Four years ago today we embarked on an experiment to post photographs from Library of Congress collections on the photosharing site, Flickr. We had done considerable planning, and we were quite clear on our aims:
- to share images with a community of picture lovers who may not have known that libraries collect pictures, and
- to tap viewers’ knowledge to help us improve access to images for which we had little information.
What we didn’t know for sure was whether anyone would be interested. Would anybody tag or comment on our photos? Would they even notice them?
Flickr launch day proved to be one of the most exciting days I’ve spent at work in my more than two decades at the Library of Congress. With the help of a Flickr blog post, people almost immediately began viewing the initial sets that we posted: “News from the 1910s” (Bain News Service photographs) and “1930s-40s in Color” (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information color photographs). Comments—awe-struck, funny, and informative—began to flood in, and Flickr members hastened to be the first to tag one of the photos.
We loved how viewers took advantage of Flickr’s visually-oriented note tool to point out particular details of the photographs, and we marveled at the ways in which commenters offered connections to related images and resources that helped explain the pictures. We were also gratified when viewers saw connections to their own lives. Flickr members have found family members through the photographs, they’ve helped commemorate individuals whose stories aren’t well known but deserve to be remembered, they’ve solved mysteries, and they’ve helped us all appreciate the technology and art of photography.
In the years since, we have branched out to other collections and types of images, including illustrated newspaper supplements, portraits of jazz musicians, and most recently New Deal-era posters by the WPA. We have also made many new friends through our online conversations about the pictures. The exchanges help us to look at each image anew and to appreciate all that a picture can convey.
Our Flickr experiment also inspired the Flickr staff, who launched an initiative called “The Commons.” Now many libraries, museums, and archives share their unrestricted images through Flickr, enabling us all to appreciate the variety of images these institutions are preserving, and the interconnections among them.
A couple of years ago, we put up a “Great Comments– Thank You!” set of images to let people know how much we appreciate their participation. To mark this four year anniversary, staff members who moderate the Library of Congress Flickr account suggested some more of their favorites. Please savor with us a very successful experiment, which has now turned into a gratifying, regular part of our efforts to share the collections with a broad audience.
Here are a few of the images we added to the “Thank You” set:
Context is so illuminating!
Comparing “then” to “now” offers perspective
Pictures trigger memories and curiosity about technology
Information and connections grow over time
- View the full “Great Comments–Thank You!” set
- For an interim analysis of the results of Flickr project, completed after the first nine months, see: “For the Common Good: The Library of Congress Flickr Project“
- View institutions participating in the Flickr Commons
- View the Flickr Commons group, “bringing together the members of The Commons with Flickr users and staff in a space to celebrate, play with, and carry forward The Commons”
- Update 2/9/12: View Flickr’s blog post about the anniversary — it has been a great experience on Flickr’s end, as well!