Interview: Navy Medicine on Flickr Commons

Jessamyn emailed with Michael Rhode, the Archivist at U. S. Navy Medicine who manages the organization’s Flickr account on Flickr Commons to talk about how they’ve been using Flickr to find new audiences and post historical and current images.

Navy Medicine has been a Flickr Commons member since 2011. What made you interested in becoming a member?

I had previously been the archivist of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, and started posting photos for its Otis Historical Archives. The staff were asked to post their favorite photograph that they found when cataloguing and scanning images that week. BoingBoing mentioned the site, and our hits blew up. So, when I joined Navy Medicine, I looked at reinvigorating their Flickr account. The thought of unlimited storage to share US Navy medical images at no cost with a wide audience was perfect. In the past, the annual fees had always been difficult to get approved.

J. Beatrice Bowman index card

We’re looking at opening The Commons to new members in 2024. What information, tools, and processes did you need when you began? Have they changed over time?

I find the Commons to be pretty intuitive, but that’s possibly because I personally have been a long-time Flickr user. I think most public-facing collections will understand the advantages offered. I do not have any special processes beyond tracking the images in a spreadsheet. I also have a spreadsheet capturing our daily viewership numbers.

How do you determine what you want to upload? Has this changed over time?

Originally, the account was set up by our public affairs department and was used to highlight events in Navy Medicine, often at the headquarters level. It was an opportunity to highlight Navy Medicine Sailors and the work they do in support of the military’s missions…


When the historian’s department was merged into the overarching Communications division, I asked if I could start using the account. I was posting historical images for years, including a ‘this day in Navy medicine’ photograph.


COVID-19 changed all that. I began working from home and wasn’t scanning historical images at work anymore. I pivoted to trying to capture covid images from Navy medicine around the globe. From finding that material, it was a simple thing to then begin posting any images that Navy Medicine released across what we refer to as ‘the enterprise.’ After Covid waned, I still had subscriptions to all the feeds from various locations and units, so I’ve continued posting more current items than historical ones, especially when I was physically co-located with my colleagues a year ago.

What challenges did you face?

A major challenge was, and is, finding interesting material. A lot of photographs taken these days are promotion or retirement ceremonies and may have a more limited viewership than a war-time picture of a Hospital Corpsman patching up a wounded Marine on an island in the Pacific. The images still have a purpose, but are less likely to break through to a broader public.


What kinds of positive results have you had? (And, any negative ones?)

We haven’t had any negative results that I’ve seen. Positively, a lot of people are seeing various aspects of Navy Medicine, and what some of their taxes pay for. It’s especially useful to sharing to a different community than the one that is reached by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) which is where I collect a lot of images from. They’re usually only reaching people in the service or reporters.

Our Flickr site reaches anyone interested in Navy Medicine and its history.


Do you have any particular photo that has a story behind it, either in the photo itself, how it was used, what sort of community reaction you got, or something else?

Particular photo? That’s a tough one. This is our most-viewed image…


…and I have no idea why it is. It’s a pretty basic shot with almost no information, but has over 10,000 views ahead of the next most popular one.

Here’s one – the standard photograph of the World War II raising a flag on Iwo Jima is well known and the basis for a statue near Arlington Cemetery. But other images were taken, and this is one of them…


…and a Navy Hospital Corpsman was at the event.

Or you could look at this image…


…the site of the present day Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, with the National Institutes of Health across the street, and marvel at how empty it was in 1941.

Or on a personal level, see our predecessors in the history office 80 years ago here…


Especially for the historical photographs, there are so many stories behind them!

I was wondering if you had any thoughts to how the “no known copyright restrictions” license works (or doesn’t work) for the sort of content you’re sharing.

From our point of view, these are US Government work products and as such, are in the public domain. Copyright isn’t a consideration for them.

I notice you tend to curate your collections into albums often (we just did a blog post about albums and galleries so this is fresh in my mind). What goes into your process for doing this? Do you only do it when you upload or do you sometimes go back and arrange images for other purposes?

Photos go into albums when being uploaded, although new albums are created on an as-needed basis. As a military organization, we’re fairly structured compared to other institutions, so it’s easy to put material into categories such as Corps (Medical, Dental, Nurse etc) or Facility (hospitals, bases, etc), or Ships (hospital ships, ships staffed with medical personnel, ships visited by medical personnel). Then I can refer the person who needs historical images of Naval Hospital Bremerton to one place for their research.

18-0196-045 NH Bremerton

I rarely go back and re-arrange images into new albums partly because with 23,000 images, it’s a lot of work. So we have three Nurse Corps albums now, and two were created before I took over managing the collection, but I just add new photographs to all three. Someday I’ll combine them all into one, but it’s not high on my list. I do enjoy seeing when someone favors an image or adds it into a new album or gallery though. I check the little alarm icon every day, and am frequently surprised. A 1948 shot of a Nurse bowling gets galleried a lot (although I think she might be playing duckpins).


23-0001-070 (7793499)

You can also check out this Just the Cakes gallery we made from their account. The Navy loves cake.


Florida Memory on Flickr Commons

This is a transcript of an interview with Katrina Harkness and Joshua Youngblood, State Library & Archives of Florida, taken from a book called Web 2.0 Tools and Strategies for Archives and Local History Collections by Kate Theimer. Reprinted with permission.

What made you interested in becoming a member of the Flickr Commons?

The Florida Photographic Collection is a nationally and internationally recognized component of the State Archives of Florida and contains over a million images which are used regularly by book publishers, TV stations, and filmmakers.

Still, the Photographic Collection felt like a hidden, undiscovered treasure. The number of photographs made searching difficult for any but the most determined researcher. If only there was a way to let Floridians and the world know that we have images of important people and events in Florida history and also a little of the unexpected: flying machines, ostrich racing, mastodon fossils, mermaids, and the largest lightbulb in the world.

Sponge diver John Gonatos: Tarpon Springs, Florida, 1945

What information, tools, and processes did you need to begin?

The first and most important step for participation was consulting with the Commons team, from initial discussions about what our institution could and should offer to strategies for organizing our content and planning updates. Since we have been placing digital images and the accompanying records online for several years, the technology learning curve was not that steep. After receiving approval from the Florida Department of State, we developed disclaimers and information for the Florida Member page based on the models established by other Commons institutions.

Photographer beside mounds of oyster shells: Apalachicola, Florida, 1895

How did you determine what to include?

The Florida Photographic Collection as a whole is composed of hundreds of smaller collections. Some collections are the world of individual photographers, and some are the work of institutions such as the Department of Commerce or the Department of Environmental Protection. We decided to work within this existing framework and highlight the images that best represented these collections. We began with self-standing collections, picking collections that were historically interesting, emblematic of Florida, and underutilized. We then added selections from two of the largest collections in the Archives, the Department of Commerce and the Florida Folklife Program. Both collections contain numerous unique, fascinating, and quirky images, but both are so large that browsing the resources can be daunting.

Pam Maneeratana displays her carved pumpkins: Tallahassee, Florida, 1987

What challenges did you face?

As a state institution, adapting our traditional communication structure to the Web 2.0 culture has been challenging. Having institutions such as the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian as models has helped tremendously.

Waves hit Navarre Pier hard during Hurricane Ivan’s approach: Navarre Beach, Florida, 2004

What kinds of positive results have you had? (And, any negative ones?)

Being part of the Commons has meant being part of a community of people who are passionate about photographs, history, and contributing to public knowledge.

Accessing millions of potential catalogs and researchers—and volunteer ones at that—is very exciting.

We experienced a steady rise in visits to the Archives photos since the Flickr release, and the feedback from the Commons viewers has been overwhelmingly positive and very gratifying. Some previously unknown information about specific photos has been provided by Flickr viewers, and we have been adding that information when appropriate to the catalog entries.

We get to see very personal reactions to the photographs that we never got from Web statistics.

We’ve had comments and tags in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. People have recognized family members, childhood friends, favorite places, or seen intimate glimpses of their own towns in a different era.

About how much time does it take?

Working with the Commons team to work out the logistics for our participation and the initial launch took about four months. It can take an hour or two a day responding to questions and preparing for new batch releases.

Nation’s smallest Post Office in Ochopee, Florida, c. 1940s

What advice would you give an organization wanting to use something similar?

The opportunity to contribute unique historical resources from your institution to an international dialogue is worth the time commitment.

Underwater photography at the springs, c. 1950

See more of Florida Photographic Collection on Flickr Commons.