For project news and progress updates, follow @LibCrowds on twitter, or sign up to the British Library's occasional Crowdsourcing newsletter. Got questions? You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, ask on the project forum or on twitter.
The British Library holds a significant collection of playbills dating from the 1730s to the 1950s. These playbills list entertainments at theatres, fairs, pleasure gardens and other such venues. Small 'handbills' were circulated amongst theatre-goers enjoying the performance while larger 'great bills' were posted on walls and windows. The Library's collection of approximately 234,000 playbills has been bound into over 1000 volumes, some of which have been digitised - and now we need your help to bring them back into the spotlight.
These single-sheet items are usually ephemeral (fires always needed lighting!) and the Library's collection only exists thanks to zealous collectors who saved a large number of sheets. These playbills offer a wealth of historical detail with thousands of personal names of actors, playwrights, composers, and theatre managers. Less well-known and even forgotten plays are preserved alongside popular performances and much-loved dramas. Some of these plays may not have been independently recorded in printed form, while some songs may not have been committed to any printed score - transcribers may well discover previously lost plays or songs!
The rich details captured on each historical page - from forgotten personal names to popular songs and plays to lost moments in theatrical history - aren't yet available to search online. You can help unlock this important collection - every contribution, large or small, makes a difference.
The screenshots show how varied the text on playbills can be - it's easy enough for people to spot the title of upcoming plays on the page, but it's not the kind of task we can automate (yet). You'll notice the playbills used different typefaces, sizes and weights with apparent abandon, which makes it tricky for a computer to work out what's a title and what's not. That's why we need your help!
Please note that some language in this collection may be culturally insensitive or offensive to some viewers. It is presented as it exists in the original document for the benefit of research. The material reflects the culture and context in which it was created and not the views of the British Library.
About the project
We've launched In the Spotlight to make these digitised playbills more findable online, and to give people a chance to see past entertainments as represented in this collection. You can help transcribe titles, names and locations to make the playbills easier to find.