As a lot of museums (and libraries) have been using Flickr in lightweight ways for various purposes from image storage to building community engagement for quite a while, it is exciting to see a new formal collaborative project between Flickr and a major institution launch.
Flickr Commons is a project between Flickr and the US Library of Congress. It provides a secondary point of access to some of the out-of-Copyright historical photo collections of the LoC. Whilst these photos have all existed on the LoC’s own website, they have been, like most image collections, only known to those audiences who are familiar with the work of the LoC already and are undertaking (‘serious’) research.
The project is beginning somewhat modestly, but we hope to learn a lot from it. Out of some 14 million prints, photographs and other visual materials at the Library of Congress, more than 3,000 photos from two of our most popular collections are being made available on our new Flickr page, to include only images for which no copyright restrictions are known to exist.
Placing these images on Flickr allows the images to reach a much broader audience and be connected with images of similar people, places and things in contemporary photography. Importantly, this audience’s labour can be engaged to assist in tagging and geolocating the images – work that the LoC is unable to do so efficiently or presumably as quickly.
As George Oates from Flickr writes
There are about 20 million unique tags on Flickr today. 20 million! They are the bread and butter of what makes our search work so beautifully. Simply by association, tags create emergent collections of words that reinforce meaning. You can see this in our clusters around words like tiger, sea, jump, or even turkey.
What if we could lend this wonderful power to some of the huge reference collections around the world? What if you could contribute your own description of a certain photo in, say, the Library of Congress’ vast photographic archive, knowing that it might make the photo you’ve touched a little easier to find for the next person?
This isn’t the first formal engagement between a library and Flickr. The National Library of Australia’s Picture Australia project set up a relationship to allow the community to upload contemporary images to Flickr and have them catalogued inside the NLA’s resource as well.
What is interesting about the Commons project is that it reverses this and releases back to the community a wealth of historical imagery that previously was hard to find. Flickr is a good match for the collections of images already available under this project – the pro-am photographic community is well represented in Flickr which bodes well for higher quality tagging and user generated content, Flickr already has a lot of ‘similar’ contemporary content with which these historical images can be linked, and of course Flickr’s API opens up some interesting possibilities for recombinatory projects.
No doubt many other organisations will be watching this closely to see what impact this has on the LoC’s reputation and image sales revenue. Also, for those who hold similar collections, how their own image sales revenue is affected. Likewise, others will ask whether these public domain resources should now also be replicated out to other image services as well, and when more public domain collections will be uploaded in a similar fashion.