Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections


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

19 January 2021

The New Media Writing Prize collection is now available in the UK Web Archive

For the past four years, the British Library has been researching, collecting and documenting complex digital publications produced in the UK. Born in response to the 2013 UK Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations, the Emerging Formats project looked at different examples of digital writing, analysed how these can be best preserved and given access to within the specific requirements of a library environment. As part of this work, we hosted a Postdoctoral Innovation Placement researcher, Lynda Clark, who helped us build an Interactive Narratives collection hosted in the UK Web Archive.

Building on from what we learned from Lynda’s work, we created a new collection of emerging media: The New Media Writing Prize collection. The New Media Writing Prize was founded in 2010 and over the past decade has attracted a diverse and innovative range of works from all over the world. Its aim is to showcase and celebrate new and often experimental forms of digital storytelling, crossing formats and genres.

The New Media Writing Prize logo comprising an N with a gamecontroller, M with a microphone, W with headphones and P with a pot of pens
The New Media Writing Prize logo

The collection features shortlisted and winning entries for different categories awarded through the years (main prize, student prize, journalism prize and DOT award), from 2010 to the present. There are over 100 works in the collection, written in a variety of formats: from web-based interactive fiction, to apps and augmented reality table top installations. This exciting variety is also a preservation challenge: some of the online works have already disappeared, or can only be captured partially with our web archiving tools, as they include live data or physical elements. For instances when archiving the work itself wasn’t possible, we tried capturing the documentation around the publication instead, archiving press reviews, blog posts and author’s websites.

While the collection is available online, most of its entries are only accessible on Library premises because of copyright restrictions. A few, however, can also be accessed remotely: for example, Serge Bouchardon’s Loss of Grasp, J.R. Carpenter’s City Fish, Alan Bigelow’s Life of Fly and Amira Hanafi’s What I Am Wearing.

Thumbnail images of six works, which are in the 2020 New Media Writing Prize shortlist
The 2020 New Media Writing Prize shortlist

The work on the collection is far from over: next steps include investigating how to best preserve and present Flash works, accurately describing and linking works in the catalogue and keeping the collection up-to-date. The 2020 shortlist has just been announced for both the main prize and the digital journalism award, so these new entries will soon be added to the collection. You can read the latest news about the New Media Writing Prize on their Twitter or Facebook channels – keep your eyes peeled for the 2020 winners announcement on the 20th January!

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari.

15 January 2021

Happy 20th Birthday Wikipedia

Today Wikipedia, the world’s collaborative, online, free encyclopedia is marking it's twentieth birthday. Many celebrations are underway for this, including a #WikiLovesCakes online bake off competition organised by Wikimedia UK, which will be judged by Sandi Toksvig and Nick Poole.

Alas I am lacking in baking skills (though I am excellent at cake eating!), so I’m marking #Wikipedia20 with a reflection on how the British Library has collaborated with Wikimedia and contributed to Wikipedia over the last few years.

WMUK Wikipedia 20th Birthday image with number 20, a birthday cake, the Wikimedia globe and Big Ben

I am also delighted to announce that a memorandum of understanding has been signed this month between the British Library and Wikimedia UK for a new Wikimedian-in-Residence. My colleague Richard Davies who signed this agreement on behalf of the Library said:

“The Library has learnt a great deal both from and since our first Wikipedian-in-Residence in 2012-2013, Andrew Gray. Through this new residency we will be able to build on this hugely successful work with Wikipedia, across all our collection areas. It will also enable the Library to contribute more to the GLAM-Wiki Community in a coordinated and sustainable way, with particular emphasis on increasing the visibility of our digital collections, data and research materials from underrepresented people and marginalised communities through the development of innovative partnership projects.”

We are really looking forward to hosting this new residency, so watch this blog for future updates on this project. Fortunately this residency will be building upon existing experience, as British Library colleagues from many departments have actively engaged with Wikipedia and the Wikimedia family of platforms over several years. I will do my best to give summaries of some of these below:

BL Labs has collaborated with Wikimedia Commons in a number of ways, including:

BL Labs have also supported the excellent Wikipedia project Wiki-Food and (mostly) Women, this is an ongoing partnership with the Oxford Symposium of Food & Cookery (OSFC), which was initiated in 2015 by experienced Wikipedia editor and trainer Roberta Wedge, former OSFC Trustee Bee Wilson, OSFC Director Ursula Heinzelmann and the British Library’s Polly Russell. This project has held regular Wikipedia edit-a-thons at the British Library and in Oxford, providing training and support for Wikipedia editing with the aim of increasing and improving the articles about food, especially ones about women’s contributions to food and cooking culture. When this project started 90% of Wikipedia editors were men and this gender bias was reflected in Wikipedia coverage. There is still a bias, but thanks to the efforts of Wikipedia and many wonderful projects worldwide this gender balance is being addressed. Their plans for edit-a-thon events in 2020 were curtailed by Covid-19, but they did run some online training sessions and surgeries with Roberta Wedge at the OSFC virtual conference in 2020.

Another collaboration addressing gender balance issues was a recent Wikithon: Women in Leeds event, which took place on 22nd November 2020, to create and improve Wikipedia articles about some of the amazing women of Leeds, past and present. This was part of the British Library's cultural programme in Yorkshire, working with other GLAM organisations in the region. It was co-organised by Kenn Taylor from the British Library, in partnership with Rhian Isaac of Leeds Libraries and Lucy Moore of Leeds Museums & Galleries, for the season of events accompanying the British Library’s exhibition, "Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights".

Hope Miyoba, Wikimedian in Residence for the Science Museum Group, who is based at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, gave an excellent training session on how to edit Wikipedia and the event produced new articles for Catherine Mary Buckton, the first woman elected to public office in Leeds, sharpshooter and circus performer Florence Shufflebottom, and philanthropist Marjorie Ziff who is notable for her contributions to the Jewish community in Leeds, whose article was further improved by the Women in Red editing community. This event also inspired me to create a new Wikipedia article for writer Rosie Garland, who is also a singer in Leeds goth band The March Violets.

Positive feedback was received from participants at this event, with comments such as ‘my 9 year old daughter says she wants to do this forever’, ‘just finished Uni and missing researching things, so this is definitely a good lockdown activity to get into!’ and ‘I’m thinking about how to incorporate women and Wikipedia entries into my teaching!’.

In addition to editing Wikipedia and adding images to Wikimedia Commons, a number of British Library staff have been editing Wikidata. In 2020 Eleanor Casson from the Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives team updated seventy Wikipedia articles and seventy two Wikidata entries with information about their collections, see the entry for the Society of Authors example in the image above, and Graham Jevon from the Endangered Archives Project has been using the Wikidata reconciliation service to validate and create authority records. This work enabled him to create more than three hundred authority records for people identified in a digitised collection of photographs from South America, which will be published online soon. Graham says:

"Wikidata has proved particularly helpful for continued productivity and collaboration while working from home during lockdown. It has enabled a colleague without access to internal cataloguing systems to create and edit authority records in Wikidata, which I can then extract to update the BL’s systems. This is a win-win. It helps us update our own catalogue records while simultaneously enhancing the shared Wikidata resource."

Before I end this post, I also want to flag up the excellent work done by the global GLAM–Wiki community (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums, also including botanic gardens and zoos), which advises and supports cultural institutions to share their resources with the world through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors.

Also the awesome #1Lib1Ref campaign (abbreviation for one librarian, one reference), which invites librarians around the world, and anyone who has a passion for free knowledge, to add missing references to articles on Wikipedia, with the aim to reduce Wikipedia's backlog of citation needed notices.

Please do add some references and eat some cake to celebrate Wikipedia's 20th birthday this year, I know I will be. You may also like to listen to BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme from earlier today (15/01/2020), where David Gerard and myself discuss Wikipedia and libraries, you can hear this section from 37 minutes 55 seconds into the recording.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom)

31 December 2020

Highlights from crowdsourcing projects at the British Library

In this post, Dr Mia Ridge and others celebrate our award-winning contributors and share progress reports from a range of crowdsourcing projects at the British Library.

Despite significant challenges, 2020 was a year of remarkable achievements for crowdsourcing at the British Library. Read on for some highlights.

A quarter of a million contributions on LibCrowds

The LibCrowds platform, which hosts our In the Spotlight project and previously hosted Convert-a-Card, reached an incredible milestone in mid-December - a quarter of a million contributions! Our heartfelt thanks to the nearly 3000 registered volunteers, and countless anonymous others who contributed to this fantastic achievement via our projects.

The official launch - and completion! - of crowdsourcing tasks on Living with Machines

Building on the lessons learnt from earlier experiments, in early December we launched two new crowdsourcing projects with data scientists from the Living with Machines project. These projects aimed to integrate linguistic research questions with tasks that encouraged volunteers to engage with social and technological history in the pages of 19th century newspapers. We learnt a lot and tweaked the project after the feedback from Zooniverse volunteers, and were delighted to be recognised as an official Zooniverse project.

Thanks to the mighty power of Zooniverse volunteers, the tasks were completed within a few days. Analysing the results will keep us busy in the first few months of 2021.

In the Spotlight and Georeferencer contributors are award-winning!

Earlier this year, digital volunteers on the British Library's In the Spotlight and Georeferencer projects were nominated in the Community category of the British Library Labs awards. You can watch the 30 second videos about the nominations for In the Spotlight and Georeferencer on YouTube. Awards winners are decided by BL Labs and other Library staff with the BL Labs Advisory Board, and we're delighted to say that both projects won with a joint award for first place! 

Congratulations to all our contributors for this recognition of your work with our crowdsourcing tasks, and for discussing our collections and sharing your insights with us and others. 

In the Spotlight

In addition to the 255,000+ contributions above, volunteers have completed tasks on 148 volumes of historical playbills. We continue to work with our Metadata Services team to integrate these transcriptions into British Library systems. The project has a remarkable international reach, with visitors to the project from 1736 cities in 104 countries. Whether you're from Accra, Hanoi, London, Moscow, San Antonio or Zagreb - thank you!


Dr Gethin Rees, Lead Curator for Digital Map Collections, writes:

In 2014 the British Library released over 50,000 images of maps onto the Georeferencer that had been extracted from the millions of Flickr images from 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century books with the help of volunteers. Ever since then the volunteers have been hard at work adding coordinate data on the Georeferencer platform and I am delighted to announce that the collection has now been effectively completed. The upgraded Georeferencer and the time we have all had to spend indoors over the last months appear to have provided the project with a new impetus, well done to all! 

The work of Georeferencer volunteers on this Flickr collection of maps has been invaluable to the Library; the addition of coordinate data from the Flickr collection to the British Library's Aleph catalogue has offered a new metadata perspective for our collections. The Flickr maps can be browsed using an interactive web map allowing the public to easily discover maps of areas where they live or are interested in. We are intending on making the georeferenced maps available as GeoTIFFs on the British Library's Research Repository. A huge thank you to maurice, Janet H, Nigel Slack, Martin Whitton, Benjamin G, John Herridge, Singout, H Barber, Jheald and Michael Ammon and all the Georeferencer community for their amazing work on the platform and feedback over the years.

Find out more: Flickr Maps on the Georeferencer Finished!

Following the completion of the Flickr work, we released just under 8000 images from the K. Top collection onto the BL's Georeferencer. The maps are part of a larger collection of 18,000 digital images of historic maps, views and texts from the Topographical Collection of King George III that have been released into the public domain. The collection has been digitised as part of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the collection which was presented to the Nation in 1823 by King George IV.  The images are made available on the image sharing site Flickr, which links to fully searchable catalogue records on Explore the British Library. The Georeferencers have been making short work of these maps: they were added back in early October and 54% have already been completed. This initial 8000 is the first of two planned Georeferencer releases. 

Find out more: The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released

Endangered Archives Programme

Dr Graham Jevon, Cataloguer, Endangered Archives Programme, writes:

EAP's Siberian photographs project is close to moving to the next phase. Thanks to the amazing work of all our contributors, one task has been completed and the second task is almost complete.

But we still need your help to tag the last remaining photographs. You don't need any expert knowledge. And like hot mince pies, once they're gone, they're gone. So get tagging before someone else beats you to all the best photos!

In 2021, we are looking forward to processing the results in order to enhance the online catalogue and also to begin an exciting new research project based on the tags you have created - we hope to be able to share more news on this in the coming months!

Meanwhile, Russian curators Katya Rogatchevskaia and Katie McElvanney have been working hard behind the scenes on this project. One of the fruits of this work has been the translation of the Zooniverse platform terms into Russian. This will help enable any future crowdsourcing projects to publish their projects on Zooniverse in Russian as well as English.

Nominate a case study for the 'Collective Wisdom' project

This AHRC-funded project led by Dr Mia Ridge aims to foster an international community of practice and set a research agenda for crowdsourcing in cultural heritage. In March 20201 we'll collaboratively write a book on the state of the art in crowdsourcing in cultural heritage through two intensive week-long 'book sprint' sessions. We'd like to include case studies from a range of projects that include crowdsourcing, online volunteering or digital participation - please get in touch if you'd like to find out more or would like to suggest a project for inclusion.

Find out more: Collective Wisdom Project website.