The New York Public Library is delighted to be joining the Flickr Commons and to rub digital shoulders with the other illustrious institutions participating here. Flickr is among the most lively and innovative social media communities on the Web, with millions of users capturing and describing the photographic present. The Commons project brings a fresh infusion of material from the past, images spanning the entire history of photography carefully preserved and served up digitally by the world's leading libraries, archives and museums. We strongly believe that projects like Flickr Commons extend the NYPL's mission to spread knowledge and spur self-education, bringing us into contact with new publics, and engaging our existing users in a new environment.

What is there to see?

Quite a lot, although only a tiny fraction of our overall holdings. In our first foray into the Flickr Commons, the NYPL has posted 1,300 items from various areas of its diverse photographic collections. Consider this a sort of appetizer course, a sampler of collections accessible in greater breadth and depth on the NYPL Digital Gallery, and on-site in our network of libraries. Lush images of modern dance pioneers; haunting early cyanotypes of algae (the first photographic works to be produced by a woman); majestic geographical surveys taken along the Union Pacific Railroad, iconic Depression-era images taken under the Farm Security Administration's famed photography program; Berenice Abbott's epic documentation of 1930s New York for the Federal Art Project; stunning 19th century vistas of the Egypt and Syria; scenes and portraits of Ellis Island Immigrants, the Statue of Liberty under construction... These and more are now available to view, tag and discuss in the Flickr Commons, and are offered as an invitation to explore further on the NYPL's own website or in our physical libraries. After this initial road test, we expect to post many more images into the Commons pool.

What is there to do?

NYPL librarians have already spent a ton of time describing many of these photos, particularly with subject headings that relate the contents of the images. Rather than discard this information, we've added a selection of these headings, repurposed as tags, as a nucleus for everyone else to build from. The hope is that this will stimulate rather than stifle activity on the Commons, with librarians and non-librarians collaborating on the description of this material. There are also a couple of instances — the sets of cinematic images of 1912-14 and 1915 — for which significant amounts of data are missing. Little is known, for example, about the identities of actors and other artists and technicians involved in these films. Perhaps the early cinema buffs among you can help shed light on these photographic mysteries. We look forward to collaborating with you.

In a few months, we expect to post some analysis of this experiment. Watch this space for developments.

About historical sources

Digitized content at The New York Public Library is drawn from a broad range of original historical resources, including materials that may contain offensive language or stereotypes. Such materials should be viewed in the context of the time and place in which they were created. All historical media are presented as specific, original artifacts, without further enhancement to their appearance or quality, as a record of the era in which they were produced. See more information on the NYPL site.

About NYPL

The New York Public Library comprises simultaneously a set of scholarly research collections and a network of community libraries, and its intellectual and cultural range is both global and local, while singularly attuned to New York City. That combination lends to the Library an extraordinary richness. It is special also in being historically a privately managed, nonprofit corporation with a public mission, operating with both private and public financing in a century-old, still evolving private-public partnership. Last year, over 16 million New Yorkers visited the library, and over 25 million used its website.

The NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 640,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including not just photographs but illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and more.

Digital projects and partnerships at NYPL are managed by the Digital Experience Group, a 21-person team of programmers, designers and producers dedicated to expanding and enhancing all points of computer and Web-mediated interaction with the library's collections, services and staff. Learn more about the DEG's doings at our blog:

Visit the New York Public Library online.

For more information about photographic collections at NYPL, visit here.

For information on use or reproduction of NYPL's Flickr images, visit here.

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New York Public Library
December 2008