Library Releases Report on Flickr Pilot

In January, the Library embarked on something that took the online community by storm. In conjunction with Flickr, we loaded a few thousand images from the Library of Congress’ vast collections and asked the user community to get involved: Give us your tags, your comments, your huddled masses …

We were essentially conducting an experiment to see how crowdsourcing might enhance the quality of the information we are able to provide about our collections, while also finding innovative ways to get those collections out to people who might have an avid interest in them.

As we’ve said again and again, we’ve been bowled over by the response. Now, the Library has released its report on the Flickr pilot. (The full report is here; a summary is here. Both links are PDFs.)

After the jump is an account of some of our findings, as adapted from a piece intended for the Library of Congress Gazette, our in-house newsletter.

Milestone for Library’s Flickr Pilot

Only nine months into the Library of Congress’ pilot project placing Library photos on the Web site Flickr, the photos have drawn more than 10 million views, 7,166 comments and more than 67,000 tags, according to a new report from the project team overseeing the lively project.

“The popularity and impact of the pilot have been remarkable,” said Michelle Springer, project manager for digital initiatives in the Office of Strategic Initiatives, who said total views reached 10 million in October. The site is averaging 500,000 views a month, she said, adding that Flickr members have marked 79 percent of the photos as “favorites.”

The report recommends that the Library of Congress continue to participate in The Commons and explore other Web 2.0 communities.

The pilot launched early this year.

The report details how the Flickr project has increased awareness of collections in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division and sparked creative interaction with them. It has also given Library staff experience in social tagging and Web 2.0 community input and cast the Library in a leadership role for other cultural and government communities exploring Web 2.0 possibilities.

An area within Flickr called The Commons was introduced with the Library’s project launch and a growing number of libraries, museums, and archives have since launched their own accounts within the Commons framework. Currently 16 additional institutions from the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands are sharing selections from their photo archives and inviting the public to contribute information.

Experimentation has continued. Since March, 50 photos from the Bain News Service collection have been added each Friday, keeping interest fresh. Today the account offers over 4,900 photos, including 15 panoramas related to World War I, added in remembrance of Veteran’s Day in a coordinated posting with other Commons members.

The pilot spurred many positive yet unexpected outcomes—especially Flickr members’ willingness to devote great effort to photo-related detective work and their level of engagement with historical images. Further, Flickr members have often drawn on personal histories to connect with the pictures, including memories of farming practices, grandparents’ lives, women’s roles in World War II, and the changing landscape of local neighborhoods.

A photo of the Sylvia Sweets Tea Room, for example, sparked a detailed and moving account from the restaurant owner’s family. Similarly, a photo of cars parked next to a huge haystack prompted a community dialogue on the shape of the stack, the reasons to store so much hay uncovered, and the spareness of old tires. Notes in the Library’s own catalog records now lead users to the information added to Library photos on the Flickr Commons site.

When Flickr commenters provide corrected place and proper names, more precise dates, and event names, Prints and Photographs Division staff verify the information and have used it to update more than 500 records for the Library’s catalog (with many more in the queue), citing the Flickr Commons Project as the source of the new information. For example, a photo once simply captioned “Reid Funeral” is now more fully described with the note: “Photo shows the crowd gathered outside of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during New York City funeral of Whitelaw Reid, American Ambassador to Great Britain. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2008).”

“Increasing the ability to engage and connect with photos increases the sense of ownership and respect that people feel for these photos,” the report states. “Lessons learned from this project provide guideposts to the type of experience that people would like to have with our collections.”

15 Comments

  1. Kevin
    December 11, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Out of curiosity, have you considered contributing files to Wikimedia Commons, like the German Federal Archive has done?

  2. http://www.not-autism.org
    December 11, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    This project is amazing. I love how organizations like the library are using free technology tools like Flickr to spread culture that otherwise would be locked inside of a building.

    Justin

  3. Talking Books Librarian at http://talkingbookslibrarian.blogspot.com
    December 11, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Congratulations on the success of this project! I agree it would be great if LOC would explore other “Web 2.0 possibilities.”

    Thanks for making the photos available to all!

    Talking Books Librarian
    http://talkingbookslibrarian.blogspot.com/

  4. Justin Thorp
    December 12, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Guys, congrats on reaching 10 million views for the pilot. That is SO awesome!

    I’m excited to dive into the report.

    I’ll be writing more thoughts about it on my blog but I wanted to say how much of an honor it was to play a small role in the project. Look forward to hearing and seeing more next steps.

  5. Commerce Chemist
    December 13, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    This is such a cool idea. I love it when government embraces new technology.

  6. Lisa Marie
    December 25, 2008 at 6:35 am

    Currently 16 additional institutions from the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands are sharing selections from their photo archives and inviting the public to contribute information.

  7. finance
    January 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Sharing photos is very important for research.

  8. Mike Licht
    February 7, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Prints and Photographs Division staff verify the information and have used it to update more than 500 records for the Library’s catalog (with many more in the queue), citing the Flickr Commons Project as the source of the new information.”

    Please provide the rest of the data:

    — How many crowdsourced leads were staff unable to verify?

    — How many items were tagged with conflicting if not mutually-exclusive terms?

    — What is the “arrearage” or backlog of items to be verified?

    — What kind of disclaimer do you provide patrons about the unverified materials on the Web with your institution’s imprimatur?

    — When will you do a cost-benefit analysis of crowdsourcing versus professional curatorial research and cataloging?

  9. Jesse
    March 2, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Can I take part of your post to my blog?

  10. Malina
    March 6, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Well said, finally a good report on this stuff

  11. mark
    April 15, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Incredible site!

  12. Jean from Promise Ring Gold
    May 18, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I think you did a great job and while I’m sure there will be many improvements over time, I’m already impressed with what I read in here.

    -Jean-

  13. Jamie Librarian746
    July 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Web 2.0 technology rocks! What a great way to enhance this collection and bring it to the people!

  14. Elizabeth Thomsen
    August 27, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Somehow this post has acquired a bunch of spammy links at the end — I hope you’ll remove them! This is a great report and I keep passing it along to people, and it’s a shame to have the blog post messed up like this.

  15. Gabrielle
    November 5, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Interesting story Matt. 10 million views in 9 months is pretty atounding. What a great way to get stuff out there. Keep the news coming!

    G

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