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06 April 2020

Poetry Mobile Apps

This is a guest post by Pete Hebden, a PhD student at Newcastle University, currently undertaking a practice-led PhD; researching and creating a poetry app. Pete has recently completed a three month placement in Contemporary British Published Collections at the British Library, where he assisted curators working with the UK Web Archive, artists books and emerging formats collections, you can follow him on Twitter as @Pete_Hebden

As part of my PhD research, I have been investigating how writers and publishers have used smartphone and tablet devices to present poetry in new ways through mobile apps. In particular, I’m interested in how these new ways of presenting poetry compare to the more familiar format of the printed book. The mobile device allows poets and publishers to create new experiences for readers, incorporating location-based features, interactivity, and multimedia into the encounter with the poem.

Since the introduction of smartphones and tablet computers in the early 2010s, a huge range of digital books, e-literature, and literary games have been developed to explore the possibilities of this technology for literature. Projects like Ambient Literature and the work of Editions at Play have explored how mobile technology can transform story-telling and narrative, and similarly my project looks at how this technology can create new experiences of poetic texts.

Below are a few examples of poetry apps released over the past decade. For accessibility reasons, this selection has been limited to apps that can be used anywhere and are free to download. Some of them present work written with the mobile device in mind, while others take existing print work and re-mediate it for the mobile touchscreen.

Puzzling Poetry (iOS and Android, 2016)

Dutch developers Studio Louter worked with multiple poets to create this gamified approach to reading poetry. Existing poems are turned into puzzles to be unlocked by the reader word-by-word as they use patterns and themes within each text to figure out where each word should go. The result is that often new meanings and possibilities are noticed that might have been missed in a traditional linear reading experience.

Screen capture of Puzzling Poetry
Screen capture image of  the Puzzling Poetry app

This video explains and demonstrates how the Puzzling Poetry app works:


Translatory (iOS, 2016)

This app, created by Arc Publications, guides readers in creating their own English translations of contemporary foreign-language poems. Using the digital display to see multiple possible translations of each phrase, the reader gains a fresh understanding of the complex work that goes into literary translation, as well as the rich layers of meaning included within the poem. Readers are able to save their finished translations and share them through social media using the app.

Screen capture image of Translatory
Screen capture image of the Translatory app


Poetry: The Poetry Foundation app (iOS and Android, 2011)

At nearly a decade old, the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry app was one of the first mobile apps dedicated to poetry, and has been steadily updated by the editors of Poetry magazine ever since. It contains a huge array of both public-domain work and poems published in the magazine over the past century. To help users find their way through this, Poetry’s developers created an entertaining and useful interface for finding poems with unique combinations of themes through a roulette-wheel-style ‘spinner’. The app also responds to users shaking their phone for a random selection of poem. 

Screen capture image of The Poetry Foundation app
Screen capture image of The Poetry Foundation app


ABRA: A Living Text  (iOS, 2014)

A collaboration between the poets Amaranth Borsuk and Kate Durbin, and developer Ian Hatcher, the ABRA app presents readers with a range of digital tools to use (or spells to cast) on the text, which transform the text and create a unique experience for each reader. A fun and unusual way to encounter a collection of poems, giving the reader the opportunity to contribute to an ever-shifting, crowd-edited digital poem.

Screen capture image of the ABRA app
Screen capture image of the ABRA app

This artistic video below demonstrates how the ABRA app works. Painting your finger and thumb gold is not required! 

I hope you feel inspired to check out these poetry apps, or maybe even to create your own.

30 March 2020

Just stand-up and Kanban!

This is a guest post by Laura Parsons, Digitisation Workflow Administrator for the British Library's Qatar Foundation Partnership, on Twitter as @laurakpar


It takes unexpected and extreme world events, such as a pandemic and forced lock down, to make you realise the value of things and routines you previously took for granted. In the Workflow Administration team of the British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership Project, one of our everyday, normal, taken-for-granted activities is our daily stand-up meeting at our Kanban board, complete with post-it notes, magnets and coloured pens. We thought we would explain our stand-up and Kanban process, how it helps us and how it has changed, and what we are doing now.

Time lapse video of our Kanban board showing it changing over 2 months from October 2019 to January 2020
Time lapse video of our Kanban board showing it changing over 2 months from October 2019 to January 2020


Who are we?

The Workflow team is responsible for helping manage items through all the stages of the digitisation project workflow. It is a diverse role where we use problem solving, innovation and cross-team communication. Tasks range from administering our Microsoft SharePoint database that tracks the items we are digitising, to assisting the various teams throughout the workflow with technical questions and issues, and working to create the end product that is uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library. To help us complete these tasks and to ensure we juggle the variety of work, we manage our individual and team work using post-it notes on our Kanban board and by participating in a stand-up meeting.


At 9.45am everyday, on a normal pre-COVID-19 day, the Workflow team gathers around our Kanban board. This time is ingrained into our morning routine and without it the day does not seem to begin properly. By having this brief but regular catch-up with our team we get our brains thinking, focus on priorities, seek help, and share both achievements and frustrations.

Directed by the Board Leader, the responsibility for which rotates through the team each week, we take it in turns to report on three things: what we did yesterday, what we’re going to do today, and any issues we are having that are blocking our work. This often leads to a discussion about how the team could help, suggestions for who to ask or ideas for what we could try.

The whole stand-up process has rules and expectations, all carefully documented, and we are quick to tell someone (good naturedly) if they are not following the rules! Our rules govern things like colour coding of post-it notes and magnets, maximum number of tasks in your column (which is not always adhered to), and order of priority for tasks.

By the very nature of a stand-up meeting, it is kept short, sometimes less than five minutes for all seven of us to have our turn. This also helps any of us who do not like talking in front of a group; it’s fast, relaxed and supportive. If further help or discussion is needed, we can ask for some “Ticket Talk” later, where we talk with a colleague about our tickets.

Kanban innovation

We are very proud of our Kanban board. It is the product of many hours of team-work, creativity and striving to work more effectively, efficiently and collaboratively. It has a column for each person with the tasks that they are allocated to them. When we need more work, we pick up a task from the “New” column and then it stays in our column until we have completed the task, when it is finished it is moved to the “Complete” column so we can celebrate how productive we have been! Whilst we record and complete our work on an online system, we find that this tactile process helps us manage our workload and the workflow, as well as simply giving us visual feedback and a valuable sense of achievement.

Our board has developed over time with monthly “Retrospective” meetings used to brainstorm ideas for how we could improve our stand-up practice and our Kanban Board. In these meetings we each put forward suggestions for what we think we should start, stop and continue. This has been useful to raise new ideas and ensure that we all have a say in how we work. By regularly examining how we work, and suggesting and trying new things, we are always aiming to work more efficiently and effectively. In recent months we have: implemented the weekly rotating role of “Board Leader”, personalised name headers, invited visitors from other teams, included our Imaging Team as a regular stand-up participant, introduced magnets for regular tasks, started a weekly “What I learnt this week” section, and updated rules such as writing the days you are away this week under your name.

Kanban board from May 2018
Kanban board from May 2018...
Current version from February 2020
...and current version from February 2020


Without stand-up and Kanban

As we have begun working from home, we now have to become used to a new routine, or the lack of our previous one. We no longer have our physical Kanban board but we can still communicate daily with each other and our new team Slack channel has allowed regular chat. To help with this uncertain and isolated period, we are trialing our daily “stand-up” using emojis, where we communicate our thoughts and feelings for the day using three emojis (with a sentence explanation, only if you want to). While we learn new ways of working, at least this will remind us of our useful stand-up meetings and our much-loved Kanban board.

Daily stand-up update using emojis.
Daily stand-up update using emojis.



24 March 2020

Learning in Lockdown: Digital Research Team online

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This blog post is by Nora McGregor, Digital Curator, Digital Research Team/European and Americas Collections, British Library. She's on Twitter as @ndalyrose.

With British Library public spaces now closed, the Digital Research Team are focussing our energies on transforming our internal staff Digital Scholarship Training Programme into an online resource for colleagues working from home. Using a mixture of tools at our disposal (Zoom conferencing and our dedicated course Slack channels for text-based chat) we are experimenting with delivering some of our staff workshops such as the Library Carpentries and Open Refine with Owen Stephens online, as well as our reading group and staff lectures. Last week our colleague in Research Services, Jez Cope trialed the delivery of a Library Carpentry workshop on Tidy Data at the last minute to a virtual room of 12 colleagues. For some it was the first time ever working from home or using remote conferencing tools so the digital skills learning is happening on many levels which for us is incredibly exciting! We’ll share more in depth results of these experiments with you via this blog and in time, as we gain more experience in this area, we may well be able to offer some sessions to the public!

Homeschooling for the Digital Research Team

And just like parents around the world creating hopeful, colourful schedules for maintaining children’s daily learning (full disclosure: I’m one of ‘em!), so too are we planning to keep up with our schooling whilst stuck home. Below are just a handful of some of the online training and resources we in the Digital Research Team are keeping up with over the coming months. We’ll add to this as we go along and would of course welcome in the comments any other suggestions from our librarian and digital scholarship networks! 

  • Archivist’s at Home and Free Webinars and Trainings for Academic Library Workers (COVID-19) We’re keeping an eye on these two particularly useful resources for archivists and academic librarians looking for continuing education opportunities while working from home.
  • Digital Skills for the Workplace These (free!) online courses were created by Institute of Coding (who funded our Computing for Cultural Heritage course) to try to address the digital skills gap in a meaningful way and go much further than your classic “Beginner Excel” courses. Created through a partnership with different industries they aim to reflect practical baseline skills that employers need. 
  • Elements of AI is a (free!) course, provided by Finland as ‘a present for the European Union’ providing a gentle introduction to artificial intelligence. What a great present!
  • Gateway to Coding: Python Essentials Another (free!) course developed by the Institute of Coding, this one is designed particularly for folks like us at British Library who would like a gentle introduction to programming languages like Python, but can’t install anything on our work machines.
  • Library Juice Academy has some great courses starting up in April. The other great thing about these is that you can take them 'live' which means the instructor is around and available and you get a certificate at the end or 'asynchronously' at your own pace (no certificate).
  • Programming Historian Tutorials Tried and true, our team relies on these tutorials to understand the latest and greatest in using technology to manage and analyse data for humanities research. 

Time for Play

Of course, if Stephen King’s The Shining has taught us anything, we’d all do well to ensure we make time for some play during these times of isolation!

We’ll be highlighting more opportunities for fun distractions in future posts, but these are just a few ideas to help keep your mind occupied at the moment:

Stay safe, healthy and sane out there guys!


The Digital Research Team