Libraries Promoting Their Public Domain Content

Artists, academics, and students often want quick access to images and other forms of media for use in projects, and anyone online may want an image to include on social media or in a blog post.  Normally, you’d need to worry about copyright restrictions and licensing fees when re-using images or media, but some content falls under the public domain.  According to Stanford University Libraries, public domain is defined as “creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist.”  Works can fall into the public domain for a number of reasons: because the copyright has expired (in the US, works published before 1923 or if the copyright owner fails to renew the copyright), if the copyright owner purposely dedicates the work to the public domain, or if copyright law doesn’t cover that type of work.

How can you quickly find these works in the public domain, though?

Some major libraries have created portals to publicize their public domain digital collections, and these portals can be a helpful way to quickly find interesting images and media that can be freely shared and re-used without copyright restrictions.

  • Library of Congress (LOC): The LOC recently announced the creation of a  Free to Use and Reuse page, which “features themed sets of content (such as travel posters, presidential portraits, Civil War drawings) that are all free to use and reuse.”
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“Free to use and reuse” digital collections from LOC.
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Public domain collections highlighted from New York Public Libraries.
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Albums from the British Library Flickr page.

If you want to learn more about finding public domain works, check the following guides from university libraries:

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The Best Gift For the Holidays: Digital Collections

It’s two days before Christmas, and I’ve just found the best gift I could ask for: digital collections of old holiday postcards.  Here are three to brighten your holiday:

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Greeting card from 1881, with cats!
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Santa cards from New York Public Library collection.
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A bright and merry Christmas : once we were not very good, but that was a long while ago, ca. 1900-1910

As an added bonus, also check out this collection of Christmas dining menus from University of Nevada Las Vegas.  It might just give you some fun ideas for Christmas dinners.

Have a happy and safe holiday season!

Historical Digital Collections By State

I never took an archives class in grad school, but I’ve always found historical archives, especially at the state level, fascinating.  Between classes, I was occasionally drawn to the Maryland Room at Hornbake Library, where I had my first real experience using microfiche to explore old copies of a local gazette.

These days, you often don’t need to leave your house to explore your state’s historical collections.  Many collections of archival materials have been digitized and are available online through university or museum websites.  Check the Library of Congress (LOC) web guide State Digital Resources: Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical & Cultural Materials Collections for a list of online historical collections organized by state.

I recently got back from a wonderful Thanksgiving in Texas with my in-laws, so here’s a quick look at a few digital collections related to Texas history found through the LOC’s State Digital Resources web guide:

      • The Handbook of Texas Online – This website from the Texas State Historical Association offers articles about Texas history, organized under sections like Texas Day by Day, Texas Music, Civil War Texas, African American Texas, Tejano History, Houston, and Texas Women.
        • Example: Read a detailed entry (with some fantastic photographs) about the history of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. Did you know the Space Center Houston visitor center was designed with help from Walt Disney Imagineering?
      • The Portal to Texas History – This online portal hosted by the University of North Texas (UNT) allows visitors to explore over 500 digital collections, like the Texas Digital Newspaper Program, where you can search through full-text digitized copies of old newspapers and newsletters from across Texas dating back to about 1820.  One feature I particularly liked about the portal was the option to explore by location, so you could limit your search results to only records related to specific counties in Texas.

     

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Headlines from 100 years ago in the Abilene Daily Reporter at The Portal to Texas History.

These digital collections can be great resources for genealogical research, academic historical research, or just plain old curiosity about local history.  I know I need to dig into digital collections for Maryland as soon as I get a chance.

Exploring Strange (and Amazing) Collections on the Internet Archive

I love exploring digital collections, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m an enormous fan of the Internet Archive.  The Internet Archive is a non-profit library that hosts digital versions of billions of archived webpages and millions of books, texts, audio recordings, videos, images, and even software programs.  Many people are familiar with Internet Archive due to it’s Wayback Machine collection of archived webpages (about the closest we currently get to preserving the internet), but the other collections on Internet Archive also deserve attention for the wonderful, educational, and sometimes bizarre text and media artifacts they contain.

Searching the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive includes both a simple search form accessible in the upper right corner of the page (which allows you to search across metadata, full text of books, TV captions, or archived websites) or an advanced search with fielded search forms or the option to search with lucene query syntax.

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Simple search form on Internet Archive.

When exploring the collections, I personally prefer to just select the icons for web, text, video, audio, software, or images in the upper left corner of the screen and then choose to view all items for that specific media type (like All Video).

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Video collections on the Internet Archive.

I’m then able to use the side filtering options to narrow my search by criteria like subject, collection, creator, or language.  I can also search across the metadata within that specific collection or media type.

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Filtering video collections on the Internet Archive.

Strange Collections: Text, Video and Audio

I’m just going to focus on three media types in this post (text, video, and audio collections), but I hope to explore software, image, and web collections in a future post.  Here is just a quick sampling of some of the interesting collections to explore on the Internet Archive:

This is just scratching the surface of the Internet Archive’s digital collections.  Be careful about beginning to explore the Internet Archive, since once you get started, you may go down a rabbit hole that will take hours to find your way out of (like spending 3 hours listening to old-time radio shows).

From Submarine Blueprints to Intricate Fruit: Digital Collections of Historic Images, Science and Medicine

Library collections often extend far beyond just books and journals, and today’s digital collections offer free access to all types of multimedia.  Online collections from the Library of Congress include photos/prints, manuscripts, video, audio, maps, and even archived websites. One of my favorite types of digital collections are historic images in the science and medicine field.  It can be fascinating to see catalog images for intricate machines from a century ago, infographics from the 1950s about medical careers, or beautifully detailed watercolors of plants.  Here are a few of my favorite places to look for historic science and medicine image collections:

Library of Congress Digital Collections (Science and Technology) – View 19 collections, such as Architecture, Design & Engineering Drawings. This collection “covers about 40,000 drawings (described in more than 3,900 catalog records), spanning 1600 to 1989” and includes a wide range of architectural and engineering designs, such as a submarine design from 1806.

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[Submarine (“Submarine Vessel, Submarine Bombs and Mode of Attack”) for the United States government. Cock cavity and wheel details for “plunging boat”]
National Library of Medicine Digital Collections – I recommend exploring the almost 70,000 images within the Images from the History of Medicine collection.  Browse health-related advertisements, educational material, images of patients and healthcare professionals, medical illustrations, etc. from before 1600 to the present.  For example, check out this infographic from 1957 about the growing field of health service occupations.

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Health service occupations: a growing field of employment for both men and women

Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collections – One of my favorite collections, which I first became familiar with when hunting for online trade literature collections for patent searches, is the Instruments for Science, 1800-1914 collection.  This collection lets you browse through catalogs for scientific instruments and machinery from over a century ago.  Here’s an instrument called a “Moist Chamber” from an 1899 catalog, which was used to “keep a muscle and nerve preparation damp during the experiment” (yikes).

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Moist Chamber (pg 29)

United States Department of Agriculture Special Collections – Some science images are absolute works of art, like the watercolors of fruits and nuts from the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection.  This painting of strawberries from 1914 is one beautiful example.

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Fragaria: Pine Apple

This is only just scratching the surface of online image collections…if you have a lot of time to kill, visit the British Library Flickr page, which offers over a million public domain images scanned from old books.