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Monday, January 21, 2008

Library of Congress and Flickr Team Up

For the past year or so a few bold libraries and museums have been posting their images to the photo sharing service The latest collection, and surely the most exciting, is from the Library of Congress.

The collaboration, known as The Commons, has apparently been up since last summer. It is a Flickr photostream drawing on LOC's prints and photographs online collection, including color FSA/OWI images from the 1930s and 1940s, and black and white news photos from the 1910s. Of course, these images are already freely available via the LOC's American Memory site. But I am sure this project will bring the images to a much wider audience. Also, part of the fun is adding descriptive tags to the images.

The move toward Flickr seems to have started the photos of John Collier, Jr. from the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. The next formal effort I found was from the Tamiment Library at New York University. Their first effort drew from the recently donated papers of the Communist Party USA, and now they also have a collection of anarchist documents and artifacts. (Last year I uploaded a collection of Chicago protest images that were originally part of Newberry Library exhibit on free speech in Chicago, but this was not a library-sponsored effort, nor did I make any effort to create formal metadata.)

Along with these library-sponsored efforts, I've been watching the photostream of "vieilles_annonces", a midwesterner who buys slide collections and old magazines at estate sales. A large collection of travel slides taken by one family during the 1950s and 1960s offers some historically interesting images of cityscapes and workplaces (including stone masons in Lebanon during the 1950s. These images remind me very much of those in the Charles Cushman collection from the Indiana University.

Naturally, there is a difference between the well-documented library-sponsored efforts and the labor-of-love salvage operations, at least in terms of metadata. But I suspect the formal and the informal efforts inform and stimulate each other. Together they offer a huge deepening of the historical imagery of online life. It will be fascinating to see how people use these collections, and what new collecting they stimulate.

It's been several months since I posted. Moving from the Midwest to California was pretty disruptive. But this is just the kind of fun development I needed to get me back online. So look for posts in the near future about other digital tools, the usage of "heartland" in the West, and other odds and ends.

The image of women war workers at the Willow Run factory in Michigan goes out to Frank who always likes to remind me of the world-historical role played by "heartland" industries during World War II.