Author Archives: Evangeline Athanasiou

2 Easy Ways to Make Your Project More Complicated than It Has to Be: Part 2

2. Be immediately over-productive. When approaching the materials housed upstairs in the Rylander Theatre, the lack of physical organization and preservation measures inspired me to dive deeply into the ins and outs of archival practices and specifically what it takes to create even the simplest accessible physical archive. I thought that, without physical organization, it would be impossible to digitize and organize the materials online (notice how I already forgot that I would be proposing their digitization, not actually doing it). 

So there I was for a solid two weeks figuring out what I needed to do to get the physical organization up to snuff before thinking about digitization. I also found myself thinking ahead to when the materials were physically organized, and which online platform I would use to house them digitally (once again, it’s only a proposal, take a breath). Soon enough I had trial accounts for Omeka and WordPress and spent a week’s worth of evenings demanding from myself that I learn how to navigate both programs sufficiently so that I can choose the best one for the proposal. The irony emerged when a GC Digital Fellow came to our class and walked us through various platforms and their pros and cons, and set the matter straight for me in the course of an hour or so.

After a couple months of doing a whole lot of work with very little progress toward any single goal, my one-on-one meetings with our professors helped me to narrow down the vision of my final project. Eventually, I found an application for a digitization subgranting program through the Digital Library of Georgia that matched the needs of the Rylander perfectly. Discovering this subgranting program also allowed me to adopt its application parameters for completing my own proposal, which cut out a lot of peripheral work that seemed important at first, but was not actually necessary for the completion of this project. Going forward, these complementary tasks that didn’t make the cut for my final project can serve as a to-do list for myself this summer or a reference sheet for staff at the Rylander on the occasion that they have an intern or staff member looking to build up the archive in the future. For the next project, instead of frantically attempting to cover all the bases at once, I’ll be sure to take a considerable amount of time to create reasonable, achievable goals that save me time further down the line.

2 Ways to Complicate Your Final Project: Part 1

1. Get other people involved. I’m a people person, and I’m in a field where people almost never collaborate; I’d go so far as to say that academic relationships in this field are limited to someone writing a review about someone else’s book. Not surprisingly, I was thrilled that this project presented an opportunity for me to become involved with a local institution that needed some kind of digitization for its materials. 

There is a theater in downtown Americus, GA called the Rylander Theatre, which opened in 1921, suffered through the great depression, closed for 50 years, was refurbished in the ‘90s, and is now living a second life thanks to the resurgence of interest in local arts and culture. The managing director, Heather Stanley, is dedicated, friendly, and was extremely welcoming even from our first phone call. Once we met in person, she told me about the dreams she has for the Rylander and gave me immediate and unlimited access to their “archive room.” With so much freedom and support, I was suddenly a part of the Rylander team and thus almost immediately thrust beyond the scope of my final project…a proposal. 

Putting pressure on myself to realize the dreams of the Rylander staff was something I had to slowly learn was unnecessary and besides the point of my own project. As it turns out, the Rylander staff were never expecting me to meet their goals, they were only letting me know that my interest in their materials was part of their motivation. While meeting new people and collaborating on a project inevitably complicates some aspects of a project (coordination, deadlines, shared goals, etc.), it is also a wonderful opportunity to expand your network, learn something new, and understand more about other closely related fields to your own that ultimately encourages a multidisciplinary mindset for future work. After only two months working alongside the people at the Rylander, I have found an entirely new dimension to my community as well as my professional life, and have taken on a deeper appreciation for arts organizations and the tireless work they are doing for their communities.

In the Spotlight: Reflections on the British Library’s Latest Transcription Crowdsourcing Project

By Evangeline Athanasiou. March 1, 2021

The problem: As we continue to make advancements in optical character recognition (OCR) technology, there are still circumstances that require the human eye’s capacity for nuanced visual recognition. In the case of hundreds of thousands of texts needing transcription, where can an organization find the time and resources to complete the task? The solution: crowdsourcing.

In 2017, the British Library acted upon their need to create transcriptions of a collection of playbills spanning the mid-eighteenth to twentieth centuries in order to make them easily searchable online. Because of their combination of different fonts, text sizes, and weights within single paragraphs and even sentences, these playbills rendered available OCR applications powerless. And, as an additional complication, even with the resources of an institution like the British Library, dedicating staff hours to transcribing these playbills (234,000 total) would cost too much and take far too long. However, without transcription, the metadata required to make these valuable resources accessible to researchers would remain incomplete. What now?

Enter In the Spotlight.

Image of the British Library’s In the Spotlight homepage. Screenshot by author.

Key personnel from the British Library’s Digital Scholarship and Printed Heritage teams came together to create a user-friendly crowdsourcing platform that invites curious amateurs and inquiring professionals to transcribe these digitized playbills piece by piece. By breaking down the transcription process into simple, clearly defined steps with plenty of examples as aids, In the Spotlight welcomes contributions ranging from the transcription of one title to a century’s worth of genres. Any contributors that are interested in sharing their findings, ideas, or problems while performing transcriptions are encouraged to do so through the discussion forum, which is also an excellent way to get feedback directly from the project’s founder, Dr. Mia Ridge.

In the Spotlight is part of the Library’s larger LibCrowds platform and uses an open-source crowdsourcing framework, PyBossa, in combination with a custom theme interface created through a JavaScript framework, Vue.js. The images of the playbills are made available through the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), which provides a set of standards for the optimal accessibility of digital images across various platforms. While these resources require their users’ understanding of the basics of their programming languages and standardized terminology, each provides a wealth of resources explaining their functionality and providing examples of their practical application.

By facilitating scholarly practice through transparent communication and meaningful engagement with the public, In the Spotlight exemplifies an impactful collaborative project in the digital humanities.