The surprising adventures of the mechanical curator

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Talk given at ELAG 2014 -

Text of The surprising adventures of the mechanical curator

  • Surprising? It was an experiment, after all...
  • Ah, Ive not said what it is, have I? Lets start at the beginning...
  • [Insert clichd time-travel effects here]
  • British Library Labs funded by the Andrew K. Mellon foundation (2013 - ) Mahendra Mahey and Ben OSteen
  • Experimenting for the sake of the researcher: British Library Labs - (situated in the Digital Scholarship dept.) Create, explore and foster new and innovative ways to work with the British Librarys existing digital content.* (*My paraphrasing)
  • Digital Research Team The Digital Research Team is a cross-disciplinary mix of curators, librarians and programmers supporting the innovative use of our digital collections. We explore how digital technologies are re/shaping research and how this informs how the library does its business. We encourage and support colleagues & scholars of all disciplines to work innovatively with and across the librarys diverse digital content
  • Engaging with researchers Informally (typically through direct questions): Can I work with all of the scanned books that might be about 19th century European travel? I like distant reading. I dont know what it is exactly, but it sounds useful. Does the library offer that?
  • Engaging with researchers Formally (through our yearly competitions) Researchers submit a proposal, entries are shortlisted and two winners are picked.
  • They win our time and effort (and travel expenses and, so Ive been told, some actual money at the end of it.)
  • 2013 Competition winners Pieter Francois
  • 2013 Competition winners Dan Norton - Mixing the Library. Information Interaction and the DJ Can a researcher record a session drawing from digital objects, in the same way a DJ does with music tracks?
  • The unifying theme to (pretty much) all the requests:
  • The unifying theme to (pretty much) all the requests: Give us EVERYTHING!
  • Fetch!
  • The *other* unifying themes to the requests: I need tools to help me interpret the vast amount of content you hold. You dont provide any but make it impossible for others to do so. I want to work on broad sweeps of content, rather than book-by-book. API? whats that? I dont care. Just give me the files.
  • So, a challenge was born If a researcher was given direct file access to a large amount of data, can it be useful? One way to try it out, was to eat our own dogfood
  • How has the depiction of faces changed in books over the 19th Century? aka how well does modern photographic face detection routines work on 19th C illustrations?
  • Success? Not really. Likelyhood of detection: Female faces > Male
  • 19C depictions of faces Likelyhood of detection: Female faces > Male Any common differences? Often drawn more symmetrically - male faces were more likely to be exaggerated. Depiction is typically 'clean' and posed Fashion: beards, spectacles and hats - different to the modern training data
  • There was something else though... People on their way past would occasionally pause and look over my shoulder. Every day it dug up illustrations that surprised me and the team around me. So I wonder if anyone else might be surprised and intrigued by them too?
  • Accessible? In theory, the books were accessible. In practice, it was a real challenge to find anything viewable. The chasm between digital and print:
  • As this is all in the public domain anyway... Whats the harm in making it a bit more accessible? The Mechanical Curator twitter account has only got a handful of people following it after all. Maybe there isnt much appetite for it?
  • Creative Uses David Normal installation at Burning Man Festival Moments by Joe Bell Colouring-in Pages for Children
  • Research and Technology Mario Klingemann Pattern Recognition Software Collaborative PhD A History of the Printed Image 1750-1850: Applying Data Science Techniques to Printed Book Illustration TSB Digitial Innovation Contest New tech for tracking Public Domain in the Wild
  • Crowdsourcing & Apps Metadata Games Wikipedia Synoptic Index
  • Tutorial s Using Photoshop to Up-res images Converting images to vector graphics
  • Collaborations with Colleagues Inspired by Flickr, a Sound Archive series Maps will be fed into the next phase of the Georeferencer
  • Education Images included in Wikipedia Articles University of Minnesota English Literature Course Exercise on Tagging Art Therapy Courses
  • Impact: Hard to measure! Are image view stats really a good measure? (163 million views as of 10/06/2014) How about getting every image viewed once? (done by 5/3/2014) at least 5 times? (only a few hundred left 12/06/2014!)
  • Whats next? Accessible is great, but can we make our data more useful? Not just images, but any of our researchable digital content?
  • Microsoft Azure 4 Research award This was awarded to British Library Labs at the end of last year. Equivalent to $40,000 for a years use! This gave us capacity and storage for our unplanned experiments. Microsoft (and UCL) are joining in on a new experiment...
  • The British Library Big Data Experiment scholarship/2014/06/the-british-library-big- data-experiment.html What can a group of UCL Big Data CS students do when given access to cloud computing, all of the book data and a focus group of digital humanists?
  • Playing with assurance Using concepts from party games like Wits and Wagers to validate and assure incoming tags.
  • [Tangent warning] Scott Nicholsons RECIPE
  • In summary Mechanical Curator is still tweeting, and Flickr is still standing. We are experimenting with broader and more direct access to our digital holdings. There is a demand for this content! Take the content to where people go. NB where is entirely dependant on the current culture of search and research. Right now, its Google.
  • Now for one, final experiment
  • Thank you! Questions?
  • Thank you for your time (Autographs by reception, 10 each)
  • [drops microphone] [audience goes wild]
  • [this slide intentionally left blank]
  • Maybe just ending it with the useful details?
  • Contact: @benosteen Links:
  • Image credits: Title image: from "Image taken from page 97 of 'The Mineral Baths of Bath. The Bathes of Bathe's Ayde in the reign of Charles 2nd as illustrated by a drawing of the King's and Queen's Bath, signed 1675. Whereunto is annexed a Visit to Bath in the year 1675 by A Person of Q" by The British Library (More from this book here: Slide 10 - Title: The costume of Yorkshire, Illustrator: "Walker, George; Havell, R & D (George Walker; R and D Havell)" Provenance: London, 1814 Caption: Rape threshing Slide 11 - Image taken from pa