Help yourself to amazing photos from The Library Of Congress

By Paul Michael on 29 January 2008 (Updated 18 August 2011) 12 comments

I'm must confess, I'm a bit of a history junkie. I can often be found digging through The History Channel On Demand shows, all too often because we can learn valuable lessons from the mistakes we have made in the past. So when I recently discovered that The Library Of Congress was releasing hundreds of copyright-free images on Flickr, I just had to find out more.

On January 16th, 2008, The Library Of Congress made the following announcement:

I'm must confess, I'm a bit of a history junkie. I can often be found digging through The History Channel On Demand shows, all too often because we can learn valuable lessons from the mistakes we have made in the past. So when I recently discovered that The Library Of Congress was releasing hundreds of copyright-free images on Flickr, I just had to find out more.

On January 16th, 2008, The Library Of Congress made the following announcement:

...it is so exciting to let people know about the launch of a brand-new pilot project the Library of Congress is undertaking with Flickr, the enormously popular photo-sharing site that has been a Web 2.0 innovator. If all goes according to plan, the project will help address at least two major challenges: how to ensure better and better access to our collections, and how to ensure that we have the best possible information about those collections for the benefit of researchers and posterity. In many senses, we are looking to enhance our metadata (one of those Web 2.0 buzzwords that 90 percent of our readers could probably explain better than me).

The project is beginning somewhat modestly, but we hope to learn a lot from it. Out of some 14 million prints, photographs and other visual materials at the Library of Congress, more than 3,000 photos from two of our most popular collections are being made available on our new Flickr page, to include only images for which no copyright restrictions are known to exist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think what excites me most is the "no copyright restrictions" part. As some of you may know, I'm no fan at all of stealing any kind of media, be it music, movies or photographs. Not only is this a fascinating glimpse into America's past, you are also free to use these historic photos as you see fit.

Right now the range of photographs is a little limited, based in the early 1900's and then the 30's and 40's. However, the images are often striking, powerful and sometimes funny. As time goes on, more and more of the 14 million images in the collection will be released, with the goal being to help identify who and what is in some of the photos. What a great way to collaborate with the general public.

I know I'll be downloading several images for articles on Wisebread, but some of them also make beautiful prints. They would be great for student work, collages, documentary films and books. With no copyright restrictions, it's your call. If nothing else, just check out some great American history for free.

Here are some of my favorite images:

LOC1

LOC2

LOC3

LOC4

LOC5

LOC6

 

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Philip Brewer's picture

When I was looking for a depression-era photo to illustrate a story, I found this site:

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html

with over 160,000 public-domain photos.

They're searchable by keyword, and high-res digital images are available.

There's some great work there--many of these photos were taken by some of the best photographic artists of the day, and since they were being paid a salary for their work by the government, the images they created are in the public domain.

The Flickr site is a big step forward, though. There are downsides to the memory.loc.gov site that a Flickr site won't have. For example, I couldn't figure out a way to get a permanent link back to a specific image. Flickr won't have that problem.

Guest's picture
L the D

That is by far one of the coolest things that I've heard in a LONG time. Thanks for the information!!

Guest's picture
Guest

Check out www.shorpy.com who posts lots of these photos. Addicting.

Guest's picture
Chow

I knew the government had a lot of public domain images but I didn't know how to get a hold of them. Thanks for the info!

Guest's picture
Kathryn

The entire Library of Congress Prints and Photographs catalog is available at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html. (note--not everything is public domain) A significant proportion is digitized, but a lot is, and some of that is even available as high-resolution if you want to do something more than post a photo on a web site. A great, great resource. There are some real hidden gems in the Historic American Buildings survey in particular.

Guest's picture
Lisa

Thank you so much for the information! If you don't mind, I'd like to link to your site from our family site with this exciting news!

Guest's picture
Barbara

After some of these photos are identified, can copyright can be applied? Especially if it's outside of the 70 year limit. (somebody correct me if I'm wrong on the time limit). And if copyright is applied, I wonder if they'll pull them off the Flickr site. I absolutely love that these are being released for public use because as a designer, I also have a hard and fast rule of not stealing images for any of my work. But wow, what a great resource!

Philip Brewer's picture

By law, photos, drawings, and writings by US government employees, created in the course of their work, are not copyrighted. So there's no deadline that needs to expire--those works were never copyrighted; they have always been in the public domain.

Now, not everything in a government archive was created by a government employee, so there may be things in there that are copyrighted, but those can usually be figured out.

During the 1930s, the federal government hired many artists, photographers, and writers as part of various public works programs. That's why there's so much public domain art and photos from that period.

Paul Michael's picture

I had no clue about that. Thanks!

Guest's picture
Eric Roth

Thanks!

This collection provides many opportunities for teachers, history buffs, and the simply curious. Another small step forward.

Guest's picture
Eric Roth

Thanks!

This collection provides many opportunities for teachers, history buffs, and the simply curious. Another small step forward.

Guest's picture
Eric Roth

Thanks!

This collection provides many opportunities for teachers, history buffs, and the simply curious. Another small step forward.