advice and consent

Now we will be turning to the eminent, the evanescent, the entropic Library of Congress, to examine their Flickr know-how.  Outlook good.

From the home page, hiding away towards the bottom-right is a link to some info about their Flickr projects.  Turns out that they have quite the collection, and they are actually co-founders of something called “The Commons,” which is a project on Flickr to generate user tags and classification for some of their public domain photographs. There are now around 15 museums and libraries contributing to and participating in this project. A similar project is underway at

Let’s take a closer look at how the Library of Congress is implementing these programs.  They have both their own Flickr photostream, as well as their “Commons” presence, and this is evident on their project pages.  If you follow the link from the home page described above, you are directed to the LOC’s page within the “Prints and Photography Reading Room” which is designed “for researchers.”  This seems like an interesting place to house the collections, considering that on their “Photos on Flickr: FAQ” one of the reasons they are putting photos on Flickr in the first place is to “to share photographs from the Library’s collections with people who enjoy images but might not visit the Library’s own Web site.”

This is a good acknowledgment on their part and a good effort to reach that elusive group of library non-visitors that so many public librarians bemoan.  However, this thinking should not also provide an excuse for hiding their collections way back in the “For Researchers Only” section of their site.  Case in point:

Library of Congress screenshot
Where's Flickr?

Flickr doesn’t even make the list of what’s “on the web” at the Library!

In spite of this oversight, the LOC’s Flickr pilot does seem to fit in well with the other services that they offer.  They have a number of existing digital collections housed privately, and their Flickr presence is a nice supplement to those, but strangely is not mentioned on that page.  Another consideration here is then, would I use this tool if I were a patron of these existing public digital collections?  The answer to this question is more complex, and gets to the bottom of some problems I have been noticing with library Flickr implementations so far.

Existing library patrons, unless they are already familiar with Flickr, may have no real use for the library’s Flickr presence.  This goes back to an earlier post of mine in which I talked about Flickr’s high-learning curve.  In my opinion, users unfamiliar with Flickr may find the library’s photos hosted there confusing instead of useful.  A similar notion on LOC’s part may explain the Flickr pages’ somewhat hidden presence on their site.

For all the utility and fun that I have now with Flickr and all its tools, I feel it remains a daunting tool to many.  However, exposure is one obvious way to conquer this fear.  Moving it away from the back alleys of library web sites (the “for researchers” pages in this case) and into an accepted role as a library offering could create more enthusiasm and familiarity on the part of regular patrons. Small shifts like that can change the library’s Flickr collections into more of a two-way street, like those interactive bookshelves.  The Library of Congress and Flickr have a great relationship going, but the pathways need to be expanded for it to ditch the stigma and gain Congressional approval for everyday use.


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