Heritage Made Digital
Bringing the British Library’s digitised heritage collections to new audiences.
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, giving access to the world’s most comprehensive research collection. It provides information services to academic, business, research and scientific communities. Its collection of over 170 million items includes artefacts from every age of written civilisation.
Amy Solomons, University of Liverpool, History Department.
The British Library’s programme ‘Heritage Made Digital’ is transforming digital access to the Library’s heritage collections by undertaking new digitisation, streamlining digitisation workflows and making existing digitised content openly available online. The goal of the placement project was to make more of the Library’s digitised content freely available online and to increase public use of these collections.
The placement began with training in the digitisation workflow at the Library. The main task during the 3 months was to contribute to an increased body of digitised content being available online. This involved taking digital images through the ingest process: OCR transcriptions, image preparation, analysis of data, ingest into Libsafe and display on the Universal Viewer.
The other main area of focus was to provide a new perspective on specific digitised items within the Evanion collection through research and promotion. The promotion of the Evanion collection took the form of two blog posts (one on nineteenth-century baking and pantomimes), a Twitter takeover based on my placement and an online exhibition on nineteenth-century female entertainers.
During the placement, 770 shelfmarks were ingested – 18 manuscripts written by either the Bronte’s or Jane Austen and 752 shelfmarks from the Evanion collection at the British Library.
The placement also involved promoting the Evanion collection online. I produced two blog posts relating to different aspects of the collection:
- Character, costumes and comedy: Pantomime posters in the Evanion collection – Untold lives blog
- Star Baker or Avid Taste-Tester? – Exploring Evanion’s 19th-century baking ephemera collection – Untold lives blog
Amy also created an online Exhibit using IIIF manifests and objects I ingested for display on the Universal Viewer, with a focus on nineteenth-century female entertainers.
This project has contributed to the availability of digital images available online for wider public research and reuse. During the placement, 770 shelfmarks were ingested – 18 manuscripts written by either the Bronte’s or Jane Austen and 752 shelfmarks from the Evanion collection at the British Library. The OCR outputs created for Bronte Literary Sources printed material has enhanced the digital images available online and allowed them to be fully searchable. The blogs, social media campaign and online exhibition created through the placement has promoted newly available digital images and highlighted core themes within the Evanion collection.
The placement has provided an opportunity to take part in digital scholarship training including in IIIF, OCR and Transkribus. The skills developed throughout the placement have enhanced the researcher’s existing archival training and confirmed for Amy her interest in exploring careers in the cultural heritage sector post-PhD. Amy commented: “It has been great to take time away from PhD work to explore opportunities outside of academia. My time with the British Library has given me a new perspective on potential career routes in the future and allowed me to develop a network who have generously spent time discussing new avenues, skills and their experiences. The highlight for me was the chance to contribute to ongoing work to make digital collections available online. The 770 shelfmarks I prepared for display on the Library’s Universal Viewer will be accessible for future audiences to use and enjoy. I am particularly proud of the online exhibition I created during my time with the team. I underwent IIIF training and pushed my digital capabilities to new levels by learning how to use manifests to create an online exhibition which showcased recently digitised items and could engage new audiences with the British Library’s collections. The team in Heritage Made Digital encouraged me to explore areas outside of their remit and gain an understanding of how a big institution operates. These experiences will be invaluable in my future career route”.
In addition to contributing substantially to our strategic ingest targets within a relatively short timeframe, Amy has also very helpfully and clearly developed the ongoing methodology and process for analysing and preparing the remainder of the Evanion collection, which will be picked up by internal staff in due course. Furthermore, her blog posts, Exhibit exhibition and Twitter contributions have helped us to surface and promote our content, which is another of our strategic goals, and given us concrete ideas on how we can further enhance the engagement and access to our digital offering. Amy was an absolute pleasure to work with – very keen, hard-working and conscientious – and I would definitely recommend this type of collaboration to others in future. She integrated into the team very quickly and established solid relationships which I hope will last beyond the end of her time here. I was particularly glad that she was able to meet with various other departments within the BL, such as Learning and Digital Scholarship, and hope she is able to utilise the knowledge she gathered throughout the rest of her career.
Andrew Longworth, British Library Digitisation Workflow Manager
There have been so many benefits from this placement! Digital scholarship training, IIIF training and use of IIIF manifests to create an online exhibition, experience of working in a large institution, engaging with digital collections, contributing to targets with the team and promoting collections online. Further opportunities involved meetings with teams across the Library, shadowing education sessions, tours of various departments and a new understanding of careers in the GLAM sector. The opportunity to take 3 months away from my PhD and explore potential careers has been invaluable! I would definitely suggest that all PhD students take the time to undertake a placement and expand their career horizons.
Amy Solomons, Researcher
It is fantastic to read about the benefits of this collaborative research in the comments above from the partner organisation and Amy as PGR researcher. These opportunities clearly provide outstanding career development space for PhD students away from their formal doctoral research, while also producing tangible outputs of significant impact to the work of the partner organisation. The History Department is very strongly committed to the value and benefits of KE work like this, which as indicated above enriches PGR career development on both an individual and collection level, while also bringing tangible benefits to non academic organisations like the BL. Case studies like this demonstrate the value in undertaking such collaborations and act as a spur to seek out new opportunities for collaboration.
Professor Mark Towsey, Academic Supervisor, University of Liverpool
This project was funded by the NWCDTP Researcher-Led Placement Scheme. Project Start-End Date: September-December 2022, Full Time.