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

16 March 2020

A Season of Place – Journal Article Published!

This blog post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She's on Twitter as @BL_AdiKS.

Last year the Library’s Digital Scholarship Training Programme (DSTP), delivering training to BL staff, featured several training sessions dedicated to digital mapping, covering topics such as cataloguing geospatial data, geoparsing, georeferencing, working with online mapping tools, digital research using online maps, and public engagement through interactive platforms and crowdsourcing. We called it the ‘Season of Place’.

A year later, Gethin and I published a paper about it in the Journal of Map & Geography Libraries: Advances in Geospatial Information, Collections & Archives, in a special issue dedicated to Information Literacy Instruction. Our shiny new article is entitled “A Season of Place: Teaching Digital Mapping at the British Library”, and is available through this DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15420353.2020.1719267. This is the abstract:

“One of the British Library Digital Scholarship team’s core purposes is to deliver training to Library staff. Running since 2012, the main aim of the Digital Scholarship Training Program (DSTP) is to create opportunities for staff to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to support emerging areas of scholarship. Recently, the Library has been experimenting with a new format to deliver its training that would allow flexibility and adaptability through modularity: a “season”. The Digital Scholarship team organized a series of training events billed as a “Season of Place”, which aimed to expose Library staff to the latest digital mapping concepts, methods and technologies, and provide them with the skills to apply cutting-edge research to their collection areas. The authors designed, coordinated and delivered this training season to fulfill broader Library objectives, choosing to mix and match the types of events and methods of delivery to fit the broad range of technologies that constitute digital mapping today. The paper also discusses the impact that these choices of methods and content has had on digital literacy and the uptake of digital mapping by presenting results of an initial evaluation obtained through observation and evaluation surveys.”

A Season of Place: Teaching Digital Mapping at the British Library- article screenshot

One of the things that we wrote about was the results of feedback survey sent to course participants three months after their training. Participants were asked questions about their levels of confidence in applying their learning within their work, relevance of the training to their work, frequency of applying knowledge or skills gained from the training days, and uptake of digital mapping tools following the training days. Survey results were published in the article mentioned above. However, in the meantime we’ve sent out a 1-year-later feedback survey, to see what people’s position was a year after undertaking our digital mapping training.

We had six responses to this 1-year survey. Respondents indicated that in most part digital mapping was not directly relevant to their areas of work, however if/when they would like to apply learning from the courses, they have some confidence in doing so (50% some confidence, 33.3% fairly confident, 16.7% confident). It was noted that areas of learning from the course applied to one’s work relate more to data clean-up and analysis rather than directly to maps, but that it was useful to know which software is available for when the need does arise in the future.

When it comes to specific tool usage, Google My Maps was the most popular tools that we’ve taught, followed by Recogito – this matches the levels of popularity indicated in our 3-month survey. Lastly, course attendees haven’t yet created, visualised or analysed geospatial data with the tools taught in the course (or others) – but did say that they’d learned a great deal, and that when the opportunity arises to start a relevant project – they’ll know where to start!

So, all in all, we’re happy that people have found our courses useful. The Library is now recruiting a Curator for Geospatial Cultural Heritage, contributing to the ‘Locating a National Collection’ project, a Foundational Collaborative project in the ‘Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World’ programme, funded by the AHRC. Do join us!

Apply here: https://britishlibrary.recruitment.zellis.com/birl/pages/vacancy.jsf?latest=01002198 – closing date is 22 March 2020.

 

11 February 2020

Call for participants: April 2020 book sprint on the state of the art in crowdsourcing in cultural heritage

[Update, March 2020: like so much else, our plans for the 'Collective Wisdom' project have been thrown out by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have an extension from our funders and will look to confirm dates when the global situation (especially around international flights) becomes clearer. In the meantime, the JISCMail Crowdsourcing list has some discussion on starting and managing projects in the current context.]

One of the key outcomes of our AHRC UK-US Partnership Development Grant, 'From crowdsourcing to digitally-enabled participation: the state of the art in collaboration, access, and inclusion for cultural heritage institutions', is the publication of an open access book written through a collaborative 'book sprint'. We'll work with up to 12 other collaborators to write a high-quality book that provides a comprehensive, practical and authoritative guide to crowdsourcing and digitally-enabled participation projects in the cultural heritage sector. Could you be one of our collaborators? Read on!

The book sprint will be held at the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture from 19 - 24th April 2020. We've added a half-day debriefing session to the usual five day sprint, so that we can capture all the ideas that didn't make it into the book and start to shape the agenda for a follow-up workshop to be held at the British Library in October. Due to the pace of writing and facilitation, participants must be able to commit to five and a half days in order to attend. 

We have some confirmed participants already - including representatives from FromThePage, King’s College London Department of Digital Humanities, the Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science, and the Colored Conventions Project, plus the project investigators Mia Ridge (British Library), Meghan Ferriter (Library of Congress) and Sam Blickhan (Zooniverse) - with additional places to be filled by this open call for participation. 

An open call enables us to include folk from a range of backgrounds and experiences. This matches the ethos of the book sprint model, which states that 'diversity in participants—perspectives, experience, job roles, ethnicity, gender—creates a better work dynamic and a better book'. Participants will have the opportunity to not only create this authoritative text, but to facilitate the formation of an online community of practice which will serve as a resource and support system for those engaging with crowdsourcing and digitally-enabled participation projects.

We're looking for participants who are enthusiastic, experienced and engaged, with expertise at any point in the life cycle of crowdsourcing and digital participation. Your expertise might have been gained through hands-on experience on projects or by conducting research in areas from co-creation with heritage organisations or community archives to HCI, human computation and CSCW. We have a generous definition of 'digitally-enabled participation', including not-entirely-digital volunteering projects around cultural heritage collections, and activities that go beyond typical collection-centric 'crowdsourcing' tasks like transcription, classification and description. Got questions? Please email digitalresearch@bl.uk!

How to apply

  1. Read the Book Sprint FAQs to make sure you're aware of the process and commitment required
  2. Fill in this short Google Form by midnight GMT February 26th

What happens next?

We'll review applications and let people know by the end of February 2020.

We're planning to book travel and accommodation for participants as soon as dates and attendance is confirmed - this helps keeps costs down and also means that individuals aren't out of pocket while waiting for reimbursement. The AHRC fund will pay for travel and accommodation for all book sprint participants. We will also host a follow up workshop at the British Library in October and hope to provide travel and accommodations for book sprint participants. 

We'll be holding a pre-sprint video call (on March 18, 19 or 20) to put faces to names and think about topics that people might want to research in advance and collect as an annotated bibliography for use during the sprint. 

If you can't make the book sprint but would still like to contribute, we've got you covered! We'll publish the first version of the book online for comment and feedback. Book sprints don't allow for remote participation, so this is our best way of including the vast amounts of expertise not in the room.

You can sign up to the British Library's crowdsourcing newsletters for updates, or join our Crowdsourcing group on Humanities Commons set up to share progress and engage in discussion with the wider community. 

New project! 'From crowdsourcing to digitally-enabled participation: the state of the art in collaboration, access, and inclusion for cultural heritage institutions'

[Update, March 2020: like so much else, our plans for the 'Collective Wisdom' project have been thrown out by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have an extension from our funders and will look to confirm dates when the global situation (especially around international flights) becomes clearer. In the meantime, the JISCMail Crowdsourcing list has some discussion on starting and managing projects in the current context.]

We - Mia Ridge (British Library), Meghan Ferriter (Library of Congress) and Sam Blickhan (Zooniverse) - are excited to announce that we've been awarded an AHRC UK-US Partnership Development Grant. Our overarching goals are:

  • To foster an international community of practice in crowdsourcing in cultural heritage
  • To capture and disseminate the state of the art and promote knowledge exchange in crowdsourcing and digitally-enabled participation
  • To set a research agenda and generate shared understandings of unsolved or tricky problems that could lead to future funding applications

How will we do that?

We're holding a five day collaborative 'book sprint' (or writing workshop) at the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture in April 2020. Working with up to 12 other collaborators, we'll write a high-quality book that provides a comprehensive, practical and authoritative guide to crowdsourcing and digitally-enabled participation projects in the cultural heritage sector. We want to provide an effective road map for cultural institutions hoping to use crowdsourcing for the first time and a resource for institutions already using crowdsourcing to benchmark their work.

In the spirit of digital participation, we'll publish a commentable version of the book online with an open call for feedback from the extended international community of crowdsourcing practitioners, academics and volunteers. We're excited about including the expertise of those unable to attend the book sprint in our final open access publication.

The book sprint will close with a short debrief session to capture suggestions about gaps in the field and sketch the agenda for the closing workshop. 

In October 2020 we're holding a workshop at the British Library for up to 25 participants to interrogate, refine and advance questions raised during the year and identify high priority gaps and emerging challenges in the field that could be addressed by future research collaborations. We'll work with a community manager to ensure that remote participants are as integrated into the event as much as possible, which will lower our carbon footprint and let people contribute without getting on a plane. 

We'll publish a white paper reporting on this workshop, outlining emerging, intractable and unsolved challenges that could be addressed by further funding for collaborative work. 

Finally, we want this project to help foster the wonderful community of crowdsourcing practitioners, participants and researchers by hosting events and online discussion. 

Why now?

For several years, crowdsourcing has provided a framework for online participation with, and around, cultural heritage collections. This popularity leads to increased participant expectations while also attracting criticism such as accusations of ‘free labour’. Now, the introduction of machine learning and AI methods, and co-creation and new models of ownership and authorship present significant challenges for institutions used to managing interactions with collections on their own terms. 

How can you get involved?

Our call for participants in our April Book Sprint is now open!

Our final workshop will be held in mid- or late-October. The easiest way to get updates such as calls for contributors and links to blog posts is to sign up for the British Library's crowdsourcing newsletters or join the Crowdsourcing group on Humanities Commons

03 February 2020

2019 Winners of the New Media Writing Prize

On Wednesday 15 January 2020 it was the 10th Anniversary Awards Evening of the New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) at Bournemouth University. This international prize encourages and promotes the best in new media writing; showcasing innovative digital fiction, poetry and journalism. The types of interactive writing that we have been examining and researching in the emerging formats work at the Library.

NMWP logo
New Media Writing Prize logo

Before the NMWP winners were announced there was a fun hands-on session in the afternoon, for guests to experience Digital Fiction Curios. This is an immersive experience; re-imagining selected Flash-based digital fiction by the One to One Development Trust in Virtual Reality, made in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University. Here in the Library we are interested in their playful and innovative approach to preserving the experiences of reading their digital works, and last October the project team were invited to showcase this work to British Library staff for them to try in VR.

Dreaming Methods: Digital Fiction Curios Teaser from One to One Development Trust 

On to the main NMWP awards event, like in previous years, the 2019 competition had attracted strong entries from many parts of the world. With submissions from six continents, the event’s host Jim Pope pointed out that Antarctica was the only geographic area not to have participated yet.

Congratulations to all the 2019 winners:

  • The if:book UK New Media Writing Prize, the main category, was won by Maria Ivanova and her team of volunteers: Anna Gorovaya, Alexey Logvinov, Mike Stonelake, Anton Zayceve and Ekaterina Polyakova, from Belarus for ‘The Life of Grand Duchess Elizabeth’. A stunning biographical narrative, featuring open source archive photographs and quotations from the memoirs of generous philanthropist Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia. A granddaughter of English Queen Victoria, who lived during several key events in the history of Russia: including the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, the revolutions of 1905 and 1917.She became one of the brightest philanthropists of Russia.
  • The Future Journalism award was won by Mahmoud El Wakea’s ‘Made in Prison’, an investigation of Jihadi radicalisation in Egypt.
  • The Unicorn Training Student award was won by Kenneth Sanchez for ‘Escaping the Chaos’. An emotive portrayal of Venezuelan migrants in Peru, with video footage of individuals telling their personal stories.
  • The Dot award for 2019 went to Clare Pollard, editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, the award will enable them to digitise their magazine and to grow their magazine internationally.
The Life of Grand Duchess Elizabeth
Still image from 'The Life of Grand Duchess Elizabeth', Winner of the 2019 if:book UK New Media Writing Prize.

It was gratifying to see that Lynda Clark featured on the main prize shortlist for her work ‘The Memory Archivist’, which was made during her Innovation Placement at the British Library in 2019. Also previous Eccles Centre Fellow, J.R. Carpenter, for the hydro-graphic novel ‘The Pleasure of the Coast’, created in partnership with the Archives Nationales in Paris.

Full shortlists were: 

The 2019 if:book main prize shortlist:

 The Unicorn Student Award 2019 shortlist:

Escaping the Chaos
Still image from 'Escaping the Chaos', Winner of the 2019 Unicorn Training Student award

The Future Journalism Award 2019 shortlist for the best digital interactive journalism, awarded by Future PLC:

Made in Prison
Still image from 'Made in Prison', Winner of the 2019 Future Journalism award 

If reading this blog post is inspiring you to consider entering the Prize in 2020, please do keep your eyes peeled for their call for submissions later in the year. You can follow NMWP on twitter and Facebook. Also do check out the Competition Rules and the FAQs to make sure your creative output fits the competition's criteria. 

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

27 January 2020

How historians can communicate their research online

This blog post is by Jonathan Blaney (Institute of Historical Research), Frances Madden (British Library), Francesca Morselli (DANS), Jane Winters (School of Advanced Study, University of London)

This blog will be published in several other locations including the FREYA blog and the IHR blog

Large satellite receiver
Source: Joshua Hoehne, Unsplash

On 4 December 2019, the FREYA project in collaboration with UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, Institute of Historical Research, the British Library and DARIAH-EU organized a workshop in London on identifiers in research. In particular this workshop - mainly directed to historians and humanities scholars - focused on ways in which they can build and manage an online profile as researchers, using tools such as ORCID IDs. It also covered best practices and methods of citing digital resources to make humanities researchers' work connected and discoverable to others. The workshop had 20 attendees, mainly PhD students from the London area but also curators and independent researchers.

Presentations

Frances Madden from the British Library introduced the day which was supported by the FREYA project which is funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. FREYA aims to increase the use of persistent identifiers (PIDs) across the research landscape by building up services and infrastructure. The British Library is leading on the Humanities and social sciences aspect of this work.

Frances described how PIDs are central to scholarly communication becoming effective and easy online. We will need PIDs not just for publications but for grey literature, for data, for blog posts, presentations and more. This is clearly a challenge for historians to learn about and use, and the workshop is a contribution to that effort.

PIDs: some historical context

Jonathan Blaney from the Institute of Historical Research said that there is a context to citation and the persistent identifiers which have grown up around traditional forms of print citation. These are almost invisible to us because they are deeply familiar. He gave an example of a reference to the gospel story of the woman taken in adultery:

John 7:53-8:11

There are three conventions here: the name ‘John’ (attached to this gospel since about the 2nd century) the chapter divisions (medieval and ascribed to the English bishop Stephen Langton) and the verse divisions (from the middle of the 16th century).

When learning new forms of referencing, such as the ones under discussion at the workshop, Jonathan suggested that historians should remember their implicit knowledge has been learned. He finished with an anecdote about Harry Belafonte, retold in Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History. As a young sailor Belafonte wanted to follow up on references in a book he had read. The next time he was on shore leave he went to a library and told the librarian:

“Just give me everything you’ve got by Ibid.”

People in conference room watching a presentation

Demonstrating the benefits

Prof Jane Winters from School introduced what she claimed was her most egotistical presentation by explaining her own choices in curating her online presence and also what was beyond her control. She showed the different results of web searches for herself using Google and DuckDuckGo and pointed out how things she had almost forgotten about can still feature prominently in results.

Jane described her own use of Twitter, and highlighted both the benefits and challenges of using social media to communicate research and build an online profile. It was the relatively rigid format of her institutional staff profile that led her to create her own website. Although Jane has an ORCID ID and a page on Humanities Commons, for example, there are many online services she has chosen not to use, such as academia.edu.

This is all very much a matter of personal choice, dependent upon people’s own tastes and willingness to engage with a particular service.

How to use what’s available

Francesca Morselli from DANS gave a presentation aiming to provide useful resources about identifiers for researchers as well as explaining in a simple yet exhaustive way how they "work" and the rationale behind them.

Most importantly PIDs ensure:

  1. Citability and discoverability (both for humans and machine)
  2. Disambiguation (between similar objects)
  3. Linking to related resources
  4. Long-term archiving and findability

Francesca then introduced the support provided by projects and infrastructures: FREYA, DARIAH-EU and ORCID. Among the FREYA project pillars (PID graph, PID Commons, PID Forum), the latter is available for anyone interested in identifiers.

The DARIAH-EU infrastructure for Arts and Humanities has recently launched the DARIAH Campus platform which includes useful resources on PIDs and managing research data (i.e. all materials which are used in supporting research). In 2018 DARIAH also organized a winter school on Open Data Citation, whose resources are archived here.

Dariah

 

A Publisher’s Perspective

Kath Burton from Routledge Journals emphasised how much use publishers make of digital tools to harvest convent, including social media crawlers, data harvesters and third party feeds.

The importance of maximising your impact online when publishing was explained, both before publishing (filling in the metadata, giving a meaningful title) and afterwards (linking to the article from social media and websites), as well as how publishers can help support this.

Kath went on to give an example of Taylor & Francis’s interest in the possibilities of online scholarly communication by describing its commitment to publishing 3D models of research objects, which is does on via Sketchfab page.

Breakout Groups

After the presentations and a coffee break there were group discussions about what everyone had just heard. During the first part, the groups were asked what was new to them in the presentations. It was clear from discussions around the room that attendees had heard much which was new to them. For example, some attendees had ORCID IDs but many were surprised at the range of things for which they could be used, such as in journal articles and logging into systems. They were also struck by the range of things in which publishers were interested such as research data. Many were really interested in the use of personal websites to manage their profile.

When asked what tallied with their experiences, it became clear that they were keen to engage with these systems, setting up ORCID IDs and Humanities Commons profiles but that they felt that they were too early on in their careers to have anything to contribute to these platforms and felt they were designed for established researchers. Jane Winters stressed that one could adopt a broad approach to the term ‘publications’, including posters, presentations and blog posts and encouraged all to share what they had.

Lastly discussion turned to how the group cites digital resources. This led to an interesting conversation around the citation of archived web pages and how to cite webpages which might change over time, with tools such as the Internet Archive being mentioned. There was also discussion about whether one can cite resources such as Wikipedia and it was clear that this was not something which had been encouraged. Jonathan, who has researched this subject, mentioned that he had found established academics are happy to cite Wikipedia than those earlier in their career.

Conclusions

The workshop effectively demonstrated the sheer range of online tools, social media forums and publishing venues (both formal and informal) through which historians can communicate their research online. This is both an opportunity and a problem. It is a challenge to develop an online presence - to decide which methods are most appropriate for different kinds of research and different personalities - but that is just the first step. For research communication to be truly valuable, it is necessary to focus your effort, manage your online activities and take control of how you appear to others in digital spaces. PIDs are invaluable in achieving this, and in helping you to establish a personal research profile that stays with you as you move through your career. At the start of the day, the majority of those who attended the workshop did not know very much about PIDs and how you can put them to use, but we hope that they came away with an enhanced understanding of the issues and possibilities, the awareness that it does not take much effort or skill to make a real difference to how you are perceived online, and some practical advice about next steps.

It was apparent that, with some admirable exceptions, neither higher education institutions nor PID organisations are successfully communicating the value and importance of PIDs to early career researchers. Workshop attendees particularly welcomed the opportunity to hear from a publisher and senior academic about how PIDs are used to structure, present and disseminate academic work. The clear link between communicating research online and public engagement also emerged during the course of the day, and there is obvious potential for collaboration between PID organisations and those involved with training focused on impact and public engagement. We ended the day with lots of ideas for further advocacy and training, and a shared appreciation for the value of PIDs for helping historians to reach out to a range of different audiences online.

20 January 2020

Using Transkribus for Arabic Handwritten Text Recognition

This blog post is by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library. She's on Twitter as @BL_AdiKS.

 

In the last couple of years we’ve teamed up with PRImA Research Lab in Salford to run competitions for automating the transcription of Arabic manuscripts (RASM2018 and RASM2019), in an ongoing effort to identify good solutions for Arabic Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR).

I’ve been curious to test our Arabic materials with Transkribus – one of the leading tools for automating the recognition of historical documents. We’ve already tried it out on items from the Library’s India Office collection as well as early Bengali printed books, and we were pleased with the results. Several months ago the British Library joined the READ-COOP – the cooperative taking up the development of Transkribus – as a founding member.

As with other HTR tools, Transkribus’ HTR+ engine cannot start automatic transcription straight away, but first needs to be trained on a specific type of script and handwriting. This is achieved by creating a training dataset – a transcription of the text on each page, as accurate as possible, and a segmentation of the page into text areas and line, demarcating the exact location of the text. Training sets are therefore comprised of a set of images and an equivalent set of XML files, containing the location and transcription of the text.

A screenshot from Transkribus, showing the segmentation and transcription of a page from Add MS 7474
A screenshot from Transkribus, showing the segmentation and transcription of a page from Add MS 7474.

 

This process can be done in Transkribus, but in this case I already had a training set created using PRImA’s software Aletheia. I used the dataset created for the competitions mentioned above: 120 transcribed and ground-truthed pages from eight manuscripts digitised and made available through QDL. This dataset is now freely accessible through the British Library’s Research Repository.

Transkribus recommends creating a training set of at least 75 pages (between 5,000 and 15,000 words), however I was interested to find out a few things. First, the methods submitted for the RASM2019 competition worked on a training set of 20 pages, with an evaluation set of 100 pages. Therefore, I wanted to see how Transkribus’ HTR+ engine dealt with the same scenario. It should be noted that the RASM2019 methods were evaluated using PRImA’s evaluation methods, and this is not the case with Transkribus evaluation method – therefore, the results shown here are not accurately comparable, but give some idea on how Transkribus performed on the same training set.

I created four different models to see how Transkribus’ recognition algorithms deal with a growing training set. The models were created as follows:

  • Training model of 20 pages, and evaluation set of 100 pages
  • Training model of 50 pages, and evaluation set of 70 pages
  • Training model of 75 pages, and evaluation set of 45 pages
  • Training model of 100 pages, and evaluation set of 20 pages

The graphs below show each of the four iterations, from top to bottom:

CER of 26.80% for a training set of 20 pages

CER of 19.27% for a training set of 50 pages

CER of 15.10% for a training set of 75 pages

CER of 13.57% for a training set of 100 pages

The results can be summed up in a table:

Training Set (pp.)

Evaluation Set (pp.)

Character Error Rate (CER)

Character Accuracy

20

100

26.80%

73.20%

50

70

19.27%

80.73%

75

45

15.10%

84.9%

100

20

13.57%

86.43%

 

Indeed the accuracy improved with each iteration of training – the more training data the neural networks in Transkribus’ HTR+ engine have, the better the results. With a training set of a 100 pages, Transkribus managed to automatically transcribe the rest of the 20 pages with 86.43% accuracy rate – which is pretty good for historical handwritten Arabic script.

As a next step, we could consider (1) adding more ground-truthed pages from our manuscripts to increase the size of the training set, and by that improve HTR accuracy; (2) adding other open ground truth datasets of handwritten Arabic to the existing training set, and checking whether this improves HTR accuracy; and (3) running a few manuscripts from QDL through Transkribus to see how its HTR+ engine transcribes them. If accuracy is satisfactory, we could see how to scale this up and make those transcriptions openly available and easily accessible.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to participating at the OpenITI AOCP workshop entitled “OCR and Digital Text Production: Learning from the Past, Fostering Collaboration and Coordination for the Future,” taking place at the University of Maryland next week, and catching up with colleagues on all things Arabic OCR/HTR!

 

13 December 2019

Do you want to see my butterfly collection?

Posted on behalf of Sara Lucas Agutoli, artist, associate professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna, BL Labs Artist in residence and runner up in the BL Labs Artistic Award 2019.

Sara Lucas Agutoli
Artist: Sara Lucas Agutoli
(Copyright: Ilenia Arosio)

Sara Lucas Agutoli lives and works between London and Bologna.  Her academic research focuses on the concepts of true and false in art, in particular in photography. In her art S. L. Agutoli merges popular themes with a learned and symbolic system of citations. Working with different media, she reflects on the idea of ongoing transformation – of the spaces, of the body, as well as of aesthetics – and creates personal architectures drawing on her inner experiences, knowledge and visions.

When occupied with my full time job, I often spend the time wandering on the net, looking for pictures that trigger my interest, either because they are odd and curious or aesthetically pleasant and elegant.

Since 2011 I’ve enjoyed calling myself a cyber-flâneur1:. unlike the Parisian strollers described by Baudelaire, I walked through cyber avenues, getting lost amid different digital archives. I glimpsed through collections of images instead of windows, stared at close-ups of manuscripts instead of sunsets on rivers. The net was my city and I just followed my nose walking through it. I wanted to make my curiosity an aesthetic operation. In doing so I’ve come to believe that online archives are my personal church of Saint-Julien-le-Puvre, the chosen venue for my cyber-dadaist performances,
see: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/184056

For years my working activity followed a pattern: a few months of research – during which I spend hours and hours on Flickr Commons browsing online archives of museums and institutions saving selected images on my hard disk–, followed by months in the studio working creatively with the pictures accumulated.

I did accumulate images and emotions, from advertising to family album pictures. I wanted to explore how photography was used in different parts of the world, eras and in different economical contexts.

In 2011, while in Montreal for my first art residence, I analysed the different uses of vernacular photography in the 50s in North America and Italy. To do so, I used the open archives of most of the North American Libraries (New York Public library, Congregation of Sister of St. Joseph in Canada, California Historical Society and many others) and a private physical archive located in a tin box in my grandmother house.

This lead to a series of pictures inspired by this contrast. The series was exhibited in a solo show called Fermez les yeux.

Sara Mickey: Fermez les yeux
Sara Mickey: Fermez les yeux

The vastness and the richness of topics of the images I accumulated triggered constantly my creativity and my sense of humour. They often made me ask myself  “why do those pictures exist”?

The images – especially those more vernacular, random and unforeseen – became the objects trouvés I could rework using my imagination and reality.

During this dadaist-inspired net-surfing, the most fertile encounter of the last years has been the one with the collections of two of the major London institutions: the British Library and the Wellcome Collection digital archives.  

I was about to move from Italy to London and so my artistic research was about to change, inspired by this encounter.

I started to become interested in the aesthetics of the Victorian era and in the concept of the museum as an extension of a wunderkammer.

I started collecting  images of naturalia 2 and decided to transform them into artificialia in my studio.  And so I did, merging and morphing creatively these images. In 2013 I produced a digital collage of a butterfly scientific illustration and a medical vulva lithography and it was exhibited in public space in Bologna during CHEAP poster Festival.

Cheap Poster Festival
Posters as part of the CHEAP poster festival

This collage of images from the British Library and the Wellcome Collection became the first piece of the larger project Il muro delle meraviglie – the wall of wonders – for which I chose to use the wall of my living room in my home/atelier in NW London.

Il muro delle meraviglie started like a joke to mock the colonialist aesthetic of Victorian museum collections and it became a work of art. Among the wonders I added subsequently, you can find that first collage of the butterfly and the vulva, which I decided to call  “Do you want to see my butterfly collection?” to make my queer/ feminist perspective encounter the delicacy of the naturalistic illustration of butterfly.

The title, in Italian, refers to an apparently naïve question which has an explicit sexual allusion.

The person who asks “come see my butterflies’ collection” might be suggesting it to obtain something more, as the butterfly is used as a metaphor for the female sex.

Sara Deep Thrash
Intallazione a DEEP THRASH

This work criticises the male chauvinist obsession for cataloguing, intended as an activity aimed more at showing off, than simply showing. 

It represents a feminist critique and re-appropriation of such images.

Here the butterflies become proper “c*nts” and give visibility to the female genitalia.

It has been exhibited for the first time in 2013 on the streets of Bologna (IT) during CHEAP festival and at Queer demonstration thanks to C*ntemporary

If I didn’t have access to the BL and the Wellcome digital archives, all of this wouldn’t have been possible.

Finally, I would like to thank the support I have received from BL Labs and am excited about the new experiments and projects waiting for me around the corner.

Footnotes

  1. Flâneur: Flâneur is a French term meaning ‘stroller’ or ‘loafer’ used by nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire to identify an observer of modern urban life. Dada raised the tradition of Flânerie to the level of an aesthetic operation. The Parisian walk described by Walter Benjamin in the 1920s id utilized as an art form that inscribes itself directly in the real space and time, rather than on a medium.
  2. Naturalia : Naturalia, which includes creatures and natural objects, with a particular interest in monsters

29 November 2019

Introducing Filipe Bento - BL Labs Technical Lead

Posted by Filipe Bento, BL Labs Technical Lead

Filipe BentoI am passionate about libraries and digital initiatives within them, and am particularly interested in Open Knowledge, scholarly communication, scientific information dissemination, (Linked) Open Data, and all the innovative services that can be offered to promote their ultimate dissemination and usage, not only within academia, but also within the wider community such as industry and society. I have over twenty years experience in developing and supporting library tools, some of which have facilitated automation over manual methods to make the lives of people who work or use libraries easier.

Before working at the British Library, I was an independent consultant in the areas of digital strategies and initiatives, library technologies, information management, digital policies, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Open Source Software (OSS). Previous to that, I worked at EBSCO Information Services in several roles, firstly as the Discovery Service Engineering Support Team Manager (Europe and Latin America) and for three years as the Software Services, Application Programming Interfaces (API) and Applications (Apps) manager. My last role at EBSCO was implementing and managing the EBSCO App Store which involved working with several departments within the organisation such as marketing and legal.

Filipe Bento giving a talk the BAD conference in the Azores
Giving a talk the National Congress of BAD (Portuguese Librarians, Archivists and Documentalists Association), in the Azores

I helped the University of Aveiro's Library become the first Portuguese adopter of reference Open Source Software (OSS)  - OJS [Open Journal Systems] and implemented the institutional digital repository DSpace for the university (which included a massive data transformation and records deposit, often from citations exported from Scopus). I started my career as a lecturer and then as a computer specialist at the University of Aveiro’s Library, coordinating the development of information systems for its many branches for over fifteen years.

My PhD research in Information and Communication in Digital Platforms gave me the opportunity to connect with my professional interests in libraries, especially in the areas of information discovery. In my PhD, I was able to implement VuFind with innovative community features, as a proposal for the university, which involved engaging actively in its developer community, providing general and technical support in the process. My thesis is available via the link "Search 4.0: Integration and Cooperation Confluence in Scientific Information Discovery".

University of Aveiro (main campus), Portugal
University of Aveiro (main campus), Portugal

I have also been very active in a number of communities;
I was the (former) chairman of the board of USE.pt, the Portuguese Ex Libris Systems’ Users Association, and a previous member of the DigiMedia Research Center - Digital Media and Interaction at the University of Aveiro.

In my personal life I had been a radio and club DJ and worked on a number of personal music projects. I enjoy photography and video and am a keen traveler. I especially like being behind the wheels of cars / motorbikes and the propellers of drones.

I am really excited in joining the BL Labs team as I believe it provides an excellent opportunity to apply my skills, knowledge and expertise in library digital collections development, systems, data and APIs in a digital scholarship and wider context. I am really looking forward in offering practical advice and implementations in providing access to data, data curation, data visualisation, text and data mining and interactive web based computing environments such as Jupyter Notebooks to name a few. BL Labs and the British Library offers a rich, innovative and stimulating environment to explore what its staff and users want to do with its incredible and diverse digital collections.