Free to Use and Reuse: Pilot Browser Extension Supports Exploration of Historical Images

This is a guest post by Flynn Shannon, who interned this summer in the Library’s Communications Office through the Junior Fellows Program. He is a student at Kenyon College, where he is pursuing a degree in classical mathematics with a concentration in scientific computing. The post was first published on “The Signal,” a blog covering the Library’s digital initiatives.

Before coming to the Library of Congress as a junior fellow, I had no concept of how large or varied its collections are. Over 167 million items are kept at the Library. Of these, more than 24 million are books. That leaves around 143 million more things. Included in this number are such effects as George Gershwin’s piano, the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night of his assassination and more contemporary content, such as web comics.

During my time at the Library, I focused on the over 1 million images available digitally, anywhere in the world. Specifically, I was tasked with designing and developing a proof-of-concept Chrome browser extension to increase awareness of and interaction with digital images with no known copyright restrictions. These images are of particular interest because they can be used freely for any purpose.

Once installed, the extension will change the background of each new tab to a random picture from the Library’s collections that is free to use and reuse. The extension will encourage the use of these images by giving users the option to easily download, email and share the photos on Facebook and Twitter. Users will also be encouraged to learn more about the items by interacting with them on the Library’s website. By clicking on the title of any image, the user will be taken directly to the item’s page on loc.gov. Similar extensions have been created by Europeana, the New York Public Library and MappingVermont.

In developing the extension, my first step was to make a manifest.json file. This process is documented in the .zip file you can access on the free-to-use browser extension experiment page.

I was able to use a field called “chrome_url_overrides” to replace the default new tab with a custom web page built like any other using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Basic user interface of the Library’s free-to-use browser extension.

Once I had finished the front end, I needed pictures for the background. After reading reviews of similar extensions, I noticed that the most common complaint was that there weren’t enough unique images. Soon after installing, users began to see the same pictures over and over. Because of the size of the Library’s collections of digital images, I hoped that this wouldn’t be a problem.

The folks at LC Labs pointed me to some Jupyter Notebooks that made obtaining data from accessing bulk images on the Library’s website a breeze. I was able to create a method of getting the metadata I needed about each photo from its URL by making only slight modifications to code found in the notebooks.

My first inclination was to pull from all the photos available on the Library’s website. I quickly found some issues with this approach. I began to come across imagery containing offensive, negative stereotypes. Viewed in the proper context, these images provide an important look into a darker time in history. However, they were not appropriate for the purposes of this extension. In addition, not all of the photos online are without copyright restrictions.

As I began coming up with strategies to filter any offensive and copyrighted content, I had a meeting with the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. Staff recommended that I use the photos on the Library’s Flickr channel, which have no known copyright restrictions and are curated.

Using a Python implementation of the Flickr API, I was able to find the URL of each image on the Library’s website. From there, I used the previously created method to write a JSON file that is read by the client-side JavaScript to change the image displayed. The current version of the extension is pulling from a set of more than 16,000 images available on the Library’s Flickr channel (although the Library currently has more than 30,000 images on Flickr and adds more nearly every week).

This is a screenshot from the Library of Congress free-to-use extension.

Free-to-use browser extension displaying an image from the Library with metadata and sharing options.

Try the free-to-use browser extension yourself! You’ll find instructions for download on the Library of Congress Labs Experiments Page – add a comment to this blog post to let me know what you think.

Irish-American Heritage Month: New Resources

To celebrate Irish-American Heritage Month—and of course St. Patrick’s Day!—we’re adding new images to our Free to Use and Reuse archive and releasing a new resources guide associated with the Irish-American experience. Last month, we launched our Free to Use archive featuring sets of themed content: travel posters, presidential portraits, Civil War drawings and all […]

Free to Use and Reuse: Making Public Domain and Rights-Clear Content Easier to Find

One of our biggest challenges is letting you know about all of the content available at loc.gov. Another challenge we have is letting you know what you can do with it (in a nice way). We are working on several fronts to improve the visibility of public domain and rights-clear content. We moved one step […]

Calling All Photo Fans and History Detectives: Flickr Commons, 10th Anniversary

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, chief of the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. It was first published on “Picture This,” the division’s blog. It’s a remarkable achievement for any social media program to still be going strong after 10 years. But the most important part of the Flickr Commons is the […]

Free to Use and Reuse: Selections from the National Film Registry

The Library of Congress is offering film lovers a special gift during the holiday season: Sixty-four motion pictures, named to the Library’s National Film Registry, are now available online. The collection, “Selections from the National Film Registry,” is also available on YouTube. These films are among hundreds of titles that have been tapped for preservation because of […]

Free to Use and Reuse: The Story of Abraham Lincoln

Last week, the Library announced a new online presentation of Abraham Lincoln’s papers from his time as a lawyer, congressman and the 16th president. The refreshed digital collection follows a multiyear project to update the Library’s previous presentation with additional features, full-color images and new material. To celebrate, we’re highlighting items from the Library’s vast […]

Free to Use and Reuse: Classic Children’s Page Turners

This is a guest post by Sasha Dowdy, program specialist in the Library’s Young Readers Center. Ever since I was in elementary school, books have been bridge-builders for me. I am not a native English-speaker—my first language is Russian, and my second is Japanese—so as a child, it was a challenge sometimes to connect with the […]

Free to Use and Reuse: John Margolies Photographs of Roadside America

An earlier version of this post, written by Micah Messenheimer, assistant curator of photography in the Prints and Photographs Division, was published on “Picture This,” the division’s blog. A giant coffee pot that doubles as a restaurant, drive-in movie theaters, old gas pumps and vintage hotels: these are but a few of the examples included […]