Flickr inaugurates “The Commons” with Library of Congress collections

Flickr and the Library of Congress just announced a prototype which will bring 1,500 or 3,000 photographs (depending on whether you believe the Flickr or the LC blog) from two of the most popular LC photo collections to the immensely popular photo sharing website owned by Yahoo. This project inaugurates “The Commons” on Flickr, which has the tagline: “Your opportunity to contribute to describing the world’s public photo collections.”

alexa.jpgThe benefits to LC (and any other cultural heritage institution choosing to participate) seems so obvious that it feels surprising we haven’t seen this announcement earlier: foremost amongst the benefits to my mind, the LC collections will enjoy unprecedented exposure on a website which receives a staggering amount of traffic. (The screenshot above shows the percentage of webtraffic flowing to Flickr [red] and LC [blue] tracked over a 3 year period by Alexa. No further commentary needed). Flickr displays what looks like a rather comprehensive LC record for each photograph, which also includes links back to the collections and the image itself on the LC website. I’d be rather curious about how these records got into Flickr – was a batch-upload mechanism created for this project? As time passes, I hope we’ll also hear from LC about how the referrals from Flickr have impacted the overall traffic on their website!

And it goes without saying that LC will also harness the collective tagging power of the Flickr community to help describe its collection, a feature of the project much touted on both blog announcements. However, I was interested to learn in the project FAQ that LC is actually hedging its bets on incorporating any of the captured tags in their own system.

The announcement reminded me of a number of other creative projects which have found ways to disclose cultural heritage materials into social networking sites or large online hubs. What comes to mind spontaneously:

  • Last summer, the University of Washington published a fascinating article in D-Lib about their experience in adding links to UW special collections to Wikipedia, which includes statistics on how this strategy increased web traffic to those collections.
  • Just in November, the Brooklyn Museum launched a Facebook application called “ArtShare” which allows users to pick their favorite images from the museum’s collection, and have them shown in rotation on their Facebook profile page. The app itself is social (meaning shareable) as well – the Victoria & Albert and the PowerHouse Museum offer up images to prettify your Facebook page as well. Along with the recently released WorldCat Facebook app (created by my RLG Programs colleague Bruce Washburn), ArtShare is about the only thing happening on my Facebook profile (you notice how I’m casually omitting a link here).

If you can think of other innovative ways in which cultural heritage organization do or should disclose their collections on social networking sites, please drop me a line!

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4 Comments

  1. This came out on the SAA Visual Materials email list when one poster queried how LC bulk-loaded images into Flickr:

    “A fast answer from Dave Woodward in the Library’s IT Services:

    I used the Flickr api [1] and a java wrapper for that api called flickrj [2]. Wrappers are available for a variety of programming languages. Many are listed under the “API Kits” heading on the Flickr api page [1]. I used these tools to develop a java application that parses the marc records; creates titles, descriptions, and tags; locates the images on our file system; and uploads the whole lot.”

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  3. Kathleen, thanks for commenting with this valuable information! I’m wondering whether the LC app is generic enough so it could be shared with others… Of course this is early days, but if enough institutions find the option of disclosing into Flickr intriguing, we may need a Library-to-Flickr (Archives-to-Flickr, Museums-to-Flickr) batch-loader! :-)

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