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Library of Congress 2.0: Yahoo’s Flickr to Host Photo Collection

flickr libraryIt’s hard to think of a two hundred year old institution as forward thinking but in many ways that’s what the Library of Congress is and (set out to be).   It’s not just the Library for Congress and the government; it’s the repository for copyright protections, an archive of 30 million books, hundreds of years of newspapers, enough shelf space to span 530 miles. 

It’s no small job keeping 130 million items organized and accessible.  It takes a staff of more than 5,000 on  a budget of more than $300m to keep the gears turning.  To keep it efficient, it takes all the technological resources possible.   Wednesday, the library’s staff announced they’d decided those resources should include Yahoo’s online photo sharing community: Flickr. They also decided that it would be a good idea to let “the crowd” help out with the process. A library of the people, for the people and now … by the people.

With a small pilot program, the Library of Congress is making two of its photo collections, totaling about 3,100 images, available.  Some of these images are missing vital captioning information like where taken, or who the pictures are of. The librarians are hoping  users with knowledge will fill in the gaps by submitting keywords.  These user-generated tags, staples of Web 2.0 sites, will also help organize and improve the collections accessibility.

With more than 14 million photos in their collection, the 3,100 available here are a sliver of what the program could become.   (And with more than 2billion photos in the Flickr extended album, it’s an even smaller contributor there).  For now this is really just a small experiment; but it’s also a referendum testing how mainstream Web 2.0 innovations have become.

 From the libraries own blog:

“From the Library’s perspective, this pilot project is a statement about the power of the Web and user communities to help people better acquire information, knowledge and—most importantly—wisdom. One of our goals, frankly, is to learn as much as we can about that power simply through the process of making constructive use of it.”

That’s right in line with two quotations from James Madison carved into the walls outside one of the library’s buildings: "a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." and "what spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable than that of liberty & learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual & surest support?"

All of the images initially available in the program were chosen because they are both in the public domain and have been scanned in high resolution.  If the program is well received other photos may be added.  Likely candidates include the Civil War photos in their collection, or other images free of copyright restrictions.

Anyone will be able to explore the pictures.  A Flickr account is, however, required to submit a tag or comment.

It’s unclear how long the photos will be available. The library’s announcement left the time frame vague and subject to “the amount of user interest and tagging activity related to the materials.”

Because the pictures are in the public domain, and there are no known copyright restrictions, reuse of the images for stock photos, derivative works or other projects is theoretically possible.

Obscure fact : When it was formed, the Library of Congress was considered important enough that when Jefferson signed the first law defining its administration, the law made the nation’s chief librarian, the Librarian of Congress, a presidential appointee.  Since 1802, there have been 13 appointed, including the current head. 


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