British Library offers a million public domain images online

Sticking point: The British Library is looking to crowdsourcing to help caption and organise over a million public domain images.
Sticking point: The British Library is looking for helpers to caption and organise over a million public domain images.

The British Library has released over a million public domain images taken from 17th, 18th and 19th Century books and publications and is looking to crowdsourcing to help to organise the massive new resource.

The pictures are available free for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. The huge photostream on Flickr Commons comprises just over one million illustrations which were digitised by Microsoft from publications held by by the British Library and then given back to the library to offer as public domain images.

But the library has a massive task on its hands in trying to sort out the content of the pictures and find a way of collating and classifying them. It’s looking for new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display these illustrations and you can read more about this aim on the library’s website. It’s hoping to launch a crowdsourcing application next year to help describe the content of the images.

There’s a lot more scope for the library to add to the stock of pictures available as these first images are taken from just 65,000 volumes and the library holds millions of items.

At the moment, the images have been tagged to aid browsing and to provide new views on the works themselves. They are tagged by publication year, book and author.

The library wants to collaborate with researchers and anyone else with a good idea for how to mark up, classify and explore this set with an aim to improve the data and add to the tagging. It is looking to crowdsource information about what is depicted in the images as well as using analytical methods to interpret them as a whole.

The BL also says it is very interested to hear what ideas and projects people use these images for and would ideally like to collaborate with those who have been inspired to explore them.