Dabbling in Digital – An Initiation with British Library Labs

British Library Labs is an initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, currently in its third year. The project actively encourages researchers and developers to work with the Library and its digital collections to address research questions. To achieve this, Labs run yearly competitions, promotion events and assists the Library in the exposure of its digital content for reuse and repurposing. BL Labs work closely with the Digital Scholarship team and run a regular blog.

During my time as a project worker with Labs, I have mostly been involved in the ‘opening up’ access process. My responsibilities have focussed on using filtering criteria to ascertain which collections hold most potential for investigating with regard to the challenges of access and copyright. Upon selection, I have initiated research and contact with collection curators to build a background narrative in preparation for a department presentation and review for publication.

In addition to content research, I have found myself organising delegate packs and mail shots for events, updating the Labs wiki website, researching and composing tweets, transcribing material for winning competition projects and editing film for potential press releases. As the Labs team are pretty busy, I have had to work independently, think on my feet and look up new topics, take a vertical learning curve with Google Drive, spreadsheets and understand the Library’s own database management systems. It’s been demanding and unpredictable but also exciting and satisfying, developing my knowledge of access issues and allowing me to communicate with professionals in the field.

I joined Labs a year after the Flickr 1 Million release, just as the project was approaching its first anniversary and reaching some intriguing developments such as the mass algorithmic tagging of maps by the prolific coding wizard and artist Mario Klingemann (Qusaimondo) and the striking reuse of the images by collage artist David Normal, (exhibited for the 2014 Burning Man Festival, now set for being showcased at the British Library). I originally highlighted some of these projects in relation to the technologies here in the DITA category.

My time with Labs has been serendipitous. Seeing the competition research proposals, technological innovation and creativity elements have inspired my vision for how educational learning environments could operate in the future, such as Theo Kuechel’s 2014 competition entry, ‘BL Toolkit’ which provides a framework for helping schools engage with the British Library Digital Collections, and how that engagement can benefit students in their learning. I am certain that the work experience gained with Labs will greatly influence my choice of dissertation next year and it’s been a fantastic introduction to understanding the diverse opportunities and challenges that a digital library holds.

– This post has been adapted for this blog – see the original at: https://blogs.city.ac.uk/citylis/2015/05/21/citylis-students-wendy-durham-british-library/#.VXq6wflViko

API Stir Fry

There’s been a lot of talk about cooking this week, so as I regularly feel like I’m on the Masterchef mystery box challenge when I form my DITA blog, I couldn’t resist a little amusement by tackling another all new technology in a culinary kind of way.

Therefore, in keeping with the foodie theme, my main technological ingredient this week is a wonderful thing called an Application Programming Interface (API). To go with that I’m going to prepare a bed of Web 2.0 technology with a nice helping of Flickr flavoured API (as I think images are just delicious and go with everything) and then I’m going to finish it all off with a little British Library seasoning. I haven’t got a clue what I’ll rustle up for an embedded dessert, but I’m sure something will evolve along the way.

So for starters….

Just like a good cheese, the world wide web has been developing with age. Over the last 20 years it has moved from a static, mild character to a dynamic, powerful, connected experience. Coined Web 2.0, it has evolved to include an array of interactive websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Wikis, Google Maps and YouTube with a focus on accessibility, sharing content and creating, where everybody can taste and feedback.

…and so to main course…

Lets take our chosen platform today which is Flickr, a website that is full of metadata from its 5 billion images and which possesses the aforementioned clever communication service – an application programming interface. The Flickr API allows web developers to request, retrieve and return various types of data using its set callable methods within the restrictions of Flickr’s agreed terms and conditions. It operates using a representational state transfer (REST) framework, receiving communication in URLs and responding in XML – according to many sources, an overall easier format to make calls and afterward parse to HTML.

According to Library Mash-ups (Engard, 2009) the free Flickr API is ‘a developers dream’ because of its extensive documentation, test areas, developer discussion groups and blog. As public API’s are generally for noncommercial use, Engard also reinforces the importance of observing and revisiting licensing conditions and terms of service as platforms such as Flickr are entitled to change these at any time.

With its API, Web 2.0 features and the introduction of the Flickr Commons project aiming to increase access and knowledge to public photography archives, Flickr has become more than a social photo sharing site. Over 100 contributing cultural sector institutes recognise the importance of Flickr Commons in digital scholarship, crowd sourcing and it’s potential to re-purpose public domain content in multiple contexts, when compared to other independent library managed software.

Last week I mentioned the British Library’s Flickr Commons contribution of 1 million images, with the British Library Labs team appealing for ‘new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display these ‘unseen illustrations,’ and in particular, an invitation to create a crowd-sourcing application to aid image metadata.

After its first day on Friday 13th of December 2013, the photo-stream received an incredible 5 million hits and now, in less than a year, it’s reached 200 million views! Many artists and researchers have responded in various API mashups and reinventions as seen on the creative projects list here on the British Library’s Wiki set up by the BL Labs for curating public domain content. Highlights include an alternative scrapbook style viewer named Culture Collage and the algorithmic alchemy of Mario Klingemann (aka Quasimondo) – but more about him in blogs to come.

Further related content remixing opportunities have happened within the British Library Sound and Vision department as seen here.

…and dessert?

Well, time for a little colourful embedding – I found some lovely things this week based on searching for artistically reinvented maps (the embed is a teaser so follow the previous hyperlink)

Map Of Los Angeles Street Layout Colored By Orientation by Stephen Von Worley

Map Of Los Angeles Street Layout Colored By Orientation by Stephen Von Worley

and a little from the talented Mr Mario Klingemann (courtesy of Flickr)…

251 Random Flowers Arranged by Similarity

251 Random Flowers Arranged by Similarity

..and a very friendly API explanation that helped me a lot and appealed to my teacher soul. (courtesy of BBY Open)

until next week …don’t worry, be API