to the shop. For the following three days, please book, details are:

Tomorrow (06/07/2017) there are five slots, starting at: 12:00, 13:30, 15:00, 16:30, 18:00.  To book, go to https://www.bl.uk/events/it-must-have-been-dark-by-then-06-july

On 07/07/2017 (Friday) there are four slots, starting at: 12:00, 13:30, 15:00, 16:30. To book, go to https://www.bl.uk/events/it-must-have-been-dark-by-then-07-july

On 08/07/2017 (Saturday) there are four slots, starting at: 11:00, 12:30, 14:00, 15:30 To book, go to https://www.bl.uk/events/it-must-have-been-dark-by-then-08-july

Participants need to bring their own smartphones (iOS or Android), but headphones and instructions will be provided. To get started quickly once you arrive, it would really help if you can download the app on your smartphone before coming to the library, the app is available on iOS and Android. Also please open the app, and download the additional content once prompted. These are the audio files that accompany the app itself, and are about 200MB. We also advise to make sure your phone is well charged and if you have a portable power bank it is a good idea to bring it with you!

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Duncan Speakman and Tom Abba from Ambient Literature standing next to the pop-up stall in the British Library

Furthermore, this evening,  on 5 July 2017, we are holding an evening panel discussion about the relationships between digital technology, location and literature. Join Ambient Literature project leader Tom Abba and writers Kate Pullinger, James Attlee and Duncan Speakman who will be talking about location-based reading experiences using pervasive technology, which respond to the reader and use digital media as a bridge between story and place. We do have a few places left, so if you want to come along, book a free place from  https://www.bl.uk/events/ambient-literature-panel-discussion

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom and member of the Ambient Literature Advisory Board.

04 July 2017

Game Library Camp

This post is by BL Labs collaborator Gary Green from Surrey Libraries, on twitter as @ggnewed. Gary collaborates with Digital Curator Stella Wisdom on games and interactive fiction initiatives and events.

Stella and I have organised and been involved in a range of games and libraries events and initiatives over the past few years, including International Games Day in Libraries (now International Games Week for 2018), pop-up board game parlours at Library Lates events, WordPlay festivalOff The Page: Literature and Games; a London Game Festival fringe event, and interactive fiction workshops at places including MozFest. During these events we've also had the opportunity to showcase games that have either have a literary or writerly theme to them, or have been inspired by British Library collections.

At the Off The Page event we had the chance to share what's going on in libraries in relation to games with a wider audience, including highlighting The British Library's Off The Map competition for student game developers; online game jams such as Odyssey Jam (where some entries used British Library digitised images); and plans for International Games Week in Libraries.

However, we are fully aware that we are not the only ones running game related activities in libraries. Other librarians and library staff are just as passionate about games as we are, and you'll find libraries throughout the UK running table-top, board game and Minecraft clubs, along with other types of game related events, including game making workshops and the use of games for learning and literacy.

With their common themes of narrative and storytelling, games and libraries are a great fit.

It's not only libraries in the heritage sector that are promoting the benefits of games and game play. We're also part of an 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 (amongst other things) you can find out about activities such as The National Archives and University of York's Great Steampunk game jam; and games commissioned by the Wellcome Trust to promote their work and collections. There is also an associated Games & GLAMS Twitter account: @Games_GLAMS.

With all of this game related activity throughout the UK we, along with Darren Edwards of Bournemouth Libraries and lead on International Games Week in the UK, thought it would be a great opportunity to bring folks interested in gaming in libraries together for an event, to share ideas and develop the network of interested people and organisations.

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So we've organised an event to do just that - Game Library Camp and set up a blog to document planning and discussions: http://gamesandglams.blogspot.co.uk/. Places are free, but you do need to book.

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 there, go to https://www.bl.uk/aboutus/quickinfo/loc/stp/

This event is also 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. As the name suggests, this event is a game themed Library Camp. Library Camps are unconferences that are participant led and enable informal discussions. For more information about unconferences go here

The key thing about unconferences is that the programme isn't set by the organisers - participants propose and facilitate their own sessions to be run throughout the event. The only requirement for a session is that it fits within the theme. Game Library Camp participants can propose ideas for sessions on the day at the event, or if you already have an idea you can propose them 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 Knowledge Centre, so will be able to run a few sessions in parallel during the event.

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 (nearby location to be confirmed)

Please note lunch is not provided, but there are ample cafĂ©s on site, or bring your own snacks.

We'll be using #GameLibCamp17 to discuss the event on Twitter etc.

So, if you're into games and libraries, come and join Darren, Stella and myself and other like minded game/library enthusiasts on the afternoon of 12 August at The British Library. 

Places are free, but must be booked via: https://gamelibcamp.eventbrite.co.uk, see you there!

28 June 2017

Ambient Literature

Does where you read affect how you read?

How can digital media create a bridge between story and place?

Ambient Literature is a project seeking to answer these questions.  This is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the University of West England, Bath Spa University and the University of Birmingham, investigating how situated storytelling is changing through pervasive and ubiquitous computing. Drawing on literary studies, creative writing, design, human-computer interaction, performance and new media studies it is examining emergent forms of literature; challenging the locational and technological future of the book.

Forming the heart of the project, three authors; Kate Pullinger, James Attlee and Duncan Speakman are each creating new experimental works that respond to the presence of a reader, and aim to show how we can redefine the rules of the reading experience through the use of technology.

The first of these works to be made available is "It Must Have Been Dark By Then" by Duncan Speakman, this is an audio walk, within which each reader is invited to reflect on their fragile relationship with the world around us. Field recordings and stories from the edge of the Sahara, abandoned Latvian villages, and the disappearing swamplands of Louisiana weave into the audience’s drift through a landscape both familiar and foreign. 

Here at the British Library we are delighted to be hosting sessions for members of the public to experience this work. These will be taking place 4-8 July 2017; to book a free place go to http://www.bl.uk/events/it-must-have-been-dark-by-then. Participants will need to bring their own smartphones (iOS or Android), but headphones and instructions will be provided. If you book a place, to get started quickly once you arrive, it would really help if you can download the app on your smartphone before coming to the library: iOS and Android. Also please open the app, and download the additional content once prompted. These are the audio files that accompany the app itself, and are about 200MB. We also advise to make sure your phone is well charged and if you have a portable power bank it is a good idea to bring it with you!

Furthermore, on 5 July 2017, we are hosting an evening panel discussion about the relationships between digital technology, location and literature. Join Ambient Literature project leader Tom Abba and writers Kate Pullinger, James Attlee and Duncan Speakman for a fascinating event talking about location-based reading experiences using pervasive technology, which respond to the reader and use digital media as a bridge between story and place. To book your place, go to https://www.bl.uk/events/ambient-literature-panel-discussion. Hope to see you there.

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Ambient Literature writers: Kate Pullinger, Duncan Speakman and James Attlee

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom and member of the Ambient Literature Advisory Board.

12 June 2017

Odyssey Jam Games

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

Earlier this year we blogged about the game jam Odyssey Jam, which Gary organised, as part of Read Watch Play. The idea behind it was to encourage people to create a text based game or piece of interactive fiction based on Homer's The Odyssey over a 2 week period. The purpose of the game jam was to support literacy and the development of readers and writers.

After the two week game making period entrants were encouraged to upload their entries to itch.io so that others could play them. Anyone around the world was able to enter, and at the end of the game jam there were 10 entries, including from people who had never made a game or written a piece of interactive fiction before, and who had never previously been involved in a game jam.

It was great to see a variety of style and content in the entries and how each developer had interpreted the theme - no two were the same. Some chose to create pure text games (The Long Ing Blink; Islands and Witches), others focused on creating entries that were more visual but still included text (TaithA flower from Hermes). There were humorous games (108 suitors; The Perils of Penelope), games set in their original setting, and others which re-set the Odyssey in a new context (Come Back Home; Hyperions Wake).

Game developers were also encouraged to share their work in progress on Twitter, and a few did just that. It was great to see how their games were taking shape and how enthusiastic they were about their involvement in the jam. A college in Milan encouraged students on their creative writing course to participate and a couple of their entries were submitted to the jam. 

As part of Odyssey Jam we also encouraged entrants to make use of the digitised images on Flickr that The British Library had released under a creative commons license. We identified a number of ancient Greece themed images from the Flickr collection. A couple of entries used these images, e.g. No One and 108 suitors.

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Scene from 108 Suitors by Lynda Clark

The games are available to play online or download, so please try them out and share. You can also watch short play-throughs of the entries thanks to video game blogger Jupiter Hadley and Emily Short wrote about the game jam on her excellent blog. Thanks to all the game developers involved in Odyssey Jam; it was fun playing your entries, and thanks to all who helped promote the jam.

If Odyssey jam has whetted your appetite and you are interested in writing interactive fiction,  we are pleased to share news that the British Library is running a new course:  The Infinite Library: Interactive Fiction Summer School 17-21 July 2017. This is led by multi-award-winner Dr Abigail Parry and will be taught by specialists in fiction, interactive fiction and games writing, including:

Dr Greg Buchanan, Writer of Paper Drumpf and No Man's Sky
Jerry Jenkins, Curator for Emerging Media, British Library
Rob Sherman, Writer and Games Designer
Richard Skinner, Director of the Fiction Programme at the Faber Academy
Jon Stone, Writer and Games Researcher
Olivia Wood, Narrative Editor, Writer and Content Manager at Failbetter Games

With their expert guidance attendees will tackle dialogue chains, reader choice and multiple endings. Plus given technical support to explore the possibilities offered by Twine, a simple open-source programme for managing branching text. More details on the summer school can be found at https://www.bl.uk/events/the-infinite-library-interactive-fiction-summer-school

06 June 2017

Digital Conversations @BL - Web Archives: truth, lies and politics

Next week we are spoiled for choice here at the British Library with two topical and fascinating evening events about data and digital technology. On Monday 12 June there is the first  public Data Debate delivered in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute about the complex issue of data in healthcare, for more details check out this blog post.  Then on Wednesday 14 June there is a Digital Conversation event on Web Archives: truth, lies and politics in the 21st century. Where a panel of scholars and experts in the field of web archiving and digital studies, will discuss the role of web and social media archives in helping us, as digital citizens, to navigate through a complex and changing information landscape.

Web archiving began in 1996 with the Internet Archive and these days many university and national libraries around the world have web archiving initiatives. The British Library started web archiving in 2004, and from 2013 we have collected an annual snapshot of all UK web sites. As such, there are rich web archive collections documenting political and social movements at international and local levels; including the Library of Congress collections on the Arab Spring, and the UK Web Archive collections on past General Elections.

The Digital Conversation will be chaired by Eliane Glaser, author of Get Real: How to See Through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life, the panel includes Jane Winters, Chair of Digital Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London, ValĂ©rie Schafer, Historian at the French National Center for Scientific Research (Institute for Communication Sciences, CNRS), Jefferson Bailey, Director of Web Archiving Programs at the Internet Archive and Andrew Jackson, Web Archiving Technical Lead at the British Library.

For more information and to book tickets go here. Hope to see you there!

Grow the real economy ijclark
Image credit: Grow the real economy by ijclark, depicting the Occupy London protest camp in 2011, CC BY 2.0

This Digital Conversations event is part of the Web Archiving Week 12-16 June co-hosted by the British Library and the School of Advanced Study, University of London. This is a week of conferences, hackathons and talks in London to discuss recent advances in web archiving and research on the archived web. You can follow tweets from the conferences and the Digital Conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #WAweek2017.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.

31 May 2017

Series of public Data Debates delivered in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute

Data has become part of our everyday lives and we are increasingly getting used to dealing with consequences of our personal data being accessible to a myriad of different services, from banking to social media.  Some uses of data, however, remain more complex and more difficult to understand for the majority of us, possibly nowhere more so than when it comes to our health.  Will more data about us improve our healthcare in the future?  Or does it compromise our privacy in a new way that we hardly understand?

As a part of the British Library’s collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute we are organising a series of Data Debates over the coming months.  In our next event on 12 June 2017, we are discussing the complex issue of data in healthcare.

Introducing this event, Angelo Napolano from the Alan Turing Institute writes:

Can we safeguard our privacy while using health data for better medical care?

It is clear that data-driven technology is transforming medical knowledge and practice.

Innovation is taking place on many levels, for example devices such as fitbits are helping to monitor heart rates, blood sugar levels and sleep cycles, and IBM’s A.I. system, Watson, is giving scientists insight into how genes affect our health.

Data is also being analysed to generate new medical findings, for example scientists at The Alan Turing Institute, are collaborating with the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, to investigate how to apply machine learning techniques to their data to help improve healthcare for people living with the life-limiting condition.

However, despite the benefits for medical research, incidents like the care data breach and subsequent fears around protecting personal information mean there is legitimate public concern around how to share health data safely.

In a special Data Debate event, we will ask a panel of experts:

  • How can we balance the potential benefits of using personal data for healthcare research, with the ethical dilemmas they provoke?
  • Should we allow companies to use medical data for technological developments and interventions that may improve our lifestyles, or does this contravene our privacy rights?
  • How can we ensure a future in which health care data is used in a way which ensures the public trust?
  • Can we safeguard our privacy and regulate the use of health data while making medical practice and discovery more effective through technology developments?

Speakers include:

Luciano Floridi, Turing Faculty Fellow and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute. His research areas are the philosophy of Information, information and computer ethics, and the philosophy of technology.

Sabina Leonelli, Co-Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences (Egenis), where she leads the Data Studies research strand. Currently, Sabina focuses on the philosophy, history and sociology of data-intensive science, especially the research processes, scientific outputs and social embedding of Open Science, Open Data and Big Data.

Natalie Banner, Policy Adviser at the Wellcome Trust. Her focus is on how to get the best use and value from health and genetic data while ensuring it is well protected, responsibly managed and ethically used, both in the UK and internationally.

The panel will be chaired by writer and broadcaster Timandra Harkness. Timandra presents BBC Radio 4 series, FutureProofing and has presented the documentaries, Data, Data Everywhere, Personality Politics & The Singularity. Her recent book Big Data: Does Size Matter? has been published by Bloomsbury Sigma in June 2016. She is Visiting Fellow in Big Data, Information Rights and Public Engagement within the Centre for Information Rights at the University of Winchester.

Data Debates are a collaboration between The Alan Turing Institute and The British Library, aiming to stimulate discussion on issues surrounding big data, its potential uses, and its implications for society.

You can book your place from: https://www.bl.uk/events/health-data-fit-or-failing

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16 May 2017

Michael Takeo Magruder @ Gazelli Art House

Posted by Mahendra Mahey (Manager of BL Labs) on behalf of Michael Takeo Magruder (BL Labs Artist/Researcher in Residence).

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Michael Takeo Marguder's Gazell.io works

Earlier this year I was invited by Gazelli Art House to be a digital artist-in-residence on their online platform Gazell.io. After a series of conversations with Gazelli’s director, Mila Askarova, we decided it would be a perfect opportunity to broker a partnership with British Library Labs and use the occasion to publish some of the work-in-progress ideas from my Imaginary Cities project at the British Library.

Given Gazelli’s growing interest in and reputation for exhibiting virtual reality (VR) art, we chose to launch my March showcase with A New Jerusalem since it was in many ways the inspiration for the Imaginary Cities concept.

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A New Jerusalem by Michael Takeo Magruder

During the second half of my Gazell.io residency I began publishing various aesthetic-code studies that had been created for the Imaginary Cities project. I was also invited by Gazelli to hold a private sharing event at their London gallery in Mayfair to showcase some of the project’s physical experiments and outcomes. The evening was organised by Gazelli’s Artist Liaison, Victoria Al-Din, and brought together colleagues from the British Library, art curators from leading cultural institutions and academics connected to media art practice. It was a wonderful event, and it was incredibly useful to be able to present my ideas and the resulting artistic-technical prototypes to a group with such a deep and broad range of expertise. 


Sharing works in progress for the Imaginary Cities project at Gazelli Art House, London. 30th March 2017

03 May 2017

How can a turtle and the BBC connect learners with literature?

Illustration of a youth on a turtle
Image from 'When Life is Young: a collection of verse for boys and girls'. This turtle is ace but we used a different kind of turtle for our project.

Digital Curator Mia Ridge explains how and why we used linked open data to help more people find British Library content.

Despite the picture, it's not a real turtle (sorry to disappoint you). We've used a file format called 'Turtle' (.ttl) to help make articles and collections in Library's Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians easier for teachers to find.

We did this to make content available to the BBC's Research and Education Space (RES) Project. RES helps make public archives easier to find and use in education and teaching. It collects and organises the digital collections of libraries, museums, broadcasters and galleries so that developers can create educational products to connect learners to information and collections.

We were keen to join the RES project and help learners discover our collections and knowledge, but first we had to find the right content and figure out some technical issues. This post gives an overview of how we did it.

Finding the right content

Our collections are vast. Knowing where to start can be daunting. Which section of our website would be most immediately useful for the RES project's goals and audiences?

After looking over our online material, the Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians site seemed like a perfect match. Discovering Literature is a free educational resource that puts manuscript and printed collection items in historical, cultural and political context. The Romantics and Victorians site includes thousands of collection items, hundreds of articles, films, teachers’ notes and more to help make collection items more accessible, so it was a great place to start.

Using linked open data to make information easier to find

Created with support from Jisc and Learning on Screen, the RES platform collects data published as linked open data, which at its simplest means data that is structured and linked to vocabularies that help define the meaning of terms used.

For example, we might include a bit of technical information to unambiguously identify Elizabeth Barrett Browning as the author of the published volumes of poetry or as the writer of a letter. Applying a shared identifier helps connect our resources to information about Barrett Browning in other collections. A teacher preparing a lesson plan can be sure that the RES resources they include are accurate and authoritative articles that'll help their students understand Barrett Browning and other writers.

How did we do it?

There were three main stages in creating linked open data for the RES project, involving staff across the Library, at an external agency and at the BBC. Short, weekly conference calls kept things moving by making us accountable for progress between calls.

First, we had to work out which vocabularies to apply to describe people, the works they created, the collection items used to illustrate articles, the articles themselves, etc. Some terms, like the names of published authors, already exist in other vocabularies so we could just link to them. Others, like the 'genre' or 'literary period' used to describe a work, were particular to the Library. We posted work in progress online so that other people could review and comment on our work.

Once the mappings were agreed, the technical work of updating code used in the content management system so that special pages containing the data could be published as 'Turtle'-formatted files was carried out.  Licence information was included to meet the RES Project requirements.

Finally, the work was tested on a staging server, then checked again by the RES team once the changes had gone live on our website. If you're curious about the underlying linked data technologies, the BBC's guide to the Research & Education Space for contributors and developers has all the details.

Looking to the future

We learned a lot of practical and technical lessons that we hope to apply to future projects. For a start, there are more Discovering Literature sites, and others using a similar web architecture. If you're interested in other perspectives, the RES Project have collected different experiences on their platform, process and progress on their blog. I'm looking forward to seeing how the linked open data we created is used to connect learners to our collections and knowledge.