[NB: This post originally appeared on the blog hist.net.]
The photosharing website Flickr has expanded its “Commons” project. I wrote about the first iteration several months ago describing the decision by the American Library of Congress to allow the public to start marking up images from their collection. Since that time, Flickr (owned by Yahoo!) has expanded the number of its partners to include the Smithsonian Institution, the Brooklyn Museum, the George Eastman House, the Biblioteca de Arte-Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, the Bibliothèque de Toulouse, the National Media Museum, and the Powerhouse Museum. These additions to the project have increased the number of images available through the commons exponentially and, because the images being deposited in the Commons are being chosen with some care, this collection is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting, if idiosyncratic collections of photographs available to the general public.
Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the Commons–after the truly revolutionary bit about about inviting the public to mark up the images–is that these images are posted up into the intellectual common space, i.e., without restriction. Bucking the trend of photo bohemoths like Corbis, which are trying to “monetize” cultural heritage, the Commons project is bravely offering important collections of photographic work for free and without restriction. One can only hope that more institutions with significant photographic collections will follow suit.