What does it take to join the Flickr Commons? Find out in an interview with newest member

Ever wondered how your archives could join the Flickr Commons, and why you might want to? Your questions may be answered in this interview with Tiah Edmunson-Morton, from the Commons’ newest member, the Oregon State University Archives. That is, if you have questions like:

    – What’s so special about the Flickr Commons? How is it different from the rest of Flickr?
    – How did you get there?
    – What was the process like?
    – How did you decide which images to include in your Commons site?
    – What kinds of results have seen from your participation in Flickr overall? How do you think that might be different in the Commons?

What’s so special about the Flickr Commons? How is it different from the rest of Flickr?

Good question—and one I’ve been asked a lot! Every Commons member institution has a Flickr account, so when you go to a member page it will look just like any other Flickr page created by any Flickr user. Simply put, there are two goals for The Commons project:

– to show you hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives
– to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer

The Commons is special because it exists as a place for people interact with a diverse group of historic photos from a variety of different types of member institutions. Commons members are libraries, archives, and museums from all over the world, but we all share the common goal of increasing the access and use of historic images in publicly held photography collections. The idea is to provide a space for the public to share their historical knowledge to compliment the information the institutions already have for these images and to allow them to personally interact and connect with them.

The folks at the indicommons, a blog by the Flickr group “Flickr Commons,” really say it best in the section “Why Is The Commons Important?.”

So how did you get there? What was the process like?

Our University Archivist, Larry Landis, attended a Visual Materials Section presentation at the 2008 SAA meeting where George Oates, a founding Flickr team member and [former] lead designer, talked about the project. When we all returned from California, he mentioned it might be a project worth exploring.

I will write an email to anyone, so I volunteered!

I wrote a simple proposal, explaining why we wanted to join the Commons and what we were interested in putting into it, and I sent it to George. Once that was accepted, we were asked to sign a Flickr Commons service agreement. Basically, this agreement said that these were our images to display, that we would let people tag them and use them, that we would let Yahoo (Flickr) display them, and that we understood and agreed to the “No Known Copyright Restrictions” clause. Our lawyers had some concerns over the use of California by the Yahoo folks and preference for Oregon by the OSU folks—yes, it was one little word and its ties to jurisdiction…but they sorted that out eventually.

While that was being sorted out, I worked with one of my marvelous student assistants, Doug, and we started planning for our “as yet to be determined” launch date into The Commons. I was lucky to have someone to share the work—and I won’t lie, it really was a lot of work.

Once the lawyers were satisfied, we planned to launch in the middle of January with images from the Gerald W. Williams Collection, all of which were currently housed in the Libraries’ digital collections (and managed with ContentDM). The challenge was to get jpegs into Flickr (not too bad), get the metadata from ContentDM (didn’t need to be as bad as it was), and add all our extra tags (really easy). In the meantime, George was laid off… This threw a potentially enormous wrench into the works. We got a new contact, but decided to push the launch back to the middle of February. And, fortunately, pushing it back meant we could synch it with Oregon’s 150th birthday!

As the date got closer and closer, and Doug spent hours entering, checking, and rechecking, I spent time writing press releases, blog posts of introduction for different Flickr related groups, web sites, introductory texts—and I made a lot of lists.

How did you decide which images to include in your Commons site?

During our early planning, we decided we wanted to play to OSU and the Archives’ collection strengths and we also wanted to avoid a sort of “eclectic sprawl” –in other words, including a hodge-podge of everything we thought was “neat.” We asked ourselves, what did we want to be “known” for, what was special about OSU that made it a great new addition? This is what we came up with:

For nearly a hundred and fifty years, Oregon State University has been guided by a three-fold mission of research, teaching, and serving the our communities. We like to think broadly when we think of the word “community”– our neighbors are local, national, and international– and our position as one of only two American universities to hold the Land, Sea, Space, and Sun Grant designations allow us to think up, down, and all around. We are also a Carnegie Doctoral/Research-Extensive university, and nationally known for our top tier programs in Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Forestry, and Pharmacy, which means that the students and faculty at OSU do a lot of research and writing.

We decided that our contribution to The Commons would focus on the history of conservation, natural resources, and agriculture.

This is a story we are proud to explore and celebrate, with its chapters on forestry, geology, environmentalism, and the people that have inhabited and worked this land.

What kinds of results have seen from your participation in Flickr overall? How do you think that might be different in the Commons?

When we set up our first Flickr account last summer, we really just wanted a place to house current events photographs and create online tutorials—without making yet another web page. As we moved into fall quarter and into Oregon Archives Month in October, we really ramped up use of the site to push our “visual” microform machine tutorials and photographs from our programming events. Around that same time, we also started to put up historic photos, starting with many of those that are now on our Flickr Commons page.

It’s only been 2 weeks, but I think I can safely say that putting the same Williams images in The Commons has resulted in dramatically different statistics! After 5 days, we had over 13,000 views, over 200 people add us as a “contact,” nearly 50 comments, and lots of tags. At the end of the 2nd week, with no new content added, the views jump to 24,500, 275 contacts, and lots more tags. And this is all on 116 photos! We’ve received good publicity, including a front page feature on the Oregonian’s “O!” section and a Wired Campus interview , which undoubtedly added to jumps in interest over the past few days.

My hypothesis is that people go to The Commons expecting to find historic photos and expect to interact with them, unlike the general Flickr site, which was originally intended for current images. 5. That’s not to say that you won’t find repositories putting up their archival photos and having great community reaction or interaction, but I think the nature of The Commons allows us to reach a much larger audience.

How can people learn more?

Staying engaged and active is important to us, so we’re launching a new set every two weeks. For example, you can see some background on today’s release on our blog. Check out our page on the Flickr commons, or contact me at Tiah.Edmunson-Morton [at] oregonstate.edu.

Thanks, Tiah! And remember, if your archives hasn’t managed to get into the Commons yet, you can always join the ArchivesOnFlickr group. Not quite as posh, but it’s a start!

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5 Responses to What does it take to join the Flickr Commons? Find out in an interview with newest member

  1. Pingback: indicommons» Blog Archive » Carnival of the Commons

  2. Pingback: hangingtogether.org » Blog Archive » Oregon State University joins Flickr Commons

  3. Has any of the academic institutions participating in the Commons noticed a jump in use, from students or faculty? Maybe the only way to tell is from a stats counter that shows the IP is coming from campus. I want to know if adding content to the Commons could be described as a useful tool to increase our digital library usage by our immediate campus affiliated users.

  4. Edmunson-Morton or the indicommons blog did not make it clear to me why flickr commons is different or better than the regular flickr. Would it be because the commons is for historic photographs only and not everyone’s vacation or pet photos?

  5. Pingback: Image Resource Roundup | American Historical Association

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