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.
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.”