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 October 2021

You Can Now Make Your Own Online British Library Exhibit with IIIF

The Digital Scholarship Training Programme is an internal, bespoke staff training programme that provides colleagues with the space and opportunity to delve into and explore all that digital content and new technologies have to offer in the research domain today. One of the events that occurs monthly is our Hack & Yack -  a casual, hands-on session to work through an online tutorial at everyone's own pace but with support of colleagues.

In April 2021, our Hack & Yack was based around the topic of ‘Making interactive online exhibits and teaching resources with IIIF Manifests!’ by exploring the tool Exhibit. This tool was created during the COVID-19 pandemic by the University of St Andrews, and allows people to build online exhibits using objects in the Universal Viewer. We realized that with the vast amounts of digitised collections here at the BL, this tool allowed a real opportunity to continue engaging with our audiences through this online, so we gathered to chat and learn.

There was some trial and error at the start of the session - how do you find IIIF manifests, how do you link to a specific page instead of a collection, and what’s the best practice for highlighting and annotating specific details? As we worked our way through these questions, one thing was abundantly clear, the Exhibit tool was intuitive and easy to use once you could work your way around IIIF. 

 

So, what is IIIF?

IIIF stands for the International Image Interoperability Framework. The IIIF website further defines it as:

  • A set of open standards that help archives, libraries, and museums make the most of their digitized collections with deep zoom, annotation capabilities, and more, and
  • The community of users and developers who work everyday to enrich the IIIF ecosystem and advocate for its adoption.

This framework ‘enables better, faster and cheaper image delivery’, and ‘gives users a rich set of baseline functionality for viewing, zooming, and assembling the best mix of resources and tools to view, compare, manipulate and work with images on the Web, an experience made portable–shareable, citable, and embeddable (https://iiif.io/community/faq/#what-is-iiif).’ It’s this exact functionality that allows Exhibit to work so flawlessly. Once an image with a IIIF manifest has been uploaded into Exhibit.so, the creator of the exhibit can zoom in on details, and add annotations for the viewer like in the following gif.

An animated gif showing how Exhibit zooms in on details like a signature and provides annotations about the detail, like ‘a verified Austen signature sold for £23,750 at auction in 2014’.
Click on the image to play an animated gif displaying the first few details of the Jane Austen Exhibit on Exhibit.so

 

How to find & use IIIF Manifests

The British Library has just launched a brand new IIIF Collection Guide which is an excellent starting point when looking for images within our main catalogue and our archives and manuscript collections with IIIF standards. More discovery searches from other institutions can be found on IIIF’s GitHub Awesome IIIF

Staff from the Library's Heritage Made Digital programme, which is digitising parts of our collection that have never been made available online before or are underrepresented in our online collections, have created the following video that shows how you can find and copy the IIIF manifest from the British Library’s Universal Viewer. 

Once you have found the IIIF manifest URL, you can paste it into various tools to view the content, for example the Exhibit tool.

 

How does IIIF work with Exhibit.so?

Exhibit works with digitised photos and objects with IIIF standards to enable the creator to tell a story while displaying the digitised collection. The service is free to use and doesn’t require a login, all you have to do is find your material and get started! Exhibit has created a whole help section, including how to get started and how to create an Exhibit. The creator of the exhibit can have the watcher flip through a book with added annotations describing what they’re looking at, before switching over to photographs, or even highlighting 3D digitised objects. 

For example, in the Jane Austen: Books and Bibliography exhibit, we flip through manuscripts and books by Austen, see paintings and photographs related to her life, and are shown a 3D model of Austen’s writing desk that is held here at the BL. All of this helps the creator to tell the story of who Jane Austen was and why these objects and images are important. 

Several members of the Heritage Made Digital team came along to our Hack & Yack on Exhibit.so and quickly realised the power it could have in making some of their digitised collections more accessible. Curators can share their favourite items and collections with interesting facts for the public. And that’s exactly what four members of the team have done. 

 

Creating Exhibits: Catherine Cronin, Eyob Derillo, Kate Thomas, and Sara Hale

The Heritage Made Digital Portfolio is transforming digital access to the British Library’s renowned collections of rare books, manuscripts, early newspapers, sound recordings and other heritage materials, in keeping with the Library’s Living Knowledge vision.

Part of this Portfolio is The Heritage Made Digital Digitisation and Ingest Programme which is tasked with making available 20 years worth of digitised content in IIIF; digitising and making available new content in IIIF, and streamlining current digitisation workflows across the Library. We are excited by the tool Exhibit’s ability to showcase the Library’s digital items; to educate and inspire users about what is available, to encourage the reuse of our collection items worldwide, to aid research, teaching and for pleasure. 

 

Exhibit on The Miracles of Mary

One of the biggest additions to our digital collections are the 300 Ethiopian Manuscripts digitised as part of the British Library’s Heritage Made Digital programme and made available in 2019. These rare and beautifully illustrated manuscripts date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries and are predominantly written in the classical Ethiopian language Ge'ez. The digitised collection is currently available on a legacy viewer called Digitised Manuscripts (search Ethiopian). There are 18 Ethiopian manuscripts available now in IIIF here, and we will be making the rest of the collection available in IIIF over the coming year.

Click to view on Exhibit.so

Eyob Derillo, Curator Ethiopian Collections, has created the above Exhibit focusing on a few of the stories from The Miracles of Mary, Or 641. The original Ethiopian title of this manuscript is ታምረ ማርያም; it contains forty stories, with illustrations of the miracles the Virgin Mary performed. 

To date, the British Library's Heritage Made Digital programme has digitised about 23 Miracles of Mary, Maqdala manuscripts dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church holds the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in a unique position; Mary is regarded as the highest saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Mary is commemorated every month and there are more than thirty feasts dedicated to the Virgin Mary in one year. The miracles of Mary are read during the Festivals of the Virgin, arranged according to the different days. 

This illuminated manuscript, produced in Gonder, Ethiopia, is a superb example of 17th century Gondarine art, which was a period of artistic blooming. A portion of the manuscript (ff. 30—236) was written in Gonder during the reign of king Fasildas, A.D. 1632—67.  The name of king Fasildas which appeared in the manuscript, was erased and replaced with his successor king John (I., A.D. 1667).

 

Exhibit on The Mirror of the World

Kate Thomas’ Exhibit takes images from our copies of The Mirror of the World, focusing on the diagrams that illustrate Gautier’s text.

Kate’s role at the British Library involves quality control of images for our Digitised Manuscripts and Universal Viewer websites, including the project to digitise incunabula: books from the early years of western print.  This involves the digitisation, from cover to cover, of all our incunabula from England, and of those from other European countries where we hold the only surviving copy.  We have published over 480 items from this project, available through our catalogue here: navigate to the ‘I want this’ tab.  You can find out more about the library’s collection of early printed books in this guide, and by searching the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue.

Click to view on Exhibit.so

Through her work, Kate noticed that we had digitised three English copies of Gautier of Metz's L'Image du monde, known in English as The Mirror of the World, a medieval text on the nature of the earth and the solar system (you can read a twentieth-century edition of Caxton’s printed copy at archive.org).  This text was written in Latin in the mid-thirteenth century but was translated into many languages: the British Library holds an early manuscript version in French prose, Sloane MS 2435The fact that printed copies of the English translation were still being made in the fifteenth century shows the ongoing interest in Gautier's work.  These were of particular interest to Kate as she has an academic background in medieval English literature, including in medieval science and medicine.

L'image du monde is an especially good candidate for digitisation, as it contains a number of diagrams which illustrate medieval conceptions of physics and astronomy.  In these, we can see that people had all kinds of ideas about the nature of the world, some of which later turned out to be incorrect, but others of which were nearer to the truth than might be supposed.  Medieval scholars did not think that the earth was flat!

 

Exhibit on Japanese Design Books

In 2020 the British Library digitised its collection of Japanese Design Books and is currently making them available online in IIIF. Dating from the mid-17th century to the early 20th century, the collection comprises woodblock-printed books and manuscripts ranging from practical manuals and pattern books produced by textile manufacturers and merchants to lavish design books. The books are visually stunning and include textile, toy and sweet designs. Around 80 were digitised and they are still being published online. You can find a list of links to what’s available now in this Japanese Design Books collection guide.

Click to view on Exhibit.so

Sara Hale chose the items for her Exhibit based on this blog about the Library’s ‘Exquisite Patterns: Japanese Textile Design’ exhibition in 2020 by the collection curator Hamish Todd. Sara says: ‘The selection really highlights the development of the design books as a genre, from quite basic early pattern books to the lavish kimono designs featured in the early 20th century books. But I also included the books of Japanese confectionery designs because I love them! They are so colourful and interesting. I love how the sweets often masquerade as other things, such as plants, flowers and animals. My personal favourite is the ray fish in ORB.40/1142 volume 2. Browse through yourself to see what else you can find.’

We would love to see what you would choose to showcase in your own online exhibition from our IIIF collections, share your Exhibits with us on Twitter @BL_MadeDigital and @BL_DigiSchool.

This blog post was written by Deirdre Sullivan, Business Support Officer for Digital Scholarship Training Initiatives, Catherine Cronin, Digitisation Workflow Officer for Heritage Made Digital, Eyob Derillo, Curator, Ethiopic & Ethiopian Collection, Kate Thomas, Digitisation Support Officer for Heritage Made Digital, and Sara Hale, Digitisation Workflow Officer for Heritage Made Digital. With special thanks to Nora McGregor, Digital Curator, and Sandra Tuppen, Heritage Made Digital Portfolio Manager, for the support on this post. 

04 October 2021

Open and Engaged 2021: Understanding the Impact of Open in the Arts and Humanities Beyond the University

As part of Open Access Week 2021, the British Library is delighted to host its annual Open and Engaged event online on 25 October. Please join us for Open and Engaged 2021: Understanding the Impact of Open in the Arts and Humanities Beyond the University.

British Library gates at St Pancras and Isaac Newton statue in background

In Higher Education contexts, discussions around openness are often focused on the pathways to make publications, data or cultural objects openly available online. It is often not known what impact open resources can have for various communities beyond the research community.

The speakers at Open and Engaged 2021 will explore the different impacts that open resources can have on people. They will seek to question how openness enhances the ability to engage with communities, how projects can be sustainable and make positive changes in the long-term, as well as some of the downsides to current approaches to open engagement.

Many of the speakers come from the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector, and we will learn about ways cultural organisations generate, measure and report on impact, and seek useful connections across the higher education and cultural sectors.

This online conference will address key questions of:

  • How does openness enhance (or restrict) the ability to engage with communities?
  • What can the higher education sector learn from people involved in research and research-related activities that is conducted outside of universities?
  • What are some of the ways in which GLAM organisations generate, measure and report on impact?
  • How can universities work with the wider GLAM sector to enhance the impact of scholarly research?
  • Are projects geared towards making positive changes in society sustainable?

Programme:

25 October 2021, Monday – British Summer Time (UTC+1)

09:50 - 10:00 Opening remarks

10:00 - 11:00 Session I: Increasing engagement with cultural heritage collections

Brigitte Vézina. Creative Commons. What does the future hold for "open" and cultural heritage institutions?

 

Sam van Schaik, British Library. The ethics of open access in the Endangered Archives Programme.

 

Merete Sanderhoff, SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst/National Gallery of Denmark. Users understand OpenGLAM. Do GLAMs?

 

Rebecca Bailey, Towards a National Collection, Historic Environment Scotland. Increasing engagement through Towards a National Collection.

11:00 - 11:20 Q&A

11:20 - 11:40 Break

11:40 - 12:40 Session II: Measuring and evaluating impact of open resources beyond journal articles

Luc Boruta, Thunken. Impact cannot be measured, and other sad half-truths about impact measurement.

 

Gemma Derrick, University of Lancaster. Assessing the broader value of research culture: the hidden REF experience.

 

Anne Boddington, Kingston University. Making a difference and ‘partnering for impact’.

 

Helen Adams, Oxford University Gardens, Libraries & Museums (GLAM), University of Oxford. Best of both: combining arts and science to measure the benefits of online culture for mental health in young people.

12:40 - 13:00 Q&A

13:00 - 13:05 Closing remarks

Registration Details:
Registration is free and open now. The sessions will be recorded and made publicly available in November 2021.

Participation:

We encourage you to participate in discussion with other attendees and speakers by using the Twitter hashtag #OpenEngaged. By registering for this conference and participating in the Twitter hashtag, we ask that you treat all organizers, speakers and other participants with respect.

Please email any access requirements or other question to [email protected]  

This blog post was written by Susan Miles, Scholarly Communications Specialist, part of the Research Infrastructure Services team.

29 September 2021

Sailing Away To A Distant Land - Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs - final post

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, former Manager of British Library Labs or "BL Labs" for short

[estimated reading time of around 15 minutes]

This is is my last day working as manager of BL Labs, and also my final posting on the Digital Scholarship blog. I thought I would take this chance to reflect on my journey of almost 9 years in helping to set up, maintain and enabling BL Labs to become a permanent fixture at the British Library (BL).

BL Labs was the first digital Lab in a national library, anywhere in the world, that gets people to experiment with its cultural heritage digital collections and data. There are now several Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum Labs or 'GLAM Labs' for short around the world, with an active community which I helped build, from 2018.

I am really proud I was there from the beginning to implement the original proposal which was written by several colleagues, but especially Adam Farquhar, former head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library (BL). The project was at first generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation through four rounds of funding as well as support from the BL. In April 2021, the project became a permanently funded fixture, helped very much by my new manager Maja Maricevic, Head of Higher Education and Science.

The great news is that BL Labs is going to stay after I have left. The position of leading the Lab will soon be advertised. Hopefully, someone will get a chance to work with my helpful and supportive colleague Technical Lead of Labs, Dr Filipe Bento, bright, talented and very hard working Maja and other great colleagues in Digital Research and wider at the BL.

The beginnings, the BL and me!

I met Adam Farquhar and Aly Conteh (Former Head of Digital Research at the BL) in December 2012. They must have liked something about me because I started working on the project in January 2013, though I officially started in March 2013 to launch BL Labs.

I must admit, I had always felt a bit intimidated by the BL. My first visit was in the early 1980s before the St Pancras site was opened (in 1997) as a Psychology student. I remember coming up from Wolverhampton on the train to get a research paper about "Serotonin Pathways in Rats when sleeping" by Lidov, feeling nervous and excited at the same time. It felt like a place for 'really intelligent educated people' and for those who were one for the intellectual elites in society. It also felt for me a bit like it represented the British empire and its troubled history of colonialism, especially some of the collections which made me feel uncomfortable as to why they were there in the first place.

I remember thinking that the BL probably wasn't a place for some like me, a child of Indian Punjabi immigrants from humble beginnings who came to England in the 1960s. Actually, I felt like an imposter and not worthy of being there.

Nearly 9 years later, I can say I learned to respect and even cherish what was inside it, especially the incredible collections, though I also became more confident about expressing stronger views about the decolonisation of some of these.  I became very fond of some of the people who work or use it, there are some really good kind-hearted souls at the BL. However, I never completely lost that 'imposter and being an outsider' feeling.

What I remember at that time, going for my interview, was having this thought, what will happen if I got the position and 'What would be the one thing I would try and change?'. It came easily to me, namely that I would try and get more new people through the doors literally or virtually by connecting them to the BL's collections (especially the digital). New people like me, who may have never set foot, or had been motivated to step into the building before. This has been one of the most important reasons for me to get up in the morning and go to work at BL Labs.

So what have been my highlights? Let's have a very quick pass through!

BL Labs Launch and Advisory Board

I launched BL Labs in March 2013, one week after I had started. It was at the launch event organised by my wonderfully supportive and innovative colleague, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom. I distinctly remember in the afternoon session (which I did alone), I had to present my 'ideas' of how I might launch the first BL Labs competition where we would be trying to get pioneering researchers to work with the BL's digital collections.

God it was a tough crowd! They asked pretty difficult questions, questions I myself was asking too which I still didn't know the answer too either.

I remember Professors Tim Hitchcock (now at Sussex University and who eventually sat (and is still sitting) on the BL Labs Advisory Board) and Laurel Brake (now Professor Emerita of Literature and Print Culture, Birkbeck, University of London) being in the audience together with staff from the Royal Library of Netherlands, who 6 months later launched their own brilliant KB Lab. Subsequently, I became good colleagues with Lotte Wilms who led their Lab for many years and is now Head of Research support at Tilburg University.

My first gut feeling overall after the event was, this is going to be hard work. This feeling and reality remained a constant throughout my time at BL Labs.

In early May 2013, we launched the competition, which was a really quick and stressful turnaround as I had only officially started in mid March (one and a half months). I remember worrying as to whether anyone would even enter!  All the final entries were pretty much submitted a few minutes before the deadline. I remember being alone that evening on deadline day near to midnight waiting by my laptop, thinking what happens if no one enters, it's going to be disaster and I will lose my job. Luckily that didn't happen, in the end, we received 26 entries.

I am a firm believer that we can help make our own luck, but sometimes luck can be quite random! Perhaps BL Labs had a bit of both!

After that, I never really looked back! BL Labs developed its own kind of pattern and momentum each year:

  • hunting around the BL for digital collections to make into datasets and make available
  • helping to make more digital collections openly licensed
  • having hundreds of conversations with people interested in connecting with the BL's digital collections in the BL and outside
  • working with some people more intensively to carry out experiments
  • developing ideas further into prototype projects
  • telling the world of successes and failures in person, meetings, events and social media
  • launching a competition and awards in April or May
  • roadshows before and after with invitations to speak at events around the world
  • the summer working with competition winners
  • late October/November the international symposium showcased things from the year
  • working on special projects
  • repeat!

The winners were announced in July 2013, and then we worked with them on their entries showcasing them at our annual BL Labs Symposium in November, around 4 months later.

'Nothing interesting happens in the office' - Roadshows, Presentations, Workshops and Symposia!

One of the highlights of BL Labs was to go out to universities and other places to explain what the BL is and what BL Labs does.  This ended up with me pretty much seeing the world (North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and giving virtual talks in South America and Africa).

My greatest challenge in BL Labs was always to get people to truly and passionately 'connect' with the BL's digital collections and data in order to come up with cool ideas of what to actually do with them. What I learned from my very first trip was that telling people what you have is great, they definitely need to know what you have! However, once you do that, the hard work really begins as you often need to guide and inspire many of them, help and support them to use the collections creatively and meaningfully. It was also important to understand the back story of the digital collection and learn about the institutional culture of the BL if people also wanted to work with BL colleagues.  For me and the researchers involved, inspirational engagement with digital collections required a lot of intellectual effort and emotional intelligence. Often this means asking the uncomfortable questions about research such as 'Why are we doing this?', 'What is the benefit to society in doing this?', 'Who cares?', 'How can computation help?' and 'Why is it necessary to even use computation?'.

Making those connections between people and data does feel like magic when it really works. It's incredibly exciting, suddenly everyone has goose bumps and is energised. This feeling, I will take away with me, it's the essence of my work at BL Labs!

A full list of over 200 presentations, roadshows, events and 9 annual symposia can be found here.

Competitions, Awards and Projects

Another significant way BL Labs has tried to connect people with data has been through Competitions (tell us what you would like to do, and we will choose an idea and work collaboratively with you on it to make it a reality), Awards (show us what you have already done) and Projects (collaborative working).

At the last count, we have supported and / or highlighted over 450 projects in research, artistic, entrepreneurial, educational, community based, activist and public categories most through competitions, awards and project collaborations.

We also set up awards for British Library Staff which has been a wonderful way to highlight the fantastic work our staff do with digital collections and give them the recognition they deserve. I have noticed over the years that the number of staff who have been working on digital projects has increased significantly. Sometimes this was with the help of BL Labs but often because of the significant Digital Scholarship Training Programme, run by my Digital Curator colleagues in Digital Research for staff to understand that the BL isn't just about physical things but digital items too.

Browse through our project archive to get inspiration of the various projects BL Labs has been involved in or highlighted.

Putting the digital collections 'where the light is' - British Library platforms and others

When I started at BL Labs it was clear that we needed to make a fundamental decision about how we saw digital collections. Quite early on, we decided we should treat collections as data to harness the power of computational tools to work with each collection, especially for research purposes. Each collection should have a unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI) so researchers can cite them in publications.  Any new datasets generated from them will also have DOIs, allowing us to understand the ecosystem through DOIs of what happens to data when you get it out there for people to use.

In 2014, https://data.bl.uk was born and today, all our 153 datasets (as of 29/09/2021) are available through the British Library's research repository.

However, BL Labs has not stopped there! We always believed that it's important to put our digital collections where others are likely to discover them (we can't assume that researchers will want to come to BL platforms), 'where the light is' so to speak.  We were very open and able to put them on other platforms such as Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, not forgetting that we still needed to do the hard work to connect data to people after they have discovered them, if they needed that support.

Our greatest success by far was placing 1 million largely undescribed images that were digitally snipped from 65,000 digitised public domain books from the 19th Century on Flickr Commons in 2013. The number of images on the platform have grown since then by another 50 to 60 thousand from collections elsewhere in the BL. There has been significant interaction from the public to generate crowdsourced tags to help to make it easier to find the specific images. The number of views we have had have reached over a staggering 2 billion over this time. There have also been an incredible array of projects which have used the images, from artistic use to using machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify them. It's my favourite collection, probably because there are no restrictions in using it.

Read the most popular blog post the BL has ever published by my former BL Labs colleague, the brilliant and inspirational Ben O'Steen, a million first steps and the 'Mechanical Curator' which describes how we told the world why and how we had put 1 million images online for anyone to use freely.

It is wonderful to know that George Oates, the founder of Flickr Commons and still a BL Labs Advisory Board member, has been involved in the creation of the Flickr Foundation which was announced a few days ago! Long live Flickr Commons! We loved it because it also offered a computational way to access the collections, critical for powerful and efficient computational experiments, through its Application Programming Interface (API).

More recently, we have experimented with browser based programming / computational environments - Jupyter Notebooks. We are huge fans of Tim Sherrat who was a pioneer and brilliant advocate of OPEN GLAM in using them, especially through his GLAM Workbench. He is a one person Lab in his own right, and it was an honour to recognise his monumental efforts by giving him the BL Labs Research Award 2020 last year. You can also explore the fantastic work of Gustavo Candela and colleagues on Jupyter Notebooks and the ones my colleageue Filipe Bento created.

Art Exhibitions, Creativity and Education

I am extremely proud to have been involved in enabling two major art exhibitions to happen at the BL, namely:

Crossroads of Curiosity by David Normal

Imaginary Cities by Michael Takeo Magruder

I loved working with artists, its my passion! They are so creative and often not restricted by academic thinking, see the work of Mario Klingemann for example! You can browse through our archives for various artistic projects that used the BL's digital collections, it's inspiring.

I was also involved in the first British Library Fashion Student Competition won by Alanna Hilton, held at the BL which used the BL's Flickr Commons collection as inspiration for the students to design new fashion ranges. It was organised by my colleague Maja Maricevic, the British Fashion Colleges Council and Teatum Jones who were great fun to work with. I am really pleased to say that Maja has gone on from strength to strength working with the fashion industry and continues to run the competition to this day.

We also had some interesting projects working with younger people, such as Vittoria's world of stories and the fantastic work of Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller at the Australian National University. This is something I am very much interested in exploring further in the future, especially around ideas of computational thinking and have been trying out a few things.

GLAM Labs community and Booksprint

I am really proud of helping to create the international GLAM Labs community with over 250 members, established in 2018 and still active today. I affectionately call them the GLAM Labbers, and I often ask people to explore their inner 'Labber' when I give presentations. What is a Labber? It's the experimental and playful part of us we all had as children and unfortunately many have lost when becoming an adult. It's the ability to be fearless, having the audacity and perhaps even naivety to try crazy things even if they are likely to fail! Unfortunately society values success more than it does failure. In my opinion, we need to recognise, respect and revere those that have the courage to try but failed. That courage to experiment should be honoured and embraced and should become the bedrock of our educational systems from the very outset.

Two years ago, many of us Labbers 'ate our own dog food' or 'practised what we preached' when me and 15 other colleagues came together for 5 days to produce a book through a booksprint, probably the most rewarding professional experience of my life. The book is about how to set up, maintain, sustain and even close a GLAM Lab and is called 'Open a GLAM Lab'. It is available as public domain content and I encourage you to read it.

Online drop-in goodbye - today!

I organised a 30 minute ‘online farewell drop-in’ on Wednesday 29 September 2021, 1330 BST (London), 1430 (Paris, Amsterdam), 2200 (Adelaide), 0830 (New York) on my very last day at the British Library. It was heart-warming that the session was 'maxed out' at one point with participants from all over the world. I honestly didn't expect over 100 colleagues to show up. I guess when you leave an organisation you get to find out who you actually made an impact on, who shows up, and who tells you, otherwise you may never know.

Those that know me well know that I would have much rather had a farewell do ‘in person’, over a pint and praying for the ‘chip god’ to deliver a huge portion of chips with salt/vinegar and tomato sauce’ magically and mysteriously to the table. The pub would have been Mc'Glynns (http://www.mcglynnsfreehouse.com/) near the British Library in London. I wonder who the chip god was?  I never found out ;)

The answer to who the chip god was is in text following this sentence on white on white text...you will be very shocked to know who it was!- s

Spoiler alert it was me after all, my alter ego

Farwell-bl-labs-290921Mahendra's online farewell to BL Labs, Wednesday 29 September, 1330 BST, 2021.
Left: Flowers and wine from the GLAM Labbers arrived in Tallinn, 20 mins before the meeting!
Right: Some of the participants of the online farewell

Leave a message of good will to see me off on my voyage!

It would be wonderful if you would like to leave me your good wishes, comments, memories, thoughts, scans of handwritten messages, pictures, photographs etc. on the following Google doc:

http://tiny.cc/mahendramahey

I will leave it open for a week or so after I have left. Reading positive sincere heartfelt messages from colleagues and collaborators over the years have already lifted my spirits. For me it provides evidence that you perhaps did actually make a difference to somone's life.  I will definitely be re-reading them during the cold dark Baltic nights in Tallinn.

I would love to hear from you and find out what you are doing, or if you prefer, you can email me, the details are at the end of this post.

BL Labs Sailor and Captain Signing Off!

It's been a blast and lots of fun! Of course there is a tinge of sadness in leaving! For me, it's also been intellectually and emotionally challenging as well as exhausting, with many ‘highs’ and a few ‘lows’ or choppy waters, some professional and others personal.

I have learned so much about myself and there are so many things I am really really proud of. There are other things of course I wish I had done better. Most of all, I learned to embrace failure, my best teacher!

I think I did meet my original wish of wanting to help to open up the BL to as many new people who perhaps would have never engaged in the Library before. That was either by using digital collections and data for cool projects and/or simply walking through the doors of the BL in London or Boston Spa and having a look around and being inspired to do something because of it.

I wish the person who takes over my position lots of success! My only piece of advice is if you care, you will be fine!

Anyhow, what a time this has been for us all on this planet? I have definitely struggled at times. I, like many others, have lost loved ones and thought deeply about life and it's true meaning. I have also managed to find the courage to know what’s important and act accordingly, even if that has been a bit terrifying and difficult at times. Leaving the BL for example was not an easy decision for me, and I wish perhaps things had turned out differently, but I know I am doing the right thing for me, my future and my loved ones. 

Though there have been a few dark times for me both professionally and personally, I hope you will be happy to know that I have also found peace and happiness too. I am in a really good place.

I would like to thank former alumni of BL Labs, Ben O'Steen - Technical Lead for BL Labs from 2013 to 2018, Hana Lewis (2016 - 2018) and Eleanor Cooper (2018-2019) both BL Labs Project Officers and many other people I worked through BL Labs and wider in the Library and outside it in my journey.

Where I am off to and what am I doing?

My professional plans are 'evolving', but one thing is certain, I will be moving country!

To Estonia to be precise!

I plan to live, settle down with my family and work there. I was never a fan of Brexit, and this way I get to stay a European.

I would like to finish with this final sweet video created by writer and filmaker Ling Low and her team in 2016, entitled 'Hey there Young Sailor' which they all made as volunteers for the Malaysian band, the 'Impatient Sisters'. It won the BL Labs Artistic Award in 2016. I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Ling over a lovely lunch in Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia, where I had also given a talk at the National Library about my work and looked for remanants of my grandfather who had settled there many years ago.

I wish all of you well, and if you are interested in keeping in touch with me, working with me or just saying hello, you can contact me via my personal email address: [email protected] or follow my progress on my personal website.

Happy journeys through this short life to all of you!

Mahendra Mahey, former BL Labs Manager / Captain / Sailor signing off!