Intellectual Property

Surplus Commodities and 1940s Hats

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loc archive

The Library of Congress just announced that it has put up 3,000 public-domain photos on Flickr and enabling tagging by all comers. It's a pilot project that could someday be extended to the 14 million photos in the collection.

Eventually photos like the one above, which are currently labeled something like "Distributing surplus commodities, St. Johns, Ariz." will be findable by searching "America at war," "poverty," "food aid," "pine boxes" and "1940s hats."

Plus, people who just want to enjoy a little retro beauty or take in a slice of American life can do so easily.

Among other things, this means that the Library of Congress has heeded the call of David Weinberger, Internet deep thinker and author of Everything Is Miscellaneous. When reason spoke with Weinberger last year, he compared old-style photo archives to photo sharing sites. The old archives lock photos away in temperature-controlled vaults listed under one or two inadequate key words, viewed only by the intrepid. Online photo sharing sites offer everything to everyone, good and bad, to view and tag as they please. Looks like we might get the best of both worlds at last.