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British Library expands The Commons with Public Domain Goodness

The British Library recently uploaded one million scanned public domain images onto The Commons, the world’s largest photo archive hosted by Flickr.

Taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books, and digitized by Microsoft, the first set of public domain images–Highlights from the Mechanical Curator–is available for use, remix and repurpose.

The set includes: maps, landscapes, documents, diagrams, ornamental illustrations, technical drawings, paintings, illuminated letters, and much more.

The British Library’s blog notes its plans to collaborate with researchers and and others who may be interested in organizing and improving the metadata and to discover new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display the images. It plans to launch a crowd-sourcing application to describe the images:

Our intention is to use this data to train automated classifiers that will run against the whole of the content. The data from this will be as openly licensed as is sensible (given the nature of crowdsourcing) and the code, as always, will be under an open license..

Currently, the images have been tagged by publication year, author and book number to support discovery.  For instance, here’s a search on the Charles Dickens tag.

Consider how this archive might help:

  • the theater teacher with staging and costuming
  • the social studies teachers looking for maps and illustrations of the age of exploration or the Industrial Revolution
  • students and teachers seeking portraits for historical biography projects

While there is no obligation to attribute credit when using the images, the British Library appreciates the effort.

You may also be interested in taking another look at the larger archive contained in The Commons.

Launched in 2008, by Flickr and  The Library of Congress, the program’s objectives were,

  1. To increase access to publicly-held photography collections, and
  2. To provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge.
Check out the project’s impressive list of partners.
Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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