2.28.2020 – Thousands of pictures

Thousands of pictures
Create, Imagine, Discover
Need millions of words

For as long as I can remember, one of my core operating procedures when I am in a library is to browse the shelves for oversize books of photographs and images.

Historical books.

Travel books.

Cook books.

Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler
by John Singer Sargent

Published collections of places and businesses like The Chicago Institute of Art or the New York Times.

I will load myself up with these monster books and take them to a table and thumb through the pages.

When I got to the University of Michigan and discovered study carrels, I found my idea of Heaven on Earth.

I would prowl the stacks of the Harlen Hatcher Graduate Library looking for oversize books.

I traveled through time and space and never left.

I felt the world was at my fingertips.

When the World Wide Web came along with the Graphical User Interface and high speed internet access, worlds of other kinds were at my fingertips.

When I can, I ‘goof off online’ or ‘surf’ randomly looking for photos.

Access beyond belief.

Last night I was reading about Hitler making a speech in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin in 1939.

The author described the setting.

Less than a minute later, I was looking at photos of the speech.

Readers of this blog will notice that I often include photos from history that I find online.

But there is a problem.

Being in news and with a history in publishing, I am all too aware of the question of owners rights.

Who owns the photo?

Do I really have the rights to use this photo?

For the most part I don’t worry too much but the thought is there.

This week, the Smithsonian Institution gave me a gift.

Everyone else in the world is in on the gift as well, but I feel this gift was made with me in mind.

The Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge.

Did you see that last line?


2.8 million images?

At a 1,000 words per picture that 2.8 Billion words!

The online press release states, “And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.”

The release also has an invitation.

The Smithsonian wants users to Create, Imagine, Discover.

Create, Imagine, Discover.

Silly that these three words can stir my soul.

But they do.

The new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

Says Effie Kapsalis, who is heading up the effort as the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer. “We can’t imagine what people are going to do with the collections. We’re prepared to be surprised.”

As I work to make sure that you can watch you Local TV News on your phone, I realize that not all technical advances are cultural ones.

This effort promises to be both.

I am off to surf https://www.si.edu/openaccess.

See you later … next week … maybe next year.

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