A lot of public domain images
December 14, 2013 11:08 AM   Subscribe

The British Library has posted more than a million public domain images on Flickr.
posted by jiawen (23 comments total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
I love this image in particular.
posted by jaduncan at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

We may know which book, volume and page an image was drawn from, but we know nothing about a given image. Consider the image below. The title of the work may suggest the thematic subject matter of any illustrations in the book, but it doesn't suggest how colourful and arresting these images are.

This is quite an ambitious project, and it will be really exciting to see how it rolls out! Tagging and other ways of making digital content "discoverable" is an enormous challenge, but this is such an exciting collection.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:25 AM on December 14, 2013

They've mislabeled some of them. This is clearly a waiter bringing appetizers to a couple at an early T.G.I.Friday.

This is confirmed by the hieroglyphics, which say "Try our fermented corn margarita!"
posted by benito.strauss at 11:29 AM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Thank you so much. I had just read about this picture in the Times and could only find a small watermarked version.

(Sorry how the picture opens on a weird screen. Flickr does that to me and I don't know how to stop it.)
posted by Thing at 11:37 AM on December 14, 2013

Let's pray 4chan doesn't get wind of this: can you imagine having to roll back all the trolls' tags on these images after they get through with them, about six weeks after launch? Ugh.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:51 AM on December 14, 2013

How does one go about uploading more than a million photos to flickr?? The web interface isn't great for large batches of pictures.

Looking through the gallery, I have to say I'm impressed by the clarity of the scanned pictures. It's a neat mixture of subjects, many of which I doubt I would find on my own.
posted by Harpocrates at 12:26 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

This post is the highlight of my week. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
posted by 4ster at 12:59 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is so exciting!

I teach art at a university and I end up lecturing quite a bit on copyright as young artists often unintentionally break it by using others' materials willy-nilly in their own artwork. I have a project in my graphic design course where students make copyright-free image collages sourced from online collections; the project not only teaches them about copyright and the treacherously subjective fair use exceptions, but also shows them how to avoid the whole shebang by using public domain imagery. This will be a great new resource for them to work with - I can't wait to see what they make of it.

(This past semester one of my students became enchanted with a collection of civil war era photos from the Library of Congress and started stalking one man - he was in at least six separate photos - who had a bit of a swagger and a unique fashion sense (he tucked his pants into his socks).)
posted by vegartanipla at 1:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, what a treasure.

Indie bands for years will be mining this for album covers.
posted by zzazazz at 1:11 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is truly awesome, but man this could use some organization. How about some sets?
posted by caddis at 1:49 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe they'll do better later. Right now there's one (1) set, 67 pix, "Highlights." Somebody got tired of picking out the greatest hits real fast.
posted by jfuller at 2:22 PM on December 14, 2013

Now, if only QI would use this pool of images for their show, maybe we could finally get it broadcast here in the US.
posted by hippybear at 2:25 PM on December 14, 2013

> one (1) set, 67 pix

The Pied Piper illo in the Select 67 is very nice, and the scan is better than many. Aha, it's Kate Greenaway. Big clear stuff by her is kind of hard to find.
posted by jfuller at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2013


It feels like we're still in the dark ages as far as internet access to library materials.

Brings to mind Harvard's Houghton Library tumblr.

All these images and somehow the world will get them indexed, tagged, searchable, etc.

Seems like we need to link the smart image recognition software to the texts that can help identify and tag the images. Like wenestvedt said, I'm not counting on 4chan to get this done.
posted by surplus at 2:59 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really wish Google would image-index its book archive- the ability to reverse image search an entire library would be amazing.
posted by dilaudid at 3:34 PM on December 14, 2013

this is great, i didn't know whether it was intentional or a result of a digital glitch.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:44 PM on December 14, 2013

That's marbled paper, used as endpapers or covering in half / quarter bound books.
posted by Thing at 6:11 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing I discovered is that you see all images from one particular book or source by clicking on 'more' in the description and scrolling down you see this, "Click here to see all the illustrations in this book and click here to browse other illustrations published in books in the same year. Please click on the tags shown on the right-hand side for other ways to browse the illustrations." Apologies if that is obvious, but took me ages to find :-)
posted by vac2003 at 6:28 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

What is going on in this picture? Are they hats? It is tagged "bronze vessel" but the 'hats' inside look soft.
posted by variella at 9:35 PM on December 14, 2013

It's also tagged "shield bosses", which are these, apparently.
posted by donajo at 9:58 PM on December 14, 2013

How do you limit the pictures per page? I've tried "&details=1" but must be doing it wrong. Flickr' new "load everything at once" policy makes it unusable for a lot of people.
posted by EnterTheStory at 8:11 AM on December 15, 2013

The story behind these images is an interesting one. They were originally digitised by Microsoft as part of a 2005 'strategic partnership' with the British Library. The deal was that Microsoft would get 100,000 out-of-copyright books for MSN Book Search (this was in the days when Microsoft was still trying to compete with Google Books) and the BL would get Microsoft's technical support in setting up a National Digital Library.

Microsoft pulled the plug on Live Search Books in 2008, after digitising about 65,000 of the BL's titles. Since then the BL has been looking for another commercial partner to host and publish them. In 2010 it signed an agreement with Amazon to make them available for free download on Kindle. This ran into problems, and in 2011 the Library by-passed Kindle and licensed them as an iPad app. More recently the BL has been running them through a program called Mechanical Curator which pulls out the images and posts them randomly to Tumblr.

It's ironic to see this project described as 'ambitious' and 'exciting', because what it really is, of course, is an attempt to salvage something out of failure. The books digitised by Microsoft are now, commercially, almost worthless. (The BL's official line is that the images have been 'generously gifted' by Microsoft. Another way to put this is that Microsoft has failed to figure out a way to monetize them.) The ambitious plans for a National Digital Library (which back in 2005 was a 'cornerstone' of the BL's digital strategy) have now been completely abandoned. Who could have foreseen in 2005 that the outcome of all this investment would be a million random images dumped onto Flickr?
posted by verstegan at 8:59 AM on December 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

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