British Library Labs Awards

British Library Labs Awards 2018

The annual Awards formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using the British Library’s digital collections and data. This year, they will be commending work in four key areas:
  • Research - A project or activity which shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Commercial - An activity that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the Library's digital content.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour which inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Teaching / Learning - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 for the runner up for each category at the BL Labs Symposium on Monday 12th November 2018 at the British Library in London.

The deadline for submitting your entry is midnight BST on Thursday 11th October 2018.

Criteria for entry:

  1. You must be aged 18 or over to enter the Awards.
  2. Your work must include at least one item of British Library digital content or data.
  3. The deadline for submission is midnight BST on Thursday 11th October 2018.
  4. You must agree to the terms and conditions before entering.

Things to consider doing before you apply:

  1. We strongly recommend you look at some of the previous entries, examples of the British Library's digital collections and data, judging process, resources and our FAQs page.
  2. Contact Labs if you have any questions.
  3. Attending one of our events.
  4. Use @BL_Labs, @BL_DigiSchol and #bldigital hash tag if you want to discuss your entry openly.

What happens to your entries?

The descriptions of selected entries will be made available on our other uses of digital content page.

Intellectual property

Participants must ensure that a project does not in any way infringe copyright or other intellectual property rights of any third party.

Submitting your entry

You need to submit your entry by using the form and agree to the terms and conditions before you submit.

Entries from previous years:

The Awards winners and runners up for 2017, 2016 and 2015 produced a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects in various categories:


  • Winner: A large-scale comparison of world music corpora with computational tools, by Maria Panteli, Emmanouil Benetos and Simon Dixon. Using a subset of the British Library's Sound Archive of World and Traditional Music Collections (curated for a previous collaboration), as well as world music recordings from the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings collection, the team attempted to compare folk and traditional music from over 130 countries with the aim of identifying geographical areas that have developed a unique musical character. The research generated several important findings: of the 137 countries surveyed, Botswana had the most outlier recordings; bright timbred music from China was found to be relatively distinct from that of its neighbours; Benin and Botswana had the largest amount of rhythmic outliers with recordings often featuring the use of polyrhythms.The project used computational tools for its large-scale music comparison to create a better understanding of the relationships between music and its geographical origins, and also supplied useful metadata by establishing the location of the music's originating community, the year of recording, and associated language codes. See more about the project here.
  • Runner up: Samtla (Search And Mining Tools for Language Archives), by Dr Martyn Harris, Prof Mark Levene, Dr Dell Zhang and Prof Dan Levene. Addressing the increasing need for flexible models and algorithms to search and mine the 'big data' generated by digitisation projects at institutions such as the British Library, the team created the Samtla system. The majority of tools available today are limited by their language-dependent and word-based approaches. Digital text archives often contain documents in more than one language/script, or span several centuries in which the language evolved. Cross-language searches tend to focus on languages where tools exist to pre-process them, e.g. English, French, Spanish, German, and Chinese. Unless flexible tools are developed, much of the information in these archives will remain locked away. Furthermore, there is a danger of cultural bias if search and text mining tools only operate with the majority languages of our world. The Samtla system provides a domain-independent and language-independent software infrastructure which helps researchers and scholars unleash the full potential of large-scale digital text archives such as the Microsoft corpus of scanned books bequeathed to the British Library. See more about the project here.
  • Jury's special mention: Construct a suicide corpus from 19th century digitised British Library newspaper collection using R, by Surendra Singh. In order to investigate how cases of suicide were reported in newspapers between 1801 and 1900, Surendra used the programming language R to construct a corpus of texts mentioning suicide (and related-terms) and analyse time-dependent trends within it.
  • Winner: Scissors and Paste, by M. H. Beals. Scissors and Paste utilises the 1800-1900 digitised British Library Newspapers, collection to explore the possibilities of mining large-scale newspaper databases for reprinted and repurposed news content.
  • Runner up: Nineteenth-century Newspaper Analytics, by Paul Fyfe and Qian Ge. The project attemptes t to ask how could computer vision and image processing techniques be adapted for large-scale interpretation of historical illustrations? The project is developing methods in image analytics to study a corpus of illustrated nineteenth-century British newspapers from the British Library’s collection, including The Graphic, The Illustrated Police News and the Penny Illustrated Paper, more:
  • Winner - “Representation of disease in 19th century newspapers” by the Spatial Humanities research group at Lancaster University analysed the British Library's digitised London based newspaper, The Era through innovative and varied selections of qualitative and quantitative methods in order to determine how, when and where the Victorian era discussed disease.
  • Runner up - The Palimpsest project based at the University of Edinburgh, produced a tool which was able to discover and make available a broad spectrum of books (including a collection of digitised 19th century books from the British Library) and forgotten gems about Edinburgh through various interfaces including a map.


  • Winner: Movable Type: The Card Game, by Robin David O'Keeffe. With the British Library's digital content on Flickr inspiring the visual design and thematic elements, game designer Robin created an artistically and intellectually stimulating game that celebrated books, reading, classic authors from across the globe, and beautiful typography. See more here.
  • Winner: Curating Digital Collections to Go Mobile, by Mitchell Davis. BiblioBoard, is an award-winning e-Content delivery platform, and online curatorial and multimedia publishing tools to support it to make it simple for subject area experts to create visually stunning multi-media exhibits for the web and mobile devices without any technical expertise, the example used a collection of digitised largely 19th Century books.
  • Runner up: Poetic Places, by Sarah Cole. Poetic Places is a free app for iOS and Android devices which brings poetic depictions of places into the everyday world, helping users to encounter poems in the locations described by the literature, accompanied by contextualising historical narratives and relevant audiovisual materials.
2015 (Entrepreneurial)
  • Winner - “Redesigning Alice” by Dina Malkova produced a range of bow ties and other gift products inspired by the incredible illustrations from a digitised British Library original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll and sold them through the Etsy platform and in the Alice Pop up shop at the British Library in London.
  • Runner up - British Library “Library Wall”by Sara Wingate-Gray and Kate Lomax (Artefacto) created an installation/poster resembling a bookcase, which has a curated collection of texts from the British Library's 19th century books collection which can be accessed through pointing “smart” mobile devices at the 'Wall'.


  • Winner: Imaginary Cities, by Michael Takeo Magruder. The Imaginary Cities project takes images and associated metadata of pre-20th century urban maps drawn from the British Library’s 1 Million Images from Scanned Books Flickr collection and transforms this material into provocative fictional cityscapes for the Information Age. The project brings together contemporary arts practice, digital humanities scholarship and advanced visualisation technology, and considers how large digital repositories of historic cultural materials can be used to create new born-digital artworks and real-time experiences which are relevant and exciting to 21st century audiences. See more here.
  • Runner up: British Library face swap, by Tristan Roddis. A fun application that uses a video camera attached to a computer to scan for faces and when it finds any matches, substitutes them for faces taken from the BL's public domain images on Flickr. It also displays the title of the image(s) and a scrolling list of thumbnails of the full image from which the face was taken. See more here.
  • Winner: Hey There, Young Sailor, written and directed by Ling Low with visual art by Lyn Ong. Hey There, Young Sailor combines live action with animation, hand-drawn artwork and found archive images to tell a love story set at sea. The video draws on late 19th century and early 20th century images from the British Library's Flickr collection for its collages and tableaux and was commissioned by Malaysian indie folk band The Impatient Sisters and independently produced by a Malaysian and Indonesian team
  • Runner up: Fashion Utopia, by Kris Hofmann (Animation Director) and Claudia Rosa Lukas (Curator).The project involved the creation of an 80 second animation and five vines which accompanied the Austrian contribution to the International Fashion Showcase London. Fashion Utopia garnered creative inspiration from the treasure trove of images from the British Library Flickr Commons collection and more than 500 images were used to create a moving collage that was, in a second step, juxtaposed with stop-frame animated items of fashion and accessories.

Teaching / Learning

  • Winner: 'Vittoria’s World of Stories', by a team of parents and teachers at Vittoria Primary School (Islington, London). Led by deputy head teacher Denise McCarney, Vittoria school produced a beautiful book containing tales from around the world, as well as creative writing by current students. They used images from the British Library's Flickr collection to illustrate the tales. You can see what the finished book looks like here.
  • Runner up: GitLit, by Jonathan Reeve. Git-Lit is an open-source initiative to make public domain British Library electronic texts readable, discoverable, annotatable, and editable. The project automates the creation of over 50,000 digital scholarly editions from British Library texts, using the distributed version control technology Git and the project management platform GitHub. Click here for a detailed description of the project.
  • Winner: Library Carpentry, founded by James Baker and involving the international Library Carpentry team. Library Carpentry is software skills training aimed at the needs and requirements of library professionals taking the form of a series of modules that are available online for self-directed study or for adaption and reuse by library professionals in face-to-face workshops using British Library data / collections. Library Carpentry is in the commons and for the commons: it is not tied to any institution or person. For more information, see
  • Runner up: The PhD Abstracts Collections in FLAX: Academic English with the Open Access Electronic Theses Online Service (EThOS) at the British Library, by the FLAX research team. The project presents an educational research study into the development and evaluation of domain-specific language corpora derived from PhD abstracts with the Electronic Theses Online Service (EThOS) at the British Library. The collections, which are openly available from this study, were built using the interactive FLAX(Flexible Language Acquisition open-source software for uptake in English for Specific Academic Purposes programmes (ESAP) at Queen Mary University of London.

Jury's special mention (2016)

These entries did not belong to a specific category but judges felt they deserved recognition:
  • Top Geo-referencer - Maurice Nicholson - Maurice leads the effort to Georeference over 50,000 maps that were identified through Flickr Commons, read more about his work here.
  • Indexing the BL 1 million and Mapping the Maps, by volunteer James Heald describes both work he has led and his collaboration with others to produce an index of 1 million 'Mechanical Curator collection' images on Wikimedia Commons from the British Library Flickr Commons images. This gave rise to finding 50,000 maps within the collection partially through a map-tag-a-thon which are now being geo-referenced.

Staff Awards

  • Winner: Two Centuries of Indian Print, by Nur Sobers Khan, Layli Uddin, Priyanka Basu, Tom Derrick, Megan O’Looney, Alia Carter, Nora McGregor and Laurence Roger. This is an international partnership led by the British Library to digitise rare material from its South Asian printed book collection. In total, 4,000 early printed Bengali books, amounting to more than 800,000 pages, will be digitised and made freely available online, while enhanced catalogue records will allow for online searching and aid discovery by researchers. The project also explores how digital research methods and tools can be applied to this digitised collection, for example conducting initial experiments with Optical Character Recognition of Bengali-language texts. Read more about the project here.
  • Runner up: Picturing Canada and Interactive Map, by Phil Hatfield and Joan Francis. This project further develops previous work in the Library on digitisation and access to the large collection of Colonial Copyright photographs deposited from Canada. The output is an interactive map that enables access to the collection by location, providing users with metadata and, where possible, access to the rights cleared (public domain) images held on the Library's Wikimedia site. The locations are colour-coded to indicate date ranges. The project is significant in that it shows how openly available tools (Google Fusion Tables) and data can be combined at relatively low cost (this project received no external funding), and in a short period of time, to transform access and understanding of a large collection. It's an important statement of intent from the Library - demonstrating how we can provide non-text access points to our collections. Read more here.
  • Jury's special mention: British Library Time-lapse films, led by Elizabeth Hunter and Carl Norman. The team from the conservation department filmed themselves working with some of the library's most interesting and rare items, edited the films in their own time and produced a series of informative one-minute videos giving a glimpse behind the scenes at the Library. See some examples of their films here: the digitisation of the Klenke Atlas, the building of the Shakespeare exhibition, the conservation of Tangut fragments, and the digitisation of 3000 Greek papyri.
  • Winner: LibCrowds, led by Alex Mendes. LibCrowds is a crowdsourcing platform built by Alexander Mendes. It aims to create searchable catalogue records for some of the hundreds of thousands of items that can currently only be found in printed and card catalogues.
  • Runner up: SHINE 2.0 - A Historical Search Engine, led by Andy Jackson (Web Archiving Technical Lead at the British Library) and Gil Hoggarth (Senior Web Archiving Engineer at the British Library). SHINE is a state-of-the-art demonstrator for the potential of Web Archives to transform research. The current implementation of SHINE exposes metadata from the Internet Archive's UK domain web archives for the years 1996- 2013.
  • Special Mention: 3D modelling and printing of Chinese oracle bones and Hebrew items, involving digital curator Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert. The Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project (HMDP) provides free online access to Hebrew manuscripts from the British Library's collection. The project employed 3D photogrammetry, modelling and printing of the Hebrew collection, making these items available in a new way and enhancing the level of engagement with readers, as well as exploring new possibilities for sharing such resources.

See a wider range of inspiring work that has made use of the British Library's digital content and collections.
An application that uses a video camera attached to a computer to scan for faces and when it finds any matches, substitutes them for faces taken from the BL's public domain images on Flickr. It also displays the title of the image(s) and a scrolling list of thumbnails of the full image from which the face was taken