There’s some wonderful news from the NY Public Library, which has released over 180,000 high resolution digital images of public domain works that it found in its collection.
We’ve seen too many organizations, mainly museums, try to claim copyright over public domain works, or otherwise limit access. The NY Public Library, on the other hand, is going the other direction. Not only are they releasing these works and making it clear that the works are in the public domain, but they’re releasing them as high resolution images and actively encouraging people to make use of them.
In an interview with the NY Times, there are some fantastic quotes showing how seriously they take this. This isn’t just an “Oh, here, let’s dump some public domain material.” The NYPL is taking this seriously:
“We see digitization as a starting point, not end point,” said Ben Vershbow, the director of NYPL Labs, the in-house technology division that spearheaded the effort. “We don’t just want to put stuff online and say, ‘Here it is,’ but rev the engines and encourage reuse.”
And others are noticing as well:
“It’s not just a data dump,” said Dan Cohen, the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America, a consortium that offers one-stop access to digitized holdings from more than 1,300 institutions.
The New York Public has “really been thinking about how they can get others to use this material,” Mr. Cohen continued. “It’s a next step that I would like to see more institutions take.”
And part of this is about actually making the damn stuff useful, so they’re creating APIs to do more with the collection as well. And they’ve launched a Remix Residency program to encourage creators to create amazing new works building on all this public domain culture. They also have some cool examples to inspire other ideas, such as Mansion Maniac, an online game letting people explore mansion floor plans from early 20th century New York. More recent plans would be fun too, but sorry kids, those are locked up under copyright. There’s also another example, using images of New York City streets in 1911 and mashing them up with Google’s street view images of today.
There’s lots of fun stuff in the collection as well, including a ton of old maps, and other oddities. For example, playing around, I found what looks like an old “check” written by Thomas Jefferson: