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Flickr Commons adds tags to Library of Congress images

Just announced this morninga fantastic partnership between Flickr and the Library of Congress.

Flickr Commons

The Library of Congress Pilot Project

The Library of Congress has a Prints and Photographs Online Catalog comprised of over 1 million images (and growing) that have been available online for over 10 years.

Back in June of 2007, we began our first collaboration with a civic institution to facilitate giving people a voice in describing the content of a publicly-held photography collection.

The key goals of this pilot project are to firstly give you a taste of the hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection, and secondly to how your input of a tag or two can make the collection even richer.

You’re invited to help describe photographs in the Library of Congress’ collection on Flickr, by adding tags or leaving comments.*

*Any Flickr member is able to add tags or comment on these collections. If you’re a dork about it, shame on you. This is for the good of humanity, dude!!

I’m very excited about this and will be participating. Just look at all that good old-fashioned well-formed library data in each photo’s description…

However, I think there’s a missed opportunity here to leverage some of the extra power in having many people tag.

At Flickr’s sister site,, we’ve seen wonderful growth and understanding around how communities of users tag collectively. They’re not necessarily collaborating, which is why holds some special properties we do not see in the tagging at Flickr. However, I think Flickr should expose the identities/usernames along with the tags associated with a photo. Most photos are only tagged by the owner – it’s a safe assumption that this will continue to occur into the future. However, when the tagger is NOT the owner/uploader of the photo, this information is currently lost and not passed along in the Flickr interface.

Please, Flickr, expose the ‘who’ part of the tagging triumvirate (see last paragraph of Vander Wal’s definition). Especially now that we’ll have such rich data around our collective history.

This is still a strong belief the three tenets of a folksonomy: 1) tag; 2) object being tagged; and 3) identity, are core to disambiguation of tag terms and provide for a rich understanding of the object being tagged.

Another interesting note about this pilot – this is the first time we’ve seen a distinction of ‘no known copyright’:

Can anyone use “no known copyright restrictions?”
For the time being on Flickr this new usage is being contained to the Library of Congress account. If the pilot works – or, when it works! – we’ll look to allow other interested cultural institutions the opportunity to extend the application of “no known restrictions” to their catalogues.

Hooray, Library of Congress + Flickr!

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