British Library Labs Competition (2016)

From 2013 to 2016, BL Labs ran an annual competition which looked for transformative project ideas using the British Library’s digital collections and data in new and exciting ways.

The BL Labs Competition (2016) finalists produced two outstanding projects through their collaboration with Labs.

SherlockNet: Using Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) to automatically tag and caption the British Library Flickr collection
By Brian Do (MD student at Harvard University/MIT, Massachusetts), Luda Zhao and Karen Wang (Masters students in Computer Science at Stanford University, California).

SherlockNet was the overall winner of the BL Labs Competition (2016). The SherlockNet team harnessed machine learning which they recognise can be used to extract information and insights from data on a massive scale. The project developed and optimised Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs), inspired by biological neural networks in the brain, in order to tag and caption the British Library’s Flickr Commons 1 million collection. In the first step of the project, images were classified with general categorical tags (e.g. “people”, “maps”). This served as the basis for the development of new ways to facilitate rapid online tagging with user-defined sets of tags. In the second stage, automatically generate descriptive natural-language captions were provided for images (e.g. “A man in a meadow on a horse”). This computationally guided approach has produced automatic pattern recognition which provides a more intuitive way for researchers to discover and use images. The tags and captions will be made accessible and searchable by the public through the web-based interface and text annotations will be used to globally analyse trends in the Flickr collection over time. Try out the SherlockNet web interface for yourself.

Black Abolitionist Performances and their Presence in Britain
By Hannah-Rose Murray, PhD student with the Department of American and Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham.

Black Abolitionists was the runner up of the BL Labs Competition (2016). Hannah-Rose's project focuses on African American lives, experiences and lectures in Britain between 1830–1895. By assessing black abolitionist speeches in the British Library’s nineteenth-century newspaper collection and using the British Library’s Flickr Commons 1 million collection to illustrate, the project has illuminated their performances and how their lectures reached nearly every corner of Britain. For the first time, the location of these meetings has been mapped and the number and scale of the lectures given by black abolitionists in Britain has been evaluated, allowing their hidden voices to be heard and building a more complete picture of Victorian London for us. Explore Hannah-Rose's project findings on her website:

BL Labs Competition winners from previous years have produced an amazing range of creative and innovative projects:

A diverse range of other inspiring and creative ideas for projects have been submitted in the BL Labs Competition over the years, some of which have been developed further.