LoC and Flickr make visual history

January 17, 2008 // 1:09 p.m.

Tags: #commons #flickr #library #photo

The US Library of Congress has announced that it is to team up with online snap sharing site Flickr to provide access to classic photography from the library archives.

The plan is to add around 1,500 images that are known to have entered the public domain, either through donations or through copyright expiration. The photos are from the George Grantham Bain Collection and the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information. No, I'd never heard of the Farm Security Administration either.

The images to be included in the partnership are but a drop in the ocean for the Library, which plays host to a staggering 14 million photographs and other visual materials. With that said, even Google started from a small database of hand-picked sites.

The transfer isn't all one-way, however. The Library is hoping to tap into a bit of that old Web 2.0 magic via a new tagging programme Flickr has imaginatively named The Commons. The idea is that bored humans will see a neato photograph and feel compelled to add a description, which the Library then gets access to.

The Library's Matt Raymond says that the pilot is a “statement about the power of the Web and user communities to help people better acquire information, knowledge and – most importantly – wisdom”. Clearly Matt hasn't been on the more questionable Wikipedia pages recently.

The digitisation is already complete with the photos having been available on the Library's catalogue for quite some time, but there's no denying that Flickr has a somewhat friendlier interface.

The future of the pilot is down to the users: the Library will either remove the collection from Flickr entirely or extend the project to include more of the million-plus digitised images the Library has stashed away depending entirely on the popularity of the pilot scheme amongst Flickr users.

Fancy a stroll through memory lane, or do you just use Flickr to look at other people's holiday snaps for girls in bikinis? Drop us a line over in the forums.

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