The people's library

The Library of Congress has added 3,000 images to Flickr, a Yahoo-owned photo-sharing web site. The images include color pics from the 1930s and 1940s and news photos from the early 1900s. All seem to be from the U.S. None have no known copyright restrictions. Flickr has created a special section within their site, The Commons, to house such collections.

The assembly of a B-17 tail fuselage. October 1942.

The LoC offers over a million pictures in its own online archive, so why join the rabble on Flickr?

As Flickr's blog reminds us, "many hands make light work." The LoC blog admits that tagging each of these images (adding descriptive key words to pictures making the photos searchable) would be a daunting task. The Flickr community will do this tagging for free, contributing hundred of person-hours to the archive in short order, and I suspect the LoC will be pleased with the results.

Syndicating the images on Flickr also allows the LoC to better fulfill its mission "to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people." According to Alexa, Flickr draws 50-times more visitors than LoC's site.

Librarians are smarties. While some may wince at displaying publicly-held photos on a for-profit platform, I applaud the move and hope other governmental archives and non-profits take note.

Update: The LoC has released a report on this project (12/11/08).

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