The British Library’s “Mechanical Curator” million

Last week the ever-incredible British Library announced that they were gifting more than 1 million images to the world, uploaded to Flickr Commons under the public domain mark, meaning complete freedom of re-use. The range and breadth of images is phenomenal. As they say in their post announcing the release the “images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of”. Each image was extracted from its respective home (books making up a total of 65,000 already digitised volumes) by a program known as the ‘Mechanical Curator’, a creation of the British Library Labs project. A crowdsourcing application is being launched in the new year (likely using tools developed by our very own Open Knowledge Foundation!) to help describe what the images portray – and the British Library is also putting out a general plea for people to innovate new ways to navigate, find and display this incredible array of images. (Email BL Labs here).

Although, of course, it will one day be wonderful to be able to sort and filter these images into themes, categories, etc., there is something also fantastic about the serendipitous grouping and combinations which occur in this ginormous randomised pool, the way these images float divorced from their context, and so are able to strike up new relationships with those they happen to be sat next to in the 10,000 and more pages of the Flickr Commons interface. It’s the potential of these new visual relationships which we’d be very interested at The Public Domain Review in working on in the future, and which we have started to play with in a small way in the series of images posted below.

Where does one even start when trying to put together a small selection of images from a possible million? We decided to start in the middle – quite literally – jumping to page 5100 of 10200 in the Flickr interface. We looked through more than 5000 images, still only a measly 0.5% of the total collection, and these are some of the highlights of what we found.

(NB: Each image is linked through to its Flickr Commons page where you can find more info and other images from the same book).

Housed at: Flickr: The Commons | From: The British Library
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
Download: Right click on image or left click on image to be taken through to the source and higher res versions
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  • Cherei J McCarter

    Thank you!!!!