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

15 January 2019

The BL Labs Symposium, 2018

On Monday 12th November, 2018, the British Library hosted the sixth annual BL Labs Symposium, celebrating all things digital at the BL. This was our biggest ever symposium with the conference centre at full capacity - proof, if any were needed, of the importance of using British Library digital collections and technologies for innovative projects in the heritage sector.

The delegates were welcomed by our Chief Executive, Roly Keating, and there followed a brilliant keynote by Daniel Pett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. In his talk, Dan reflected on his 3D modelling projects at the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam, and talked about the importance of experimenting with, re-imagining, and re-mixing cultural heritage digital collections in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs).

This year’s symposium had quite a focus on 3D, with a series of fascinating talks and demonstrations throughout the day by visual artists, digital curators, and pioneers of 3D photogrammetry and data visualisation technologies. The full programme is still viewable on the Eventbrite page, and videos and slides of the presentations will be uploaded in due course.

Composite bl labs 2018 awardees

Each year, BL Labs recognises excellent work that has used the Library's digital content in five categories. The 2018 winners, runners up and honourable mentions were announced at the symposium and presented with their awards throughout the day. This year’s Award recipients were:

Research Award:

Winner: The Delius Catalogue of Works by Joanna Bullivant, Daniel Grimley, David Lewis and Kevin Page at the University of Oxford

Honourable Mention: Doctoral theses as alternative forms of knowledge: Surfacing ‘Southern’ perspectives on student engagement with internationalisation by Catherine Montgomery and a team of researchers at the University of Bath

Honourable Mention: HerStories: Sites of Suffragette Protest and Sabotage by Krista Cowman at the University of Lincoln and Rachel Williams, Tamsin Silvey, Ben Ellwood and Rosie Ryder of Historic England

Artistic Award:

Winner: Another Intelligence Sings by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker

Runner Up: Nomad by independent researcher Abira Hussein, and Sophie Dixon and Edward Silverton of Mnemoscene

Teaching & Learning Award:

Winner: Pocket Miscellanies by Jonah Coman

Runner Up: Pocahontas and After by Michael Walling, Lucy Dunkerley and John Cobb of Border Crossings

Commercial Award:

Winner: The Library Collection: Fashion Presentation at London Fashion Week, SS19 by Nabil Nayal in association with Colette Taylor of Vega Associates

Runner Up: The Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher by David Zvi Kalman, Print-O-Craft Press

Staff Award:

Winner: The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200 by Tuija Ainonen, Clarck Drieshen, Cristian Ispir, Alison Ray and Kate Thomas

Runner Up: The Digital Documents Harvesting and Processing Tool by Andrew Jackson, Sally Halper, Jennie Grimshaw and Nicola Bingham

The judging process is always a difficult one as there is such diversity in the kinds of projects that are up for consideration! So we wanted to also thank all the other entrants for their high quality submissions, and to encourage anyone out there who might be considering applying for a 2019 award!

We will be posting guest blogs by the award recipients over the coming months, so tune in to read more about their projects.

And finally, save the date for this year's symposium, which will be held at the British Library on Monday 11th November, 2019.

11 January 2019

Digital Conversations @BL: Data, Place and Digital Economies

As part of our Digital Conversations series, we invite you to join us for an evening discussing the use of place data in understanding politics and economies; this takes place on Tuesday 29 January, 18:30 - 20:30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre, to book a ticket go here.

Drawing upon recent research at the University of Birmingham, which utilises data from the UK Web Archive to understand individual online behaviour, we are opening the discussion around the value of web archives, digital collections and metadata as a means to understand the role of place in politics and digital economies. Our speakers will explore the spatial information included in web archives and other collections, demonstrate innovative uses of these rich datasets, and discuss the challenges, both ethical and technical, that accompany their use. After the presentations, the audience and panel will have a chance to discuss these issues in detail.

 

 

Animated image illustrating the number of domains that reference a postcode per inhabitant distributed within London

Chaired by the Library's Head of Contemporary British Publications Ian Cooke, our panel includes the following speakers: Mark Birkin, Miranda Marcus, Jeremy Morley and Emmanouil Tranos.

Mark Birkin is Professor of Spatial Analysis and Policy in the School of Geography, Director of the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, University of Leeds and also the Programme Director for Urban Analytics at the Alan Turing Institute. He has longstanding interests in mathematical modelling of urban and regional systems including geodemographics, microsimulation, agent-based modelling, and spatial decision-support systems. Mark has a notable track record of collaboration, including ten years as an executive director of Geographical Modelling and Planning Limited, who developed into a market analytics business with 120 employees and global reach, working with household name partners such as Ford Motor Company, Asda-Walmart, HBoS, Exxon-Mobil and GSK. An ethos of collaboration with external partners in business and the public sector continues in his current role as Director of the Consumer Data Research Centre, a national investment within the ESRC Big Data Network. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Miranda Marcus leads the Open Data Institute's research and development programme. She is a digital programme manager specialising in applied research, agile delivery and digital strategy. Her background is in design and digital anthropology and she has worked across the arts, education and third sectors. Her personal research field focuses on the impact of engineering practices on medical artificial intelligence applications. Miranda is also Director of the AXNS Collective, an interdisciplinary organisation bringing together art, neuroscience and technology.

Jeremy Morley is Chief Geospatial Scientist at Ordnance Survey. He has worked in geospatial research since the mid-90s, first at University College London before moving to the University of Nottingham in 2009 as Geospatial Science Theme Leader in the Nottingham Geospatial Institute. His academic career spanned a range of geospatial information topics from radar mapping of ice and terrain, through crowd-sourcing and citizen science to applications of geospatial science in fields from the digital economy to planetary mapping. He joined Ordnance Survey in 2015 where he leads the Research team who carry out research and standards development in conjunction with universities and other research organisations. Their research aspirations include enabling the business' medium-term business plans, plus horizon scanning to identify plausible "unknown unknown" research topics which might affect our future services or role, nationally or internationally. Jeremy will discuss the meaning of place, and how locations and places are represented and described online, and hence their relevance to digital services, online activities and the wider digital economy.

Emmanouil Tranos is an economic geographer focusing on the spatiality of the digital economy. He is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Birmingham and Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute. He has published on issues related with the geography of the internet infrastructure, the economic impacts that this digital infrastructure can generate on cities and regions and the position of cities within spatial, complex networks. His current research utilises digital archives as a means to understand cities and the spatial economy. His research aims to generate new knowledge about business activities, the digital economy and its evolution over space and time.

We are looking forward to a fascinating and lively discussion, so please prepare your questions for the panel! If you can't attend in person, please follow #BLdigital for the twitter stream during the event.

07 December 2018

Introducing an experimental format for learning about content mining for digital scholarship

This post by the British Library’s Digital Curator for Western Heritage Collections, Dr Mia Ridge, reports on an experimental format designed to provide more flexible and timely training on fast-moving topics like text and data mining.

This post covers two topics – firstly, an update to the established format of sessions on our Digital Scholarship Training Programme (DSTP) to introduce ‘strands’ of related modules that cumulatively make up a ‘course’, and secondly, an overview of subjects we’ve covered related to content mining for digital scholarship with cultural heritage collections.

Introducing ‘strands’

The Digital Research team have been running the DSTP for some years now. It’s been very successful but we know that it's hard for people to get away for a whole day, so we wanted to break courses that might previously have taken 5 or 6 hours of a day into smaller modules. Shorter sessions (talks or hands-on workshops) only an hour or at most two long seemed to fit more flexibly into busy diaries. We can also reach more people with talks than with hands-on workshops, which are limited by the number of training laptops and the need to offer more individual

A 'strand' is a new, flexible format for learning and maintaining skills, with training delivered through shorter modules that combine to build attendees’ knowledge of a particular topic over time. We can repeat individual modules – for example, a shorter ‘Introduction to’ session might run more often, or target people with some existing knowledge for more advanced sessions. I haven’t formally evaluated it but I suspect that the ability to pick and choose sessions means that attendees for each module are more engaged, which makes for a better session for everyone. We've seen a lot of uptake – in some cases the 40 or so places available go almost immediately - so offering shorter sessions seems to be working.

Designing courses as individual modules makes it easier to update individual sections as technologies and platforms change. This format has several other advantages: staff find it easier to attend hour-long modules, and they can try out methods on their own collections between sessions. It takes time for attendees to collect and prepare their own data for processing with digital methods (not to mention preparation time and complexity for the instructor), so we've stayed away from this in traditional workshops.

New topics can be introduced on a 'just in time' basis as new tools and techniques emerge. This seemed to address lots of issues I was having in putting together a new course on content mining. It also makes it easier to tackle a new subject than the established 5-6 hour format, as I can pilot short sessions and use the lessons learnt in planning the next module.

The modular format also means we can invite international experts and collaborators to give talks on their specialisms with relatively low organisational overhead, as we regularly run ‘21st Century Curatorship’ talks for staff. We can link relevant staff talks, or our monthly ‘Hack and Yack’ and Digital Scholarship Reading Groups sessions to specific strands.

We originally planned to start each strand with an introductory module outlining key concepts and terms, but in reality we dived into the first one as we already had talks that'd fit lined up.

Content mining for digital scholarship with cultural heritage collections

Tom and Nora trying out AntConcFrom the course blurb: ‘Content mining (sometimes ‘text and data mining’) is a form of computational processing that uses automated analytical techniques to analyse text, images, audio-visual material, metadata and other forms of data for patterns, trends and other useful information. Content mining methods have been applied to digitised and digital historic, cultural and scientific collections to help scholars answer new research questions at scale, analysing hundreds or hundreds of thousands of items. In addition to supporting new forms of digital scholarship that apply content mining methods, methods like Named Entity Recognition or Topic Modelling can make collection items more discoverable. Content mining in cultural heritage draws on data science, 'distant reading' and other techniques to categorise items; identify concepts and entities such as people, places and events; apply sentiment analysis and analyse items at scale.’

An easily updatable mixture of introductory talks, tutorial sessions, hands-on workshops and case studies from external experts fit perfectly into the modular format, and it's worked out well, with a range of topics and formats offered so far. Sessions have included: an Introduction to Machine Learning; Computational models for detecting semantic change in historical texts (Dr Barbara McGillivray, Alan Turing Institute); Computer vision tools with Dr Giles Bergel, from the University of Oxford's Visual Geometry Group; Jupyter Notebooks/Python for simple processing and visualisations of data from In the Spotlight; Listening to the Crowd: Data Science to Understand the British Museum's Visitors (Taha Yasseri, Turing/OII); Visualising cultural heritage collections (Olivia Fletcher Vane, Royal College of Art); An Introduction to Corpus Linguistics for the Humanities (Ruth Byrne, BL and Lancaster PhD student); Corpus Analysis with AntConc.

What’s next?

My colleagues Nora McGregor, Stella Wisdom and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert have some great ‘strands’ planned for the future, including Stella’s on ‘Emerging Formats’ and Adi’s on ‘Place’, so watch this space for updates!