Library of Congress Taps Flickr Users To Tag Historic Photos


The Library of Congress has launched a pilot program with photo-sharing site Flickr to enable people to enhance the metadata on visual materials in its collection.

According to a blog posting by Matt Raymond, director of communications, the program is starting modestly -- with 3,000 photographs that are out of copyright from two of the Library's most popular collections. Both collections have high quality files available. The George Grantham Bain Collection has minimal identifying information. The other, which consists of color photos from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, has only some subject indexing.

"We want people to tag, comment and make notes on the images, just like any other Flickr photo, which will benefit not only the community but also the collections themselves," Raymond wrote. "For instance, many photos are missing key caption information such as where the photo was taken and who is pictured. If such information is collected via Flickr members, it can potentially enhance the quality of the bibliographic records for the images."

An FAQ about the project stated several goals:

  • To share photographs from the Library's collections with people who might not visit the Library's own Web site;
  • To gain a better understanding of how social tagging and community input could benefit both the Library and users of the collections;
  • To gain experience participating in Web communities that are interested in the kinds of materials in the Library's collections.

However, the Library won't commit to incorporating the contributed data into the records once the experiment is over.

Flickr has created a new area called "The Commons," as a gateway to the collections and also to attract other museums and libraries that may wish to participate in sharing their publicly-held photographic collections.

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About the author: Dian Schaffhauser covers high tech, business and higher education for a number of publications. Contact her at

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About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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