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British Library project enlists public to transcribe historical playbills

Members of the public are asked to transcribe details from the 18th and 19th-century playbills to the British Library's new website Members of the public are asked to transcribe details from the 18th and 19th-century playbills on the British Library's new website
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The British Library in London is calling for volunteers to help digitally transcribe information from historical theatre playbills to make the collection more accessible.

Through the library’s new website In the Spotlight, volunteers can transfer details of 100,000 playbills from the 18th and 19th centuries to the library’s digital catalogue as part of the project, which aims to improve the library’s records.

Information to be logged includes play titles, performance dates, genres and cast names, expanding the currently rudimentary, approximate data available.

Christian Algar, curator of printed heritage collections at the British Library, said: “Millions of playbills – posters on shop windows or circulars passed about by hand – were printed to advertise an evening’s programme of entertainment at nearby theatres. Just like today’s adverts, these historic playbills are visually engaging, even captivating.”

The collection includes advertisements for shows in Plymouth, Margate, Dublin, Edinburgh, Hull and Bristol, with more volumes to be added.

In the Spotlight will allow visitors to interact, discuss interesting details they come across and make observations about the playbills. The data will be available to download or use in research.

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