A Flicker of Hope for the Commons: Library of Congress Makes Images Available on Flickr

The Library of Congress recently joined the photo sharing website Flickr. So far, "The Commons" pilot program has added 3,100 photos available free of charge and have tagged them as without any "known copyright restrictions." The goal, according to the program’s Flickr page, is to provide a "… a model that other cultural institutions
would pick up, to share and redistribute the myriad collections held by
cultural heritage institutions all over the world.

At the moment only photos for which there is either no known copyright holder or for which the copyright expired and has not been renewed are available through Flickr. The collaboration between the LoC and Flickr produced this new way of "licensing" Flickr photos that may be more attractive to cultural institutions than the Creative Commons licensing system since it indicates only that the copyright status is unknown, not guaranteed. Groups are already pressing for the Smithsonian to donate images to "The Commons" project.

In addition to making the images available free of charge "The Commons" project also invites Flickr users to tag photos, comment, and leave notes, creating a more interactive experience than most digital archives. The Flickr blog explains that the project’s second goal is to feed this information "back into the catalogues, making them richer and easier to search."

Response to the project appears to be overwhelmingly positive. Lots of blogs and major media outlets have voiced their support for the project.

This transition to Flickr is great news for anyone who, like me, has had to spend time with the LoC’s fairly clunky image website and had problems downloading decent-sized files for use in papers etc. Plus, the fantastic Flickr interface makes going through their archives loads of fun. I can already tell that this will be my new favorite procrastination tool.

You can see a few of my favorites here, here, and here. Go forth, and help the Library of Congress prove that a Commons-based approach to archiving is practical, useful, and needed!

Ashley Bowen

Ashley Bowen is a former CCT Graduate Student.