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UKSG 2015 Mechanical curator and British Library labs


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Talk given to the UKSG 2015, 10am Tuesday 31 March.

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UKSG 2015 Mechanical curator and British Library labs

  1. 1. The Mechanical Curator, maps and the online community Ben O’Steen, British Library Labs @benosteen
  2. 2. Andrew W. Mellon funded project seeking to bring researchers and our digital data closer together. There is a significant gap between them for many reasons.
  3. 3. Andrew W. Mellon funded project seeking to bring researchers and our digital data closer together. There is a significant gap between them for many reasons. I’m there to work out what bridges to build.
  4. 4. Modern research forces us to re-evaluate what is meant by ‘access’ Enabling compute for example: Distant reading, machine learning, statistical methods - an ever-growing list.
  5. 5. Infancy of understanding Large-scale analysis of text is evolving but young. Exasperating situation where ‘black boxes’ of algorithms are used to draw conclusions.
  6. 6. “Black Boxes”: a misnomer It is legitimate and useful to use code that you could not write. It is not legitimate to simply believe the ‘label’ on the side of the box. E.g. “Sentiment Analysis” is often nothing of the sort.
  7. 7. Quoting Scott Weingart: (emphasis mine) ● Do sentiment analysis algorithms agree with one another enough to be considered valid? ● Do sentiment analysis results agree with humans performing the same task enough to be considered valid? ● Is Jockers’ instantiation of aggregate sentiment analysis validly measuring anything besides random fluctuations? ● Is aggregate sentiment analysis, by human or machine, a valid method for revealing plot arcs? ● If aggregate sentiment analysis finds common but distinct patterns and they don’t seem to map onto plot arcs, can they still be valid measurements of anything at all? ● Can a subjective concept, whether measured by people or machines, actually be considered invalid or valid? (again from
  8. 8. Do researchers need to “level up” and become machine learning experts to use it?
  9. 9. In short, no. We do not require scientists to have a masters degree in Statistics to publish on numerical results, nor be prize- winning novelists to write research papers.* There is a middle ground between treating something as magic and being an expert in the field. I cannot say who specifically - librarian, data scientist, PI, consultant, etc - is best placed to gain and use this knowledge without evidence or trials. * although, it likely couldn’t hurt given the papers I’ve read.
  10. 10. Let’s consider a real example. Peter Francois, 2013 British Library Labs Competition winner
  11. 11. “I am interested in travel accounts in Europe during the 19th Century”
  12. 12. “The Great Unread”, Graph, Maps and Trees and Franco Moretti From a review of “Graph, Maps and Trees”: “Professor Franco Moretti argues heretically that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead [...]” “For any given period scholars focus on a select group of a mere few hundred texts: the canon. As a result, they have allowed a narrow distorting slice of history to pass for the total picture.” “Moretti offers bar charts, maps, and time lines instead, developing the idea of "distant reading," set forth in his path-breaking essay "Conjectures on World Literature," into a full-blown experiment in literary historiography, where the canon disappears into the larger literary system.”
  13. 13. 2013 Competition winners Pieter Francois
  14. 14. Bias in digitisation The tool was made to give a statistically valid sample. Due to the paltry amount digitised, it showed how skewed the digital corpus is, compared to the overall holdings. Allen B. Riddell in “Where are the novels?”* estimates that using HathiTrust’s corpus: “... about 58%—somewhere between 47% and 68%—of the 2,903 novels [all publications in English between 1800 and 1836] have publicly accessible scans.” * (2012)
  15. 15. Written versus What is Read
  16. 16. Presentation shapes research questions “On The Road”, Jack Kerouac (via
  17. 17. Impact? Hard to measure but: - 17-20 million hits on average every month, over 250 million in 14 months. - Over 200,000 tags added. - > 5,500 clicks on ‘purchase a high resolution version’ - Hundreds of contributors. - Iterative crowdsourcing is ongoing. - British_Library/Mechanical_Curator_collection/m ap_tag_status
  18. 18. Rethinking access What if everything had (at least) one URL? Every book? Every article? Every page? Every paragraph? What if that URL worked in predictable ways?
  19. 19. David Normal
  20. 20. Burning Man Festival David Normal created light boxes around the Burning man, using the British Library’s Flickr Images
  21. 21. Codename: “Burning Man Meets the British Library” - 20th June 2015
  22. 22. Can code identify subjective qualities?
  23. 23.
  24. 24. There is a lot more to explore… And too much for a single project to tackle alone.
  25. 25. Tagathon found nearly 30,000 maps!
  26. 26. Georeferencing -
  27. 27. Iterative crowdsourcing* and curation Release data with the attitude that people will tell you why it is wrong and give them tools to fix it. Georeferencing maps found in books, gives data that can be used to generate more specific metadata about what those books concern. * A term I have borrowed from Mia Ridge
  28. 28. Light-hearted but underlines a crucial pattern of access Interfaces to content need to expect and to cater to machine access. A human may not be present to say, ‘log in’. Keyword search is useless as a filtering mechanism Text- and data-mining is like throwing a magnet into a haystack, without knowing if there are any steel needles in there.
  29. 29. Gaming re-use
  30. 30. Off the Map 2014 Winners 2014 winning team: Gothulus Rift University of South Wales Created a Fonthill Abbey inspired game called Nix using Oculus Rift Blog: http://nixgamedevblog. YouTube flythrough: http: //
  31. 31. Off the Map 2015 Alice’s Adventures Off the Map Part of the British Library's celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland
  32. 32. British Library Labs Competitions uk/British+Library+Labs+Competition+2015 Unofficial descriptions of the two main aspects of this: “Tell us your ideas” and “Show us what you have done”
  33. 33. My contact details: @benosteen Links: