You might be unaware that the Library of Congress instituted a pilot program earlier this year with the intention of uploading some of the millions of historical photographs in its archive to Flickr and allowing members of the public to help tag and identify them.
According to Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason, the program has been “a roaring success”:
One year on, some impressive stats:
• 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
• More than 15,000 Flickr members have chosen to make the Library of Congress a “contact,” creating a photostream of Library images on their own accounts.
• 7,166 comments were left on 2,873 photos by 2,562 unique Flickr accounts.
• 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
• 4,548 of the 4,615 photos have at least one community-provided tag.
• Less than 25 instances of user-generated content were removed as inappropriate.
The Library of Congress taken a poorly-indexed photo archive that was, in practical terms, available to almost nobody and found a way to make it available to pretty much anyone who cares to look at it. Not only that, but the integrity of the archive itself is being improved by allowing the public to assist in identifying and tagging photos. All of this is presumably at far less cost to the taxpayer than paying a team of professional archivists to do the same thing.
It’s nice to see the government do right by the taxpayers for once.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in historical photography, you could do worse than to check out Shorpy, which is a blog dedicated to high quality historical photos, some dating back to the 1840′s and 1850′s. A lot of interesting information about the photographs shows up in the comments section.