#citylis Events: BL Labs Roadshow – Exploring British Library Digital Data Collections

Exploring the British Library Digital Data Collections: BL Labs 2016 Roadshow hosted by #citylis at City University London.

On Monday 1st Feb #citylis were thrilled to welcome back colleagues from BL Labs, for the first of their popular Roadshows, showcasing the British Library’s digital data collections, and encouraging audience  participation. Final Programme.

Story and photos by Lyn Robinson.

BL Labs Holdiong SlideOn 1st February #citylis hosted the first of the BL Labs 2016 roadshows, where Labs staff presented an overview of the wealth of digital data held by the British Library. The idea was to encourage a wide audience in the manipulation, merging and querying of the collections in innovative ways, and to this end this first event attracted over 40 participants all keen to hear brief talks on the Lab’s project aims, the nature of the data (often incomplete!), completed projects and news of the new competitions and awards for 2016.



BL LabsI began with introductions for the evening, and gave a brief scene setting presentation to suggest that despite the high level of public interest in AI, and fears of a robot revolution, or Hal 9000 like entities taking over the planet, a more pressing issue was how we interpret, understand and utilise the vast amounts of data we already have stored, but which as yet  languish unanalysed. I offered the contrasting views of AI expert Marvin Minsky, who died recently, and who worked on the idea of Hal 9000 with Kubrick for ‘2001 Space Odyssey’, with those of Lucian Floridi, expert on the ethics of AI and the philosophy of information .





Aquiles #citylis #bl_labs 2016#citylis was delighted to welcome back alumnus Aquiles Alencar Brayner, Digital Curator at the British Library, who talked about the mix of curators, researchers, librarians and programmers who support the creation and innovative use of the BL’s digitial collections.

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Mahendra 2016Mahendra Mahey, Manager of the Labs Project, talked about the background to the digital data collections and the project’s aims of reaching everyone interested in working with the collections. He outlined ways in which the Labs Project does this, via:



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Ludi, Daniel and Alison + Dimitra via SkypeThe evening then moved to an enthusiastic panel of #citylis students and alumni, Alison Pope, Ludi Price and Daniel Van Strien, who discussed their experiences of working and interacting with the British Library Labs. They were joined via Skype by Dimitra Charalampidou, former Trainee at BL Labs, who spoke about her work on the BL’s collection of digitised bookbindings for Wikimedia Commons. This was a very useful session, as it demonstrated the practical ways in which students can get involved with exciting projects, which of course, furnish them with first class skills and experience.

Being on the student panel really helped me to appreciate the extent of engagement I’ve had with the British Library and the British Library Labs, both as a volunteer and as a user.  I was really able to reflect back on the time I spent at the Doctoral Open Day for Digital Research, and the volunteering I did for International Games Day at the BL.  What has struck me most about BL Labs is not just their dedication to outreach with the wider community, but also their dedication to encouraging creative use of the digital collections.  It was a real pleasure to share my own experiences of working with the BL’s digital data.  There are many ways we can approach that data – interesting and innovative ways – but I was reminded that, most of all, BL Labs helps users to bring the digital collections together into something that is meaningful in the context of our own pasts, and our own everyday lives. Ludi Price



BenAfter the student panel had warmed up the audience, Ben O’Steen, Technical Lead for BL Labs, (also games guru who can make customised fairy lights..) treated us to more details about previous projects, and the work of competition and award winners to date, for their use of the BL digital data. He reminded us that ‘data’ is often problematic, and requires extensive cleaning before many proposed projects can be be realised. One of the main criteria for whether or not a proposal will be realised is in fact, whether the data available is able to answer the question. If not, is there some way to get more data e.g. crowdsourcing. Other criteria for project success include feasibility of carrying out the work according to technological, curatorial and legal factors. The potential for further use of research results is also a deciding factor in selection of competition and awards winners. A list of things to consider if you are thinking of entering the BL Labs competition, or applying for an award, are listed on the BL Labs website. Do also make every attempt to understand the nature of the data held.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 08.33.18As a finale, Ben encouraged attendees with their own devices to connect to a server he happened to have with him, so that samples of actual data could be examined on the spot.





Ideas LabWine+CrispsArguably the best part of the evening was the ideas lab, where participants were encouraged to gather in groups over drinks and crisps to brainstorm ideas for using the BL’s digital data.








Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 08.36.47Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 08.36.55The ideas came thick and fast and 5 were put forward to a panel comprising #citylis and #bldigital staff. It was a tough call, but the best idea, on the grounds of originality, potential feasibility and gore factor was the one from a #citylis team headed up by Hannah Kollef. Their idea was to map crime fiction data onto real world crime to see if the truth was stranger than fiction. The team won a fabulous goody bag from the BL Labs …


BL Labs Symposium Goody bag 2016

BL Labs Goody Bag!

Hannah, May Tom and Matt

Winning Team for Ideas Lab!













It was a great evening, where attendees had the chance to meet like minded individuals to talk all things digital data, and to witness how, in the right atmosphere, ideas come naturally.

A special mention, and the final word, should go to Sal and Daniel for their pitch on an intellectual dating service where potential friends are matched by the number of similar images they crowdsource.








Many thanks, as always, to our colleagues from BL Labs for their support for our students and #citylis programme.

If you are thinking about going to Library School, please come to our next open evening on 17th Feb 2016, to find out more about studying with #citylis.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact Programme Director Lyn Robinson at l.robinson@city.ac.uk

For current and future Library and Information Science news, opportunities and events follow the #citylis blog on Twitter @citylis.



About lyn

Dr Lyn Robinson is Reader in Library & Information Science, and Head of Department at City, University of London. She established and directs the Library School, and co-directs the Centre for Information Science alongside Prof David Bawden. Contact: lyn@city.ac.uk
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