Yale opens up image library, starts with 250,000 free images

Yale is making high-resolution images from its cultural collections available on a free, open access basis. They've started by uploading 250,000 images, with lots more to follow. The collection includes "a small limestone stela with hieroglyphic inscription from the Peabody Museum of Natural History, a Mozart sonata in the composer's own hand from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, a 15th-century Javanese gold kris handle from the Indo-Pacific collection of Yale University Art Gallery and a watercolor by William Blake."
As works in these collections become digitized, the museums and libraries will make those images that are in the public domain freely accessible. In a departure from established convention, no license will be required for the transmission of the images and no limitations will be imposed on their use. The result is that scholars, artists, students, and citizens the world over will be able to use these collections for study, publication, teaching and inspiration.
Digital Images of Yale's Vast Cultural Collections Now Available for Free (via MeFi)


  1. This is great, but in the days of 14MP cameras being common, I wouldn’t call these images high-resolution.

    The largest I’ve seen is 700×525.

    It’s too bad when someone goes to the effort to do this that they can’t make the images available at a higher resolution.

    I’m hoping that once the project gets going, higher resolution versions will be made available.

  2. When I read “high-resolution images” I was excited, but I’ve been poking around the website looking for anything larger than a postage stamp.
    Am I missing something?

  3. This is amazing because hertofore Yale has practically supressed the distribution of these images. They have unique Revolutionary War portraits and historical paintings that I have never seen published anywhere- they make it extraordinarily difficult to access and licence these images.

    American history has a richer visual heritage than most people know- Yale has been distorting our national understanding of our own heritage by squatting on their holdings like a dragon guarding it’s hoard. I would love to know who is responsible for this wonderful event.

  4. There’s more than a little bit of questioning about just what “open” means in this collection.


    Also the Yale Art Gallery for example has a fairly restrictive TOS on use of images http://ecatalogue.art.yale.edu/terms.htm section 1 Copyright begins with this statement, The Gallery retains all rights, including copyright, in data, images, software, documentation, text, and other information contained in these files”
    Also this TOS has one of those amusing “linking policies”
    “The Gallery appreciates your use of the eCatalogue web site and understands that users may wish to link to the web site. The Gallery retains the right to require that you remove such a link, which right shall be exercised in the Gallery’s sole discretion. ”

  5. This is not to say that I don’t applaud the efforts of the folks who got this working – it’s a pretty awesome feat given how many legacy systems and piles of files a typical academic institution has accumulated over the decades. Nice work!

  6. From the Memo on open access to digital representations of works in the public domain from museum, library, and archive collections at Yale University 5 May 2011.

    “4. Legal
    We have consulted with the Office of the Vice-President and General Counsel which advises that without the commitment of additional resources to this end, enforcing license restrictions is often infeasible given the costs and resources such enforcement likely require. Moreover, as the legal designation “public domain” is supported by the rationale that eventually all creators and/or owners of content must relinquish their monopolies over such content making such content available for unmitigated access and use, attempts to restrict access through licensing provisions may be neither legally enforceable nor ethically prudent.”

  7. Society as a whole needs more websites like this in order to promote actual interest in subject matter which students may find otherwise uninteresting, or to use the word which canotes such horror, boring. I dis-agree with the comment regarding not calling these images high resolution.

    Writers need images in order to drive potential viewers to things which might otherwise seem boring, to the typical fast paced reader. Images are often need to make a point an if they are too large they can actually detract from a blog that might not have the controls that are found in WordPress to reduce the size of an image:

    For example, in:


    I needed an image of the lush vegetation that was discussed in the article, but their image was too small, hoever another image was not accessible due to a transparent layer! Not ever image is either public domain or useable however we who blog are often in a quandary about what image to use, and what not to use.

    In this case I probably should have gone with a different image and will do so, if this particular post actually warrants this sort of attention due to the importance of its content.

    It would be nice if the people who use these images, could easily other writers, and bloggers know if their image can be used or not. Having a site like this is a huge plus to anyone who likes to include pics with their posts!

  8. I worked at the Yale Center for British Art in the late 1980s, and even then, there were strong debates about digitization, the quality of reproduction, distribution, and rights. (I was a very very lowly bursary student, however, so only listening in.) Of course, stuff was going to be written to 8-inch WORM drives back then.

  9. I am writing this before actually heading to see these pictures. I am very excited about high resolution images being made available. The University of Texas has been scanning maps in a very expensive, very fancy scanner, and the images made public have quality barely above a good fax. Can Yale beat UT? So, lesseee…

    UT wins. This is pathetic, and while the intention might be seen as a (minimal, for PR purposes) step in the right direction, it seems Yale cannot afford even one decent digital camera or a cheap slide scanner. I’m so sorry for them, doesn’t look Yale has moved much farther than Glenn mentions. And the UT win is “by default”, since anybody with even my prosumer camera could do better, with access to the treasures they hoard.

    1. And here we have true smarts! I had the same reaction as the others, but now we must consider bad website design as an alternative to bad faith in image sharing.

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