Library of Congress uses Flickr to crowdsource tagging and organizing its photo archive

David sez, "The Library of Congress is now posting photos at flickr so citizens can tag and describe them."

The project is beginning somewhat modestly, but we hope to learn a lot from it. Out of some 14 million prints, photographs and other visual materials at the Library of Congress, more than 3,000 photos from two of our most popular collections are being made available on our new Flickr page, to include only images for which no copyright restrictions are known to exist.

The real magic comes when the power of the Flickr community takes over. 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. 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.

Link (Thanks, David!)


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  2. I think it’s encouraging. People often criticize the government or big agencies or big companies of being technological dinosaurs and not taking advantage of open-source style projects. User generated content like Wikipedia, social networking sites like myspace and facebook, and blogs are all immensely successful projects. Why not try to employ the same methods for collecting information?

    If this was all done by a select few number of researchers, we would probably never see the proper captions in our lifetime, and there is STILL no guarantee it would be correct information. At least this way, a photograph in question can be debated by two or more users and we might just have a chance of getting some useful information.

  3. I do trust the Flickr community more than YouTube and most of the other media sharing communities. These will be essentially photography fans, not drunk 10th graders adding “no fat chicks” comments. They may not be historians or researchers, but having sifted through the LOC’s online archive plenty, the Library could use any help they can get.

  4. Does anyone really consider a tag more accurate than the original caption provided by LC? Er, you shouldn’t.

    Here’s where crowdsourcing can be helpful in this instance…particularly for anyone looking for free stock images. Library cataloging and description is really dry. Really dry. No attempt to describe anything you can’t see, no colorful prose. Just the facts.

    What Flickr taggers can provide is the more nebulous descriptions like “angry” or “carefree” or “spookycool.”

    P.S. The Wisconsin Historical Society also has a Flickr account — including a set of Charles Van Schaick photos that were used in the uber creepy book by Michael Lesy (originally printed in 1973) called Wisconsin Death Trip.

  5. I thought I should point out a good, real-world exmaple of the potential benefits of this. Completely coincidentally, we (the Library of Congress) announced today that we have discovered some previously unknown and extremely rare photos of Lincoln’s second inauguration.

    That discovery was made in part by a user of our Web site who was looking at some existing images that were thought to be of another event, and then investigated and confirmed by our curators. (LA Times story here.)

    Now imagine if we could take all 14 million photos in our collections (a Herculean task, I know) and harness the community and the great technology at the heart of Flickr. Who knows what discoveries would lie in wait?

  6. This sounds cool. Both for the use of the internet community to help the government and for the new collection of available scanned photos.

    Probably the information gathered from Flickr users will be verfied and will be mainly used to help the researcher narrow down their hunt.
    In an example of a photo of an unidentified baseball player, one or more members of the public might say that it’s Lou Gehrig in 1951. If correct, the researcher’s job could be made easier.

  7. #1– Asking Flickr users to help identify pictures is almost as crazy as compiling the definitions for the original Oxford English Dictionary by asking the English reading public to submit evidence of words’ usage in the extant literature. It’ll never work.

    It so won’t work that I was able to comment on 3 different photos and state where they were taken, as have at least a dozen others to date.

  8. Hi Cory,

    Since you posted this in Jan 2008, do you know the progress so far with the Liabrary of Congress tagging project? Or could you point me to the right direction where I can find out more about it?


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