Social cataloguing for the world’s photo archives

“The Commons on Flickr” launched in 2008 with the Library of Congress (LOC) as its first partner.

Since then, the Flickr Commons has grown into a unique collection of historical photography, with over 100 cultural institutions in 24 countries around the world are participating.

Program objectives

When the Commons launched in 2008, the program had two main objectives:

  1. To increase public access to archival photography collections, and
  2. To provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge.

Our current work to reinvigorate the program introduces two new ones: 

  1. To propagate updates from and to member catalogs and other sources, and
  2. To protect and attend to the long life of this unique collection.

Indeed, Flickr members have contributed new metadata about these photographs resulting in thousands of updates to official catalogues.

“It’s a garden to tend. You need to water it for it to flourish. The point is you need to interact.”

– Helena Zinkham, Chief of Prints & Photographs, Library of Congress

Work so far

In 2021, we conducted extensive research with the existing Flickr Commons community and related culture workers to explore ideas on how to restore the program. It had languished. We also surveyed how the sector has evolved digitally over the last decade.

We published the Strategy 2021-2023 – Flickr Commons Revitalization in September that year, and we’re mapping our work to it. 

Work to do

Our work plan is divided into two main sections:

0. Reconnect with the current members

We’re still trying to connect with every Commons member. If you’re in the program and haven’t talked to us about all this yet, can you please reach out?

1. Stuff we should just do

  • Add new Discovery layer and encourage contribution – in progress
  • Co-design granular, comparative, exportable stats- in progress
  • Improve description tools for regular researchers
  • Incorporate CC0 and Public Domain Mark (PDM) into Commons
  • Streamline onboarding to easily manage membership and participation

Our research revealed many Commons members are quite passive in the community. We want to help connect them more easily to people. That way, views of photographs become a place for conversation and a stronger community emerges. 

2. Alpha work

These developments have emerged through our research as responses to changes in contemporary practice:

  • Develop content mobility policy to facilitate more accessible movement of content and metadata
  • Co-design support for development of indigenous and dispossessed collections; formally adopt C.A.R.E. Principles for data governance
  • Launch Best Little Museum Shop and micro-donations pilot

3. Policy development

Everyone we interviewed was concerned about the lack of governance in the program. Cultural institutions have a long history of skilled governance, and it’s no surprise people were nervous about it lacking at Flickr. We need a collection development policy, at least, and will definitely be asking for input.