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March 11, 2010

UW Libraries joins open-access photographic fun on Flickr Commons

News and Information

One minute the three women are tobogganing along in their bathing suits and the next they’re sprawled in the snow, grinning and unharmed after perhaps the most amiable (and fake) tobogganing accident of 1925.

The crowd goes wild — well, that is, the commenters viewing these old, sepia-toned photos show their approval by choosing the images as favorites and cracking wise. “This is the best thing EVER,” chirps one. Another declares, “OK now I’m REALLY going to finish working on my time machine! I’ve got to meet those girls!”

What’s it all about? The photos are posted on the Flickr Commons, a public access area that the photo-sharing Web site opened in early 2008 in partnership with the Library of Congress. Flickr Commons has the dual intention of increasing public access to copyright-free photography and providing a way for the general public to contribute information about photos.

And starting in February, the UW became only the second university in the country (after Oregon State) to be part of this interactive fun. UW Libraries Special Collections and Digital Initiatives posted about 160 photos under the heading Winter Sports in the Northwest, and there are more to come every month. Other participating institutions include the New York Public Library, Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. National Archives.

“What we’re trying to do is use different ways of reaching people who might be interested in our images,” said Ann Lally, head of Digital Initiatives. She said the difference between the traffic the photos get on Flickr versus what they get on their own systems is astronomical.

The first grouping of UW photos was timed specially for release during the Winter Olympics, Lally said. The photos show snowy scenes of skiing and hiking, ice caves and dogsled teams, some dating back into the 19th century. Lally said the crowd favorites so far seem to be the women tobagganers and a photo of a curling team posing with their brooms and stones, labeled “Grand Challenge Winners, 1906.”

Lally said UW Libraries plans to submit a new collection of photos to the commons on the second Wednesday of each month. The second series, about the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition here at the UW in 1909 was added this week. Others are planned, including a collection to be called Gas, Food, Lodging, with various images of roadside attractions.

Lally said the UW knows background information for most of the photos being added just now. But in time, she said, UW Libraries will add photos to the site that they lack information on, and perhaps the public will help. She really likes the interactive element of it all — even the less than serious comments.

Like the one from a fellow who viewed the shot of the 1906 curling team and wrote, “When men were men, and mustaches were mustaches … and curling brooms were brooms.”

See Winter Sports in the Northwest online here.