The British Library Adds One Million Public Domain Images to Flickr

ScreenHunter_267 Dec. 17 11.29

Rejoice, all ye illustrators and designers, at least if your work involves antiquarian subjects. The British Library has just posted more than a million copyright-free images to its Flickr photostream, and the pickings are choice if you need to illustrate anything from phrenology to 17th century geological theories.

The images come from the Mechanical Curator, a British Library project to scan more than 65,000 books from the 16th to 19th centuries. (Rather a drop in the bucket of the library’s collection of 13 million volumes, but one must start somewhere.)


Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun. Being a selection from


Under the Rays of the Aurora Borealis: in the land of the Lapps

According to a British Library statement: “The release of these collections into the public domain represent the Library’s desire to improve knowledge of and about them, to enable novel and unexpected ways of using them, and to begin working with researchers to explore and interpret large-scale digital collections.”

The library particularly hopes that viewers will help fill out the scanty metadata attached to each image by adding learned comments and tags.

The collection ranges from decorative borders and advertising ephemera to a manual on how to identify cattle from the rear. Given the period represented, most are drawings, but the set also includes a fair number of early photographs, many expressing the curious world view that comes from maintaining an empire.

(via Flickr Blog)

  • george

    I really cannot understand why the British Library are giving away publicly funded assets to a commercial company. Regardless whether flickr/yahoo are making money, or not.
    Yes make them available but do so on your own terms and with the possibility of recouping some costs. I can only assume they’ve done so to save server, database, management costs. I think relying on ‘adding learned comments and tags’ is very dubious in execution and veracity.

    I would also think (perhaps hope) that people would be better going to a qualified place of learning for image research than trawling sluggishly through flickr. I assume (?) the BL’s own website has access to these.

    And yes I’m no fan of these image repositories.

  • Seb

    The BL isn’t giving away publicly funded assets: it is making publicly owned assets available to the public at a lower cost (you may underestimate the running costs of such digital archives). Better spend that money on other projects. Since these assets are in the public domain, they belong to you, me, flickr and my cat.

    Also, better having these images on flickr than no-where.

  • deBona

    Could anyone give me the link to the 3 Japanese women’s pic? I’ve been trying to get to that pic in flickr for hours now and simply can’t. :S