LoC + Flickr – Commons steps in the right direction

I got into a funny conversation with a friend of mine at the MIT Puzzle hunt this weekend (my team came in third out of 37!) about finding images of things. There’s a lot of data collection in puzzling and a lot of times when you have to do is, say, look at a photo and figure out what it is or where it’s from. This is great of someone recognizes it, not so great if someone doesn’t. Every puzzler has their own personal sites they use for this. I tend to use Google images because it’s fast and I can move through it quickly. Others use Wikipedia. My friend was saying he uses the Commons site. At first I thought he meant the Creative Commons search which I don’t fiund super-useful and told him so. He actually meant the Wikimedia Commons which is a great place to find freely licensed images.

Now Flickr has launched their Commons site which does a few things.

  1. Makes LoC images available for anyone to see
  2. Allows people to tag and interact with these photos
  3. Creates a new way of licensing or explaining their IP idea called “no known copyright protections” which they go on to explain

These beautiful, historic pictures from the Library represent materials for which the Library is not the intellectual property owner. Flickr is working with the Library of Congress to provide an appropriate statement for these materials. It’s called “no known copyright restrictions.”

Hopefully, this pilot can be used as a model that other cultural institutions would pick up, to share and redistribute the myriad collections held by cultural heritage institutions all over the world.

So, they’re taking a risk, they’re sharing their data, they’re presuming good faith, and they’re going to try this out. Close readers may also note the small text on this page “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!!” Which, loosely translated means they’re starting out trusting people and trying to maintain a light tone about it.

So, the original photos are still held by the Library of Congress and Flickr has no “ownership” of them as a result of this partnership. They’re available worldwide [well except Dubai and other places that block Flickr entirely] and they’re in a system that allows for user-generated content additions to the content. I’m pleased that the LoC, or someone at the LoC decided to step up and really demonstrate how trust and openness can help further the mission of culutral institutions. Now if I could only get LoC to friend me….

“authorities” and strap-on sex

On my fridge I have a photocopy of a letter that Sandy Berman sent to the Library of Congress this August suggesting that they establish dildoes as a LCSH. I got many fascinating photocopies along with it for supporting evidence. I enjoy being on Sandy’s mailing list. Today, vickiep from del.ico.us sent me a link to “strap-on sex” as a new Library of Congress subject heading. Hooray! Unfortunately, links that go into the Library of Congress Authorities searches aren’t permanent but I was able to replicate the search and find the listing for dildoes in the weekly list for September 26th. Of interest to me particularly is that the authority record for strap-on sex contains Wikipedia, Google and “LC database” as notes in the 670 field. update: Tim at LibraryThing has a post showing the record.

Why we need librarians, or tagging vs folksonomy, some explanations

David Weinberger has a concise summary of Thomas Mann’s long article about the concept of reference and scholarship and how it fits into modern day librarianship, especially research libraries. This is the sort of thing Michael Gorman talks about in grouchy pundit ways, but Mann really digs deeper and seems to understand both sides of the equation. Weinberger’s posts sums up some of the high points with some strong pullquotes, but I’d really also suggest reading Mann’s entire essay. Here are some quotes that I liked, but don’t think that gets you off the hook from reading it. You hve to get to about page 35 before you hit the “what sholdl we do about this?” part.

I cannot claim to have a system that flattens all the lumps, but I am concerned that many of the more important problems facing scholars are being ignored because a “digital library” paradigm puts blinders on our very ability to notice the problems in the first place.

On different types of searching:

Note that as a reference librarian I could bring to bear on this question a whole variety of different search techniques, of which most researchers are only dimly aware of (or not aware at all): I used not just keyword searching, but subject category searching (via LC=s subject headings), shelf-browsing (via LC’s classification system), related record searching, and citation searching. (I also did some rather sophisticated Boolean combination searching, with truncation symbols and parentheses, discussed below.) Further, as a librarian I thought in terms of types of literature–specialized encyclopedia articles, literature review articles, subject bibliographies–whose existence never even occurs to most non-librarians, who routinely think only in terms of subject searches rather than format searches. And, further, one of the reasons I sought out the Web database to begin with was that I knew it would also provide people contact information–i.e., the mail and e-mail addresses of scholars who have worked on the same topic. The point here needs emphasis: a research library can provide not only a vast amount of content that is not on the open Internet; it can also provide multiple different search techniques that are usually much more efficient than “relevance ranked” and “more like this” Web searching. And most of these search techniques themselves are not available to offsite users who confine their searches to the open Internet.

On folksonomies:

While folksonomies have severe limitations and cannot replace conventional cataloging, they also offer real advantages that can supplement cataloging. Perhaps financial arrangements with LibraryThing (or other such operations) might be worked out in such a way that LC/OCLC catalog records for books would provide clickable links to LibraryThing records for the same works. In this way researchers could take advantage of that supplemental network of connections without losing the primary network created by professional librarians.