Bringing the British Library’s digitised heritage collections to new audiences
by Amy Solomons, PhD Candidate at the University of Liverpool.
In September 2022, I joined the Heritage Made Digital team at the British Library for a three-month placement with the aim of making more of the Library’s digitised content freely available online. At the start of the project, I worked with the partner to identify two collections to work on during my placement. I began by receiving training in the digitisation workflow used at the British Library, which takes collection items through conservation, imaging, analysis and image quality control checks, copyright clearances and ingest into Libsafe (a digital preservation system) and the Library’s Universal Viewer. I put my initial training into action by working on a discrete set of manuscripts from the Brontë family and from Jane Austen’s works. Working with digitised collections was a completely new experience as my PhD relies heavily on physical interaction with books and manuscripts. The training from the team gave me a new-found appreciation for digitised content and the work behind the scenes to make collections available.
My main project during the placement was to prepare the Evanion collection for display and to increase public use of the collection. The Evanion collection contains nineteenth-century ephemera on a variety of themes including theatrical entertainment, local politics and advertisements for products. I began by analysing the technical metadata of the images using tools such as DROID and ExifTool. These tools were crucial for identifying unique filesets, identifying duplicate checksums, checking that images had the correct resolution and colour profile and identifying file formats. Once I had identified unique filesets, I began a manual image quality control check to ensure the best images were prepared for display online. This was one of my favourite tasks because it felt like I was getting an insight into nineteenth-century life. I wrote two blog posts during my placement on aspects of the collection – one on baking products and one on pantomimes.
The training opportunities during the placement were one of the biggest highlights. I took part in the British Library’s Digital Scholarship training programme for staff, learning about OCR, HTR, automated workflows, IIIF and digital curation. The training programme enhanced previous archival training and will be hugely valuable in my future projects. Using the IIIF training, I created an online exhibition on the Exhibit platform about nineteenth-century female entertainers and sportswomen featured within the Evanion collection. It was great to be able to prepare the images for display and then to research the collection and share that with new audiences.
The placement was a fantastic opportunity to step outside of academia to explore potential future career options. I’m proud to have been able to contribute to the team’s ingest targets by ingesting 770 shelfmarks for display online and encouraging new audiences to connect with the collections. My time with Heritage Made Digital has been inspiring, enriching and a vital chance to connect with projects outside of academia. I’m looking forward to building on the skills I have developed in the future.
Amy Solomons is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Liverpool, completing a Collaborative Doctoral Award with the National Trust.
Read more about Amy’s PhD Placement project here.