Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections


Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

23 December 2021

Three crowdsourcing opportunities with the British Library

Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge writes, In case you need a break from whatever combination of weather, people and news is around you, here are some ways you can entertain yourself (or the kids!) while helping make collections of the British Library more findable, or help researchers understand our past. You might even learn something or make new discoveries along the way!

Your help needed: Living with Machines

Mia Ridge writes: Living with Machines is a collaboration between the British Library and the Alan Turing Institute with partner universities. Help us understand the 'machine age' through the eyes of ordinary people who lived through it. Our refreshed task builds on our previous work, and includes fresh newspaper titles, such as the Cotton Factory Times.

What did the Victorians think a 'machine' was - and did it matter where you lived, or if you were a worker or a factory owner? Help us find out:

Your contributions will not only help researchers - they'll also go on display in our exhibition

Image of a Cotton Factory Times masthead
You can read articles from Manchester's Cotton Factory Times in our crowdsourced task


Your help needed: Agents of Enslavement? Colonial newspapers in the Caribbean and hidden genealogies of the enslaved

Launched in July this year, Agents of Enslavement? is a research project which explores the ways in which colonial newspapers in the Caribbean facilitated and challenged the practice of slavery. One goal is to create a database of enslaved people identified within these newspapers. This benefits people researching their family history as well as those who simply want to understand more about the lives of enslaved people and their acts of resistance.

Project Investigator Graham Jevon has posted some insights into how he processes the results to the project forum, which is full of fascinating discussion. Join in as you take part: ​​

Your help needed: Georeferencer

Dr. Gethin Rees writes: The community have now georeferenced 93% of 1277 maps that were added from our War Office Archive back in July (as mentioned in our previous newsletter).  

Some of the remaining maps are quite tricky to georeference and so if there is a perplexing map that you would like some guidance with do get in contact with myself and our curator for modern mapping  by emailing [email protected] and we will try to help. Please do look forward to some exciting news maps being released on the platform in 2022!

21 December 2021

Intro to AI for GLAM

Earlier this year Daniel van Strien and I teamed up with colleagues Mike Trizna from the Smithsonian and Mark Bell at the National Archives, UK in a Carpentries Lesson Development Study Group with an eye to developing an Introduction to AI for GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) lesson for eventual inclusion in Library Carpentry. The commitment was a ten-week program running between 8 February and 23 April 2021 with weekly 1hr Study Group discussion calls and "homework" tasks requiring at least 3-4 hours each week.

The result is the framework and foundations for what we hope will be a useful, ever evolving and continuously collaboratively written workshop that can provide a gentle and practical introduction for GLAM to the world of machine learning and its implications for the sector. Developed with the GLAM practitioner in mind, this beta course aims to offer an entry point for staff in cultural heritage institutions to begin to support, participate in, and undertake in their own right, machine learning-based research and projects with their collections.

Screenshot of Intro to GLAM course page

View the beta lessons at

We had the honour of running a 3-hour bitesize online version of the workshop as part of the AI4LAM Les Futurs Fantastiques Conference (#FF21) early in December. In a bit of an experiment, we delivered it using Mentimeter, hoping to bring some fresh interactivity into what could feel like a long virtual workshop. I'm happy to report it was good fun and the mode very well received in the feedback from instructors and participants alike. 

The full video presentation recording is available to view at FF21 workshop: Carpentries Incubator Introduction to AI for GLAM - Zoom as well as our slides (PDF).

00:08:07 Intro to AI & Machine Learning: A brief overview (Mark Bell, The National Archives)

00:46:09 What is ML good at? (Mike Trizna / @miketrizna, Smithsonian)

01:26:35 Managing bias (Nora McGregor / @ndalyrose, British Library)

02:01:02 Machine learning projects (Daniel van Strien / @vanstriendaniel, British Library)

Have a look at these wonderful live sketch notes taken during the session by the talented Mélanie Leroy-Terquem (@mleroyterquem)!

Notebook page spread showing illustrations of key points in workshop

If you would like to contribute to the further development of these lessons, all the content and materials can be found over on the lesson GitHub  and we'd love to hear from you! 

This blog post is by Nora McGregor, Digital Curator, British Library. She's on Twitter as @ndalyrose.

10 December 2021

Legacies of Catalogue Descriptions: prioritising agendas and actions

The Legacies of Catalogue Descriptions and curatorial Voice project: Opportunities for Digital Scholarship is enabling transformational impacts in digital scholarship within cultural institutions by opening up new and important directions for computational, critical and curatorial analysis of collection catalogues. Over the past year and a half the project has actively engaged with colleagues across the cultural heritage sector to discuss the project approach and develop training materials for the computational analysis of legacy catalogue data.

As the project draws to a close, we invite members of the community to join the final project workshops in February 2022 to set shared agendas and agree next steps. The UK-based event will be hosted by the Digital Humanities Hub, University of Southampton (Covid-19 situation permitting) and the US-based event will be held online. Both workshops will work towards a single co-produced output: an infographic explaining the problem area, our shared priorities and next steps for action.

In anticipation of these events we thought we would share a summary of our July workshop which was attended by over 40 participants from our target beneficiary communities in the UK and US. At the event members of the project team spoke briefly on aspects of their research, before leading participatory breakout sessions that explored the themes in greater detail.

James Baker (Southampton) argued that historical research into legacy cataloguing can usefully form the basis for reparative re-description and social justice work in cultural institutions. Rossitza Atanassova (British Library) reported on the utility of the project methodology and tools for accelerating institutional responses to contemporary challenges and how the capacity building work aligns with the Library’s Anti-Racism Project action plan.

Cynthia Roman (Lewis Walpole Library) discussed her investigations into the history of cataloguing at the Library in relation to the transmission of curatorial voice from the British Museum to the Lewis Walpole Library records for Georgian satirical prints. Andrew Salway (Sussex) described what computational methods and process were used to detect the spatial and temporal transmission of the satirical prints data between catalogues.

Peter Leonard (Yale University Library DH Laboratory) introduced experimental computational work that uses machine learning techniques to produce new texts and images based on historic catalogue data and prints, thus opening up further possibilities for studying features in the real data. In the breakout sessions there was a demonstration of some of the tools developed by the project and an exploration of how to present legacy descriptions in collection catalogues and flag up any issues with users. These tools and other resources are included in the workshop report aimed to encourage and enable further critical reflections on catalogues’ legacies.

We hope that some of you will be interested in joining the final project events. To book your place please use the contact details on the events page.

Rossitza Atanassova, James Baker, Cynthia Roman