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Set up in 2010 the team was formed as a way of dedicating focus on the changing research landscape in the digital realm. Now embedded in collection areas, and as you’ll see later, joining the library explicitly as part of major digitisation projects.
Getting content in digital form and online Collaborations, Competitions & Awards Digital research support and guidance
Clockwise from top Left:
Aquiles Alencar-Brayner, European & Americas Nora McGregor, Asian & African Collections Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator, Contemporary British Mahendra Mahey, Project Manager, Mellon funded BL Labs Project Ben O’Steen, Technical Lead, Mellon funded BL Labs Project Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage
Chartism was the biggest popular movement for democracy in 19th Century British history. They campaigned for the vote for all men. The Chartists advertised their meeting in the Northern Star newspaper from 1838 to 1850.
The question is, how many of the meetings took place and where? We started with 1841-1845.
19th Century Digitised Newspapers, specifically Northern Star newspaper Digitised and Georeferenced Map of Oxford Street
The images of the relevant pages of the Northern Star were run through an Optical Character Recognition program (Abbyy Finereader 12) and the resulting text was checked manually.
We developed a set of Python codes to extract and geo-code the place of meeting, using a gazetteer of places, and parse the date of the meeting.
Outcome: 5,519 meetings discovered in 462 towns and villages across the UK! http://politicalmeetingsmapper.co.uk/maps/
In 2012, the Digital Scholarship team had an ambitious plan to design and deliver a bespoke internal training programme in digital skills for staff across the Library. The programme is the result of an extensive consultation exercise and survey of the digital scholarship landscape to determine what defines the practice today and the skills we need to facilitate digital research, particularly digital humanities research. The courses were designed to complement each other and were written specifically to link curatorial expertise to digital scholarship. Other instructors came from institutions on the leading edge of digital scholarship such as King’s College, Oxford University and University College London.
In terms of raw numbers - over 400 individual British Library staff members have come through the programme, on average attending two or more courses each; over 1000 cumulative learning opportunities. I'll discuss the goals shortly...
Evaluation found that participants enjoyed the hands-on, practical elements of courses, backed by lectures and discussion. They appreciated the opportunity to explore innovative digital research projects, particularly those which used British Library or similar collections, and to try out new tools and methods for themselves. They also enjoyed the expertise and enthusiasm of the trainers. People appreciated the opportunity to meet others across the organisation, and to find out more about their expertise and interests. They also had the chance to find out more about the Library's work and projects. Some commented that they found it useful for future career plans.
• Case studies and real-life examples - particularly BL-based ones - are essential • Make sure the learning outcomes and expected result for exercises is clearly articulated • Limit courses with any kind of hands-on element to no more than 15 people and allow ample time in order to ensure all levels have time to work through them • Provide exercises for beginners and advanced and always have directions printed out It's difficult to design a course that suits a nervous beginner and a confident explorer.
We met the first goal of getting staff familiar with digital scholarship concepts, tools and methods. Internal capacity has increased, and many courses are now taught by internal instructors. We're also looking to work with doctoral students to offer courses based on their work with our collections.
A particularly cogent example inspired by a course is curator Dr. Sandra Tuppen who attended one of our courses on cleaning up data for data analysis in scholarly research using Open Refine and went on to secure a £79,000 grant towards a research project which enriched and cleaned British Library catalogue data in support of a big data approach to the history of music.
Our work being embedded with the different areas flagged up these priorities for 2016/2017. We’ll focus on delivering the courses relating to these and build new ones where we don’t currently offer them.
• Providing clear guidance and support for getting started in the context of current Library policy and infrastructure. We might be able to help people devise projects, but this can be time-consuming. • Reaching staff who are keen and could most make use of the information but cannot attend because of complex scheduling and rotas • Addressing more explicitly the challenges of working with non-Western materials within digital scholarship as well as non-manuscript based digital collections such as the UK Web and Sound Archives Due to demand after the first semester, particularly from those responding to researcher enquiries directly in the reading rooms, we opened up registration to anyone in the Library with an interest. As roles can vary hugely across the Library, this can prove a challenge in tailoring course content and exercises to meet the specific interests of such a wide range of interests.
Three particular areas which the feedback has highlighted as opportunities for improvement and which we will address in the future delivery of the programme, are: • Providing clear guidance and support for getting started in the context of current Library policy and infrastructure. We might be able to help people devise projects, but this can be time-consuming. • Reaching staff who are keen and could most make use of the information but cannot attend because of complex scheduling and rotas • Addressing more explicitly the challenges of working with non-Western materials within digital scholarship as well as non-manuscript based digital collections such as the UK Web and Sound Archives Due to demand after the first semester, particularly from those responding to researcher enquiries directly in the reading rooms, we opened up registration to anyone in the Library with an interest. As roles can vary hugely across the Library, this can prove a challenge in tailoring course content and exercises to meet the specific interests of such a wide range of interests.
Digital Scholarship Training
@ British Library
The British Library is the
of the UK.
By law we receive a copy of
produced in the UK and
If you saw 5 items a day it
would take you 80,000
years to see the whole
Over 150 Million items
are stored in London and in
But…as we digitise and
collect born-digital, the
Library is becoming as
much a place full of
data as it is a place full of
physical stuff, and there is a
growing community of
users who see it that way.
Meet the Digital Research Team
The Digital Research Team is a cross-
disciplinary mix of curators, researchers,
librarians and technologists supporting
the creation and innovative use
of British Library's digital collections.
What we do…
• We work with staff and researchers operating at the intersection of
academic research, cultural heritage and technology to support new
ways of exploring and accessing our collections through:
– Getting content in digital form and online
– Collaborative projects
– Offering digital research support and guidance
– Running events, competitions, and awards (BL Labs)
Encoded in the Job Description
• To encourage, support and assist curators in Collection areas
to realise their vision of integrating a variety of formats into a
seamless research experience or of digitising particular parts of
the Library’s collections
• To train staff throughout the Library in the opportunities for and
practices of digital scholarship.
How to define Digital Scholarship?
Using computational methods
either to answer existing research
questions or to challenge existing
(list courses here?)
Example: Political Meetings Mapper
How many Chartists meetings were
held from 1838 to 1850 and where
were they held?
5,519 meetings discovered in 462
towns and villages across
• BL digitized 19th century
• BL geo-referenced
• BL playbills collection
“I was able to do in minutes
with a python code what I’d
spent the last ten years trying
to do by hand!”
-Dr. Katrina Navickas, BL
Labs Winner 2015
The Training Programme
The Digital Scholarship Training
Programme is an internal staff
training initiative by the Digital
Curator team that launched in
Developed 19 bespoke courses to
help us situate our collections and
expertise in the realm of digital
research, exploring opportunities
Delivered 88 courses to over 400
staff members so far!
• 101 What is Digital Scholarship?
• 103 Digitisation at British Library
• 104 Communicating our collections online
• 105 Crowdsourcing in Libraries, Museums and Cultural Heritage Institutions
• 107 Data Visualisation for Analysis in Scholarly Research
• and Digital Mapping
• 109 Information Integration: Mash-ups, API’s and The Semantic Web
• 110 Managing digital research information
• 114 Foundations in working with Digital Objects: From Images to A/V
• 115 Metadata for Electronic Resources: Dublin Core, METS, MODS, RDF, XML
• 118 Cleaning up Data
• 119 Programming in Libraries
• Staff across all collection areas are familiar and conversant with the
foundational concepts, methods and tools of digital scholarship.
• Staff are empowered to innovate.
• Collaborative digital initiatives flourish across subject areas within
the Library as well as externally.
• Our internal capacity for training and skill-sharing in digital
scholarship are a shared responsibility across the Library.
Training programme: goals
• Hands-on, practical exercises
• Time to explore innovative digital projects
• Trying new tools, particularly with BL or similar collections
• The expertise and enthusiasm of instructors
• Meeting colleagues and learning about BL projects
Participants most appreciated...
• Case studies / real world examples help
• Articulate learning outcomes, expected results for exercises
• Provide clear, printable instructions
• No more than 15 people in hands-on courses
• Allow time for all to complete exercises
• Build in optional activities for advanced participants
Practical Best Practices/Tips Gleaned
Inspired…Big Data History of Music
How can vast amounts of bibliographic data held by research libraries
be unlocked for music researchers to analyse?
Can this data be interrogated in ways that challenge the traditional
narratives of music history?
patterns in the history of
music, for instance the
rise and fall of music
printing in 16th- and 17th-
century Europe (huge
dips in output in Venice
were down to plague and
2016/2017 Priorities courses will reflect
• Digitisation pipeline - keen to understand and help improve
• Crowdsourcing support – start-up, design & promotion
• OCR/HTR – development and application (transcription)
• Digital publishing – interim, strategic and external platforms
• Data wrangling – support for retro conversion
• Semantic enrichment - TEI and other mark-up
• Programming/scripting – tips for making work easier
• Digital Scholarship – better understand landscape to reach new users
Opportunities for improvements:
• Reaching staff who are keen and could most make use of
the information but have not yet engaged
• Providing guidance and support to staff who are looking to
implement what they have learned
• Addressing more explicitly the challenges and opportunities
for doing digital research with complex collection materials,
particularly our vast non-Western materials
Reaching staff who have not yet engaged
• Offer shorter (One/Two hour) teasers for popular subjects
• Describe courses so they more clearly articulate relevance
to daily context
• Offer informal drop-in Hack & Yack Style events
• Arrange DH talks relevant to collection area, followed by
how-to/hands on workshops
• Continuously and closely engage with our collection areas
to ensure courses are always filling a need/relevant.
Guidance and Support for Implementation
• Digital Curators now represented on all major
• Getting started guides on internal wiki
• Monthly Hack and Yack
• Monthly Digital Scholarship Reading Group
Bettering our understanding of DH
opportunities in non-Western contexts
• Digital Curators are being hired specifically as part of new
• Hebrew Manuscripts
• Two Centuries of Indian Print
• Look to appoint folks for brief periods of time to investigate and
report on priority
• PhD Placement: Profiling the Digital Humanities Landscape in
• This information will feed back into development of courses for
Digital Curators in Digitisation Projects
Digital Curator, Hebrew Manuscripts,
exploring and experimenting with
different types of digital tools on the
Hebrew collection, e.g. 3D modelling,
annotations, data visualisations,
image processing, spatial
representation and others.
Digital Curator, Two Centuries
Indian Print, exploring OCR
technologies for Bengali Print
and digital research
approaches to Book History.
Identify key individuals, institutions, and
major centres of activity in this area, both
in East Asia and globally
Identify notable and representative Digital
Humanities projects and research being
undertaken in this area
Articulate how cultural /societal/
technological/ governmental policies
may be having an impact on the adoption of
computational methods in humanistic studies in
Suggest where possible opportunities/barriers and current trends in this area
may lie, particularly in light of the Library’s services and collections.
PhD Placement: Profiling the Digital
Humanities Landscape in China