Datasets for image analysis

16 x 16 Colourful Faces from the British Library Collection
"16 x 16 Colourful Faces from the British Library Collection" By Mario Klingemann (CC-BY-NC) The result of data mining the British Library Flickr Commons Collection

We have a number of image collections suitable for researchers who want to use large-scale image analysis for their research.

About the collection

An immense quantity of digital images has been made available for research purposes online and within the British Library. The collections are exceptionally diverse, encompassing prints, drawings, maps, art works and photographs, as well as illuminated manuscripts, digitised bookbindings and philatelic collections. 

These image collections when used at scale could prove useful in a wide range of research, from developing new technologies such as pattern recognition applications and hand-writing recognition technologies to analysing how illustration techniques have changed over time.

A range of comprehensive resources which can support your digital research can be accessed online or on-site at the British Library.

What is available online?

data.bl.uk (beta): As part of its work to open its data to wider use, the British Library is making copies of some of its collection related datasets available for research and creative purposes. We aim to describe collections in terms of their data format (images, full text, metadata, etc), licences, temporal and geographic scope, originating purpose (e.g. specific digitisation projects or exhibitions) and collection, and related subjects or themes. This site is a 'beta', and is in the early stages of development.

British Library public domain image collection on Flickr: view and download over a million images taken from 19th Century scanned books and our historical photographs collections. The Flickr API can be used to download large sets but if you would like further information on how to access these materials contact labs@bl.uk. Further information about this collection is available on Figshare.

British Library image collection on Wikimedia Commons: we actively contribute images to the Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedia articles.


What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Should you wish to view the original materials from which these images derive, visit any one of the British Library’s 11 Reading Rooms at St Pancras where the Reference Service will be happy to help you. 

Further information

Please contact the Digital Research Team at digitalresearch@bl.uk to discuss your dataset needs in depth and request samples. 

How to guides

Initiate a new digitisation project with the British Library

Contact us if you want to start an externally funded project

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms